Frances Crown on two I.D.I.O.T. winners: her late dad Gerry, and the redoubtable Audrey New

Frances Crown, Gerry Crown

Frances! I’m so, so sorry to have missed your dad. He sounds remarkable. What a character! Thank you so much for making time to talk to us about him. In terms of orientating ourselves, you’re one of Gerry Crown’s three daughters…
That’s right. Geraldine, Patricia and me.

And for those that don’t know the name, who is Gerry Crown?
You know… That’s a really big question!

Isn’t it? Ha! I thought I’d start with a doozy!
I think if I was to describe him, it would be passionate and effusive… He was also a bit of an adventurer. He enjoyed company and he enjoyed the three W’s: whiskey, wine, and work.

Ha! The three W’s. Love it!
Dad was very gregarious and did lots of interesting things. He was also passionate about your interests though. So, from a daughter’s point of view, he’d be hugely enthusiastic about anything I did. He’d always encourage me – even, for example, just cycling around a country town. If I was excited about it, he was excited about it, you know, because it was something different.

And in terms of his work, he’s the co-founder, presumably, of Crown and Andrews. Who is Andrews?
Vic Andrews was his friend. Actually, in the first place Vic Andrews was the son of one of dad’s friends! They’d met at a exhibition show in the UK where dad was a demonstrator. I think Vic was a demonstrator too: certainly, Vic’s parents were demonstrators. They’d go to the different home shows and demonstrate household products: the humble potato peeler, a mouli maker…

Frances Crown, Gerry Crown

A what there, now? A mouli maker, did you say?
Yes! The old-fashioned equivalent of a blender. So if you’d cooked all your vegetables, you’d then put them in the mouli maker and it would come out pureed. It would also do cutting and things like that for coleslaw; it had different blades that you turned by hand. We still have one at home!

I can see that in my mind; exactly the kind of product that needs demonstrating at a show.
Right. And, as I say, dad met met Vic Andrews while doing those demos, because he would see Vic’s parents everywhere. And long story short: they decided to form Crown and Andrews down here in Australia – but they didn’t start off with toys. They had a variety of interesting things… One of them was called a Little Genie, which was a three-pronged lamp…

Like a decorative light? An electrical light?
Right. Sort of a lamp that you could put a light bulb in. It was metal; it had a metal frame, and then some plastic bits and three prongs with little feet to stop it from slipping. As a family, we’d put the plastic bits together and the feet on – ha! And the Little Genie was sold like that – people would put the feet together and you put it in a bottle, or you could detach the feet and put your lamp on top. I don’t even know where they sold that, I just remember putting these little black feet on the bottom as a kid.

I love the idea of you, Geraldine, Patricia, Gerry and your mum being an assembly line at the house. At what point did they start to segue into toys?
One of the things Crown and Andrews did was a gyroscope. A twisting toy; a sort of spinning top. And that’s another one we’d assemble and put stickers on. That was getting closer to toys. Then they had Sketch-a-Graph. So I think the Sketch-a-Graph was leading into that, even though that was kind of stationery toy.

Frances Crown, Gerry Crown

Right. And that product was a huge hit, absolutely huge. For those that don’t remember, it was a drawing toy – based on an artists’ tool – which let you trace, for want of a better word, the outline of a drawing on one piece of paper and duplicate it on another. But it could also enlarge or shrink images. So it’s interesting to me that two of Gerry’s big hits were sort-of toys, or not-quite toys – but that makes sense now I know his background.
Even while all of that was happening, though, there were other toys. They went for Bendy Toys, for example. Dad knew Charles Neufeld very well. In fact, he came out to us for dinner once – he had jet lag so badly that he just fell asleep. Ha! But they did business. You know, as a kid, you kind of just absorb whatever’s happening and not much of it makes sense in a sequence. But he increasingly got into toys. Test Match was a big one, the cricket board game.

Gosh! Yes! My brother and dad loved that game. And did you stay involved in the company, Frances? As you got older?
Yes, but by then the assembly line had morphed into demonstrating. So Geraldine and I would go to Myer, which is a department store here, or Grace Brothers. We’d have a table and would demonstrate products like the Beatrix Potter plaster cast sets. Patricia didn’t demonstrate in the stores, but she worked full-time for the company for about 20 years in production. She did stuff like contacting people about the outers, you know, the boxes and all that production stuff.

More the admin and logistics… And is that because – temperamentally – you were better suited towards demonstrations?
Definitely not! No. Ha!

