By MICK ROBERTS ©
A FLAMBOYANT opera singer, who gained his stage name from actress Ann Sheridan, was the publican responsible for giving Jamberoo its English Tudor style pub.
The larger than life character is said to have renovated what was then a typical two storied weather-board pub, with balcony, into the Tudor style hotel that trades today in the NSW South Coast village.
Ivor Samuel purchased Jamberoo’s Commercial Hotel with his brother Len in 1953, after marrying his second wife, Kiama widower, Thelma Stewart.
The singing publican, whose stage name of ‘Ivor Sheridan’, was a secretive bloke, and despite his fame, fiercely guarded his personal life. His stage name came about in 1942 when he was walking through London’s Piccadilly, with promoter, Jack Buchanan. The pair passed a poster promoting a film starring Ann Sheridan. Showman Buchanan looked at it and immediately said: “From now on that’s your name – Sheridan”.
Ivor was a temperamental celebrity, once attacking a Sydney Sun reporter for daring to ask his age, and quizzing him on his marital status: “An artist never reveals his age,” he told the Sun in 1951.
Ivor snapped to the reporter that he was once described in a newspaper as having ‘lovely, black, ebony hair’: “I suffered from that so much I never want to have my appearance described again,” he said.
The interview went down hill, with the singing publican barking back when asked about his marital status: “Yes, but of what possible interest can that be? I would much rather talk of the time I played the role of Sadko in a Russian opera of that name. For the part, I learned Russian in three weeks. It was terrific. I’ve worked hard for my success and I owe it all to myself.”
Interestingly, Ivor, who was 42 at the time of the interview, was nearing the end of his professional career as a singer.
Ivor more than likely didn’t want to talk about his relationship because his 22 year marriage with Evelyn was on the rocks, and was not to last.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Ivor came to Australia as a four-year-old in 1913 with his Welsh parents and siblings. The family made their home in the growing industrial city of Wollongong on the NSW South Coast, where Ivor, at the age of 17, opened a grocery store.
The young grocer’s beautiful tenor voice soon had him blitzing the Wollongong Eisteddfods, and he was in demand at most concerts, especially at his local Presbyterian church in West Wollongong, where he was choir master. His attractive tenor voice was also broadcasted on radio 2UW and Wollongong station, 2WL.
The Samuel family lived in Vollona, on Hillcrest Street, West Wollongong, later moving to nearby ‘Rosemont’, in Matthew Street. The building remains much-altered today and operates a medical specialist centre.
Ivor was engaged to Evelyn Violet Gordon in 1926, and they married in 1929. He and his wife continued running their Wollongong grocery store, saving feverishly to reach his dream of becoming a famous opera singer. He made enough money to study at the Sydney Conservatorium, which he attended three times weekly, studying first the viola and then voice production.
In 1935, Ivor relocated to Wentworthville in Sydney’s west, where he took over another grocery store, before travelling to Europe at the age of 28 in 1936. He studied in Italy under famous tenor, Dino Borgioli before roaming Europe learning his craft, until his voice achieved the fine tone and polish of the concert tenor.
Ivor sang star roles in Jack Buchanan’s musical productions. He sang before Royalty at Sadler’s Wells Theatre and before infantry in the Middle East theatre, for during the war he spent two years with the British Entertainment Unit in the Middle East and France.
During the war he also served as a London bobby for three years before he was injured during the blitz, when he was buried alive for 12 hours by debris during bombing. His life was only saved by a beam falling across a table and holding the debris off him.
While he was a bobby, he was known as ‘London’s singing policeman’. He surprised two ‘roughs’ when they went to attacked, him while on duty. The South Coast Times reported in 1940 that they didn’t know he was a proficient amateur boxer, and one of his assailants ended up in hospital.
When Ivor returned to Australia in 1949, he was given a civic reception in his home town by the Wollongong mayor.
It’s believed his wife Evelyn remained in Australia during his 13 years in Europe. Evelyn was rarely mentioned in the pages of the newspapers of the day.
