Willie Fennell

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Willie Fennell

William John Fennell

(1920-01-20)20 January 1920
Died9 September 1992(1992-09-09) (aged 72)
Sydney, Australia
Other names"Phooey" Fennell
  • Actor
  • comedian
  • producer
  • scriptwriter
  • soldier
Years active1945–1992

William John Fennell OAM (20 January 1920 – 9 September 1992)[2] was an Australian radio, television (serials and mini-series), stage and film actor, comedian, producer, radio scriptwriter and writer who appeared in many Australian television series in a lengthy career spanning over 50 years, recognised by his slightly nasal, raspy voice, moustache and pork pie hat. As a comedian, his style was stated as a sad humour worth more than a belly-laugh and said to be contrasted with the blue comedy of contemporary performer Roy Rene.[1]

He appeared in numerous films, TV movies, miniseries and series, but is probably best known for his longer running roles in The Young Doctors as Arthur Simmonds and Sons and Daughters as Spider Webb.


Early life[edit]

Fennell was born to William Hugh Fennell, a vocational trainer, and his wife Alma Doris (née Tie). After finding employment as a travelling salesman, he pursued interests in scriptwriting, tap dancing, radio entertaining and comedy theatre, before World War II beckoned, he served with Citizen Military Forces and then the Australian Imperial Force. After being promoted to sergeant he was discharged, on 28 April 1944, taking a position with the Department of Civil Aviation Civil Aviation Force. He started appearing in theatre roles from 1947.[3]

Writing career/stage and radio[edit]

He became interested in scriptwriting and wrote a radio program based on the comic strip characters Blondie and Dagwood. As character Phooey Fennell, a BBC race caller he started appearing on radio programs and scripted and starred in the popular radio series Life With Dexter during the 1950s and 1960s, which ran for more than 500 episodes and was also sold to New Zealand and South Africa radio,[4] and also wrote a series of books collecting the scripts of the radio show including Life with Dexter, Dexter Loses His Head, Dexter Sings, More Life with Dexter, My Third Life with Dexter, The Desert Island Wreckers, Dexter's Court, Dexter's Fit, Dexter Gets the Point, Car-razy Life with Dexter, Dexter and Ashleigh Muddle On and Dexter Detects. Fennell also wrote a book of poetry and humorous sketches entitled Mad Stuff.[2] After the advent of television to Australia, he became a notable character actor, appearing in numerous stage productions, most notably Alan Seymour's The One Day of the Year.

Film and television credits[edit]

Film roles included Cathy's Child, Hoodwink and the mini-series A Fortunate Life. On television, he was well known for roles in the 1970s and 1980s, including Jeremiah Quizzel in The Lost Islands, Arthur Simmonds on a recurring basis in The Young Doctors from 1976 to 1978, and Sons and Daughters as Spider Webb in the mid-1980s. He regularly appeared in A Country Practice in various roles, most especially as Skeeter Martin. He appeared in G.P., Chopper Squad, The Flying Doctors and Mother and Son.

Fennell was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1991 for "service to the entertainment industry".[5]

Actor Geoffrey Rush praised Fennell as an early influence.[1]

Personal life[edit]

On 30 November 1946 Fennell married Joy Therese Hawkins, divorcing her in 1975. He was the father of Susan Fennell and Jane Fennell, best known as "Miss Jane" on the Australian children's television show Mr. Squiggle.


Production Year Role
Australian Playhouse 1966 Rosa' Father
Nice 'n Juicy (TV series) 1966-1967 Jack Hmalin
Contrabandits (TV series) 1967 Don
Homicide (TV series) 1968 2 roles
News Revue (TV series) 1969 Various characters
Riptide (TV series) 1969 3 roles
The Rovers (TV series) 1969 Albert Pringle
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (TV series) 1968-1969 3 roles
Little Jungle Boy 1969 Dr. Barney O' Hara
Barrier Reef (TV series) 1970 Pilgrim
Division 4 (TV series) 1972 Henry Roberts
Boney (TV series} 1972 Needle Kent
Behind the Legend (TV series) 1972 Jim
Spyforce (TV series) 1973 Brigenden-Smith
...And Millions Die! (TV movie) 1973 Sid Broomberg
The Evil Touch (TV series) 1974 Doc
Mac and Merle (TV series) 1974 Basil Mc Inerney
The Love Affair (TV series) 1974 Reg Bates
The Seven Ages of Man (TV series) 1975 Terence Swanson
Ben Hall (TV mini-series) 1975 Piper
The Company Men (TV mini-series) 1975 ?
Caddie 1976 Doctor 2
Luke's Kingdom 1976 Shepherd (13 episodes)
The Emigrants (TV series) 1976 Harry
The Lost Islands (TV series) 1976 Jeremiah Quizzel
Do I Have to Kill My Child? (TV movie) 1976 Rob
The Outsiders (TV series) 1977 Bob Ryder
Kirby's Company 1977-1978 Santa
Case for the Defence (TV series) 1978 Grandpa Harris
Chopper Squad (TV series) 1978 Rodney Coombes
Glenview High (TV Series) 1978 ep:The Siren
Cathy's Child 1979 The Australian Counsel
One Day Miller (TV series) 1979 ?
Skyways (TV series) 1979 Jack Harris
The Young Doctors (TV series) 1977-1979 Arthur Simmonds
The Earthling 1980 R. C.
Spring and Fall (TV series) 1980 Bob
Young Ramsay (TV series) 1980 Ed Carroll
... Maybe This Time 1980 Mr. Todd
Hoodwink 1981 Bank Manager
...Deadline.. (TV movie) 1982 Old Alf
Ginger Meggs 1982 Walter Fotheringay
Cop Shop (TV series) 1983 ?
Pretty Petrol (TV movie) 1983 Everett Quince
Stanley: Every Home Should Have One Herb the Fisherman
Special Squad (TV series) 1984 Sol
Carson's Law (TV series) 1984 Neville Childe
A Fortunate Life (TV mini-series) 1986 Old Man
Sons and Daughters (TV series) 1985-1986 Arthur " Spider" Webb
The Place at the Coast 1987 Fred Ryan
Rafferty's Rules (TV series) 1988 Jim Stevens
The Flying Doctors (TV series) 1986-1989 2 roles
More Winners: Mr Edmund (TV movie) 1990 Mr. Lindstead
Elly & Jools (TV miniseries) 1990 Cec
A Country Practice (TV series) 1982-1990
The River Kings (TV miniseries) 1991 Praying Jack
E Street (TV series) 1991 Noah
Mother and Son (TV series) 1992 Pet shop Owner
G.P. (TV series) 1992 Re Kirby
Greenkeeping 1992 Old Player
Reckless Kelly 1993 Mr. Arnold
Shotgun Wedding 1993 Voice


  1. ^ a b c Jacqueline Kent (19 February 2007). "Fennell, William John (Willie) (1920–1992)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  2. ^ a b Arnold, John; John A. Hay; Sally Batten (2000). The Bibliography of Australian Literature. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press. ISBN 978-0-7022-3500-9.
  3. ^ "Willie Fennell". AusStage.
  4. ^ Life With Dexter for Come-back, The Age, 25 November 1955
  5. ^ "William John Fennell". Australian Honours Search Facility, Dept of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 1 October 2020.

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