Early Days ABC TV by Brian Davies


At Alderson's

The flavour of the times: trams still ran across the Harbour Bridge from Wynyard underground terminus, turning right for Military Road and onto its feeder suburbs or straight up the Pacific Highway through North Sydney's jumble of narrow streets - suburbia with a sprinkle of shops - bound for Chatswood or to Lane Cove and along the way through St Leonards, past ABC TV's outpost in Alderson's Building - a 1950s red brick high-rise office block (10 or 11 stories??) - in which the ABC occupied one or two levels, including the basement at the rear that opened onto a loading bay ideal for camera cars; and a further kilometre along where the tram tracks crested Gore Hill where the ABC's broadcast tower was rising and near it a sprawling left-over war-time shamble of a spacious asbestos shed called the Arcon that housed ABN-2's studio with limited room also for technical equipment, props and whatever else could fit. Others' memories will no doubt be sharper and clearer than mine...and probably more accurate.

But what is sharp in my mind is the newsroom in the Alderson building and my first introduction to it as a D-grade journalist (Wally Hamilton had shortened my cadetship by a year to three years instead of the required four) and that first day Keith Fraser waving a spool in the air and telling me "this is a spool" - you don't say, I thought. The 'newsroom' was one crowded room with a teleprinter in it connecting us to the real newsroom in Kellett Street which fed us the day's copy and around three walls were desks and typewriters to shape it into TV copy, never substantially subbed or re-written as the presentation in those early days, we all know, was radio with pictures and the copy had already been subbed at Kellet St.

I'm sure there's no shortage of anecdotes about the nightly hair-raising dash by cab from Alderson's to the Arcon ferrying the news bulletin there and key figures like George Reisenberger, an American newsreel and TV cinematographer to guide the tyros - an amiable man of great experience, courtesy, rapport and very warmly regarded and, another American, a film editor named Frank Albanese whose claims to great skill seemed to rest on very flash clothing, rich-looking junky watch bands and rings and a loud, grating Yankee accent - to all of which editing seemed secondary

Who else peopled the Alderson newsroom, apart from Keith Fraser? The journalists Bill Hudson, Sid Mounsey, John Crew, Ivan Chapman and John Cunningham; Ken Cook I think was there from very early-on and possibly also John Tingle, unless he started later at Gore Hill proper; as well as Ken Chown later to move onto TDT as one of its first producers. ....others to me were mystery, technical figures: Derrick Timmins, Hans Pomeranz, et al...but it's all a bit hazy. I was either called back to radio or was only at Alderson's briefly before the move to Gore Hill...but more of that in a moment.

Maybe memory is compressing time, for I recall with great clarity nights standing behind the flat behind the newsreader's desk in the studio in the Arcon waiting for the broadcast to go to film and then leaping out from behind the flat to tap the reader (think famous reader names) to cue him to make the narration coincide with the film. This tiny 'hiding' space was shared shoulder to shoulder with other journalists whose scripts also had to be cued, and there were wild imaginings that one night the flat would fall over exposing the hidden "cue-ers". I even have a memory of it happening one night, although not to me, but it's not a memory I trust.

Meanwhile Alderson's physical set-up was an ill-designed clutter of cramped space, awkward corridors and unexpected steps, so the transfer to Gore Hill, incorporating proper studios and facilities couldn't come fast enough: On the day of the move, as a D-grade (or perhaps by then elevated to 'C'), I was only a spectator as the orderly arrival at Gore Hill turned into a 'race for space' to grab the best offices flanking the main newsroom area, but were they kidding? Surely the offices would have been tidily allocated before the land grab, but then again John Cunningham missed out entirely, while gentle Ivan Chapman's Weekend Magazine office was the most distant from the 'action'. Now, Gore Hill and mention of Weekend Magazine generate still greater nostalgia - there was even a nightly Newsreel. The shift to Gore Hill and its space, viewing theatres and facilities almost immediately let aspirations and talent flourish.

Brian Davies started as a cadet Journalist in 1956

 

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