GTV 9 opening night 1957
“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.”
I was appointed Senior Film Editor on December 31st. The official opening night for GTV9 was January 19th 1957, less than 3 weeks later. The GTV9 studios were situated at 22, Bendigo Street, Richmond, which is a district near the city of Melbourne.
The site was formerly the Heinz factory of the 57 Varieties. What a mixture. On the one hand there was two new studios formed from the hall that housed the original production line. The building had been long and narrow, so that the conversion consisted of a building that was still long and narrow. At one end was the main studio, at the other was the second studio, a presentation studio.
In the middle were the studio and master controls which had windows allowing a view into the two studios.
The administrative offices were the original offices of the complex and need no rebuilding, only re-decorating.
The Film Department was housed in a second building which was about fifty yards long and two-storied. I was located at the front of the building, on the first floor, in what had been the laboratory where Heinz checked on their produce and kept canned product to test the potential life span. It consisted mainly of benches, some with sinks and running water. Nothing had been done to the room to make it more suitable for film work. The benches were waist high and resembled those of a film cutting room.
I was shown the “Cutting Room” and the equipment. There was a viewing machine, film racks designed to hold 35mm reels, two new re-wind benches, a poor film joiner, a footage counter and a projector.
This array of equipment, some second-hand, was enough to tell me that no strategic plan was in place for the procedure of making films on a continuous basis. They obviously had no idea of the enormous throughput of film that was coming.
I ordered up some film bins and some industrial gloves, but I could not get a proper editing machine for several months when we took delivery of the brand new Moviola.
The bins and gloves were essential requirements in a film editing room.
The film bins were crudely made up in the studio carpenter’s shop, because it would have taken too long to get the factory-built bins from anywhere outside the States. In doing this, the carpenter’s shop had made a wooden cross rail which had to be lined with very small nails on which to hang the 16mm film. In this case, the heads of the nails were too big for the sprocket holes and the carpenter then cut off the heads of the nails leaving a vicious row of sharp points on which, from time to time, I would wound myself.
The industrial gloves had two functions, one to protect the film during handling and two, to protect the hands from a form of dermatitis.
Before the arrival of the Moviola, I found that I could edit film by, first, projecting it on to a screen, and then editing by passing it through my hands in front of a light source. This would have been quite normal in terms of 35mm, but I had never tried of it before with 16mm.
The station’s output was going to be based on 16mm reversal film, black and white, of course.
At this time, I was living at Mount Eliza, about twenty-five miles away from the Studio.
From then on, each day, I would get a bus to Frankston Railway Station, then a train to Flinders Street, a tram to Richmond and finally a walk down Bendigo Street.
GTV9 was not on the air and would not be until the 19th January when there would be a grand opening. The Guest of Honour was the Governor General of Victoria, Sir Dallas Brooks. The station had been given permission to broadcast some of the Olympics back in November and December, 1956, but that was all over.
In fact, while there was nothing for me to do, it was suggested that I try to make a start on editing some of the telerecording material taken during the Games. I did, and that is when I found out that the viewer scratched the film. There was no purpose to this editing because GTV had not got permission to use the material at any time in the future. I carried on all the same.
At lunchtimes, we were directed to a hall that was situated to the right hand side of the works entrance. It had been a canteen. Here we were offered sandwiches and tea. It was all rather crude, but, hey, we were pioneers in the Australian Television Industry, what else would we have wanted ? Here, the assembled staff of over a hundred got to know one another.
About ten days after starting work there, I was introduced to the members of the news room staff. Jim Byth was the News Editor and Peter Maund was his Deputy. Jim was twenty-four, slightly overweight with a moustache. He always seemed to me to be someone who was trying to make himself look a bit older than he was. He had been a Public Relations Officer with the Royal Australian Air Force. He was smart fellow and knew what he was doing. Peter Maund was a bit younger at about twenty-two. He, too, was smart and knew what he wanted. They had been working in journalism and were highly regarded. What was astonishing to me was that they had been working at GTV since October 1956 and it took ten days for me to meet with them with the opening night only days away.
