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Wireless in its Heyday

The days when Radio reigned supreme

By K.S. Mulholand (Australia)


'Wireless in its heyday.'

'Grace Gibson Productions.' New South Wales.

'Hector and Dorothy Crawford Productions.' Victoria.

The days when Radio reigned supreme…Until…

There were many radio productions in Melbourne and Sydney in the early fifties such as 'Pick a Box,' 'Laugh til you cry,' 'Hagen's Circus,'
'Dad and Dave,' 'Daddy and Paddy,' 'Life with Dexter,' 'Blue Hills,'
'Nightbeat,' 'D24' 'Ada and Elsie,' 'Yes, What?,' 'The Burtons of Banner
Street,' 'When A Girl Marries,' 'Big Sister,' 'Dick Barton.'

And the unsettling, squeaking door of the 'Inner Sanctum.'

And then there were:
'CX4 to Control…CX4 to Control…This is Hop Harrigan…coming in.'
'Control Tower to CX4: Wind southeast. Ceiling twelve hundred. All

'Sea Hound, ahoy!' Sea Hound, ahoy!

Ding-Ding…Ding Ding.

'The adventures of Captain Silver and the Sea Hound!'

'Captain Silver calling the Sea Hound…Captain Silver calling the Sea
Hound. Come in Sea Hound!'

'Tarzan! King… of the apes!'

'Welcome to Bonnington's Bunkhouse show, with The Kansas Kid!'

'Hagen's Circus.'

'Up! Up! And… Away!'

What else could that be, but the radio voice of 'Superman.'

The voice that binds the last three together was that of Leonard Teale.

I first met Len when he began to work on 'Homicide,' and it was a thrill
to talk with a man who had been a star on radio. I had a conversation
with him about those days, which by then were faded memories. The coming of television had destroyed the might of radio in its dominant format of plays, serials and shows of every kind.

Radio had had to reform, to find other ways to defend itself against
the might of the invader. Music was one avenue, Sport was still
possible, as were News and the advent of a new kind of radio: Talkback and Commentary.

In time, all of these would gradually transmute lead back into silver.

In the meantime those who had made their living working as radio actors had to re-evaluate their careers and seek work in the new medium.

Len told me that as a radio actor he made a living doing all the serials
for five to fifteen pounds a session and sometimes doing a week's worth at a time. He was given scripts, and was expected to absorb their meanings straight away. Of course he didn't have to memorise them, but he did have to deliver them with correct meaning and emphasis. Often, radio actors moved swiftly from station to station, working on the more involved Radio Plays such as 'Elephant Walk,' and 'Dossier on Dumetrius,' and 'The Caltex Theatre.'

I recall, as a thirteen or fourteen year old, crouching on a stool close
to our upright radio, (A piece of polished timber furniture back then)
listening to the radio adaption of 'Elephant Walk,' and trying also to
watch 'Have Gun, Will Travel.' That was a wrenching transition for me.

But not as wrenching a transition as that for all those actors and
actresses of the great radio age that had its roots in Australia way way back into the beginnings of the twentieth century.

Many people made the crossing: names such as Alwyn Curts, Roly Barlee, Roland Strong, John Meillon, Anne Haddy, Keith Eden, Sydney Conabere, June Salter, Roger Climpson, 'Bud' Tingwell, Bob Horsfall, Hal Lashwood and many more, became 'faces' on television.

Much as when Silent Films moved to the Talkies of the late 1920's, many could not complete the transition. Those who did, not only had to 'sound good' but also 'look good' for the prying lens of the movie camera.

Len Teale was craggy-rugged enough and had that radio voice. 'Homicide' was going to be a very suitable vehicle for him. And of course, not only did he fit the role, he also met the lady who would become his wife, the somewhat wacky hostess of Seven's Video Village. (Although of course, Liz Harris was anything but wacky.)

I was a stage hand by the time Homicide arrived in 1964. The early
episodes were video taped at the Fitzroy Teletheatre. The pilot episode, which later would be screened as ep. 24A, I cannot recall.

But I do remember 'The Stunt,' (which was the first ep. that went to
air,) mainly for two reasons: the office and corridor sets were solidly
constructed, double sided, with pine frames and plywood skins. These were not merely light-weight pine and canvas. These were literally 'walls' and extremely heavy.

The second reason was a very young Ian Turpie, who met his end at the hand of a bank security officer. (From memory.)

Of the original cast John (Jack) Fegan, Terry McDermott and Lex
Mitchell, I had contact with only Jack Fegan. Pub contact that is, over the next four years until I left Seven, and encountered him again some time in the 70's on 'Matlock Police.' Jack was a very affable, though sometimes excitable, especially at the mention of Unions, and had that characteristic, gravelly voice. Lex Mitchell departed the series within the first year, and Terry McDermott (Whom I had, and still have, great respect for,) was written out in 1966 after a salary dispute with Crawfords.

Somewhere in that time interval 'Homicide' was re-located to the Seven studios at South Melbourne, mainly because of Audio difficulties with external noise, (Essentially trams,) that the ever-developing microphones detected.

Both studios 1 and 2 were required and on the odd occasion I actually
was rostered as camera 4. I was not a world beater, but because of director Athol Charlewood's encouragement, I struggled through.

In the meantime Len Teale entered, playing the part of Snr. Sgt. David Mackay. 1965-1973.

1966 saw a lovely bloke by the name of Leslie (Les) Dayman join the
cast. An accomplished actor, I think from South Australia, Les was
always professional and co-operative. I was later to meet up with him at A.T.V during 'Prisoner.'

George Mallaby arrived the year I was to exit 7. Such an affable,
amiable fellow: young, confident, good-looking. Again, I met him on the A.T.V. series 'The Box.' or was it 'Prisoner?' Possibly both.

So, the transition from radio of Crawford Production's 'D.24.' came to
fruition with the fledgling television series 'Homicide.'

Even though Homicide initially lost money because of under-estimated production costs, its popularity was acknowledged almost from the outset, and it ran, with a short hiatus of several weeks due to an early union dispute, for twelve and a half years. Len Teale being the longest serving detective/actor of the series.

Leonard was still working on Homicide in 1968 when I left 7, yet he has remained in my memories, both from boyhood when his radio words, 'Up with this window, and up! Up! And away!' were replaced by the actual kind words he shared with me via our mutual experience of a new medium…Television.

I have been fortunate indeed to have witnessed so many rich moments, so many colourful and talented people, such history of those years when Radio was overtaken by Television.

And now, as Television has aged and altered, and faltered, there is
still a space for the old technology of the air. Perhaps 'The Wireless,'
of the thirties, forties and fifties has gone forever; and yet I wonder.

Might there still be a niche for Radio to emerge again as a power that
produces serials, dramas; programmes that might entice audiences away from the mundane, soulless dross of 'Reality' shows?



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