Tim Burstall

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Tim Burstall
Born(1927-04-20)20 April 1927
Died19 April 2004(2004-04-19) (aged 76)
Melbourne, Australia
Other namesTimothy Burstall
Occupation(s)Film director, writer, producer
Years active1960–1996
Spouse Betty Burstall

Timothy Burstall AM (20 April 1927 – 19 April 2004) was an English Australian film director, writer and producer, best known for hit Australian movie Alvin Purple (1973) and its sequel Alvin Rides Again (1974).


Burstall's films featured early appearances by many legendary Australian actors including Jack Thompson, Bruce Spence, Jacki Weaver, Alvin star Graeme Blundell, John Waters and Judy Davis.

Speaking just after Burstall's death, David Williamson said that Burstall "couldn't stomach" Australia's lack of a film industry. "He was determined to do something about it and he had the energy and spirit to do it. (He) was a very important cultural figure: highly intelligent, widely read, with a succinct and often highly controversial opinion on everything."[ citation needed ]


Burstall was born in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, England in April 1927. His family came to Australia in 1937 after his father took up a chair as professor of engineering at the University of Melbourne. Attending Geelong Grammar, Burstall was taught by historian Manning Clark. When his parents returned to England after World War II he remained in Australia. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with Honours in History from the University of Melbourne in 1946, where he resided at Queen's College. He met Betty, whom he married, at the university. They built a mud brick house at Eltham, Victoria. [1] The family home from 1967-2013 was 148 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy (sold, 2013 [2] ). He later attended the University of Sydney and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Burstall originally wanted to be a novelist and thought that if he worked in film it might be a way to move into writing. [3] He went to work for the National Film Library with a view to getting a job at the Commonwealth Film Unit as a scriptwriter. He worked on a series of documentaries, editing and writing for the Antarctic Division. He became interested in film making after seeing 1953 French film White Mane at the Melbourne International Film Festival. [3]

He and Patrick Ryan established Eltham Films in 1959. [4]

In February 2012 sections of Burstall's personal journals from 1953–1955 were published by Melbourne University Press, under the title Memoirs of a Young Bastard. [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

Early career

Burstall's first film was a black-and-white short, The Prize. With photography by Gérard Vandenberg, The Prize won a bronze at the 1960 Venice Film Festival. Burstall's two young sons had acting roles.

Working with David Bilcock, Dusan Marek, Giorgio Mangiamele, Gérard Vandenburg, Allan Harness and composer George Dreyfus, Eltham Films made many short subjects, including acclaimed documentaries on Australian art, and early children's puppet series Sebastian the Fox . The latter first screened on the ABC in 1962-63, and Burstall later described the title character as "one of the first recessive Oz heroes". [3]

From 1965 to 67 Burstall was in the United States on a Harkness Fellowship. He studied scriptwriting with Paddy Chayefsky, directing with Martin Ritt, and acting with Lee Strasberg and the Actors Studio in New York. [1]

La Mama Theatre

One of the results of the trip was the founding by Burstall's wife, Betty, of La Mama Theatre, in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton. La Mama opened on 30 July 1967, modelled on the "off-off-Broadway" theatre of the same name in New York City.

After America

Burstall wrote and directed the 1969 feature 2000 Weeks . A commercial failure, savaged by the critics, the film's poor reception would lead Burstall to move to more populist works with his next films, Stork and sex comedy Alvin Purple. The film's failure also influenced Bruce Beresford and Phillip Adams to move in a more populist direction when they came to make early Australian hit The Adventures of Barry McKenzie in 1972.

Burstall then formed a new company with Pat Ryan, David Bilcock and Rob Copping, Bilock and Copping with the view to making commercials to fund features. He looked at making a film called Filth and had money to develop it, but decided to make Stork instead. [10]

Stork and David Williamson

Stork appeared in 1971, and proved a moderate commercial success. Stork won multiple Australian Film Institute awards, including best narrative feature, best director and best actor.

After the breakout success of Alvin Purple, Burstall would later return to work with Williamson on three further films: social drama Petersen (1974), which was seen in England and the United States (for which Stanley Kubrick praised Burstall for his direction and Jack Thompson for his acting), [1] big-budget romp Eliza Fraser (1976) [1] and Duet for Four (1982), the tale of a mid-life crisis. Burstall has argued that Eliza Fraser was made for an increased budget after Roadshow insisted on overseas stars; Susannah York played Eliza, and the cast also included Trevor Howard.

Alvin Purple

After forming Hexagon Productions, Burstall directed, produced and co-wrote (with Alan Hopgood) his next feature, sex comedy Alvin Purple (1973). The film was released in some territories as The Sex Therapist. Burstall estimated that he made $120,000 from Alvin Purple. [11] The film spawned a successful sequel which Burstall co-wrote. Later Hexagon films performed less well at the box office. In 1980 Burstall made a film for another company when he took over war movie Attack Force Z after Phillip Noyce had creative disagreements with the producers just before filming was due to begin.


Burstall directed episodes of series including Special Squad , Return to Eden II, The Man from Snowy River and Water Rats . His miniseries Great Expectations: The Untold Story was the first co-production between an independent filmmaker and ABC TV. [1]

Recognition and achievements

Burstall won a number of Australian Film Institute awards for his work, including best director for Stork (which also won the grand prize) and a best director nomination for his 1976 thriller End Play . His final theatrical feature was an adaptation of DH Lawrence novel Kangaroo in 1986. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Australia Day Honours 1996. [12] His wife Betty had been similarly honoured in 1993. [13]


On the evening of 18 April 2004 Burstall suffered a stroke. He was 76. [1] He was survived by his wife Betty (d. 2013) [14] and his sons Dan and Tom.

