CONVERSATION WITH RUTH PAGE (now Harris) - November 2005
On the 17th April 1945 I was fortunate to find employment at the ABC as a junior in the Talks Dept. and later as Secretary to Talks Sup. We handled everything from straight talks, Women's Sessions, Religious, Documentaries, all scripted, to Elections and Royal Tours - that section today is really mostly talk-back programs. After some years in Radio, four of us girls decided to spread our wings and travel overseas on 12 months' leave of absence to England and Europe.
When our 12 months was nearly up and not wanting to return, we decided to write to the General Mgr. (then Charles Moses), to see if we could get into the BBC to gain some TV experience, as TV hadn't started in Australia at that time. This suggestion was thought to be a good one, and so through the ABC Rep. In London I worked at the BBC for about 9 months. I was assigned to a Contract Prod. In Light Entertainment. When I started I'd hardly seen a TV program, let alone a TV studio. I sat in on a few shows with other Producer's Assistants, and soon was on my own, booking casts, and learning a whole new language, such as dry runs, dolly mobile cameras, shooting scripts and requisitions. I worked on a quiz show called Puzzle Corner, which included a musical item. Steve Race and his orchestra was used, and Petula Clark was one of the singers. Other celebrities I remember were Patricia Roc and Jimmy Edwards. 'One of the first musical shows I worked on featured Lorrae Desmond. I returned to Australia late 1956.
Back in Australia the ABC were still conducting TV workshops. I Naturally said I wanted to go to Sydney, and Mr. Clem Semmler said "send her over, she can sit with my Secretary and help her when I wasn't busy with TV" there were no offices for eventual TV staff at this time. I think there were only two of us girls who had had any actual on-air experience, and I was immediately seconded to TV full time. Prue Bavin and I think Betty Robertson were also full time. It was a great thrill to work as the Script Assist. On the opening night's drama. Paul O'Loughlin was the Producer for the "Twelve Pound Look" starring Alexander Archdale. We were probably all a bit nervous, but everything went very smoothly. Helen Lockhart (now deceased) was the Floor Manager.
Our early years of TV were conducted from an old Army hut known as the Arcon at Gore Hill, which became very hot with all the lights. There were only about 40 staff and everyone got on and they were great days. At the start Dave Tapp, Les Weldon, and John Hicks were our main Technical Supervisors, along with a great team of cameramen - Rex Henry, Harry Adams were two of the originals.
I worked with nearly all the Producers at the time going from Drama and Opera to Johnny O'Keefe in Six O'Clock Rock to Childrens, Women’s World with Kay Kinane, Schools, Sport and Cricket. John Buttle produced a show I think it was called Picture Page. Other Producers were Peter Page (Lt.Ent. and Music), Margaret Delves, Arthur Wyndham O.B's, George Trevare and Harry Pringle Light Entertainment. James Upshaw and Alan Burke came on later. Royston Morely from the BBC had been seconded to ABC to help train Producers. It was always fun to work on the Children’s Program with Johnny Ewart, Pat Lovell, Athol Fleming and Gina Curtis. Also with Norman Hetherington's Mr. Squiggle and Pat Lovell (who later became famous for Producing "Picnic at Hanging Rock").
As things expanded I worked to one Producer Ray Menmuir, mostly on Drama and Opera. At this time my office was in the Drama Dept. in Market St. We held our dry runs in St. Peter's Hall, Kings Cross.
When working on Drama, the set was drawn up on the floor, and the Producer walked around the actors, looking for camera positions through what was known as a black box with different size holes, representing different angle lenses, and I had to follow him making notes and comments to tell the actors later. The Producer was also the Director in those days, not separate positions as now. Everything for the show had to go on requisition forms, props, sets, costumes, makeup, graphics - Bill Kennard was the Graphics Sup. It was interesting to sit in while the Producer and Designer mapped out a set and between the Designer and Wardrobe, costumes were designed and made. Zilla Weatherby was Wardrobe Mistress, and we usually had a look when fittings for the actors were made. Then suddenly today was Production day and it became very exciting sitting in the control room above the studio (when we moved eventually to a proper studio), and the actors or dancers and singers were in costume.
When the opera "La Boheme" was produced, it was the first time an actor was used to mime a singer, and this was successful.
All programs in early days went 'live' to air, and we had some anxious moments. If the cameraman wasn't careful and knocked into one of the flats, the viewers saw the wobble of the set, heard the noises, but everyone just carried on. Or an actor had to be prompted, which fortunately didn't happen very often. Now, of course, if the slightest thing happens, the whole scene can be videotaped again - we didn't have such luxuries, and I think the fact that it was 'live' gave a certain excitement about it.
I remember Bill Phillips, Tom Jeffrey and Jim Lyons as Floor Managers and later in Presentation and Geoff. Powell. I was also for a time Script Assist for Royston Morely.
In 1959/60 I took another 12 months' leave of absence to go to Canada, but was not successful in getting into CBC, although I had excellent referrals from Mr. Duckmanton, Mr. Semller and Royston. TV there was a seasonal thing.
When I returned to Sydney ABC I was assigned to James Upshaw - Light Entertainment was his forte, having been a dancer earlier in his life. He produced a number of shows featuring Lorrae Desmond and other singers along with dance routines. Lorrae was very professional and easy to work with. A very funny series starring Spike Milligan with some outdoor filming was fun to work on. Spike really was quite mad and told us he had been in a mental home. We also produced a series with Dick Bentley. I thought I was very lucky to work as a Script Assistant on these shows.
I wanted to get back to Drama which was my first love, and when a vacancy occurred I moved in to work with Alan Burke. We had offices at this time in the Elizabethan Theatre Trust rooms at Kings Cross, and so had to do some travelling back and forth to Gore Hill. The last drama I worked on was "The Taming of the Shrew" with Ron Haddrick. We did some filming for the show in Centennial Park and we had a great day with cast in costume.
I returned to Adelaide in 1962 as a Floor Manager, also working shifts in Presentation. In 1970 I was appointed a TV Presentation Officer, and from time to time acted as Studio Supervisor and Producer. I retired in 1984.
Ruth Page (now Harris) worked at the ABC from 1945 till 1984. She
started work in ABC Radio, transferred to Television in 1956 and then
moved to Adelaide in 1962.