MEMORIES OF THE ABC - John Starr (2005)

It was quite a shock for me to join the ABC in 1958 from private enterprise where I had spent my formative years. I remember reporting to the Personnel Section which was located in Lowes' Building in Pitt Street, Sydney (I think) and taking the oath of allegiance with Arthur Tegart. He gave me a copy of the Staff Rules and I scanned them on my way over the Bridge on the St. Leonards tram.

I wondered, reading these Rules, how I would ever keep out of trouble. Later I found they were sometimes honoured in the breach rather than the observance.

I was designated "Engineer, Studios". Frank Brogan was "Central Equipment" and Dennis Andrew "OBs and Lighting". Above us were John Poll, Senior Engineer N.S.W and Ken Middleton, Supervising Engineer N.S.W, who worked to Lloyd Hadfield, the Federal chief (DTec). There was no office available for me so I was accommodated in a large open office with the Studio Technical Producers and their assistants. They were Dave Tapp, Les Weldon, John Garton, John Hicks, Bruce Valentine, Phil Pearson and Harrie Adams. Also in the area were John Watson, Training Supervisor (isolated from the rest of the office by a row of filing cabinets) and, up the other end, purchasing for the Department was done by Dick Cohen who was a Supervising Technician Grade B moved from Melbourne on compassionate grounds because of his son's illness, I understand.

Engineers in the ABC, I found, were more involved in systems work than I had been used to, my experience having been pretty well exclusively "on the bench".

It was only about eighteen months since the beginning of the television service and there was a need to catch up on housekeeping. I was given the task of rationalising the use of C.P.S Emitrons and Image Orthicons in the studio cameras. These tubes had to be operated for at least two hours each fortnight and have served 500 hours or been rejected within 17 months from the date of receipt into store. If all this were observed a credit for tubes which failed short of 500 hours would be given. Each studio camera had a clock for keeping track of tube usage. In the flurry of operations this system had not been kept up to date and there were considerable losses as a consequence. These were serious when the cost of new tubes was considered. I don't remember the figure but it was very high. I understand that the "shrinkage", that is the proportion of Image Orthicons lost in production compared with those which were successful was of the order of 96%.

My first "major" project was the installation of Studio 22. This was completed in late 1958. Because my experience had been in VHF in my previous employment I leaned heavily on the technical staff in this work.

Late in 1958 or early in 1959, John Poll, who had been promoted to a Head Office position in charge of Planning and Installation took up his new job and I was promoted to Engineer Class 111 (Senior Engineer). At that time planning was proceeding for the new stations in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart and pressure (up the road in the "cottage") was intensifying.

Likewise, Ken Middleton, who had become Director, Branch Operations and Maintenance (DBOM) had pressure on him to leave the NSW staff and take up his new job. I remember his saying to me one afternoon "I can't put them off any more. The Station's yours on Monday". I didn't like that, I was only 29 and very inexperienced. I held that job on an acting basis for fourteen months and will be grateful for ever to Dave Tapp, Grahame Sibley and Lloyd Berndt. I've told many people that they could have "had me for breakfast", but they gave me full support and saw me through a pretty tough development phase.

One incident that taught me a lot was, in itself, minor but personally very significant. John Watson, the Training Supervisor, had a Leitz projector stolen from one of his filing cabinets. Tal Duckmanton, who was Controller of Administration, refused to sign the writeoff voucher which I had put through, on the grounds that there had been insufficient attention given to security. This notwithstanding that the cabinet was locked and the key was in John's desk drawer. I sought advice from Lloyd Hadfield, I couldn't see what else we could be expected to do. Lloyd rang Duckmanton. "Tal, what do you do with the typewriters in your office when you go home at night?". I presume Duckmanton said he left them on the table. "Ah", said Hadfield "Then I guess you'll have no trouble in approving this write-off of the projector". Duckmanton asked him to send the form back. I learned a lot from that simple experience.


John Starr joined the ABC at Gore Hill in April 1958 as a Studio Engineer. He moved to Adelaide in 1961 as the Supervising Engineer, and retired in 1986 as Director of Engineering SA.


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