The girls last night saw Mary Poppins and her umbrella fly over the rooftops and land on the stage of the Capitol Theatre. Bert, Jane, Michael and Mary danced with the chimney sweeps, had tea on the ceiling, jumped into the world of toys, and flew kites. A supercalafragilistic time was had by all.
Who created these enduring characters? Perhaps someone who grew up with a string of horrible nannies and distant parents and dreamed of a better life? Surely a Londoner who had daily contact with the upstairs/downstairs world and was familiar with cockney life?
Or was Mary Poppins created by a team of writers from the Disney Studios to showcase young talents Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyck?
Would you believe that the entire world of Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane was created by a girl from Maryborough in rural Queensland?
PJ Travers was the JK Rowling of her time, and like her creation Mary Poppins, even when famous, she ‘never told anybody anything’.
Travers was born in 1899 as Helen Coff, in Maryborough, where her father Travers worked in a bank. he was born in London, but had Irish connections, which meant that he considered himself a romantic poet and drank too much. He and his eldest daughter would sit at night and make up stories about the stars.
He died when she was seven, and the family moved to Bowral, supported by a very strict great aunt. I wonder if she met a young Don Bradman, 9 years her junior?
She had a brief career as a dancer and actress, then as a poet and journalist. In 1924, aged 25, she left Australia and travelled to England to seek her fortune. She never returned.
Mary Poppins was published in 1934. Another seven books about her adventures were published subsequently, the last in 1988!
It was the Disney movie of 1964 that brought her fame and fortune. Ironically, she hated it, and refused to give Disney permission to use her character again.
Pamela Travers died in London in 1996, aged 97.