We had a number of meetings at which I outlined what I thought should be the proper running of the programme in terms of the film content. I did not know what to expect by way of of their reaction, but they seemed to accept that I had the required experience and that I could be of help to them.
By now, I had seen the output of the Herald-Sun station, Channel 7. It was clear that they had not got a clue as to how to present a television news bulletin. One would have thought that they would have brought someone in from Sydney with newsreel experience, at any price.
I had offered HSV my services and had been turned away.
The main problem was that there was no co-ordination between the film editor, the edited film, and the scriptwriter. The result, invariably, was that the script would be too long for the film and certainly not in synchronisation with what was happening on the screen. Sometimes the script had little to do with what pictures were showing. What had become quite common was for the film to run out and the viewer was left with a shot of the top of the newsreader’s head as he pored over the remainder of the script. Didn’t people think that this was odd ?
I had a number of discussions with Jim and Peter during which we talked about scriptwriting as it applied to newsfilm. There were rules that required that they had to use a prescribed number of words for each foot of film. In 35mm terms the formula is three words to two feet which I converted to eleven words to three feet for 16mm. Three feet was, roughly, five seconds. They could not write a script independently of the film, which is what seemed to be happening at Channel 7. I showed them how they could use this method to “spot” items within the film. By using a word count, they could come up with, for example, a person’s name, at the point that that person appeared in the film. To allow this to be accurate, the shot list would show, in brackets, the exact footage that a person became visible on the screen. As journalists, they would have , previously, been asked to write a number of words. Timing would be new to them. It was all rather simple, really, but clearly quite unknown down the road at Channel 7.
The only other point to be made is that Jim and Peter were now obliged to write the spoken word and not the written word. This mainly consisted of using abbreviations like “couldn’t” instead of “could not”, but they had to be careful until it became second nature to them to write the spoken word.
As the film editor, I would provide them with a “shot list”, a detailed account of each succeeding scene, progressively measured to provide the necessary information for scriptwriting.
They were enthusiastic. I was imparting this knowledge, as one who had experience in the newsreel industry, wherever it was. My former Movietone colleagues in Sydney would have told them the same. For reasons that I shall never understand, no one ever asked them.
It might be considered enjoyable to have given “lectures” in all directions, but it was not. I hated it. I had always avoided saying to anyone “this is how we do it in England“. That could have been a red rag to a bull. I was embarrassed in telling people what they should be doing. Everyone seemed to appreciate what I was telling them, knowing that, without any guidance at all, there was the prospect of chaos.
I sometimes wonder what the hell GTV would have done if I had not accepted the job. I guess viewers might have seen the top of a lot of announcers heads. If somebody else had found themselves in the same position, they would have asked the same question.
At the beginning, I spent a long time finding out what was going on at Channel 9. I wandered the studios and facilities, just to see what was available to us who were producing the news service.
We were to operate out of Studio 2, the smaller of the two studios. The control room backed on to the control room of Studio 1.
I asked if there was a cueing system for the newsreader. They said “What for ?”. Oh dear, I knew I had a problem. I went to Jim Byth and told him that we must have a cueing system so that we can tell the newsreader when to start reading each paragraph.
The system was quite simple. We cued the newsreader when to start reading. He would continue to read the script until he came to a stop signal. The paragraph where he was obliged to stop was indicated by two “forward slashes”. He then had to wait for a fresh cue to read on.
This cueing was to be done by me. I had edited the picture, sometimes a few minutes before broadcast, and I knew what was coming next, so I was to sit in the control room and switch on the cue light for the newsreader to start reading.
While all this was going on, Studio 1 was occupied by rehearsals with all the studio cameras. They had a large crane camera and two pedestal cameras. With a producer, Rod Kinnear, in the control room, and Director Ron Davis, these cameras were manoeuvering and going through various gyrations as if there were a programme to broadcast. Apart from the Opening Night, there was no other programme. At that time, there was no plan for a live broadcast in the entire schedule. All the scheduled programmes were to consist of pre-recorded programmes or films. The only programme that was to be live in the studio was the news.
Both Jim Byth and I asked if we could have a rehearsal, in fact we wanted a series of rehearsals.
Each time, we were told to come back tomorrow to see what could be done. Needless to say, it never happened.
