This is the sixth in a series of vignettes by local historian Michael Fowler, detailing events and characters that have shaped the Hawke’s Bay Opera House story.

The Two Jacks: Jack W Jones and Jack Baxter

During World War II, many New Zealand communities began fundraising for the war effort, and Hastings was no exception. During 1942, throughout some of the blackest days of the war, Mayor A I Rainbow – who was head of the Patriotic Committee – decided that in addition to raising funds, entertainment was needed “to provide some distraction from the ugly war situation”. From this the Fun Sessions were born – and these light entertainment shows were performed in the Hawke’s Bay Opera House.

As part of the Fun Sessions, Jack W Jones and Jack Baxter performed a comedy routine known as the Two Jacks. Jack Jones was the straight man of the duo, who had a “foil” in the comedic Jack Baxter. By all accounts, they were hilarious. Mark Jones can remember them practising at home, and laughing hysterically at his father and friend as they honed their original material. Jack Baxter was a Hastings picture theatre manager, and Jack Jones was an owner of Monarch Motors, the local Ford dealer.

Jack Baxter had a face painted on his tummy as part of the act, and would open his shirt and then roll his tummy to make the painted face move – all in time with a drum roll. This had audiences in fits of laughter. Apparently, many tried to imitate Jack but could never make the face wiggle quite like he did.

One skit the Jacks performed involved Jack Jones as a doctor and Jack Baxter coming into the surgery saying he had shingles. Jack Baxter would then be thoroughly examined – complete with antics – only for “Dr Jones” to say, “You have not got shingles”. “Oh yes I have,” said Jack Baxter, “I got them up your driveway.” Of course, Jack Baxter was a lorry driver delivering a load of shingle for Dr Jones.

The routine was so good that when a group of American military men visited Hawke’s Bay and attended a Fun Session, they asked the Two Jacks go to Wellington to entertain the American GIs down there. Unfortunately, their work commitments meant they couldn’t oblige.

The two men developed a great friendship, and their comedy routines extended past the stage of the Hawke’s Bay Opera House and onto the streets of Hastings – where practical jokes on each other were carried out, much to the amusement of the locals.

The Two Jacks were not allowed to gracefully retire after the war, and continued to perform, especially with the encouragement of fellow thespian and Greater Hastings founder Harry Poppelwell.