Awards and nominations

Selected filmography



Unmade Films


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Perry (2004)
  2. http://news.domain.com.au/domain/real-estate-news/fitzroy-cradle-of-creativity-20131017-2vni1.html [ bare URL ]
  3. 1 2 3 Murray p491
  4. David Stratton, The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival, Angus & Robertson, 1980 p21
  5. "Memoirs Of A Young Bastard, Hilary McPhee". Melbourne University Publishing. 1 February 2012.
  6. "Maintenance mode". hilarymcphee.com.
  7. MUP promotion video on YouTube
  8. "7.30". abc.net.au. 28 June 2023.
  9. "The Life of Tim Burstall". ABC Radio National. 7 February 2012.
  10. 1 2 Murray p493
  11. Murray p 495
  12. It's an Honour: Tim Burstall AM
  13. It's an Honour: Betty Burstall AM
  14. Missing Betty - Hilary McPhee; Meanjin, 10 Feb 2014 | "Missing Betty · Meanjin · Literacy in Australia · Melbourne University Publishing · Classic English Literature Books · Australian Literary Journals & Magazines". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  15. "6th Moscow International Film Festival (1969)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2012.
  16. "15th Moscow International Film Festival (1987)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
  17. Murray p492
  18. Murray p495

Related Research Articles

<i>Alvin Purple</i> 1972 Australian film directed by Tim Burstall

Alvin Purple is a 1973 Australian sex comedy film starring Graeme Blundell in the title role; the screenplay was written by Alan Hopgood and directed by Tim Burstall, through his production company Hexagon Productions and Village Roadshow.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">La Mama Theatre (Melbourne)</span>

La Mama Theatre is a not-for-profit theatre in Carlton, Victoria. It has been putting on contemporary theatre since 1967. La Mama produces work by theatre makers of all backgrounds.

Alvin Purple was an Australian television situation comedy series, made by the ABC in 1976. The series followed continued adventures of the title character, previously featured in the successful sex comedy feature film Alvin Purple (1973) and its sequel Alvin Purple Rides Again (1974). It debuted on 19 August 1976.

Alvin Rides Again is a 1974 Australian sex-comedy film sequel to Alvin Purple. It was directed by David Bilcock and Robin Copping, who were regular collaborators with Tim Burstall. It was rated M unlike its predecessor which was rated R. Alvin Rides Again still features a lot of full frontal nudity.

Roadshow Entertainment is an Australian home video, production and distribution company that is a division of Village Roadshow that distributes films in Australia and New Zealand. Their first release was Mad Max. Roadshow Entertainment is an independent video distributor in Australia and New Zealand.

Noel Ferrier AM was an Australian television personality, comedian, stage and film actor, raconteur and theatrical producer. He had an extensive theatre career which spanned over fifty years.

Dorian Leon Marlois Le Gallienne was an Australian composer, teacher and music critic.

Kangaroo is a 1987 Australian drama film directed by Tim Burstall and starring Colin Friels, Judy Davis, and John Walton. It is based on the 1923 novel of the same name by D. H. Lawrence.

Libido is a 1973 Australian drama film comprising 4 segments written and directed as independent stories, but screened together as one piece, exploring a common theme of instinctive desire and contemporary sexuality.

Petersen is a 1974 Australian drama film directed by Tim Burstall.

Stork is a 1971 Australian comedy film directed by Tim Burstall. Stork is based on the play The Coming of Stork by David Williamson. Bruce Spence and Jacki Weaver make their feature film debuts in Stork, being honoured at the 1972 Australian Film Institute Awards, where they shared the acting prize. Stork won the prize for best narrative feature and Tim Burstall won for best direction. Stork was one of the first ocker comedies. Stork was the first commercial success of the Australian cinema revival called the Australian New Wave.

2000 Weeks is a 1969 Australian drama film directed by Tim Burstall and starring Mark McManus, Jeanie Drynan, and Eileen Chapman.

Eliza Fraser is a 1976 Australian bawdy adventure drama film, directed by Tim Burstall and starring Susannah York, Trevor Howard, Noel Ferrier and John Castle. The screenplay was written by David Williamson.

The Naked Bunyip is a 1970 Australian documentary film directed by John B. Murray. The film explores sex in Australia using a fictional framework.

An Australian Independent Film, is an Australian film which is produced without government funding. This does not include deductions in the form of special tax concessions or rebates, but refers to up front financial investment from any local, state or commonwealth government authority, or the state and federal film funding bodies, such as Screen Australia, The New South Wales Film and Television Office, Screen Queensland, ScreenWest, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and The South Australian Film Corporation.

End Play is a 1976 Australian thriller film directed by Tim Burstall and starring George Mallaby, John Waters and Ken Goodlet. It was an adaptation of the 1972 novel End Play by Russell Braddon. It was made by Hexagon Productions.

Ross Dimsey is an Australian writer, producer, director and film executive.

Hexagon Productions was an Australian film production company established in 1972 by Roadshow Distributors with Tim Burstall and Associates and the company Bilcock and Copping. All parties had successfully collaborated on Stork (1971) and wanted to engage in further production. The company was owned along the following lines:

Betty Margaret Burstall was an Australian theatre director who founded the La Mama Theatre in Melbourne in 1967. Burstall and her theatre are credited with leading the growth of contemporary theatre in Melbourne during the 1960s and 1970s.

The Removalists is a 1975 Australian film based on the play of the same name.