The Early Days at Gore Hill ….with Bill McGowan

 

The following is about the first telecast of football match in Sydney, a club rugby union game at Chatswood oval. (I researched this story for Gordon Bray’s book the Australian Rugby Companion.)

 

The first live match was presented live on Saturday 6th April 1957 from Chatswood oval. The fixture was between Gordon and Manly. Arthur Wyndham who was the ABC producer for that historic broadcast, fondly remembers those early trailblazing days.

"We were starting from scratch. Not one of the crew had ever been involved in a football telecast before, so it was a learning curve for us all".

 

In order to get the picture back to the studio, the signal was beamed by microwave dish. That meant you needed to establish ‘line of sight’ contact with the Gore Hill tower. Also when we did a telecast of a game from Coogee Oval we had to put an extra relay dish on top of a block of flats at Taylors Square.

 

Excluding the commentators we had just 11 staff for that first rugby telecast, a floor manager, a producer and his assistant, plus five audio and technical people crammed into what was called the Pye OB Van, so called because that was the brand name on the side of the truck (Note from the website co-ordinator : The ABC purchased the Pye OB Van from the UK from a large electronics manufacturer which designed the Pye Television Cameras and associated equipment) We had two cameras on a raised platform with turret lenses, and one fixed camera at ground level with a huge 40 inch lens.

 

The original ABC commentators were Dick Healy and Cyril Towers and a promising young broadcaster named Norman May who called the reserve grade match with Mick Cremin. Both Cyril and Mick were former champion footballers. Norman May’s lasting memory of that reserve grade match which was won by Manly 3-0 (a try was only worth three points in 1957) was that the try scorer was having an affair with Norman’s girlfriend’s mother. After that historic first telecast, Norman on Monday received a call to front his supervisor, Dick Healy in his William Street office. "Listen, May why on earth are you claiming six miles vehicle allowance to Chatswood oval when I have only ever claimed five miles - Norman’s reply…"well at least Mr.Healey, I actually own a car".

 

Norman was recently interviewed by ABC radio about his fifty years in sports broadcasting including his first telecast of a surf carnival at Dee Why Beach. The commentator’s television monitor, which was vital for calling a surf carnival was facing the setting sun, so Norman and Dick Healy spent the afternoon with their heads covered by a towel to keep out the sun!

 

‘Sportsview’ ran from midday to 5.30 with a live telecast each Saturday with features mainly from the BBC. English soccer created the most interest. I remember one old fellow rang Sportview in tears saying he had been in Australia for over thirty years and for the first time he was able to see his old team. The producer was Rex Henry, and Ewan Kay was what was called the sports editor. The team in the early years included Arthur Papistatis who compiled all the race results, Clair who compiled all the graphics (which went to air on a jumbo typewriter - all the races, football, all codes and the cricket

in summer). All this was compiled by Don Work and me. Holding this all together was Bob 'Rocket ' Moore who was the compere.

 

Viewers were asked to ring in their questions for the weekly boxing corner which featured a boxing expert Ray Mitchell…he could answer 90% of questions off the cuff. However he used to, unknown to the audience, have a look at all questions before the program went to air and any difficult ones he would look up in his boxing record book. But the customers didn’t know this.

 

Early ever afternoon one of the girls would go out and buy us all ice creams…one day without thinking she handed Bob an ice-cream, moments before he went on the air with Ray. So the shots were taken like this…Bob with his ice-cream under the desk would ask Ray a viewer’s question. Then the producer would cut to Ray. Bob would then have a big lick.…well Rex Henry could not contain himself and when he crossed to Ray, he quickly crossed back to Bob in the middle of a big lick…and Bob’s wide grin said it all.

 

When Ewan Kay received a promotion in the film department he decided to give up working on Saturdays and concentrate on his new job. I took over and held the position for over twenty years. The best viewers call I received in those early days was from a bloke in a pub who said he had a very serious question and there was a lot of money at stake - the question was - who won the 1950 rugby union premiership. I looked it up in my trusty record book and told him it was Manly….to which he shouted to everyone in the pub "I knew it was Randwick" - just another way to win a bet.

 

One day at TG Milner field the cameras broke down…well actually the two mounted cameras went out of business. So the producer had to rely on the one camera with the big zoom lense to cover the whole match. On Monday a senior ABC officer rang up and said that was the best produced match he had ever seen!

 

George Trevare was producing a religious program live….everything was live in those early days. When the main guest was irritating him George screamed down the line to the floor manager "will you get that bible bashing bastard to look at the camera!" The silence in the control room caused George to look around and there standing behind him were the minister’s wife and family!

 

Mrs. Bickerstaff was a tea lady and she used supplement her income by selling biscuits to the troops… she used to catch the mail wagon which I used to drive for a while from William Street to Gore Hill. Little did she know that the back seat wasn’t screwed down. Turning into the top gate near the towers one day I hit a big bump….the dear lady fell heavily on her bottom - Mrs. Biscuitstaff as we called her - never caught the mail wagon again!

 

Bill McGowan joined the ABC in July 1958…and held jobs in this order: Despatch Assistant, Stage Hand, Driver, Pay Officer, Industrial Clerk, Admin Assistant (Federal Programs), Production Manager (TV Education), Program Officer (Sport)