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Colleagues: Gerald Lyons

Gerald Lyons Crowflight

When I arrived at ABV2, Melbourne, in 1958, Gerald Lyons was a Talks Officer.

We worked together on a number of documentary productions, most notably “Operation Crowflight” in 1960.

Gerald’s time on ABC television was extensive and varied but, his work as Talks Officer and then producer and presenter, was just an episode in what has been a varied and interesting life.

At the age of sixteen, he was a cub reporter with the Bath and Wiltshire Chronicle.  The following year World War Two broke out.

When he was old enough, he decided to join the army. He enlisted in the Gloucestershire Regiment.  While with the Gloucesters, he was offered the opportunity to gain a commission. He took up the offer and was transferred to the Royal Corps of Signals based at Catterick in Yorkshire.  Gerald shared a room with Dirk Bogarde who went into photo-reconnaissance and, after the war, into the movies.

Gerald’s time with the Signals was short-lived.  He found out that there was a vacancy for officers in the Indian Army.  As a result, he applied for a posting and was interviewed.  He got the commission and went to India via troopship.  Gerald was assigned to the Second Punjabi Regiment.  He saw service on the North-west frontier with Afghanistan. Later he was posted to Burma, with the rank of Captain, where he fought against the Japanese.

He later served in the Middle East.  He left the army as a war-substantive Major.

He did a journalism course at London University before joining the Reuters and working as a correspondent in New Delhi, Hong Kong and Melbourne, where he worked for four years.

Gerald returned to England. He applied for a job as Assistant Education Officer in Norfolk but he found that very boring and uninteresting.  He decided to move on.

He arrived back in Australia hoping to find work, once again, in journalism and it was suggested he tried for a career in radio. This led to a stint with 3TR in Sale, where he knew that he had made the right decision on a career.

He moved to Sydney where he met his future wife Noreen.  They moved to Launceston, in Tasmania.  Gerald was employed by the Tasmanian Education Authority and was posted as a teacher to Sandy Bay.

Gerald joined United Press, a world-wide new agency which provided news to provincial papers throughout Australia, and, later, he worked for Reuters.

From Reuters, Gerald joined the Australian Broadcasting Commission. His first job was as Talks Officer with ABC Radio.  He made a name for himself writing and producing such well-respected programmes as Review and Scope.

At that time, he had no interest in the new medium of Television.

As so often happens, he found himself on television by accident. The station was testing potential newsreaders and presenters and they needed someone to act as a man-in-the-street type interviewee. Gerald was meant to adopt a different attitude to each of the applicants firing questions at him.  This apparently he did very well. It was Gerald who was offered the job.

In his long and very eventful period with the ABC, Gerald presented the “People” program. He was a reporter on Bill Peach’s ‘This Day Tonight’. He worked on “Four Corners”, in which programme, he was presenter in 1962 and 1963 and Producer in 1963-64.

He also made a number of television documentaries for ABC’s Dateline programme which took him all around the world including to Hong Kong where he interviewed the governor, Japan and Indonesia.

When in Vietnam during the war he had a scoop when upon the arrest of President Ngo Diem, the American’s laid on a plane to Hong Kong for all the press corps, leaving Gerald and a CBS reporter to cover the coup.

He also interviewed the famous. The list includes John Kenneth Galbraith, the Canadian/American economist, Archbishop Mannix, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, who, in 1962 Gerald, famously, interviewed on the subject of conscription and Communism.  In contrast, he interviewed Frank Hardy, the Communist activist and author.  He also interviewed Australian Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

He interviewed the famous in the world of entertainment, such as Henry Fonda, Judy Garland, The Beatles and Eartha Kitt.

It was said of that time that he was “The Australian television news and news commentary personality of the period”.

Gerald Lyons interviews pilot of U2 aircraft

In order to prepare for an interview, Gerald would investigate thoroughly the background of the personality to be interviewed or the subject to be discussed.

He would come to the interview with more questions than could possibly be answered in the time available.  This was to guard against the possibility that the interviewee’s answers could be shorter than the questions.

However, the ace up his sleeve was that he listened to what the interviewee had to say and followed the interviewee’s response with a pertinent question that was not, necessarily, the next question on his list.  Sometimes, the response would prompt a question that was not on his list.

In 1975 he took up a two-year contract as director of public relations for The Royal Melbourne Hospital.

He continued his successful journalistic career as a feature writer with “Truth” in Sydney, notably with a series of articles concerning Milan Brych, the Czechoslovak Doctor who had successfully treated a number of cancer patients.

Gerald Lyons' book "Breakthroughs".

Gerald wrote an award winning book called ‘Breakthroughs’ in 1984.  It illustrated the “breakthrough”  that, in each case, made various scientific discoveries possible.   He sent each chapter to the relevant scientist to verify that he had the correct facts.  During his career he was also a talkback host for the 3DB radio station.

Gerald Lyons retired to Somers in Victoria where, in February 2011 the local newspaper published a 2009 interview with him.  He was living in a retirement home at the age of 88.

It has been my opinion that Gerald Lyons would have held his own in Britain alongside the likes of Robin Day, Richard Dimbleby and Fyfe Robertson.  Even in the United States as a contemporary of Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite he would have done the same.  He was that good.

© Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com, 2011.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For more articles in the Colleagues series click here.

Additional links:

Gerald Lyons interview with Judy Garland.

Gerald Lyons interview with Archbishop Mannix.

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