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Jobhunting & the start of television in Australia 1956

Finding a job in the last days of 1956, with GTV was the culmination of considerable effort and frustration.  I had arrived in Melbourne on board the RMS Strathaird, out of London, in June of 1956.

I spent a few weeks recovering from the voyage and getting to know my surroundings, but I had limited funds and I had to pay my way.

I had been in correspondence with the Australian Broadcasting Commission concerning work as a film editor, but it was always something they would look into later.

In early August, I applied for a job with Kodak in Melbourne.  It was a simple job of putting leaders on to customers’ 8mm films before being sent back to them.  I was invited for an interview.  At the interview the man told me that I was “over qualified” for the job and that I would be “snapped up” by one of the television stations.

Then I got an interview with General Motors Holden in Dandenong.  My army experience gave me qualification in the storage of motor transport spare parts.  However, the only CV I had talked of my experience with British Movietone News.  I had no choice but to show the man those credentials.

The Personnel Manager said that I should have no trouble getting employment with a television station and that his company’s Public Relations firm, George Patterson, was also the PR company for GTV (General Television Corporation).  He said that he would contact them on my behalf. This he did and I was advised to call Mr. Kinnear at Patterson’s who told me that his brother already worked at GTV and that he would contact them to enquire about a possible position for me.

I received a letter from him on September 6th, 1956.  It stated that he had been in contact with Mr. Norman Spencer of GTV who might have a job that would interest me and would be with “considerable future possibilities”.

I went to meet Norman Spencer who immediately introduced me to the Head of Film.  I showed him my credentials and he asked me how much money I wanted to do the job of Senior Film Editor.  I said Thirty (Australian) Pounds.  He said “I will let you know”.  This meeting took place on Monday 10th September, 1956.  I waited.

I heard that Melbourne production company Hector Crawford Productions were seeking staff as they were embarking on productions for the television stations when they started up.  I phoned the company and spoke to a man who asked me about my experience.  I told him and he said he would call me back.  Neither he nor anyone else came back to me from that day to this.

My English host worked for a magazine published by the Herald-Sun organisation and she had heard that they were recruiting staff for their television station HSV7.  I rang up and secured an interview with the head of film.

I was ushered into a hall, rather like a village hall.  It had one desk in it, at the far end.  I walked to the desk.  There, I handed over my credentials and told the man of my experience.  He said “I am sorry, but I took on two film editors last week”.

I thought, “Where did they come from ?”.  I did not believe him and the fact that one of the few items on his desk was a book on how to make 16mm films made me suspicious.

This was verified some two years later when Robin Clarke, an original cameraman with HSV7, joined ABV2.  He was introduced to me; he told the story of the head of films at HSV7 (in 1956) who had come close to being fired for not hiring me. This had nothing to do with me as a known person to them, it was because I was a film editor and they did not have one. Robin said that he kept his job because there was no one else to do it.

I wondered if this condition was prevalent.

I could not alter my letters of recommendation from British Movietone News.

English: Myer Emporium, Bourke Street Mall facade.

Image via Wikipedia

I took a three month contract with the Myer Emporium selling sporting goods, rifles and shotguns.  The job finished at Christmas 1956.  I was now without a job.

On December 28th, I phoned the Head of Films at GTV.  I asked him what was happening about the job.  He said “You were asking for too much money”.  I said “Make me an offer”.  He said “ Twenty Pounds”.  I accepted it because there was nothing else on offer.

He said that I could start on the following Monday December 31st, 1956.

In view of the fact that the job of film editor on a news bulletin meant that the work would always be carried out in the evenings, it should, therefore, have carried some penalty payment. However, I knew nothing of such things.

At the time, I did not think to ask what the hold up was, I was only too pleased to have a job.  Not only a job, but a job that I was keen to do.

By offering me the job on the spot, not having to refer it to anyone else, proved that he had had the power of hiring since September, so that whatever the reason was that he had not contacting me was a matter for him alone.

There were a lot of questions to be asked, but many of these would be raised months and even years later.  However, the first of these was “Why did he not tell me sooner that I was asking for too much money?”.

The owners and operators of television stations in Australia had a year and nine months in which to prepare for the new industry.  At least they could have identified the whereabouts of Australian technicians who had gone abroad to gain experience and also immigrants who had had experience in film and television in Europe and America.  They could have located plenty of film technicians in Sydney.

Originally, the Australian Government had legislated for one government-owned station in each State.  These on the lines of the B.B.C. in the United Kingdom.

When the government of Robert Menzies came to power, they changed the rules, allowing two commercial TV stations in both New South Wales and Victoria. This was in 1954.  It was April 1955 that the licences for the commercial stations were issued.

There were almost two years in which to form a working company to run each television channel and to make provision for Studio facilities.

There was also the matter of staff.  In Sydney, the stations TCN9 and ATN7 seemed to have worked matters out quite well.  They did have an advantage over Melbourne in that they were able to take advantage of a sizeable pool of skilled labour available in Sydney, that is to say, skilled in film making which would be a principal requirement for television broadcasting in the 1950s.

In the case of TCN9, they contracted Cinesound, one of the two Australian newsreel companies, to produce their nightly news programme.  This allowed them to have their own staff on a watching brief until they, in turn, were able to do it for themselves.

On the night that ATN7 went on the air for the first time, only one of their studios was operational.  There was a violent storm and there was a power cut, but they made it..