The hierarchy of the station was somewhat aloof and difficult to approach. The General Manager was Colin Bednall, a likeable gentleman in his mid forties. It took me until 2004 to find out that he had been a notable war correspondent during the Second World War.
He was assisted by one Mr. Bailhash, an affable man in charge of financial affairs, who was somewhat older than Bednall. Also in the administration was one Nigel Dick. He was in his late thirties and seemed to have a good deal of work to do. He would go on to become the General Manager of GTV.
The Chief Engineer was Mr. Rodney J. Biddle, later to become Station Manager, and it was he that I finally spoke to about a cueing system. He saw the need for it. Initially, he set up a system of lights which used ordinary light bulbs mounted on a crude piece of wood. In the control room, I had another board with three switches. One green, one red and one white. I would switch on the green light to tell the newsreader to start reading. The Red was to tell him that he was going too slow and the white light was to be used if either of the others blew.
The newsreader’s desk had a board with the three bulbs on it. It was, of course, out of sight of the camera. However, we never got a rehearsal.
This cueing system became so vital in the ensuing months that Mr. Biddle had them incorporated into the control desk as a permanent feature. On the newsreader’s desk, they were now represented by three “pea” bulbs, much less obtrusive.
Autocue had just been introduced, but for GTV it was still a while away.
After I had been working at Channel 9 for about ten days, the Head of Films asked me into his office. He said “I have taken on a Film Editor”. “He is from British Movietonews in London”. I said “Oh!, who’s that?”. He said “Jim Healy”. I said ”Oh, him! How long has he been out here?“, He said “Only about a week”.
The truth was that I had never heard of him, but, at least until I had met him, I was saying nothing.
I asked when he was starting work, the Head of Films said that he would be in later that morning.
The only advantage that I had was that Jim Healy would have to pass through the Cutting Room in order to get to the Head of Film’s office. I waited until Jim arrived, making sure that I was there when he came.
He walked in to the cutting room, he saw me, I saw him. His face was familiar and he knew me. I said ”Hello Jim, what a surprise seeing you here”. He said “I’m surprised to see you too”. By this time the Head of Film was out in the Cutting Room to hear this exchange.
Jim Healy was a film developer working for Kay’s Laboratories in Soho Square. He pretended to be a Film Editor. I could understand why, he would have been desperate to get a job. God alone knows what he would have done if I had not been there. Any film editor would have found him out in two minutes. On the other hand, of course, I was the only film editor there.
Knowing how hard it was to find appropriate work at that time, I did not wish to give him away. In any case, I needed an ally, especially an English one. I also needed an assistant, having realised that there was to be no increase in staff on the foreseeable future. If I was to get any time off at all, I would, eventually, need a deputy. We went to lunch together where we nutted out a scheme to allow him to operate. I said that I would teach him the basic requirements of editing. It would be up to him to make his own progress beyond that.
Jim was thirty-nine, at the time I was twenty-eight. It was one hell of a co-incidence that he walked into GTV Channel 9.
Being a laboratory man, I assumed that he knew all about film and its varying sizes and styles. I found out later that he had only been involved with the developing and printing of 35mm film. He knew nothing of 16mm film.
We were situated on the first floor of the building. Outside the cutting room, there was a large floor space which had been part of the factory. Within this they had built offices for the newsroom staff where they had a teleprinter leased from UPI. Next to them there would be installed a reversal film developing machine. This machine would be inoperable until it could be properly installed. Surprisingly, they had not considered hiring anyone to operate it. At least Jim, after reading the instructions, would know how to. Jim had not told them of his developing experience with Kay’s, so it was a pure stroke of luck for them that he was able to operate the machine as soon as it was installed.
They had two cameramen on staff, Bill Beams and Peter Hansford, they were both in their mid twenties. They were good cameramen. Previously, they had been working as still photographers. with the Melbourne Argus. The station did not possess a sound camera, so when one was needed, they borrowed one from a self-styled film maker living in Melbourne. His name was Les Platt. He owned an Auricon camera with a zoom lens. He must have thought that Christmas had come round again quickly. As time went on, we had the camera more than he did.
