Working at the ABC

 

I was working as a hairdresser when in June 1958 I saw an add in the Sydney Morning Herald for a TV Make up Assistant. Television was a new and magic medium and as I had beauty and hair dressing qualifications, was involved in amateur theatre applied as I thought it would be the perfect job for me. And it was!

I was over the moon to receive a letter dated 9th July 1958 telling me "my application for the position of Make-up Assistant (TV) (AUX) had been successful. My salary was 743 pounds p.a. (less than I was earning hairdressing) but as I was being given an opportunity to work in a new and exciting industry I didn't care.

Living at Connell's Point, I had to catch two buses and two trains to get to Gore Hill, a trip of about 1 and a 1/2 hours each way, however, these trips gave me time to knit a red mohair overcoat. Very fashionable at the time!

On my first day, Bill Dent the Commissionaire met me in the foyer and nervous as a kitten I waited for Doreen Montieforie-Castle the head of Make up to come and take me to the make up room. The other make up artists were Barbara Still, Mercia Norrie and Robyn Davies. Mercia, tragically collapsed and died at work of a cerebral haemorrhage in about 1964. She was a very clever and talented make up artist.

The first show I worked on was Alabama Jubilee a Negro minstrel show with Hal Lashwood as "Mr Interlocutor" and Reg Quartly as Mr Tambo. It also starred Neil Williams, Peggy Mortimer and Enzo Topano, Jack Allen and his Swanee River Boys. They were a great group of musicians who all had to wear black makeup, which they hated.

My job that night was to collect their dirty towels from the dressing rooms. I was shocked to see a naked man in the corridor shouting and banging on a dressing room door. I beat a hasty retreat back to the make up room and he was gone when I was game enough to come out again! The other muso's had waited till Jango was naked and pushed him into the corridor, locking him out. Neil, Jango and I think Don Borrows were very much relieved when they found it was me, not Doreen who'd caught them fooling around. She would not stand for any nonsense. Doreen had trained at the BBC and her strict very British manner frightened a lot of people but she was a very nice person and was extremely good to me. Her strictness protected us from the unwanted advances of the odd performers were too free with their attentions. Doreen left in about 1963 and moved to America.

Studio 21 was very new when I started. All our programmes went to air live and the number of programmes produced was amazing. Monday night we had a sporting programme with Norman May, Dick Healy and Wilf Buckler doing live interviews with the top sportsmen and women who were visiting Australia. Not being a sporty type I was not impressed by the fame surrounding people like Wes Hall (I declined his dinner invitation.), Stirling Moss I knew! Ray Mitchell, a wiz on boxing interviewed boxers and was in demand to give his opinion on different fighters. His knowledge was astounding. There was also a sports programme on Saturday early evening giving a round up of the weekend sport.

People," a twice a weekly interview programme with Bob Sanders was a real buzz, making up people like John Mills and his wife Mary, Trevor Howard, mad cricket enthusiasts who came out every year to watch Australia and England play. Donald Campbell and his wife Mardi talked about his attempt to break the world land speed record. She was a beautiful woman who only wore one earring, a large diamond stud. She said she would wear two when Donald could afford a second diamond! We met amazing people as anyone who was in the news came out and was interviewed live. After Bob left the ABC the programme was taken over by Gerald Lyons.

There were two women's programmes from Sydney a week. Mary Rossi, a very smart and lovely woman, compared one. Mary loved babies and had twelve. She continued the programme while pregnant, something that was very forward thinking in those days. Margaret Delves was one of the producers of these programmes and while they had the usual spots for women on craft etc, they often had interview with visiting celebrities. I remember Spring Byington, the widow of Zeigfield (of Zeigfield follies fame). She was appearing in a very popular western at the time. A beautiful quite elderly lady.

We had Sunday afternoon Concerts and overseas artists who were appearing in commercial venues performed, as did the Sydney Symphony orchestra. They only played for a certain amount of time before they had to have a break so it was not unusual for frustrated techs to watch as the orchestra downed tools and took a break.

The first Shakespearean play was "Hamlet". Considering the limitations of the time it was quite good. To achieve the effect of the ghost on the battlements John Farson who played Hamlets dead father walked back and forwards in front of black velvet. This was superimposed over Hamlet talking to him.

Just at the producer turned on the camera for the ghost, someone knocked the cameraman's elbow and the camera moved. Hamlet kept talking to the point he had been given but it looked as if the ghost was walking in space, way above Hamlets head. Considering the shows all went out live there were very few mistakes.

Six O'clock Rock was something totally new for the ABC. J O'K was great for us to work with. He made sure the new young talent behaved in the make up room and we had the pleasure of working with people like the Allen Brothers, (Peter and Chris), the Deltones, Judy Stone, Robee G. Col Joye and the Joy Boys were regulars, Johny Devlin, Lional Long, Rolph Harris (with his wobble board) Johnny Reb, Lucky Star (who had been everywhere), The LaGuard twins, Nolene Batley. The list goes on. A lot of new talent surfaced. Some sank without a trace but many of the artists names are still well known.

Six O'clock Rock had a live audience. You couldn't go into the foyer before the show as it was packed with excited young people. Tickets were allocated so that the same people did not go into the show each week. There was one young man who somehow seemed to manage it. He turned up every week with a different girl. No one knew his name but because of his long sideburns he was christened "Sideburn Charlie". I don't think anyone has been able to find out who he was.

I travelled around Australia with Shirley Abicair, the Australian singer who played a Zither, She had just returned from London where she was all the rage. We spent 6 weeks filming, a week in each location. Felicity Forster was the continuity girl and we became good friends. The producer was Geoff Powell. We went to some great places and the show gave overseas audiences a very diverse view of Australia. We filmed the town of Adaminaby, just before it was flooded for the Snow Mountain Scheme, went on through Tumut and up too Kosciusko - from farms in drought to Adelaide for the first Adelaide festival then on to Mildura (where we got bed bugs!).

She interviewed the famous bikini maker and her husband who had lad a lot to do with developing a very new suburb called Surfers Paradise. A lot of what he said was too libellous to be put to air.

The only large hotel on the Gold Coast was the Chevron and at a fairly new Sea world, Shirley was filmed in a dolphin pool (which she said felt as if it was full of dolphin pee) and played with Dolphins. Our last stop was 4 or 5 days on Palm Island.

We went from the tropics to the snow with a large crew for a one-woman show for as well as a normal film crew; we had a guitar player to accompany Shirley and a scriptwriter to write the questions she asked the guests she interviewed. From time to time other artists were flown in to add colour to a specific show. I was not overworked! I was chosen to go as I was a hairdresser and she needed, of course, to look immaculate at all times whether she was filming or just out socialising.

Later that year I went to Hobart for six weeks to train Virginia Perlitzeroli as the make up person for Hobart TV.

I stayed at the ABC for about ten years, marrying a cameraman, Ken Harris in 1964. We had two lovely children and Ken died in 1990.

One day I intend to write in more detail of my experiences. I made up some of the worlds top actors, dancers, singers and politicians, (including Richard Nixon who was quite impressive). We did not have the products or equipment that is available today but I believe the quality of many of the shows that were produced are equal to or better than some of the shows today.

 

Daphne Ferguson (now Daphne Harris Gillooly) worked in the Makeup Department of the ABC at Gore Hill from 1958 to 1968. She now lives on the NSW North Coast.

 

 

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