The Australian Broadcasting Commission had the experience of the British Broadcasting Corporation to call upon.  They could, and did, call in experts from London for advice and they could send their own staff to London to gain the appropriate knowledge to run a television station.

ABN2 had, as one of its early Senior Film Editors, a man named Derek Timmins, formerly of Pathe News in London.

All stations had access to staff who had been employed in radio.  At that time, Australia had numerous radio stations run by producers, directors and technicians who were, at least, experienced in broadcasting, albeit without pictures.  Much of their expertise would have been valuable to any television broadcaster. Radio sound engineers would have been quite at home in television, however, they would have had to learn how to deal with a boom microphone in the studios.

It brings us to the situation in Melbourne in 1956 and onwards.

ABV2 took on Jennie Blackwood, a former film director and film editor with the Department of Information Film Unit and Post Master General Film Unit.  This was in August 1956.  She was joined by John Williams a former film editor with Herschell Film Productions. He had considerable experience in documentary and feature production.  Blackwood and Williams became responsible for high quality equipment to be found in the array of purpose-built cutting rooms at Ripponlea, ABV2’s Studio base..

They were joined by a group of three assistants who, very quickly, became editors.  A total of three editors were on call by early January 1957.

HSV7 – I know little or nothing about the inside of HSV, but I did have plenty of opportunity to observe their news output in the beginning.  It showed that they were unable to produce a coherent bulletin in terms of moving pictures.  The quality of the broadcasts seemed to indicate that there was no one in control who had previous experience in the broadcast of television news.

GTV9_3Finally to GTV9.

The station was first licensed to the General Television Corporation Ltd., a consortium of two newspapers, The Argus and The Age, with cinema chains Hoyts , Greater Union , Sir Arthur Warner’s Electronic Industries, JC William’s Theatres, Cinesound Productions, and radio stations 3XY , 3UZ and 3KZ.

Until I walked into the cutting room at Bendigo Street, I was unaware that, apart from The Head of Films and his secretary, I was the only employee in the film department.  It is a fact that there was no reserve editor, no assistant editor, no trainee editor and no librarian employed or lined up to be employed.  I thought, later, that, as Cinesound were members of the GTV consortium, there might be someone from that company to see that the film department was going to work smoothly.

Some of the technical staff working in the GTV studios had attended courses at Melbourne University designed, specifically, for work within the Studio as technicians.  It is possible that these trained technicians were greater in number than the positions available.  The television studios and equipment had been installed by Pye of Cambridge, England, and on December 31st, 1956, several of the Pye engineers remained, making sure that all was well with the installed equipment.  I was told, later, by one of them, that they had been invited to stay and to take up jobs within GTV, but in the end didn’t take up the invitation.

Throughout Australia, some people, keen to get into television, had gone overseas to get experience within the industry.  I do believe that the talented Rod Kinnear, a producer/director had done this before returning to take up his post with GTV. The marketing director Ray Kirkwood had come directly from working in Canadian television.  In the studio, the floor manager would be Del Randall, an Englishman, who later returned home and worked with ATV in Birmingham.

I, myself, had seen that my future would be in television and I, therefore, took it upon myself over a two year period to study 16mm film.  At the end of this period I was familiar with all aspects of the 16mm material in all its forms and what could, and could not, be done with it.

Would it be fair to ask what was going on between, say September 10th 1956 and December 28th 1956, within the Film Department ?  Of course, there were the Olympics which ran from November 22nd to December 8th.  However the Olympics would only represent 25% of the time, assuming that the department was thoroughly occupied during the Games and that they were occupied for the week before and the week after the Games. GTV already had a telerecording engineer, Al Bowley, who would be responsible for recording each day’s events within the Olympics.  They already had studio control staff and a telecine staff.  I do not know the function of the Film Department at that time.

On December 31st, 1956, the Houston Fearless film processing machine had not been delivered and, for a month or two, all the film shot by GTV cameramen had to be processed outside of the company.  The fact that the film had to be delivered and collected from the outside lab added thirty minutes to the processing time. The processing machine, when it arrived, had to be plumbed in to receive water and the chemicals had to be “managed”. One has to ask “when was it ordered, if it was not to be delivered, and operational, in time for the opening?”

Terence GallacherOn December 31st 1956, there was no editing machine in the Film Department, that would be delivered a month or two later.  What we had was a viewing machine which scratched the film and which, of course, had no footage counter, an essential requirement for a news cutting room.  I would have to use the separate footage counter.

There I go again, I have said “we” had a viewing machine.  On December 31st, I was alone.  “I” had a viewing machine.

On December 31st, I was the only person among the entire company of GTV that had had knowledge of film making in general and newsfilm production in particular.

Realising that I was totally alone, I asked, among other things, “What is happening about the library ?”.  I was told that a librarian would be coming in later.  In the event, the librarian came five weeks after we had started broadcasting.  I said at the time that with the amount of film passing through the department each day, a librarian would not be able to catch up.  Over the next sixteen months, she never did.  However, this problem was solved, some time later, when the Station Manager, Mr. Rodney Biddle, decided to dispose of all the film held in the library between 1957 and the middle of 1958. He said “No-one needs old newsfilm“. Really ? This, according to the late John Bowring, who had been an editor and, later, a cameraman with GTV9.

I arrived December 31st, on January 19th GTV9 in Melbourne would have its official opening night.

Additional link: GTV 9 Opening night 1957

© Terence Gallacher and, 2012.  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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For other articles about GTV click here.

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