Rex Lapham Remembers

Conversation with Bob Sitsky on 4 October 2006

I initially came to Sydney (from Brisbane) to work with Philips Electrical but transferred to ABC TV in early August 1957. There was no advert in the paper – I just rang up in June 1957 to ask for work, and I had an interview with Kevin Bourke. Kevin told me there were currently no jobs – but in July the ABC contacted me and asked me join up, so I gave my notice to Philips and started up at Gore Hill in August. (I actually wanted to join the ABC much earlier so that I could work on the Olympic Games, but I never managed that.) About the same time Barry Quick and Bruce Valentine also commenced work.

I was assigned to the studio area, and John Garton took me under his wing. For the first 3 months I was doing CCU work. Then one day Harry Adams asked me to do the camera, and that became my work for many years. Fred Haynes was already there working as a TP. I think the Arcon studio was only 30 by 20 feet. The control room was at the narrow end. The scenery runway was opposite the studio, and beyond that was telecine and telerecord. The facilities were fairly meagre.

From the start there was fairly good discipline. Everyone was keen to come to work. There was good repour.

One thing I remember clearly from the Arcon days was the studio crew being sent down to the Engineering Workshop on every Saturday and Sunday to make the pantographs for Studio 21, under the direction of Merv Sommers. We were all Techs and so there we were, chopping up metal strips, drilling holes to make up these pantographs. It was a great way to have everyone working together. It would not happen these days.

I was on tripod (camera 3) when Six O’clock Rock started in the beginning of 1959. With the studio full of screaming kids, I found I could not move the camera properly. So I went to see Merv Sommers, and asked whether he could build some cable guards around the 3 wheels of the tripod. Then I asked - any chance to get it done by next Saturday, and Merv said that will be OK. However, I got into trouble with Paul Marlin, our new Engineer – I had to explain to him why I got an unauthorised job done in the workshop! Later on, all the BAPH States copied this idea for all their tripods.

We certainly had a lot of variety in those days. Anything from drama, opera, hit-parade, concerts, etc. I remember losing my 8" lens hood during a fight scene during a particular rehearsal, so I had to move faster during on-air. One job I remember doing regularly was lifting the Mark 3 Marconi Camera off the scaffold on to the stairway – a position we had for a concert program. The Mark 3 was a very heavy camera! I was known as a strong guy in those days.

I was a regular part of the camera team with Len Richardson and Rex Henry after Studio 21 opened at the end of January 1958. As there were two of us called Rex, the control room had to be very careful to identify which person they were calling!

I was also involved with camera work for outside broadcasts during 1959. Pat Kavanagh was my OB mentor. OB work was always a challenge. I remember an OB we did from the Gap at Watsons Bay. It was part of the series Men at Work. We had to simulate a gap-jump. We spent a whole day setting up the OB including drilling holes in the rocks to tie the cameras down.

I also remember the first time the ABC televised a federal election result. It was covered in a big way. The OB was from the 13th floor of the Commonwealth Bank at Martin Place. We had to de-rig the whole of the Pye Van up to the 13th floor. Just before we went to air I was trying to adjust a monitor for Pat Kavanagh, and the whole scaffold collapsed.

Once we did an OB from the Sydney Town Hall – it was a fund rasing event for the construction of the Sydney Opera House. After the dinner was over, the crew noticed that a lot of the guests did not touch their lobster dinner. So the crew laid out some tables, and we all had a supper of lobsters!

Those were pioneering days – both for studios and OBs. It was a very interesting time. The equipment was all valve driven, so things went wrong, and equipment occasionally failed. It was also exciting to be working in those days. The crews were all designated as technicians – this was before the operator structure was introduced – so we had to repair the equipment as well as operate it. Those were the best times of my working life.

I had my Radio Operations Certificate when I joined the ABC. But I had to obtain my TVOCP in order to get a senior technicians job. The exams were held at North Sydney Tech College. We coached each other as we preparing for these exams.

The highlight of my camera career occurred in 1960. It was tied test-match in Brisbane. It became a real drama during the last 20 minutes of the game. I was senior cameraman – and operated a 4-28/40 zoom. Wilf Butler was the director - he stayed with me for the whole 20 minutes. I was absolutely drained at the end of the broadcast. Unfortunately, those were the days before video recording, so the event was not recorded.


Rex Lapham worked at Gore Hill from August 1957 to September 1959. He then moved to Brisbane and retired as Supervisor Studios/OB in Jan 1990.


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