Jim Wilkinson Talks About the Early ABC TV Days

(Interviewed by Bob Sitsky February 2008)

I was originally a medical student at Sydney University but in the same mail delivery that told me that I failed Med II (and thus lost my Commonwealth scholarship), was an invitation for an interview at the ABC.

My father, Maynard Wilkinson, worked at the ABC most of his life and he knew about the T-i-T positions. John Bourne and I were sworn in on the same day by Tal Duckmanton. It was 2nd March 1959. So I did 6 weeks of the 1st year T-i-T Course at Gore Hill, but it was decided as I had Physics and Chemistry from Uni, (and I was older than the other T-i-Ts) I should jump ahead and join the '58 intake. So I did my course in 3 years and graduated at the end of 1961.

My father was chief accompanist for ABC Radio for many years, and organist at the Sydney Town Hall for the SSO. Later on he became a radio producer. My brother Peter was also in the ABC as a Sound Effects Officer.

I believe we were being trained to a higher level than the supervising technicians we would be required to work under. Our lecturers really knew their craft. It was a magnificent course, probably modelled along BBC lines. Also I think we were all chosen not only for our technical potential, but also for the contribution we could make in the production of ABC programmes.

Several years later I had the honour of being chosen by Rotary International to study Colour Television Engineering at the BBC for 12 months, and I know that completing the ABC T-i-T Course was certainly a factor in my selection. It was the first time the BBC had welcomed an Australian student into the college at Wood Norton, which is near Evesham in the beautiful Cotswolds.

Every programme prior to 1962 (prior to videotape) went to air live of course - one day I well remember a full washing machine of blue dye being accidentally knocked over during a comedy routine in the children's programme, and the dye went all over the floor of Studio 22. It wasn't funny at the time! I seem to recall that Ross Higgins and John Ewatt could have been the culprits.

One highlight for me as a trainee was to go out with producer Alan Burke with copies of the recordings of the music for the Mozart opera "The Marriage of Figaro". I had edited the rehearsal tapes into individual tracks so that we could use them to train the singers to mime their performances. This avoided having to crowd a small orchestra into Studio 21 for the actual telecast as had been done for "Cavalleria Rusticana" in 1959 in which I was the boom pusher. We conducted the rehearsals at St. Peters Hall in Forbes St. I played the tapes and the artists learned their miming for the 'live' broadcast later on. I was subsequently involved with the music tapes for Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio", Menotti's "The Medium" and a Christmas performance of "Bethlehem".

Jim Wilkinson joined the ABC as a Television Technician-in-Training at the beginning of 1959. He left the ABC in 1962.


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