He was very keen and spent some time at the studios. On occasion, he would operate his Auricon for GTV. At his request, I went to visit him at his home. He had set up his own processing plant in a spare bedroom. Everything was home-made. He had a huge tank filled with developer and above it there was a cylinder on which he would wind the film before lowering it into the tank. He had a basic printing machine which was partly from a professional printer and partly from his own design.
I don’t think he made a living out of film making, but he had earned some kind of income, but not as much as he was now getting in rental from GTV.
At far as film making was concerned, he was on another planet. However, he was, apart from Herschells, the nearest thing to a production company in Melbourne. (This was my information at that time, I have since learned that several companies were operating in Melbourne in early 1957). The majority of serious film production was done in Sydney where they had all the facilities that anyone would want.
The Art Department, at GTV, was run by Trevor Ling. He could produce most normal artwork, but he also had a hot press printer which enabled him to produce title cards very quickly.
Trevor Ling would produce the title cards up to the last-minute before broadcast. It became available as blue letters on a black background, this enabled us to superimpose the title over the first scene of each film clip. We accessed the card on a lectern using the second camera in Studio Two.
At that time, almost every newsfilm story was mute. Once again, in keeping with the newsreel idea, I suggested we used mood music where there was no background sound. The discs were cued in live and it was extremely well done by people who had had years of experience in radio. Our opening theme music was called “Sounding Brass”.
The whole presentation was to be slick and most professional.
I carried on cutting the Olympic material. They had tens of thousands of feet and I could only make a small dent in the collection. One advantage of my editing this film was that I got used to the cutting room equipment.
It was amazing that, with a station that was to rely almost entirely on film for its broadcast material, it had very little film equipment of any consequence.
Letters from home became a sort of lifeline, keeping me in touch with everything that was happening there. I was not homesick, although, at times, I wished there was someone who could share my experiences; someone to appreciate all the wonderful new things that were going on.
I was getting to know the people I was working with.
Jim Byth and Peter Maund were most affable, they knew that I had experience and they wished to gain what the could from that experience.
We would talk about what was planned and what sort of news service we were to provide. It has to be remembered that the Australian public had only seen news on Cinesound and Movietone prior to the start of television. It was my belief that they should, first of all, be shown a service that resembled the newsreel. I thought that they would be more comfortable with that. That’s why I suggested the film titles before each story. In fact the whole presentation was to be like an extended newsreel.
One thing I always left to Jim Byth and Peter Maund was the assignment of news stories and the choice of the newfilm make up. They were the locals and knew their own territory and people.
Sooner than I would have liked the day of transmission loomed. Still no rehearsals. This did not seem to worry Messrs Byth and Maund, unduly, or anyone else if it comes to it. “She’ll be right” was the prevailing notion.
I had shown Jim Healy how to assemble the “newsreel”, putting all the cut stories on to a single reel to go into “telecine”. One of the problems we had was the variety of sources for the material we were using. It was all 16 millimetre film, however some was from our own cameramen and processed in a local film laboratory, some was from UPMT, my old company, who supplied us out of London and New York. This material, all 16mm, came in a variety of ways. Some was a print from original negative, the print being “A” wind which meant that, in a projector, the emulsion faced away from the “Light”, whereas camera original was “B” wind and the emulsion faced the lens. In addition, UPMT would supply material which had been reduced from 35mm and because of optical printing, they were able to produce a “B” wind film. Reduction prints would also come from Movietone and Cinesound in Sydney. Finally, we would also receive film that was double perforation, that is, it had perforations on both side of the film. Without viewing the film, it was difficult to decide whether this type of film was “A” or “B” wind.
In joining one of these types of film to another, it required concentration because, normally, when joining two pieces of film together it was required to scrape off the emulsion from one piece of film so that the back, or non emulsion side, of the next scene would stick. That is celluloid to celluloid.
If you were joining “A” wind to “B” wind, the celluloid of both were already facing each other and it was not necessary to scrape away any emulsion. Imagine the various combinations or emulsion positions and then throw in the complication of double perforation film.
It was hard for Jim to absorb all this in such a short time.
One of the tasks he was able to do by Opening Night was to assemble the reel of newsfilm items.