Ha! Oh!
In fact, Geraldine and I were discussing this the other day and saying how much we hated it, because it just wasn’t us. It wasn’t us to be standing there talking about something. You know, one time Geraldine was in top hat and tails at the front of Myer and just hating it; worrying about people she knew possibly coming in and seeing her. We both hated it.

Oh, gosh. And why top hat and tails?! Do you remember?
Funny you should ask… I remember being dressed in top hat and tails myself to promote magic sets. So I thought it was for that. But Geraldine thought it was for a game called Kensington that I think flopped. Maybe she’s right!

Frances Crown, Gerry Crown

Maybe Gerry just doubled down: “We’ve got the costume. We might as well get the most out of it!” Ha! You didn’t protest too much, though? You went along with it?
We did. I even did some demonstrating after I had my first child. And I still didn’t like it. Ha! But dad had such a nice way about him, you know, he would just be saying, “Oh, would you mind going and doing this, this and this?” And you’d find yourself saying yes, of course!

Interesting. I guess it goes back to people that are good at face-to-face selling. They’re just able to sort of make you smile and laugh and feel excited about doing something, or buying a product… Even if you walk away thinking, “What a lovely guy! Now… Why the hell did I buy a mouli maker?” Ha! And I’ve got a little sidetracked earlier, Frances, because I was interested to hear your dad was from the UK…
Yes! Dad arrived here in Australia on Boxing Day, 1956. They came by ship because everything was done by ship then. As it happens, that suited dad because he really hated flying! But yes, dad was English. His mum was Welsh, his father was English too, I think. We don’t have a lot of information about dad’s dad, other than that his name was changed at some stage to Crown from Cohen.

I hear that; understood.
Dad’s dad did some rallying, we think, in his forties, and he and his sister shared an antique shop. We also think dad’s dad was a bit of a gambler; he may have had to sell his half of the shop to his sister for that reason. It’s all very sketchy; more hearsay than anything.

But interesting to hear that Gerry’s dad might have done some rally driving… Because that’s something I found absolutely fascinating about your dad. He wasn’t just into rally driving – he was fantastic at it!
Yes, he was. He won the Peking to Paris endurance rally three times. And this isn’t when he was young – he was still rally driving near the end. He did his last one aged 87 and was planning his next one when he got his glioblastoma diagnosis. He died age 88 on March 14th, 2021. And it’s strange that you reached out to us when you did, Deej, because it’s dad’s birthday tomorrow.

Frances Crown, Gerry Crown

No?! May 17th?
Yes, he would have been 91. And Saturday week is the anniversary of mum’s passing as well. My mum, Lyn, died on the 25th of May last year.

Oh, my days. Well, look… I know those anniversaries can be very difficult because they’re such terrible losses. So I’m sorry for your losses, and all the more pleased you’re happy to talk because Gerry sounded remarkable. And on that, what made him excel, do you think?
His desire to win! He really liked to win at things. He played squash when he was younger, and he did his achilles tendon one time when we still lived in England. While his foot was healing in a plaster boot, he set up a deck-tennis court in our backyard – and still beat us all! So yes, I think it was that passion to win. And with the rally driving, he kind of worked out his strategy along the way – his strategy was to go as hard as you can at the start.

Ha! Is that right? Just floor it at the start and then see what happens? Alright… Worth my saying that this is part of the reason why, “Who was Gerry Crown?” was such a big question!
Yes! There’s a lot to cover.

At some point, we’re going to talk about Audrey New, but for now let’s get back to the toys. Your dad won an award – the International Designer/Inventor Of Toys; the I.D.I.O.T. – at the Inventors Dinner in London. To what degree would he like to have been recognised in that way, do you think?
Oh, he would’ve LOVED it! He would’ve loved it, and every minute of the dinner. He got a few awards, I think… At least one Game of the Year at the Melbourne Toy Fair. He also enjoyed being president of the Australian Toy Trade Association for a while. And he was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame here…

Frances Crown, Gerry Crown

What else? He got an export award for Sketch-a-Graph way back when. And he got an Order of Australia medal as well. That’s the equivalent of an an OBE in England… That was for services to children’s charities through the toy trade. He started a charity himself called Kids Day. One day a year, in June, I think it was, he got retailers to donate a percentage of their toy sales. That went for a couple of years. They were involved in the Toy Association’s Wheelchairs for Kids charity as well. The other big one was the wing of a hospital… I’m pretty sure that was for children’s eye operations. And Bangladesh is coming to mind, but I’m not sure why!

