Donald Richard "Don" Spencer OAM (born 22 March 1941), is an Australian children's television presenter, singer-songwriter, guitarist and musician. He had a long-running role on Play School on both the Australian version (1968–99) and the United Kingdom version (1972–88), the only presenter to work on both versions. In March 1963 his first single, "Fireball" – the theme tune to a UK TV science fiction series, Fireball XL5 – reached No. 32 on the UK Singles Chart. In 2002 Spencer established the Australian Children's Music Foundation. On Australia Day (26 January) 2007 he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) with the citation "for service to children's music and television as a songwriter and performer, and through the establishment of the Australian Children's Music Foundation". Spencer married Julie Horsfall, they have two children: Dean, a musician; and Danielle Spencer, an actress and singer, who married actor Russell Crowe in 2003.

Early life

Donald Richard Spencer was born on 22 March 1941 and raised in Tamworth.[1] Spencer attended Tamworth High School,[1] he played hockey as a teenager and competed in the Australian championships. At 17 he left Australia and travelled to Africa where, in his 20s, he trained with the Kenyan hockey team trying out for the Olympics. A chance meeting with locally-born, singer-songwriter, Roger Whittaker, in Nairobi inspired Spencer to buy a guitar and start his musical career.[2]

Career debut

In the early 1960s Don Spencer moved to London and became a solo singer-guitarist, supporting various acts as The Rolling Stones, the Four Seasons, The Hollies and Marianne Faithfull.[3] His first single, "Fireball", was released on the His Master's Voice label – it was the closing theme song for the television science fiction series, Fireball XL5, written by Barry Gray. In March 1963 it reached No. 32 on the UK Singles Chart.[4][5] Other singles included "Busy Doing Nothing", "Worried Mind", "Marriage Is for Old Folks", and a cover of The Beatles' song "In My Life". In 1964 he covered Brent Edwards version of Johnny Madara and David White's track, "Pride Is Such a Little Word".[6]

Spencer presented his own teenage pop show, Gangway!, for seven years, then co-hosted Pop-In.[3] He later appeared in TV comedies, Face It with Ronnie Barker. Returning to Australia, he appeared on TV's Bandstand, and acted in Sons and Daughters, Return to Eden, and in the 1974 film Barry McKenzie Holds His Own.[7] In 1977 Spencer wrote his next single, "What's a Pommie?", the track was covered by fellow Australians Rolf Harris, and Col Elliott.[8]

Children's entertainment

In 1968 Spencer became a presenter on Australia children's TV series, Play School, in 1972 he also appeared on the United Kingdom version of the same title.[1][9] He continued on both versions for 17 years,[1] the only male presenter to appear in both. One of his well-known phrases was "old magazines" which he used to effect when describing items used to make something. [9] During this period he recorded and released albums that helped to educate children mostly about the many species of Australian animals, and they in turn had received awards for gold and platinum sales.[10][9] He continued on the Australian version until 1999.[1] At the APRA Music Awards of 1995, Spencer's track, "Have a Beaut Day", was nominated for Most Performed Children's Work; it was co-written by Spencer with Allan Caswell.[11]

In 2002 Spencer established the Australian Children's Music Foundation (ACMF) as its inaugural CEO.[12][13] In 2007 he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) on Australia Day (26 January) for "service to children's music and television as a songwriter and performer, and through the establishment of the Australian Children's Music Foundation".[14][15][16] In 2008 Spencer was awarded for Excellence in Community Support presented by Support Act Limited.[17][18]

In December 2010 the ACMF sponsored a supergroup, Peacebeliever, which recorded a cover version of Plastic Ono Band's 1969 single, "Give Peace a Chance", for the charity.[19] Alongside Spencer fellow vocalists were Katie Noonan, Blue King Brown, Tim Freedman, Newton Faulkner and Omara Portuondo.[19] In July 2013 Spencer announced the ACMF's 11th annual National Kids Songwriting Competition, which is open to school aged children from four to eighteen years-old: "We want kids to unleash their creativity and engage with learning in a fun way ... Music can give kids really positive self expression and is a great tool for improving literacy levels".[13]

Personal life

Don Spencer married Julie Horsfall, a caterer from Yorkshire.[20][21] They have two children Dean and Danielle Spencer (born 16 May 1969).[16] Dean is a musician, while Danielle is an actress and singer, who married actor, Russell Crowe, in 2003.[21][22][23]

Spencer resides in Darlinghurst.[24]


Books written or co-written by Don Spencer:



  • "Fireball"/"I'm All Alone Again" – His Master's Voice (HMV POP 1087) (1962) (UK #32)[5]
  • "Busy Doing Nothing"/"The Joker" – His Master's Voice (HMV POP 1186) (1963)
  • "Worried Mind"/"Give Give Give A Little" – His Master's Voice (HMV POP 1205) (1963)
  • "Pride is Such a Little Word"/"For Love" – His Master's Voice (HMV POP 1306) (1964)
  • "Why Don't They Understand"/"Marriage is for Old Folks" – Page One (POF 006) (1966)
  • "Ode to War"/"My Silent Friend" – Clarion (MCK-3612) (March 1970)
  • "What's a Pommie?"/"The Last Time" – Interfusion (K-6868) (1977)