In order to confirm that the reel had been assembled correctly, I told him that, before the reel went down to telecine, he had to re-wind it through a footage counter. This to ensure that the perforations did not, somehow, pass from one side to the other during assembly.
As we got closer to transmission, we went through a lot of rehearsal within the cutting room, with Jim Byth and Peter Maund writing sample scripts against my editing and my shot list. This was practice and did not represent a rehearsal which should have been done in the studio. In fact, at this stage, we did not know who was going to read the news.
Eventually we got a newsreader. His name was Tom Miller. Tom had worked with radio station 3XY since 1935. In fact, a number of the staff had come from radio. He was in his mid forties and soon showed that he was competent. What we were asking him to do, he had never done before. To read a commentary with stop and start instructions was something that had never been required in radio. However, we never got to rehearse with him.
So the 19th of January 1957 approached. It was to be a grand opening. The opening ceremony was to be conducted by the Governor-General Sir Dallas Brooks and all the nobs of Melbourne were invited. He famously said on the night, “If you don’t like what you see or it quite frankly bores you, simply switch the dial to off.” I got an invitation card, but, of course, I would be working on the news service and could not attend.
One of the companies associated with GTV 9, was the Melbourne Argus newspaper. This paper was owned by the Mirror Group in London and, in the week before the station was due to open, they sold the paper to the Herald-Sun who were operating a rival television station, HSV 7. They bought the paper and closed it down on January 19th. This paper was going to provide all sorts of services to GTV 9, including sports reports and still pictures and a local source of news. The Herald-Sun made sure that that did not happen.
I said at the time to my colleagues that it was a futile gesture since, in a very short time, television would be more powerful and influential than the press. After all, I had seen the power of television in the United Kingdom, I had witnessed its influence.
We all got in early on opening day and started to put together the newsfilm for that night. I would cut the individual stories, produce a shot-list for each and then hand the stories over to Jim Healy for assembly. This assembly would be the last act in the cutting room because if gave the news editor the opportunity to change the running order at the last minute.
I got them all used to the idea that we should handle stories as they came in and to edit and complete stories as early as possible. This was to clear the decks so that if and when a late story came in we could handle it without interference from any other work.
I remember that there was a story about Archbishop Fox, the Anglican Bishop of Australia, another story was about the engagement of Grace Kelly to the Prince Rainier of Monaco.
Of course, we saw nothing of the opening ceremony. We were scheduled to go with the news around 8 o’clock, so, about ten minutes before, I went down to the studio to check that everything was working and to discuss the music requirements with the sound department. I had to leave Jim Healy to assemble the film reel. I got the newsreader, Tom Miller, used to the light cueing system. He sat down at his desk and placed his scripts on the desk.
Jim came into the studio control to say that he had delivered the reel to telecine.
We were all wished good luck and off we went. The first three or four stories went through without a problem. The whole system worked fine.
Then disaster, the film chewed up in the telecine projector. Jim Healy had joined two stories together with the perforations of the second film on the wrong side. The telecine, obviously, tried to engage perforations that did not exist.
Tom Miller was, of course, totally flummoxed and was on-screen, looking around for help. At this point, he knocked his remaining scripts to the floor. He quickly picked them up, but now, all out of order.
Any thought about cancelling the film story that had been chewed up, reloading telecine, and moving on to the next could not be done because Tom didn’t know what script came next.
The whole thing was a shambles. At this point, the General Manager, Colin Bednall, came into the studio control to say. “Take it off the air”. This was done amid great embarrassment. There was, of course, an enquiry. Jim Byth said that it would not have happened if there had been rehearsals. No-one could say, or would say, why we had been deprived of rehearsals. I said nothing then, but I had a lot to say to Jim Healy. It was obvious that he had not passed the reel through the footage counter as he had been instructed. I told him that if anything like that happened again, I would not be able to defend him.
