I first became properly aware of Jon English when I was a teenager. The local library had a copy of the stage show "The Pirates of Penzance" on VHS tape, filmed in 1994 for Essgee Entertainment, and I borrowed it. I loved it so much, I watched it again and again, and borrowed the video from the library again and again. In the recorded version I watched, Jon English played an absolutely delightful Pirate King, with tight purple pants used to good effect. When the "special anniversary" version of the same show toured live in Australia between 2001-2003, and reprised Jon English as The Pirate King again, I made sure I was in the audience. With some of the leads replaced with new actors, the show was both exactly as I remembered and also updated with new jokes and actions. The best thrill, of course, was seeing Jon English performing live. Jon knew how to work the stage to great effect, performing vocal tricks, timing jokes to perfection, swashbuckling and swordfighting with great energy.
The Pirate King swings out over the audience on a rope to great applause. Upon a landing back on the stage, the conductor starts telling him off from the orchaestra pit. A bit of verbal banter later, The Pirate King and conductor start a quick swordfight. The conductor fences with his baton and succeeds in disarming The Pirate King, turning to the audience to take his applause. The Pirate King steals the baton while the conductor is distracted. "I'll do it myself, I have a white shirt too, you know!" and waves the baton at the orchaestra, to disastrous effect.
Jon English is an Australian entertainment icon but was not born in Australia. He was born in England in 1949, and emigrated to Australia in 1961. He packed decades of entertaining into his life before dying from surgery complications in 2016, the same year a great number of other famous people also died. Three careers in music, television, and stage shows were combined into the one career of this versatile performer.
Upon learning some shocking news, The Pirate King falls over flat on his back, spread eagled with tight purple pants clad legs far apart. After a while, he raises his head, looks at Frederic, looks at the laughing audience, looks down at his pants, and suddenly modestly crosses his legs before continuing his dialogue.
Jon burst onto the entertainment scene in a big way when he was cast as Judas Iscariot in the first Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972. Turning in a stellar performance with fantastic vocals and energetic gymnastics, Jon English really made a name for himself. He was kept busy touring all of Australia and New Zealand for the next five years, but found time to be even busier, at the same time releasing 4 albums and appearing in many minor TV roles, including several police drama shows and a recurring role on the soap opera "Number 96".
To emphasis Frederic's contract length of 21 birthdays vs years, The Pirate King pulls the contract from his belt and starts reading it out loud. "Dear Pirate King," he reads, "I love your purple pants. Meet me in th...." "No! That's the wrong one!" exclaims Ruth, quickly grabbing the letter out of his hands and giving him the correct document. The Pirate King grabs the first letter back, tucking it safely into his tunic for later before reading the actual contract.
Jon English was well known on the Australian rock music scene and during his lifetime released a total of 21 albums, including 11 studio albums, 2 live albums, and 1 soundtrack album. The 22nd album was released four months after his death. Jon was also included on a number of cast recordings for musicals. A singer, guitarist, and songwriter, Jon in his later years had a distinctive rasp to his voice that added a unique sound to his rock music. His music career first started in highschool with two different bands. In 1969, the band he was in, Sebastian Hardie, provided backing for Johnny O'Keefe. Jon English played rhythm guitar and sang until leaving the band in 1972 and becoming Judas on stage.
The Pirate King has hit an unaccompanied solo in his song and isn't letting anyone get in his way, especially the meddling conductor. He swaggers around the stage, messing around with and repeating the two syllables of "pirate" for a while, refusing to move on with the song. Grabbing his sword and using the hilt as a microphone, The Pirate King gets softer and louder on one long held solo note as he moves the "microphone" closer and further away. The conductor facepalms.
A popular 13 episode mini-series called "Against the Wind" aired in 1978, with Jon English as the lead male actor. Jon wrote the title song for the series, called "Six Ribbons", describing how he would shower his love with many things if he were another man, but he is just a poor simple farmer and he only has six ribbons to give his love. The mini-series "Against the Wind" was set in the late 1700s, less than a decade after the colonisation of Australia. The setting involved convicts, corrupt military, and poor people trying to get by as best they could. Proving himself once again an excellent actor, Jon English won the Logie Award in 1979 for "Best New Talent" for this role.
The piratical nursemaid Ruth starts her song. While the intro music plays, she brushes dust off Frederic's shirt and pulls up his boots before moving on to The Pirate King and closing his shirt over his chest. He glances down, sees what she's done, looks at her gobsmacked, then back and forth from Ruth to the laughing audience. He grabs his shirt and pulls it wide open over his chest again with a little swagger while staring at the audience with a "can you believe that?" expression.
Once again in the lead role on television, the sit-com "All Together Now" saw Jon English playing an ageing rocker with his head still in the 70s hey days, clashing with his son and daughter who are firmly in the current 90s. The show had 4 seasons between 1991 and 1993, with a total of 101 episodes. Once again, Jon wrote the title song, "All Together Now", detailing the grand old days of rocking, life taking a turn for the worse, but now getting your feet back on the ground and getting it all together now. The show and actors were nominated for 4 Logie Awards in 1992, and nominated for another 2 in 1993.
