Shirley Abicair (born 26 October 1928) is an Australian-born singer, musician, TV personality, actress and author.
Shirley Abicair was born in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Some sources show her year of birth as 1935, but a contemporary account shows she was 23 or 24 on arrival in Britain and, as she had completed tertiary studies in Australia, the earlier date seems more likely. She was the only daughter of a Wing Commander in the RAAF.
She resided in Adelaide prior to pursuing studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and/or Sydney University (as with her year of birth, accounts differ), where she studied philosophy, languages and the arts.
While studying in Sydney she began singing at parties and private functions to support her studies, accompanying herself on the zither. Self-taught, she is said to have found the zither whilst rummaging in a cupboard as a small child. She then entered and won a Sydney radio talent quest. This led to offers of engagements on radio and in theatre and cabaret.
In 1953, she left Sydney for London. She was photographed by a newspaper photographer looking for pretty faces whilst disembarking at London Airport. Her photo was spotted by a radio producer in the newspaper and within weeks this led to her appearing on BBC Television. Not much later that year she had her own programme in which she sang and played the zither. In December, she also appeared in the title role of the pantomime Cinderella with George Martin, the Casual Comedian, at the Brixton Empress Theatre. The zither was, along with her Australian-ness, to become her trademark. She released her first record "Careless Love" that year. During 1954 she co-starred with comedian Norman Wisdom in the film One Good Turn.
In 1956, she recorded (with the other George Martin producing) the title song for the soundtrack of the classic Australian film Smiley. Through the middle/late 1950s she hosted (with help from her puppet friends, Australian indigenous children, Tea Cup and Clothespeg), a series called Children's Hour, a children's TV show. In the process she became an unofficial ambassador and promoter of Australia to a generation of British children. This Australian image was reinforced by her release of records with titles such as "(I Love You) Fair Dinkum" and "Botany Bay". During 1959 she returned to Australia briefly to record a series of television documentary films she had conceived, based on Australian folk songs, entitled Shirley Abicair in Australia, for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) TV network.
In 1962, she toured the Soviet Union, and in the same year she gave a recital at the Festival Hall in London. Later that year in October she visited the USA for performances. It was in 1962 as well that her children's book, Tales of Tumbarumba was published. In June 1963 she returned to the US, appearing on the "Smothers Brothers" TV show and the panel game show To Tell the Truth. 1965 saw her put out an EP, "On the Nursery Beat", which was a number of nursery rhymes put to a Mersey beat. During 1965 she did a tour with British comedian Frankie Howerd to entertain British forces stationed in the Malay Peninsula and Sarawak, Borneo, during the unrest there. This tour was filmed and later released as a TV special "East of Howerd". During 1966–67 she released a number of more mature songs on record including her version of the Gerry Goffin–Carole King song "So Goes Love'" and Paul Simon's "Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall". She had previously, in the early 1960s, released three albums of folk songs.
In 1971, she moved to Oregon in the United States, where she appeared in a series of college concerts with the famed American writer Ken Kesey. Shirley Abicair currently lives in London and divides her time between Britain, the USA and Australia.
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