John Buttle talks about the early days of Television

John Buttle was interviewed by Terry Colhoun (ex Manager ABC Canberra) in October 1989. This extract from the interview was prepared by Bob Sitsky. The interview was made available by the National Film & Sound Archives.

My association with the ABC started after World War 2. I started work in the London ABC News Room located in Australia House. I spent three and a half years there. In 1950 I transferred to ABC News in Sydney, and started work as a sub-editor in Kellett Street, in the Woolworths Building. I worked in that news room for three years, and then I transferred over to the announcer staff - this was 1953.

In 1955, when I was acting in Canberra as the Regional Manager, the ABC started preparing for TV. The ABC had a long gestation period for television. They treated TV very generously. A whole year before transmission started, staff were invited o express interest for television positions. I was one of those - I sought a position in television production. So we had a whole year of training in television.

My number one mentor was Royston Morely, who was from the BBC. He was joined by Kay Kinnane who was running the television training program for the ABC.

I became one of the first News Producers at Gore Hill. I was also interested in doing Outside Broadcasts and Documentaries.

Our first studio was the Arcon. It was so small we could not fit anything into it. We decide to do a show on the NSW mounted police. However, we had a rule that there was not to be any animals in the studio. I wanted to bring a horse into the studio - so what I did was have the front of the horse in the studio, while its behind was in the corridor. That worked very well, and the horse made full use of the corridor!

One of my early shows was 'Picture Page' - a variety show. We had a very pretty blonde compere. One of the shows was on the Taronga Park Zoo, which we had to do in the studio. Just as I was on the first shot of the compere, I had a frantic message "not to pull out". The compere was holding a small penguin - however the warm conditions coupled with the fact that she was holding the penguin rather tightly, caused the penguin to defecate all over her new dress! She was absolutely covered with it.

Once I was doing a show on glass blowing. Now, in the Arcon studio, there was no gas facility. So we came up with the idea that a great big tractor tube would be filled with gas, and it would have a rubber tube feeding the gas to the blower. Now, Martin Royal had just finished reading the News, and as he was interested in glass blowing, he decided to stay on and have a look. Just as I was calling the first shot, the gas flame suddenly died. It was Martin Royal - he had his foot on the tube feeding the gas!

On many occasions we had a show from Canberra. I took a crew of some 30 people to Canberra for some live event. But we also did some 'Built OBs' while we were there. We often did 6 OB's which we telerecorded, and edited back in Sydney.

I was interested in children's programs. I produced a show called 'Thursday Party' which ran live every Thursday from 5 to 6 pm; it ran for two and a half years. We had a studio audience of 150 children. The thing I look back on with pride is this - we had to compete with the commercial TV channels who included inappropriate material in order to try and get the ratings - we never did that and still ran a most successful children's series. At one stage we had a 5 year waiting list for children who wanted to come to the studio!

Once we had to go to Canberra to do an interview with the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies. We made the Albert Hall Annexe our studio. Menzies was to be interviewed by Michael Charlton. He had a debate going on in the House so he made it clear that his time was very limited. I was just calling the opening shot, when the camera failed. I now had to deal with the PM who was not going to hang around while we fixed the camera. So I had a quick chat with Michael Charlton, and we decided to ask the crew to get a sound feed of a cricket test match being played at that moment. So here was the PM and Michael (both huge cricket fans) having a delightful time listening to the cricket. Menzies forgot about the debate in the House! When the camera was fixed he gave us the time for the interview.

John Buttle was born in New Zealand. After his discharge from the NZ Navy, he joined ABC Radio News, first in London and then in Sydney. In 1955 he started his TV training, and became one of the early television producers at Gore Hill. John left TV Production in the mid sixties to work as a Regional Manager in Cairns. He then worked as Assistant Manager in Canberra. He died in 2001.


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