Story: Vaughan, Terence

Page 1 - Biography

Vaughan, Terence

1915–1996

Pianist, wartime entertainment director, conductor, composer, performing arts administrator

This biography was written by Peter Downes and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 5, 2000

Terence Vaughan was born in Whangarei on 26 May 1915, the second child of Dorothy Helen Gillespie and her husband, Sydney Maurice Vaughan, a merchant. After the family’s move to a Canterbury farm and later to Christchurch, Terry was educated at Hororata School, New Brighton School, and as a boarder at Timaru Boys’ High School. He began piano tuition with Ruby King in Christchurch and continued to more advanced levels with Ernest Empson.

In 1933 Vaughan went to Canterbury College, where he studied music under J. C. Bradshaw, graduating with a diploma of music. In May 1935 he took up a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London, studying piano, composition and conducting. He received several medals and prizes, the most notable being the Philip Leslie Agnew Composition Prize in 1938 for a set of variations on an original theme for cello and pianoforte. In the same year he gained the academy’s highest award, the certificate of merit, for piano.

After completing his studies in July 1938 Vaughan worked as a free-lance musician. With the onset of the Second World War he enlisted, and on 26 October 1939 he joined the 34th Anti-tank Battery, a unit comprising expatriate New Zealanders living in Britain. He was posted to Egypt in April 1940 and in February 1941 was transferred to the newly formed New Zealand Entertainment Unit – the Kiwi Concert Party. He was initially appointed as pianist, but when the founding musical director and producer, Tom Kirk-Burnnand, was invalided out of the unit in October 1941, Vaughan was promoted to take his place.

As a mobile, self-contained entertainment unit – yet fully infantry trained and armed – it was the function of ‘the Kiwis’ to take music and comedy revue performances to the New Zealand Division in the field. Often working under fire near the front line, for four years the group followed the path of the hostilities through the Middle East and Italy, the high quality and popularity of their performances soon giving them legendary status. In 1943 Vaughan was commissioned in the field to second lieutenant and the following year was mentioned in dispatches. In 1945, after a period as lieutenant, he was promoted to captain. Shortly before the war’s end in 1945 he was made an MBE (military division) in recognition of his outstanding work as leader and prime motivating force behind the Kiwi Concert Party.

After returning to New Zealand in late 1945 Vaughan worked as a pianist–arranger for the New Zealand Broadcasting Service in Wellington. The following year he accepted an offer to head a reassembled, but now civilian, Kiwi revue company under the management of the Australian theatrical organisation J. C. Williamson Limited. Beginning in April 1946, a planned three-month tour of Queensland became an unparalleled eight-year triumph around all the major cities of Australia and New Zealand.

On 14 October 1947 in Auckland, Vaughan married Roma Hope Collins. After four years with the civilian Kiwis, Vaughan returned to Wellington in early 1951 and became a free-lance pianist and arranger–conductor. His work included many radio appearances with instrumental ensembles and he was also engaged as guest conductor of the National Orchestra. By then, in 1949, he had won a competition sponsored by the NZBS, setting a poem by Ruth France to music: The stream and the discovery for choir and orchestra. Years later a review of the work in Music in New Zealand commented that Vaughan’s ‘unusual combination of gifts showed him to be master of the ceremonial style … with an ear attuned to Walton, Elgar and the English rhetorical tradition’. Another work, Dialectic: trio for violin, cello and piano , was written in 1951 and placed first in a competition organised in that year by the Wellington Chamber Music Society.

Vaughan moved to Melbourne in 1954 to take up a position with J. C. Williamson Theatres Limited. First working as personal assistant to the managing director, Frank Tait, he soon took over the duties of director of music and casting director for Australasia. In 1965 the new Canberra Theatre Centre appointed him as its first director from a field of 88 applicants, and he remained as head of this performing arts complex until his retirement in 1980. That year he was made an OBE for services to Australian theatre. He moved to Perth in 1982 and in 1995 published his autobiography, Whistle as you go. He died in Perth on 26 April 1996, survived by his wife and their three children.

Of an unassuming and genial nature, Terry Vaughan was gifted with good humour and pronounced qualities of quiet leadership. Largely by his own example he was able to charm those working under his direction to give of their best. His talents and influence were widely felt throughout Australasia and his contribution to trans-Tasman performing arts in general was impressive and well recognised. His honoured place in New Zealand’s entertainment history, however, had long been guaranteed by his inspired leadership of the unique Kiwi Concert Party.