Wow. What a legacy. And just before we move on, I’m curious… What happened to Vic Andrews?
Vic had heart issues, sadly. He passed away – oh, probably early two thousands. So then mum and dad bought that half of the business off Vic’s widow, Sue. Eventually, of course, Crown and Andrews got sold to Adi Golad at Goliath. And that felt fitting in a way because Adi was great mates with dad. In fact, Adi and his wife Margreeth came to visit mum just before she passed away. So yes… Mum and dad made some very firm friendships in the toy industry.

And I shouldn’t overlook your mum’s contribution to the industry either, because – from what Geraldine told me – this is very much a case of, ‘behind every great man there’s a great woman’. Your mum’s contribution looks like it was enormous.
Oh, yes. You’re right. I mean, we were talking about putting the feet on Little Genie earlier… Mum actually worked for the company for nothing for many years, because – in the early days – there wasn’t any money. In the end, it was Audrey New that said to dad, “Gerry, Lyn needs to get paid!”

Well, that leads us very nicely to Audrey New. Audrey is also an I.D.I.O.T. Award winner – and an essential cog in the Crown and Andrews machine. How does Audrey fit into the picture? And how did your dad meet her?
Okay, so we lived in a metropolitan suburb of Sydney called Epping. Audrey lived across the road with her daughter – and maybe her mother at the time. Either way, dad nearly ran over Audrey’s daughter in the car. That’s how they met!

Frances Crown, Gerry Crown

Ha! I’m glad I asked! Was that part of the “floor it at the start” strategy?!
Ha! Well, I think Audrey probably came out screaming! But anyway, he didn’t run over her daughter, and we all became friends. In fact, Audrey’s daughter was one of my bridesmaids; we stayed very good friends. She’d come and stay with us, and we’d go and stay there when mum and dad would go to dinners. Then, when we relocated to England for 18 months or so, dad needed somebody to run the Sydney office because Vic was in the in Melbourne office.

So when you came back from the UK in 1974, 1975… Audrey stayed on?
Yes. As the marketing director. She loved her job, loved all the people, loved going to all the toy fairs too. Loved it! And she’s been recognised for her own contribution to the company. She was very good at what she did, and she was involved in the charities. Audrey’s been inducted into the Hall of Fame as well.

Right. And this has the potential to be difficult, Frances, but I think we should address it directly… Audrey’s not, sadly, in the best of health today?
No. The sad thing with Audrey is that she has a mild cognitive impairment. I’m now her carer, so I could actually arrange for you to talk to her. I just don’t know how much she would remember.

Quite so. And we’ve discussed how that might be too much for her, or it could do her the power of good… And actually, I wouldn’t even entertain the idea of speaking with her were it not for the fact that you think it might be the latter. So we’ll see how we go with that because she might love to know how fondly she is thought of, and how greatly she’s respected. Let’s come back to that thought. And to start rounding things off, Frances, how would you want people to remember your dad?
Well, I think everybody that knew him is going to have their own memories and experiences, aren’t they? But he had some really good pals in the toy industry, and they’d go off for a week to a place called Metung in Victoria; they’d go golfing and have their barbecues. And then he had his car people too. He was President of the Endurance Rally Association. And actually, that reminds me of a story about dad that I think says a lot…

Frances Crown, Gerry Crown

Yes, because when he got glioblastoma, it affected his speech. At that point, we didn’t know quite what was going on – we thought it was a stroke. Anyway, it was coming up to Christmas and his rally partner – Matt Bryson – suggested that the Christmas party, which was to be held at dad’s, be moved somewhere else. And dad said, “No way! It’s going to be at my place!”. Because he loved to entertain. And this is the thing: he practiced his speech with a speech therapist and gave a lovely speech to all the people from the Endurance Rally Association.

Wow. That’s incredible. Thank you for sharing that, Frances, that’s… That gives me a really good idea of who Gerry is because, again, there’s that desire not to be beaten. The scale and nature of the challenge might’ve changed, but he’s still determined to win under the most impossible circumstances.
Yes. He really didn’t give up. And when the doctors were explaining his situation to him, they said – in effect – “Do you want us to try and operate?” He said, “Of course – what would you do?” He was angry that he was asked the question, I think. Why wouldn’t you do everything to try and live?

