Thelma and Gwen

Thelma Scott and Gwen Plumb.

Thelma Scott and Gwen Plumb.

At the pub tonight, we were discussing Thelma Scott and Gwen Plumb, apropos of absolutely nothing. I was reading my friend Graeme’s blog the other night and was reminded of the story of Thelma Scott. We all remembered her vividly, and with fondness, as a character from Number 96.

With that inspiration, I went on an internet search for her, and discovered she and Gwen Plumb, another iconic Australian figure were probably in a long-tem relationship. You would never know, though, from some of the online references…

Her funeral notice, for example, makes only a passing reference to theirs being a “great friendship”…

SCOTT, Thelma. Passed away peacefully at Royal North Shore Hospital, November 24, 2006. Formerly of Kirribilli. Great friend of Gwen Plumb (deceased) and Elaine Lee. Dear cousin of Shirley, Ann and Paddy. Sadly Missed. The relatives and friends of THELMA are kindly invited to attend her funeral service, this Wednesday (November 29, 2006), in the East Chapel of the Northern Suburbs Crematorium Delhi Road, North Ryde, commencing at 1.30 p.m. In lieu of flowers donations would be greatly appreciated to The Guide Dogs of Australia in Thelma’s honour

Her Wikipedia entry is equally circumspect…

For many years Scott lived in Kirribilli, New South Wales with Plumb, who died on 5 June 2002. They also had a house at Whale Beach where they hosted luncheons for show business colleagues. Four-and-a-half years later, Thelma Scott died of a heart attack at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. She was 93 years old, a fact noted by all the obituary writers who referred to her as the grand dame of Australian actors.

Gwen’s, however, is a little more forthright.

Her long-term partner was actress, Thelma Scott.

There’s also a reference to their working relationship in Thelma’s Wikipedia entry…

Scott also worked as a director on the opening night show of Channel Ten Sydney in 1965, titled TV Spells Magic, and did a stint as director on the daily chat show The Gwen Plumb Show.

But clearly they were in relationship. Theirs was not a “friendship”, it was a “relationship”.

Thelma’s obitury in The Australian was a little more forthright…

THELMA Scott, thespian and lifelong partner of actor Gwen Plumb, died last week at her Sydney home, aged 93. Scott’s career stretched from her first role in 1931 at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre through countless radio and TV appearances, including Skippy, Bellbird, The Young Doctors, Richmond Hill and Glenview High. In 1972 Scott played socialite Claire Houghton in Number 96. The role was written for her by series creator David Sale. Although she once said she “jumped at the role”, she also notoriously sent the producers a telegram before joining, saying she didn’t want any patterned drapes on her set. She was providing her own expensive wardrobe and didn’t want the competition.

I didn’t know them, so I can’t be sure. And although I respect the privacy issue, and I appreciate their relationship was from a different time and era, I still feel a little sad their obvious relationship was referred only even in modern times as a “friendship”.

  1. Bravo James. I am currently researching Gwen Plum as part of my work on my own memoir about being a woman working in radio, and got no indication about her relationship with Thelma. How very sad that these two remarkable women had to live their entire lives …and very public ones at that, with their most important relationship locked away in a closet….They both contributed so much to the fabric of who we are as Australians, while privately having to carry the burden of discrimination for as long as they lived…..A very big lesson for us all as humanity very slowly grows the fuck up!

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  2. Thanks Gayle. I agree completely with your comments.

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  3. For what its worth, Thelma and Gwen were my next door neighbours when I was a child from the late 60s and on, and we all knew, even as children that they were partners. They lived in an apartment block shared by several interesting women (and men) – artists, actors, writers, “film people” and other memorable personalities. I thought nothing of it at the time. As an adult I have often reflected on how lucky I was to grow up surrounded by a cluster of colourful, intelligent, bold and grounded women. Eccentric even then (one was always accompanied by her parrot “Mr Chips” on her shoulder). (:

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    1. Wonderful contribution Narchy, and how lucky you were to have grown up in such an interesting apartment block :)

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