Chapter 7: Movies and Microphones

As a child, I had always been interested in cinematography. As related in an earlier chapter, as a schoolboy in Castlemaine, my father had built a 35mm projector. I had a quantity of old 35mm silent features, and when I came to Melbourne to work, I met a number of people along the way who had the same interests.

One of those people was Bob (“Ed”) Lord.

Around about 1950 Ed was working for a business called Home Cinemas. They were importers and retailers of Pathé and Pathéscope 9.5mm movie equipment, and their shop was on the third floor of the Century Building in Swanston Street in the city.

I thought that a part-time job with Home Cinemas would be a pleasant way of filling in the spare time I had during the week, before or after my news-reading duties each day at the Argus news-room.

So, nothing ventured, nothing gained, I boldly walked into Home Cinemas one day, accosted Ed Lord, and asked for a job. After a hurried consultation with the owners of the business — a Mr Bert Peters and his son Gordon Peters, Ed emerged from the discussion and told me I had the job.

My duties were that of “service-man”, repairing defunct or faulty 9.5mm projectors and cameras, and “counter jumper” or “salesman” in the shop if there was a sudden influx of customers.

The staff was meagre. Bert Peters, accountant and general manager, Gordon Peters as manager, Ed Lord as “general dogsbody” able to do anything, Alan Kleeberg (a technical genius) in charge of the “service” or “repair” department, Jean Ruby, secretary, and Nell Gleason in charge of the film library.

The film library was extensive, with a large selection of silent features, documentaries and news magazines (all reduced from their original 35mm format) and a smaller selection of sound films featuring artists like John Mills, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Alan Ladd, Cedric Hardwicke, Richard Tauber, Margaret Lockwood, Anna May Wong and Diana Napier.

Alas, today many of these people are forgotten, but in their day they were big stars and having their films in the library was a big plus for the modest home movie shop on the third floor of the Century building.

In the days before television, there was always a big demand on the Home Cinemas library on a Friday, with home movie enthusiasts hiring films to show at home over the weekend.

They were a wonderful group of people to work for — each with their own particular sphere of knowledge contributing to a successful business.

Bert Peters, the boss, possessed a nice blend of business acumen combined with sufficient accounting skills to keep Home Cinemas on the right side of the ledger — but like most accountants he knew absolutely nothing about the practical side of the business he was managing.

However, he had the good sense to leave that side of affairs to those who did know what they were doing and trying to achieve — people like the indispensable Ed Lord and Alan Kleeberg.

His son, Gordon Peters, was a very good salesman with a friendly and warm personality. It was impossible not to like him, and I’m sure the customers felt the same way.

The rest of us fitted in as best we could.

They offered me a convenient working arrangement which suited me admirably.

About his time, I was broadening my “skills” as a radio actor, and was getting quite a lot of work from the A.B.C. with their dramas and school broadcasts, and also from Crawford Productions.

Home Cinemas allowed me to take time off whenever I got a radio acting job, and I found myself working alongside the radio “greats” of the day — people like Keith Eden and Patricia Kennedy and many others whose names were known Australia-wide.

I also began “putting my toe in the water” as a radio script writer, and wrote several serials and series for production companies like A.W.A., Crawfords and Australasian Radio Productions.

“Speed Car”, “Hitler’s Story”, “On Active Service”, “Assignment in April”, “What Would You Have Done?” and “Doctor Mac” were some of the epics I concocted on my own (all of them now completely forgotten) and I co-wrote portions of a radio “soapie” called “The Wide Stair-Case” with a writer-producer, Warren Glasser.

It is tricky co-writing with someone. We wrote alternate blocks of 26 episodes. The danger was, if your collaborator was under-researched, you’d discover that you had unwittingly brought back to life someone who had been murdered, garotted, hung, poisoned or otherwise disposed of in the previous twenty-six episodes.

Eventually I resigned from the family atmosphere of Home Cinemas and accepted the position of Manager of Australasian Radio Productions, a company which had been founded by distinguished Australian author, Morris West.

By the time I took over ARP (as the company was known) Morris West had departed with the lady who was to become his second wife, to the romantic shores of Tuscany to commence his career as a novelist with “Children of the Sun”, “The Devil’s Advocate” and “Shoes of the Fisherman” …

Australasian Radio Productions was concerned with the production of radio programmes of a slightly less eclectic nature, like “The Burtons of Banner Street”.

Radio dramas in those days were conceived without a great deal of attention being paid to minor details.

When I wrote “Speed Car”, I knew very little about cars.

When I wrote “Hitler’s Story”, I knew nothing about the Fuhrer’s private life.

But none of the vast radio audience seemed to be concerned about such deficiencies.

When I was managing Australasian Radio Productions I once had to point out to one of our contract script writers that a lady living in London in the 16th Century could not have saddled her horse and ridden up to York to do some shopping in the morning, and then ridden back to London in the afternoon — a total distance of 388 miles!

When I explained the impossibility of this, completely unabashed he said airily, “Oh well — make it another town!”

Obviously this writer — who could name his own price — was not strong on research.

I think I had been working for Australasian Radio Productions for two years, when a series of events loomed on the horizon which induced me to write a letter to Mr Colin Bednall.

The answer to that letter was to change my entire career path.

The “events” to which I referred in the previous paragraph were to change the leisure activities pattern for almost every Australian.

What are these mysterious events?

Read on — to the next chapter!