Gosh. Some people wouldn’t, I suppose, but it’s a testament to your dad’s frame of mind that, even at that age, it was a stupid question. Well, let me ask you this… Final question, Frances. Is there anything else I could’ve asked about your dad that you would’ve liked to have spoken about?
Probably just his enjoyment of life! I don’t know if you know this, but Crown and Andrews did jigsaws as well. They had a range called World’s Most Beautiful Jigsaws. And as it happens, he went back into hospital the day before Christmas. When I visited him, I took a bonbon – you know?

Not the sweet; it’s like an alternative to a Christmas cracker, isn’t it? You pull it apart…
Yes. You pull it apart, it goes pop and you get a little hat and a prize. Well, it just happens that his prize in this bonbon was a jigsaw! Ha! We thought that was just hilarious. Another thing that he enjoyed was his iPad. He and mum had a separate sort of level on the house where they would retire to; a big bedroom that had a lounge, a chair, a television and so on. Well, dad would go up there and he’d endlessly play Angry Birds!

Really! To the point where he had to remove it. I think he finished all the levels at one point, then deleted it because that was enough, you know?

I can imagine that, actually. That game is so addictive I think that comes a point where you say to yourself, “Okay. This has got to stop!” And with your dad, of course, it was all the more important to stop because he had charities to run, rallies to win, awards to collect and joy to give! Okay… Frances, thank you. This has been a joy from beginning to end, such a delight. Thank you very much for being so open and sharing such personal insights.

Memories From Geraldine Crown

Hi Deej,

I see that my sister Frances is happy to chat with you. I’m also happy to chat if needed! Each sister has her own Crown & Andrews story, and each has their own memories of dad and mum and how we grew up in the game environment.

Crown & Andrews was always a family company, and we three sisters were involved from the very beginning, as was our beautiful mum, Lyn. With that, I give you a tiny brief from my part of the story as the oldest daughter.

I remember when I was eight, we three were in TV commercials for Channel 7 in Australia for Sketch-a-Graph and Gyroscope – we were paid 50cents each – 25p – huge for us! We were also photographed, but we never really knew why, we just did as we were told. We ended up on magazines as Sketch-a-Graph had won Export of the Year Award.

Frances Crown, Gerry Crown

As kids, we helped put together many products in our small house including Little Genies. With the Calco Carpet Cleaning product, we all literally helped with the mixing, bottling and labelling as a family in a warehouse in Balmain. We three sisters made and tested Beatrix Potter moulding kits and so many other products – some worked, some didn’t!

At the same time, mum and dad were always involved in charity – particularly Australians Care for Refugees. We three, as young ones, would be sent out with buckets to collect money for the charity around the suburbs – crazy, I know, but to us it was normal. At night, we would gather in our little, three- bedroom, fibrolite rented house in Epping to see how much money we had achieved for the refugee children. The Charity collection continued for many years into our teens where we would literally stand on an island in the middle of a main road collecting – we got lots of money!

All through my school years, I worked for Crown & Andrews demonstrating products at the main city stores in Sydney. Depending on the game, I had to dress accordingly: from a Geisha to top hat and tails. During my time at university – studying Media – I was Audrey’s personal assistant. I packed Peggy Nisbet Dolls; I worked at trade fairs, and I worked as a demonstrator at David Jones and Myer. Every new game was run past mum and we three sisters, and then the different boyfriends.

When Test Match became a hit, I remember dad introducing us to a ‘famous’ person and we had no idea he was legend. None of us liked him. It made no difference – that game outsold everything! We played the games and quite often were included in the TV Commercials. And of course, once the time came, Grand Children were involved: testing games and were in TV Commercials, etc.

Frances Crown, Gerry Crown

I was integral in the invention of the Neighbours game where dad had secured the rights. This also sold out in the UK. My youngest sister, Patricia, became the shipping agent for the company and worked very closely with dad and Audrey for very many years. Mum, of course always behind the scenes… She counted product at stores and made sure orders were sent through, and accounts were paid.

Later, I was also given the opportunity to make a number of TV commercials for Crown & Andrews because of my media and advertising experience. Crown & Andrews had many amazing games and even today – going through mum and dad’s garage, preparing their house for sale – a very young real-estate agent saw some of their games and said: “Oh, I remember that!”

Gerald (Gerry) Crown’s legacy lives on, and I thank you for giving him a tribute – but I need to remind everyone that none of it would have been possible without our Mum, Lyn. Truly, she was the stalwart behind the scenes and so beloved by dad.

All the best,

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