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Kenneth Launcelot Duffield (1885–1958)

Mr Kenneth Launcelot Duffield, well-known South Australian composer, playwright, writer, producer, theatrical manager and pastoralist, died in Adelaide on Sunday night. He was 73.

Although born and bred in an SA pastoral environment, Mr Duffield had a versatile and colourful career in the London theatrical world.

The grandson of the Hon. W. Duffield, a foundation member of the SA Parliament, Mr Duffield was educated at St Peter’s College.

In 1906, he graduated in Arts at Cambridge University, where he was producer of the University Footlights Club, and in the following year gained a diploma of agriculture.

The words of Mr Duffield’s first songs were written by A. A. Milne and P. G. Wodehouse ("He wasn’t famous then, but I felt he ought to be"), and he had a number of songs published before returning to SA.

Mr Duffield worked for eight years at the family station Koonoona, before returning to England in 1913 for an operation.

He enlisted at the outbreak of World War I and rose to the rank of captain in the Royal Warwick Regiment before being seriously wounded just before Armistice Day.

For 2½ years of the war he entertained troops on a battered 80 franc French piano, which was carried in a 30 franc cart.

While convalescing, Mr Duffield again became interested in the theatre.

He wrote the music for "Puss Puss", "Pot Luck", "Ato Z", and "Snap", each of which were immediate successes and played for month at the Vaudeville Theatre.

Among Mr Duffield's most popular songs were "When a Girl's in Love", "If We Were Married", "The Long, Long Way", "Sing It Again", "Aurora Borealis", "Caravan Days", and "My Alco-Holiday".

He married the daughter of financier-statesman Sir John Gorst.

Mr Duffield was called "a martyr to duty" when, on the death of his father, he returned to SA in 1922 to manage Koonoona.

He produced his brilliant musical comedy "Healo" at the Theatre Royal in 1926, and successfully toured the eastern States with it.

After five years, he returned to the London stage and produced a string of successes, including "Jack of Diamonds", "Little Miss Gruno", "After Dark", and "When Spring Comes Round".

In World War II, Mr Duffield served as a deck hand under Petty Officer Sir Alan Herbert, who wrote a forward to Mr Duffield's autobiography, Savages and Kings.

Mr Duffield retired to Adelaide in 1948, but had since visited London.

He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of London's exclusive Savage Club.

His brother was the late Professor Geoffrey Duffield, the first director of the Commonwealth Observatory at Mount Stromlo, Canberra.

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Citation details

'Duffield, Kenneth Launcelot (1885–1958)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 July 2024.

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