The Major General pokes The Pirate King in the back with his umbrella to get him to stop leaving. The Pirate King takes exception to this and whips out his sword. Fencing ensues, with The Major General using his umbrella with great gusto. The Pirate King soon realises his opponent is not properly fencing and is merely hitting the end of his sword. The Pirate King holds his sword still and looks around at the audience with a confounded look. The Major General continues whacking away at the end of The Pirate King's sword. The Pirate King gives a flirting wave to someone in the audience while still holding his sword still. Soon after, The Major General notices the pirates all standing around watching and he slows down his hits. He turns them into a few playful banter hits on the sword instead. The Pirate King takes on a "I've had enough of this" expression, and lowers his sword against his opponent's throat. Not giving up, The Major General pulls a karate kid stance. The audience loves it! The Pirate King looks at the audience, concedes it was pretty good, and joins in applauding The Major General.
Spanning over four decades, Jon performed in a great number of stage shows & musicals, including the Jesus Christ Superstar performance which kicked his career into high gear, the title role for Rasputin, four Essgee Entertainment productions (The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado, HMS Pinafore, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Hairspray, Spamalot, and plenty of others. Jon English even co-wrote his own stage show "Paris", named after the prince of Troy in the Trojan War.
Frederic has rejoined the pirates as his duty commanded him to, but has unfortunately realised his duty also requires him to tell them that his future father-in-law is not an orphan at all. "General Stanley," Frederic begins, "escaped from you on the plea that he was an orphan." The Pirate King reacts violently, grabbing Frederic's shirt and exclaiming, "He did?!" "Yes," Ruth says dryly, "You were there." The Pirate King reflects for a second. "Oh! Yes! Right."
The second and last time I ever saw Jon English perform live was in Perth in 2012, less than 10 metres away from the stage. "The Rock Show" was a collaboration between Jon English and nine extremely talented young rockers. In Jon's words, "...they all play about four of five instruments each and it’s very theatrical and very funny." The Rock Show was a whirlwind tour through rock music between 1960 and 1980, covering many famous artists and bands. The show's journey started in the 1960s and worked its way through the years and events of rock, with a narration of rock history punctuated by excellent music, sometimes snippets, sometimes full songs, all interweaving together. The subject matter was treated with sincerity, humour, respect, and above all was made extremely entertaining. Almost all of the troupe took their turn in the spotlight, Jon English treating himself as just one of the many high calibre people on stage while remaining humble and aware that his name had drawn many audience members to the show.
The song "With Cat-Like Tread" was performed by the pirates, ending with The Pirate King taking centre stage to do high kicks and jumping over his sword held in both hands multiple times before standing proudly with his sword held high and visibly breathing heavily. The crowd goes wild. The conductor turns to the crowd and holds up his finger in the universal sign of "one more?" and the crowd agrees. The Pirate King isn't happy, but the conductor has started the music again. He goes to the back of the stage to start the ending again. More high kicks! A cartwheel added! More jumping over his sword! Falling to his knees to present his sword over his head, and breathing even heavier. The conductor again asks the crowd with his finger, "one more?". The Pirate King starts to argue but bows to the music starting and heads back to the start of the ending again. The pirates all join into a cancan line and do high kicks together! The Pirate King takes centre stage to do some hip wiggling and flash his chest. He falls to his knees, too tired to even hold up his sword. He argues with the conductor more emphatically but the music starts once more! A high kick, a handspring forward roll, and a flash of the chest. Walking forward towards the conductor, he starts fiddling with his belt, giving the mildest suggestion he might piss on a certain irritating conductor, but backing down and continuing the song. Exhausted, The Pirate King falls down flat upon his back, spread eagled. The crowd goes wild! The Pirate King drags himself up. "Wait a minute!" he exclaims, "Just a minute please, this is very important. Please listen. This is...We haven't finished yet!" He pulls up his knee-high boots. "There's some very important dialogue to do!" He raises his hand into the air and the crowd goes wild again. He sags with exhaustion. "We haven't finished yet!" he pleads, and raising his hand again, he tremors out the word "Away" and the pirates start stumbling off.
For me, Jon English will always remain immortalised in my heart as the tight purple pants wearing Pirate King. Sometime in the last four years I bought the DVD of the EssGee Entertainment 1994 stage show recording of The Pirates of Penzance through The ABC Shop. The video quality of the recording on this DVD is the same as the old VHS standard, which was fine on a small TV in the 90's but is terrible by today's standards and TV resolutions. If you are able to withstand the terrible video quality, you will be treated to a spectacular romp through this well-known Gilbert and Sullivan musical. Modern audiences will be familiar with the way productions of Gilbert and Sullivan's works are often updated with references to current events and local knowledge, and this production is no different. As with many other productions of Gilbert and Sullivan musicals, liberties have been taken with the work while remaining true to the spirit. From the troupe of daughters being reduced down to three harmonising doo-wop girls plus Mabel, to the rubber-boned police chief who even rides a unicycle at one point, to the modern Major General performing many humourous mimes, this production is certainly full of flavour and originality. Jon English's performance both fits right in and stands out too; The Pirate King extraordinaire, a shining testament to the skill and energy Jon English always brought to entertain us all.