My memories of Bob Dyer go back into the very late 1940's. I was born in 1944 and radio was something I grew up with. Back then it was known as 'The Wireless.' I suppose because it somehow picked up electric signals from out of the air. It was a wonder, even then.
The 1950's heralded all kinds of changes that we were yet to encounter and try to understand, such as the death of the English King George IV and the Coronation of his eldest daughter, Queen Elizabeth. Another tremendous moment was the beginning of television. But before those events, here in a country that still rode upon the sheep's back, life went slowly and peacefully on. As a six year old, I walked to school across paddocks with an ancient hay barn greying to decay on the horizon. On the radio, before I started school, when I was four and five, I listened to all kinds of programs: everything from kid's breakfast shows to women's serials. Morning to mid-day with the likes of 'Nicky' Whitta and Nancy Lee and the fledgling Graham Kennedy. And there were the night-time programs, amongst them the comedy shows like 'Laugh Till You Cry,' 'Life With Dexter,' 'Bonnington's Bunk-House Show,' 'The Quiz Kids,'(Featuring the very young, brilliant, completely annoying, never shut-upping Barry Jones.) and 'The Pied Piper.' with Keith Smith. Quiz shows like Jack Davey's and Bob Dyer's were the backbone of radio before t.v. came knocking on the door.
And when it did, Bob and 'Doll' grabbed it with eager hands. Of course there were many who made the transition, or attempted to. The likes of Dan Webb, Happy Hammond, Kennedy himself and Bert Newton. Even the great Jack Davey made an attempt, but by then he was extremely ill and looked it, even in black and white.
Yet Bob Dyer succeeded.
I think for several reasons. First off, he had a tried and true product that had worked on radio and would work even more effectively in front of a live audience both in the studio and in the home. Secondly, he was not reliant on someone employing him as were most of the others. If you wanted Bob Dyer, you had to take Dolly and the program. And that program was 'Pick-a-Box.' Solely owned by Bob and Dolly. It was their baby and it sustained them on television from 1957 to 1971. That is some run, almost a quarter of a century. Third, Dyer was a born salesman, and what he had to sell, the sponsors wanted.
Born in 1909, Robert Neal (Bob) Dyer came from Tennessee, U.S.A. and his family name appears to be Dies and somehow this was altered to Dyer. Having learnt ukulele, mouth-organ and guitar from his mother, Bob left home at age 17 and hitch-hiked around the country, doing song and dance stints, sometimes at carnivals or even on showboats. In 1937 Dyer travelled to Australia with The Marcus Show vaudeville
troupe. Billed as 'The Hill Billy,' Bob dressed in loud checked pants that were too short and revealed equally loud socks. In 1940 he met Thelma McLean, a nineteen year old Tivoli dancer, who was known as Dorothy (Dolly) Mack. Nine days on, Bob proposed to her and nine days later they married. An eighteen day courtship that led to a marriage, ended only upon Bob's death in 1984.
Listening as a kid to Bob's catch-cries such as, 'Happy lathering, Customers.' for a soap sponsor, 'Howdy, Customers, Howdy.' and the memorable, 'The money or the box?' I never dreamed that one day I would see Bob Dyer and his show-girl wife in the flesh. It happened when Dyer came down to Melbourne to do a short series of
'Pick-a-Box,' for 7 at the Teletheater. It was sometime before 1968, (When I moved on.) perhaps '66 or '67, and when the Dyer's came to town they did it their way.
The entire 'Pick-a-Box,' set was crated down from N.S.W. Overseen by a trusted right-hand-man, (Whose name now escapes me,) the very flats, rostrums, podiums, seating and indeed, the boxes, were those that had seen the likes of Barry Jones confound and confuse even the great Bob Dyer, much to the viewing audience's amusement.
What was on set at the Fitzroy Teletheater was exactly what had been in Sydney. And so too Bob, and his 'Doll.' Between them, they had out-lived the competition of radio, Jack Davey included, and established a program that was to continue their way of life in Sydney and out in the ocean that was their big-fishing playground. They both were very clever business people. My honest impression of Bob and Dolly was that they were two aging people from another era, still sharp enough to go on for a long time,
and I felt honoured to have worked on staging for their moment in
Melbourne. Dolly lived a further twenty years and died in 2004.
I never got to see Jack Davey, the New Zealander, who was wittier, sharper, swifter with a funny reply, (Even when interviewing a teenage John Howard.) than Bob Dyer. But I'm sure that the Dyer's didn't mind.
Their union, their very own show, was their victory.