I thought the rest of the evening went perfectly but by some accounts, the rest of the Opening Night programme wasn’t without incident. Rod Kinnear is quoted in the excellent book “Radio with Pictures” written by Brendan Horgan, that:
“GTV’s first night of regular programmes began with the 6 o’clock news followed by a half hour programme, “Highway Patrol” and then the Caltex Movie. Realising that they had no-one to direct the news the news, Rod recalls that the offered and was given the job and so became the first person to direct news to air at GTV with newsreader Tom Miller. Apparently another star of radio who made the transition to television, announcer and presenter Geoff Corke introduced the movie after the news; the problem however was that the film broke every time they came to a join in the film, much to everyone’s panic and embarrassment – the first of many such television sagas”.
When Rod says that he directed the news, he meant that he acted as vision mixer in the studio. He made an excellent job of this, but he had no influence on the style and presentation of the programme. It was quite common, in those days, for the programme director of a news bulletin to do the mixing. It required quick decisions.
In fairness to all concerned, we went in the next day and produced a top-class programme and continued to do so from then on. We never had another problem like that again. Tom Miller read the news each night for many months without a single error, he was a natural. It’s also worth noting that at the time only five per cent of households in Melbourne owned a television set.
Ten years after the opening night, Rodney J. Biddle recalled, in an interview with TV Guide, that it went “without a hitch” and claims that the film break occurred later. I am sorry, it happened on opening night, when the film broke between a story on Archbishop Fox and the engagement of Grace Kelly. These news stories can be verified for their date. However, there was never a hitch after that.
Jim Byth insisted that everyone holding a copy of the scripts would have them page-marked in bold figures so that they could tell which one came after the other.
One might consider what influence I had on the news programme. I received correspondence about an earlier version of this article, claiming – amongst other thing, that I was ‘blowing my own trumpet’ – I don’t agree I was and even if I did, I waited over 50 years to do so. Apart from Peter Maund mentioning me in his interview for the National Film and Sound Archive in 2001, I am unaware of any other mention.
The ingredients of the news programme I introduced were:
The making and showing of a title for each news story. Brilliantly carried out by Trevor Ling.
The work of the floor manager in changing title cards on the lectern. A task carried out efficiently and regularly.
The editing of the picture done exclusively by me for many months and then with the assistance of Jim Healy who was tutored in the art of editing.
The writing of an accurate shot list, enabling the commentary writers to complete their work successfully.
The writing of the commentaries by Jim Byth, Peter Maund and, later by Roger Fry, to a formula presented to them by me. Plus a reminder that they were writing the spoken word.
The introduction of a cueing system, which was in place long after I left.
The provision of music background to mute stories professionally carried out by the sound department.
My colleagues were not lacking in talent, in the beginning they were lacking the necessary knowledge and experience to carry out their work prior to receiving relevant information.
In 2007 at the time of the 50th anniversary of the opening night, I wrote to Channel Nine, telling them who I was and asking if I could buy a VHS or DVD of the fiftieth anniversary programme. They did not reply. After fifty-five years nothing seems to have changed.
In April of 2011, I was contacted by the late John Bowring, a giant of the Australian film and television industry. He sent me an e-mail:
Message: Hi Terence,
I’ve just come across your web site and I must say its fantastic!
I too was a film editor at GTV9 in the early seventies and put together a short doco in 1975 to mark the last day of B&W transmission before we went to colour.
I spent months trying to find a lot of the original film from 56-58 only to discover that Rodney Biddle had thrown it out citing “no one needs old newsfilm!”
Was Tom O’Connor there then (he was the chief editor before becoming the news chief after Peter Maund left.) Geoff Kilburne was my boss.
Do you have any pictures from the period – particularly with the Auricon camera and the GTV edit department.
Thank you for e-mailing me back.
I find history a wonderful experience and I’m chuffed that I’ve actually got in contact with the mystery first editor of GTV !!
Just in case anyone thinks the idea of a rehearsal is a strange one, this is the document (click here) issued to ABV2 staff for their opening night on November 18th, 1956. Not only do they call for rehearsals, they say “if necessary” there will be a second one.
Jim Healy left GTV around September 1959 and joined TVW7 in Perth as Senior Film Editor. Was he the only person to have witnessed two opening nights of Australian Television? At TVW, he would be involved in numerous rehearsals before they went on the air.
Additional link: A typical newsday at GTV 1957
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