Tom Manefield Talks About the Early Days of ABC TV

Tom Manefield was interviewed by Graham Shirley (from the National Film and Sound Archives) in August 1990. This extract from the interview was prepared by Bob Sitsky.


I started my TV career in 1956 with channel 7 as a training producer/director . But I got the sack at channel 7 before they went to air, so then I went to the ABC. I had been given an introduction there.

I rang up Jim Hall, who was in charge of Production Facilities, and he "come and see me". So I went and saw him and he said "Oh yeah, when can you start?" and I said "Y'know, Monday?" This was I think Friday afternoon! And he said "Well, great. Wait a second. Before you start I want you to meet Talbot Duckmanton". So he arranged an interview and I met Talbot. I started there almost immediately.

I started in the ABC in March 1957. I started in staging, just temporarily for 2 weeks. Then I was suddenly a floor manager, and then a studio supervisor, and then in production facilities. Duckmanton was making an administrative career for me. I was offered a job in management of production facilities, but I said "No, I want to be a producer". After which Mr. Duckmanton said all right, I could go back to production, but I had my chance in administration.

From then on I was just in the ABC mill, and I only ever came into contact with Duckmanton at those occasional hierarchical cocktail parties. I would have had more contact with Moses then I would with Duckmanton.

In those days, I think one of the things that was impressive to them … it really is pretty ridiculous, but my academic career was impressive to them. It was very funny in the ABC, because in those days in the ABC, there was nobody with degrees. They had sort-of "drop-out" degrees, so that somebody with a real-live degree, you know, I mean to say a good one, was, I think somehow or other, impressive to them.

I think Talbot's degree was in economics which he obtained as an external student, even during that time. But, almost nobody else had degrees. And as a matter of fact, amongst the producers, I can think the only people with degrees at the time when there were a lot of downgrades, were Allan Bruce and Joyce Belfrage and myself, and we were all downgraded. So that I would have thought, and I think Joyce Belfrage would agree with me, there was almost an anti-intellectual bias in the ABC in those days.

It was very exciting to work in TV, because it was all new and very demanding. Things went to air live. You worked mostly at nightime because you were putting your programs to air live. In those days we were producing whatever we were told, whether it was weather, news, sport, women's world, people…. And we were doing 7, 8, 9 or 10 programs a week.

I was downgraded after I'd been there about 2-3 years, and they were always having problems getting producers and getting good programs to work. And so they would always be employing and looking for new people. They couldn't see where the real problems were starting from. They were trying to make programs they germinated through administrative people sitting around board tables saying "wouldn't it be a good idea if we made a program about ….X….Y….Z…. and they would even plan the content of the program, and hand it over to a producer! I mean, that's having the cat by the tail, isn't it?

In the generation of ideas, and the fact that if you want to make good producers, you look for the people with the ideas, and you hear their ideas. You don't impose upon them ideas!


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