  • Don Spencer from Play School sings 21 Children's Favourites – J&B (1984)
  • Feathers, Fur or Fins – ABC Music (1985)
  • Australian Animal Songs – ABC Music (1988)
  • Australia for Kids – ABC Records (1989)
  • Let's Have Fun – ABC Music (1990)
  • Stories and Songs – ABC Music (1991)
  • The Best of Don Spencer – ABC Music (1991)
  • Walkabout – ABC Records (1992)
  • Musical Times Tables (with Terry Murray and Karen Johns) – ABC Records (1992)
  • Thumbs Up Australia – ABC Records (1993)
  • Have a Beaut Day – ABC Music (1994)
  • Australian Classics – ABC Music/EMI (1997)
  • The Wonderful World of Pets (with Terry Murray and Karen Johns)- ABC Music/EMI (1999)
  • Its a Beautiful Colourful World (with Terry Murray and Karen Johns)- ABC Music/EMI (1999)
  • Coo-ee-ee (with Paul Taylor) – ABC Music (2001)
  • Don and Blinky's Outback Adventure – the Lost Cooee – ABC Music (2002)
  • The Ultimate Collection – ABC Music (2007)

TV and filmography


  1. ^ a b c d e Sullivan, Leanne (2009). "Spencer (Don)". Who's Who in Australia (45 ed.). North Melbourne, Vic: Crown Content. p. 1968. ISBN 978-1-74095-166-1. 
  2. ^ "Don Spencer & ACMF". IdeaLogical Pty Ltd. Archived from the original on 21 February 2009. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Don Spencer". ABC Music. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Retrieved 15 August 2013. 
  4. ^ "Don Spencer". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Don Spencer – 'Fireball'". Chart Stats. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  6. ^ "'Pride' – Ray Brown & The Whispers (1965)". Where Did They Get That Song?. PopArchives (Lyn Nuttall). Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  7. ^ "Don Spencer". IMDb. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  8. ^ "'What's a Pommie' at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 15 August 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c Throsby, Margaret (19 July 2011). "Don Spencer Hosted Play School on ABC TV for 28 Years". ABC Classic FM. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  10. ^ "Board members". Australian Children's Music Foundation (ACMF). Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  11. ^ "Nominations – 1995". Australasian Performing Right Association Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society. Retrieved 15 August 2013. 
  12. ^ Fulton, Adam (2 August 2010). "Shaping Young Lives with the Gift of Music". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  13. ^ a b "2013 National Kids Songwriting Competition Now Open". Australasian Performing Right Association Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society. 17 July 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2013. 
  14. ^ "Search Australian Honours: Spencer, Donald Richard". It's an Honour. Government of Australia. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  15. ^ "Local Heroes Honoured". Northern Daily Leader. Fairfax Media. 25 January 2007. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  16. ^ a b Eliezer, Christie (30 January 2007). "Aussie Day". Christie Eliezer's Music Business News. TheMusic.com. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  17. ^ Braithwaite, Alyssa (23 September 2008). "Don Spencer to Be Recognised for Services to Kids' Music" (pdf). Australian Associated Press (AAP). Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  18. ^ "Billy Thorpe Foundation Announced". Australasian Performing Right Association Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society. 29 September 2008. Retrieved 15 August 2013. 
  19. ^ a b "Yoko Gives Aussies a Chance at Peace". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)). 1 December 2010. Retrieved 15 August 2013. 
  20. ^ Ewbank, Tim; Hildred, Stafford (2001). Russell Crowe: The Biography. London: Carlton Books. p. 48. ISBN 1-84222-423-9. 
  21. ^ a b Paton, Maureen (27 March 2010). "'I hope people won't judge me harshly because I'm married to Russell', Says Singer Danielle Spencer, the Lady Who Tamed Mr Crowe". Daily Mail. DMG Media. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  22. ^ Mollard, Angela. "Is this the Woman Who Can Tame Russell Crowe?". Daily Mail. DMG Media. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  23. ^ Corcoran, Rachel (17 February 2010). "Mrs Russell Crowe Launches Her Singing Career". Daily Express. Northern and Shell Media. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  24. ^ https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/central-sydney/legendary-playschool-presenter-don-spencer-turns-his-love-of-music-into-childrens-book-to-make-a-difference/news-story/f0bc2a6a2b2f98973242bd9c52c6e624
  25. ^ Spencer, Don; Caswell, Allen; Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1985), Feathers Fur or Fins, Chappell & Intersong Music in association with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. National Library of Australia, ISBN 978-0-947106-88-1, retrieved 14 August 2013 
  26. ^ Spencer, Don; Caswell, Allan; Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1989), Don Spencer's Australian Animals, ABC Enterprises for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. National Library of Australia, ISBN 978-0-642-12841-6, retrieved 14 August 2013 
  27. ^ Spencer, Don (1989), Don Spencer's More Songs from Feathers, Fur or Fins, ABC Records. National Library of Australia, retrieved 14 August 2013 
  28. ^ Spencer, Don (1990), Don Spencer's Let's Have Fun, Warner Chappell Music. National Library of Australia, ISBN 978-1-86362-023-9, retrieved 14 August 2013 
  29. ^ Spencer, Don; Meyer, Felicity; Macken, Clare; Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1993), Don Spencer's Thumbs Up! Australia, ABC Books. National Library of Australia, ISBN 978-0-7333-0231-2, retrieved 14 August 2013 
  30. ^ Spencer, Don; Singleton, Glen; Bryant, Nick (2000), 1001 Cool Jokes, Hinkler Books. National Library of Australia, ISBN 978-1-86515-182-3, retrieved 14 August 2013 
  31. ^ Sharkey, Jane; Holland, Margaret; Spencer, Don (2005), Sing and Learn Times Tables, Hinkler Books, ISBN 978-1-74121-930-2, retrieved 14 August 2013 
  32. ^ Spencer, Don; Pike, Michelle (2011), Don Spencer's Don't Call Me a Koala Bear and Other Aussie Songs, Five Mile Press, ISBN 978-1-74300-135-6, retrieved 14 August 2013 

External links