Stuart Wagstaff was an English-Australian entertainer who was active in all genres of the industry including television, theatre, music and stage management. He is possibly best known for "Stuart Wagstaff's World Playhouse" and as the spokesman for Benson & Hedges cigarettes through the Seventies.
Wagstaff was born February 13, 1925 in Great Durnford, England and grew up on a farm with his parents and two older sisters. His father was very strict and emotionally abusive, and he received little affection from his mother, but she did frequently take him and his sisters to see plays and pantomime. The trips generated his early interest in the theatre.
In September 1940, Wagstaff lied about his age and joined the Royal Navy at the age of only 15 at the insistence of his father and became an apprentice aircraft mechanic in the Fleet Air Arm for most of World War Two. He served at naval air stations and on aircraft carriers but personally considered himself to be a poor mechanic. He frequently volunteered for ships' concert parties to further his interest in acting, and after the war he joined the Windsor Repertory as an assistant stage manager, occasionally taking small roles in plays. Eventually joining the Whitley Repertory, he started performing in plays and pantomime while also appearing on television and film.
Moving to Australia in 1958, he appeared in the J. C. Williamson production, "Not in the Book" and in the original "My Fair Lady" production, which he was associated with for the next four and a half years. He also appeared in "The Sound of Music." However, most of his early Australia television appearances consisted of commercials. He had a role in the 1960 Crawford Productions play "Seagulls Over Sorrento," followed by appearances in the drama series "Whiplash," the ABC play "Concord Of Sweet Sounds" and the historical serial, "The Hungry Ones."
In 1965, he started playing the male lead in the Channel 7 daytime show, "Beauty and the Beast," replacing actor Eric Baume, who was out sick. This breakout role lead to him landing roles in several stage productions, including "There's a Girl in My Soup," "Present Laughter" and "Private Lives." He also presented ATN-7's news program "The Wagstaff Report" in 1965 and started landing more roles on television, including roles in "Homicide," the American series "The Partridge Family," "The New Temperatures Rising Show" and several television movies. He eventually started working in late night, eventually landing his own series, "Stuart Wagstaff's World Playhouse." During this period, he started working as a spokesman for Benson and Hedges cigarettes, making over 115 commercials, but as cigarette smoke was later linked to cancer, he began to regret this choice in attracting people to smoking. Ironically, he was still being paid handsomely for seventeen years after his last commercial since the company still considered him the face of the product.
Working for three years in the United States, Wagstaff returned to Australia in 1975, making TV appearances and working as a panelist in Channel 9's "Celebrity Squares" and Channel 10's "Blankety Blanks." In 1977, he worked with Benny Hill in Benny Hill: Down Under, playing one of the gangsters in the "Archie's Angels" sketch. He also returned to the stage, once again playing Professor Higgins in "My Fair Lady" in a successful national tour. He also toured in 1981 as the narrator in "The Rocky Horror Show," a role he repeated a few years later with Russell Crowe. His later theater roles include appearances in "Noises Off" and "Blithe Spirit."
Returning to TV in the Early Eighties, Wagstaff hosted "The Midday Movie" and "Friday Night Movies" on the Seven Network for two years. More guest roles on television followed through the 1990s, including appearances in "G.P.," "Rafferty's Rules," "A Country Practice" and "All Saints." He also appeared on most of Channel 7 Perth's telethon and live broadcasts. He also continued working in stage productions of "Noises Off," "Black Comedy," "The Winslow Boy," "Lend Me A Tenor," Gershwin's musical "Crazy For You," a theatrical production of "Pan" at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney and Cameron Mackintosh’s production of "Oliver!" in the role of Mr. Brownlow. On January 26, 1998, Wagstaff was appointed Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his service to the community, particularly through the Channel 7 Perth Telethon Trust by raising funds for charities that support children's medical research.
Sadly, Wagstaff passed away from complications associated with pulmonary fibrosis on March 10, 2015.