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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Foster, Dorothy Isabel May (1908–1981)

by Richard Lane

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Dorothy Isabel May Foster (1908-1981), radio producer, scriptwriter and actress, was born on 14 February 1908 at Devonport, Tasmania, elder daughter of Victorian-born parents Charles Marshall Foster, engineer, and his wife Mary Isabel, née Collett. After leaving the Collegiate School, Hobart, Dorothy worked as a typist and organised the local children’s session for the Australian Broadcasting Co. She married Alan Aubrey Salter, a draftsman, on 18 June 1930 at the Wesley manse, Hobart; they later divorced.

In 1934 Foster went to Melbourne, where she worked as a secretary for John Tait. Next year she was employed as an announcer by radio-station 3UZ. Freelancing from 1937, she became well known on Victorian radio, especially as Dilly on radio 3AW’s `Shell Show’. She began her career as a radio producer with `David Copperfield’ and `Bindle’, while also performing in theatre with a Hal Percy company. In 1939 she was appointed to the radio division of J. Walter Thompson Australia Pty Ltd in Sydney. On 5 May that year she married Robert Gray Nicolson, a wool buyer, at the Congregational manse, Woollahra; they divorced in 1947. By 1940 she had formed her own production company, Dorothy Foster Radio Features.

During World War II variety and comedy shows for radio were produced in Australia rather than coming from the United States of America. The most glamorous and costly of these productions was `Calling the Stars’, sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive Pty Ltd and presented on radio 2GB (2UE from 1946), and relayed interstate. Among its star-studded cast were the comedians Jack Davey, `Mo’ (Roy Rene) and Willie Fennell. Foster created `Ada and Elsie’ for this program, wrote almost all the scripts and played the role of Ada.

Introduced as `those two old-fashioned girls’, Ada and Elsie would flit to the microphone and gaze primly at their auditorium audience. They wore frilly-necked white blouses, round glasses and round flat straw hats. Although they spoke ingenuously, insinuations abounded in what they said, due largely to Foster’s writing. Neither Ada nor Elsie was very bright. Playing the character was something of a triumph for Foster, who was a very intelligent woman. She was, according to Jacqueline Kent, `small, dark-haired and birdlike’. Rita Pauncefort, who played Elsie, was tall and stately, with the hauteur and vowels of a `grande dame’. Ada and Elsie made their last broadcast in 1954.

Through this period Foster was also a dress designer and owner of two `frock salons’. Later she wrote and produced for radio-station 2CH. A woman of inexhaustible energy, she then opened a coffee shop. When the demand for radio writing and acting began to fall away with the coming of television, she became a real estate agent, continuing this job until her death. However, her heart was in show business. In 1980 she said: `I still write a gag a day, just to keep in touch’. Survived by her adopted daughter, she died on 5 July 1981 at St Leonards and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Kent, Out of the Bakelite Box (1983)
  • Listener In, 20 Aug 1938, p 5, 7 Sept 1938, p 8, 10 Dec 1938, p 6, 18-24 Feb 1939, p 3
  • ABC Weekly, 20 July 1946, p 9, 24 Sept 1949, p 42
  • People (Sydney), 25 Feb 1953, p 10
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 14 Feb 1978, p 7
  • private information.

Citation details

Richard Lane, 'Foster, Dorothy Isabel May (1908–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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