The only reference I’ve come across where Ivor mentions his wife was during his 1949 civic reception in Wollongong, when he described how she “took a position in order that he might continue” his studies in Europe.
During that civic reception he also thanked his parents for providing “material assistance” while in Europe.
Ivor continued his career, as one of the principal singers engaged by the NSW National Opera Company.
During 1952 during a second season at the Tivoli Theatre, Ivor suddenly quit the company following a disagreement about the allocation of a leading role. With his brother, Len they embarked on a new career – as hoteliers.
Ivor secured the license of the Dumbarton Castle Hotel, in Millers Point, where he remained as publican until March 1953. In July of 1953 he purchased a three-year head lease of the Commercial Hotel in Jamberoo. The Wingham Chronicle reported on July 14 1953:
They end up in the most unexpected places. Take the case of opera star Ivor Sheridan, who has sung the leading roles in opera both here and abroad – he has bought the freehold of the Commercial Hotel in Jamberoo, and intends remodelling it to make it look something like an old English inn. But – in Jamberoo, one of the State’s sleepiest villages, on the edge of the Tabbagong Swamp, five miles or so West of Kiama. Now, if Sheridan had only sunk his money in a Kiama hotel one could have understood and admired his wisdom. As it is… Still, one never knows. There’s a good road to Jamberoo, and the folk thereabouts are all well-heeled.
The singing publican gained the license of the Commercial Hotel in May 1853, and immediately transferred it to his brother Ronald. He remained on as manager, supervising the remodelling of the pub into a traditional style Tudor Inn.
The Kiama Independent reported on July 22 1953:
Kiama Rotary Club’s “night of the year” on Monday – of which more anon – saw a performance by Ivor Sheridan who has played leading roles in Opera here and on the Continent. Mr. Sheridan, we hear from one quarter, has taken the Commercial Hotel at Jamberoo and will be doing something for the “greater cultural glory of the South Coast.” He is said to be planning remodelling the hotel as an old English Inn and may even provide a drinking song or two. From what we remember of English inns the only drinking song ever heard was “Past time, gents. Last orders, please,” – and it was not to music.
By 1954, Ivor at the age of 49 had divorced his wife, Evelyn, and had a new woman in his life – wealthy Kiama widow, Thelma Stewart. His new partner, both in life and business, had lost her husband, who died in May 1952.
Ivor and Thelma secured the license of the Federal Hotel in Bourke, in western NSW, in May 1954. They married in Bourke that same month, and managed the pub there until the late 1950s. The Western Herald reported on May 28 1954:
Distinguished Celebrity Arrives in Bourke
The Federal Hotel is now under new management, being bought by Ivor Sheridan and his brother Len, who is the licensee. Mr Sheridan is a famous! Operatic Tenor, singing leading roles in the Paris Opera, Vienna, Berlin, Antwerp, Lille, Naples, Rome, Cairo, Damascus. Jerusalem, Rouen, and many other Opera Houses too numerous to mention here — having sung in 25 countries… Mr. Sheridan and his family have lived on the South Coast, Wollongong, for the past 40 years and last Thursday a most happy event took place here in Bourke. Mr. Sheridan was married to Mrs. Thelma Stewart, of Kiama. Mrs Stewart, whose maiden name was Weston, is a grand-daughter of a former Governor-General. A very beautiful service was conducted by the Rev. L.. G. McDonald, later a celebration took place at the Federal Hotel, where Mr. Sheridan charmed his guests with some songs. We are pleased to have Mr. Sheridan and his brother in Bourke and hope their stay among us will be happy and pleasant. Mr. Sheridan’s scrap-book, which we were privileged to look over, was very interesting.
Not much is known of the singing publican’s later years and how many other pubs he was associated with after the Federal Hotel at Bourke. He died in Sydney during 1975 at the age of about 65. As far as can be gathered, there were no children from Ivor Samuel’s two marriages.