Joyce Belfrage Talks about the ABC

Joyce Belfrage was interviewed by Graham Shirley (from the National Film and Sound Archives) in July 2001. This extract from the interview was prepared by Bob Sitsky.

When I heard that television had started in Australia, I decided to try and get a job there. My husband was not well, and the warmer climate would be more suitable for him. I went to see the ABC representative in London at Australia House. His name was Mr. Bearar, and I discovered later that he was 'kicked sideways' by Charles Moses - Moses did that to people who were menacing his reign!

He knew nothing about television. When I asked him about departmental arrangements he said that "everyone produced everything"! I thought that was weird, as specialisation is the essence of the business. However, he recommended me and subsequently I was accepted by the ABC.

I saw Mr. Bearar in September/October 1957 and we left for Australia in September 1958. We travelled on 'The Fairsky'. I was a ten pound migrant, but we had to pay for my husband's Bruce as he was too old to be a ten pound migrant.

We arrived in Melbourne - it was intended that I was to work at Ripponlea. The ABC did not help us to settle in and we had to sort out everything by ourselves. What I found daunting was that the Head Office was in Sydney and Melbourne was a sideshow.

My budget for a five minute studio interlude was five pounds and the budget for a half hour show was forty pounds. All studio shows had a maximum of two cameras, except for large dramas. I was in the producer pool, which had about six people, and I was the only woman.

The ABC sent me on an induction course in Sydney, and soon after I applied for a transfer. To my surprise the ABC agreed. I worked in Melbourne for 7 months.

I was also the only woman in the producer pool for a while. Another woman joined us in the pool later on - she distinguished herself one day in the studio control room by saying "dolly in telecine"! Kay Kinane was there but at the time she was not a producer.

There was an "us and them" environment. Producers were constantly fighting with the administrators. This was not so apparent in Melbourne. We found the administrators secretive. They would lay down the law. They kept as much power as possible to themselves. If you had a successful series they would then claim the credit. Some of the administrators came from Radio and they had no knowledge of television.

Some of my successful programs included a documentary about the beatnik generation - the people who were well to do, but who rebelled against society; another was about the work of the Salvation Army with the alcoholics of skid row. Another program was The Critics which I co-directed with Kevin Shine. This was a studio show which covered discussions and criticism of books and theatre.
I should have left the ABC much sooner than I did, after being downgraded in 1959/1960. I did not like the strong influence of the BBC on the ABC. I also strongly disagreed with the management of the ABC.

I finally left the ABC in 1962 after I was involved with a court case. I chucked a typewriter out of a window. I was fined one hundred pounds.

Joyce Belfrage was born in Wimbledon, England in 1923. She had a career in radio and television broadcasting with the BBC and CBC. She migrated to Australia in 1958 and worked in the ABC till 1962. She then worked in the advertising industry and Macquarie University. She died in 2007.


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