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Colleagues: Mrs. Belfrage

In October 1958 ABV2 at Ripponlea decided to take on a programme producer. She was known as Mrs. Belfrage, the name Belfrage was familiar to me having heard the voice of the great Bruce Belfrage through the war years when he read the news and always announced who he was.

Mrs. Belfrage, upon hearing that Television had started in Australia, went to the ABC in London to enquire about a position in Australian television with the A.B.C.  She was keen to go there with her husband who was ailing and she thought that the warmer climate would suit him.  The man at the A.B.C. office in London knew nothing about television.  Apparently he had been sent there by Charles Moses, the English boss of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, so that be could not offer a threat to his position.  This all sounds familiar to me concerning another time and another place.

Mrs. Belfrage is quoted, in an interview with the (Australian) National Film and Sound Archive in 2001:

When I asked him about departmental arrangements he said that “everyone produced everything”! I thought that was weird, as specialisation is the essence of the business. However, he recommended me and subsequently I was accepted by the ABC.

This notion could have stemmed from a meeting held in Melbourne in early 1958 when Neil Edwards, then Federal Head of Films from Sydney, opened a meeting of Producers and Film Editors by saying “Everyone in the ABC has two jobs, making films and their own“.  He was trying to get people to do their own job and let the film specialists make films.

At first, Mrs. B was disliked because of he overbearing attitude to her fellow technicians.  It took her a while to realise that the Australians were quite capable of producing good quality programmes.  I don’t know that she w as ever fully accepted by her colleagues at the A.B.C.

She went out on a location shoot.  It was to be a film insert into a drama.    The scene to be shot consisted of a horse and carriage travelling at speed down a lane and across a bridge.  From a location behind the bridge, it was possible to see the whole action from start to finish.

Mrs Belfrage

Mrs. Belfrage invited me along to see what she was doing. I was to be the editor.

The first shot was a wide angle following the carriage from its starting point until it passed out of left frame.  The whole shot lasted around twenty seconds.  She then wanted to do close ups on everything. I pointed out that if she used all the close-ups, she would not be able to use the “master” shot, as she called it.  She said that she wanted a choice.

This is where she and I chose to differ.  I would have chosen close ups that I was definitely going to use and I would have made sure that those close ups would cut in to the master shot appropriately.  In fact, I would only have shot two close-up.  A shot of the driver standing up and shouting on the horses and a close up of the horses legs galloping over the bridge, emphasised by the different sound of the hooves on the wooden bridge..

She, on the other hand, shot close ups without considering the editing and where they would fit to make their point.

Her way, that is what one might call “blanket” close ups, meant that one was already in the cutting room before one could tell if the close-ups were going to work.  A bit late to find out that they didn’t work.  A little thought would have chosen a shot or shots that would be known to work before going into the cutting room.

In the event, it all worked out, but she did have a lot of trims from that location.

Now, we were to see another side of Mrs. Belfrage.  She invited the crew to her home which was nearby the location.  On arrival, we were introduced to he husband.  He was Bruce Belfrage.   He was then sixty years of age and he had lost his wonderful voice.  Bruce had been an actor and had been a B.B.C. announcer throughout the Second World War.  It was sad to listen to his husky voice, unrecognisable from the voice we, in Britain, had come to know.

This is the man who, famously, covered in plaster and dust, carried on reading the news after an unexploded German bomb landed on Broadcasting House and then exploded.

We were plied with Gin and Tonics and had a pleasant time talking to the Belfrages.  The conversation got round to London’s Music Halls and Mrs. Belfrage said that she knew just about every song that had been seen and heard on the stages of the Music Halls.

She then proceeded to sing them.  Most of them I had never heard of and I wondered who, if anyone, was going to keep a record of these old songs.  For the first time, we found out her first name.  She was Joyce.

The entertainment gave a considerable boost to her popularity.  Mrs. Belfrage had read English Literature at Cambridge and later worked with the B.B.C.   She had been a cabaret singer, but she must have done something with the Music Halls.

She told us that her hobbies included mountaineering, rock climbing, swimming and playing squash.  She would have had to travel far to partake of the first two hobbies.

She was the first overseas woman producer to be employed by the A.B.C.  She had few good words to say about her time at the A.B.C.

Working with Joyce was a quite an experience. Whether right or wrong, everything had to be done her way and she was prepared to out-shout everyone else connected with a production. She produced several documentary programs, including a film on the Sydney Stock Exchange and others on social and cultural subjects.

Joyce Belfrage was employed as a top-grade producer with a top-scale salary to match.  On two occasions, she was down-graded. She went for a drink to drown her sorrows and had a few too many G and Ts.  Upon returning to her office, she picked up her typewriter and threw it out of the window.  It fell close to some passers-by.

She left the A.B.C. in 1963 and became an advertising copy writer.  Later, she delivered a lecture to the Humanist Society of New South Wales entitled “What’s wrong with the A.B.C.” The lecture was fully reported in the Sydney evening papers.

In 1970, she was appointed principal lecturer in communications and mass media at Macquarie University.

Her husband Bruce suffered a stroke and died in 1974.  Joyce died in 2007 at the age of 83.

She was truly a “one-off”.

Main Photo: ABV2 studios 1958 – Ripponlea from National Archives of Australia No: B629

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

For other articles about the ABC click here.

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