WEARING the same dinner jacket and shiny shoes he did at his first show 50 years ago, Doubleview entertainer Peter Harries’ enthusiasm for performing has not withered with age.
“My mother was theatrical and I went on stage for the first time when I was four to recite a poem,” he said.
With a lengthy and diverse career as an entertainment host, Mr Harries was the first musician to audition in the Channel 9 studios when it opened in 1965.
“A friend and I were at the Charles Hotel one day and after a few shandies he said a new TV studio was opening and I should get in touch with them,” Mr Harries said.
“He gave me the telephone number and I called at the telephone booth. I was joking around and I said ‘My name is Peter Harries, without doubt the greatest undiscovered television talent in Australia’.
“The director at Channel 9 said ‘how soon can you be here?’.”
From there, Mr Harries went on to host a range of children’s entertainment programs including Charlie, Punch and Me, Under the Coolabah Tree and On the Wharf.
“In the early days, I used to host for three hours before the news so if the slides jammed or something went wrong, I’d be there in the studio live until news time, off the cuff,” he said.
“I got paid 10 pounds a show.”
In 1968, during the Vietnam War, Mr Harries and a concert party travelled to South Vietnam to entertain the Australian and American troops.
“We were constantly under armed supervision and rode in buses with metal screening,” he said.
“I was surprised because at the time Saigon was just like Perth, the only difference was on every street corner there was a man with a machine gun.
“What I saw in Vietnam was people going to work and school and working, and while there was corruption at a government level the people were free and I thought it was terrible that another group of people wanted to impose totalitarian rule.”
Mr Harries had free reign to write and host daily program The Channel Niners Club, a 45-minute daily children’s program.
“I always wanted to have a castle when I was a kid, so the set was a huge castle,” he said.
With two sons of his own and working as a TV entertainer, Harries also kept busy entertaining at cabaret shows and dinner theatres.
After leaving television, Harries operated a South Perth theatre restaurant The Knight Klub for 16 years, which earned him the nickname ‘king of klubs’.
Harries lamented the death of the traditional dinner theatre show and live television entertainment.
“When the casino first opened they offered free live entertainment and cabaret so that’s when we noticed a decline in business,” he said.
After a long career and two open heart surgeries and a home museum full of showbiz memorabilia, Harries went on to complete a PhD at the age of 60.
“All I ever wanted to do in life was be an entertainer,” he said.
“I’m sad about how things have gone in TV; it is the end of an era for live shows.”