Extract from Chapter 2 of the book

"50 Years of ABC Technical Services -

Alright Leaving Here" by Doug Grant

 
 

 

 

The Opening Night of the National Television Service:

Early on it was decided that the National Television Service's opening
night ceremony should not take place from the congested surroundings of the
Gore Hill 'Arcon', but should be conducted from the Sydney Symphony
Orchestra's rehearsal studio at Kings Cross. This was in a building in
Darlinghurst Road on the first and second floors running through to Kellett
Street, occupied on the ground floor by a Woolworths Variety Store. It was
known as Radio Studio 227. The Pye outside broadcast van was parked at the
rear in Kellett Street, with a microwave 'dish' placed on the roof, in
order to beam the signal back to Gore Hill. As luck would have it, there
was a line-of-sight for the microwave signal passing between the northern
pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and through to the receiving dish
located high on the 'Little Toot' mast at Gore Hill. From there the signal
was routed to the 'Arcon's' Master Control as an outside broadcast, before
being switched to the transmitters.

The big moment finally arrived on Monday night November 5th, 1956. Seconds
before 7pm viewers heard James Dibble saying "Stand by for the opening
night of the National Television Service"
. At 7pm a cross was made from the
'Arcon' to the Kings Cross Studio with a fanfare sounding and the screen
displaying the ABC-TV 'egg-beater' symbol (which was designed by the
Producer Mungo McCallum). The camera drew back to show Michael Charlton
standing next to the mechanism that produced the rotating symbol and
greeting viewers with: "Hello there, and good evening ladies and gentlemen
and children. This emblem that you've just seen is tonight the symbol of an
historic occasion - the opening of the National Television Service, which
of course is your television service. And we hope that tonight, and in the
weeks and years to come, you're going to see and enjoy a lot more of it on
ABN-2, ABN Channel 2. Now my name is Michael Charlton and I'm your host
here tonight, I'm going to welcome you and show you around, and let you
meet a few of the people who are going to make this service tick. And we're
going to show you something too of how we bring these people, the
entertainers, to your home, how we bring them to that small bright screen
in your living room that you're watching now, or perhaps as many of you are
doing, looking through shop windows at television screens in the street.
Now to do this we're going to have to hop and zig-zag all over Sydney, from
here where I am in our Kings Cross studio. And first of all we're going to
take you to our central studio, and there the Prime Minister Mr. Menzies is
waiting to open the ABC's National Television Service. And he's got with
him, the Postmaster-General, Mr. Davidson, the Leader of the Federal
Opposition in the Senate, Senator Mc.Kenna, and the Chairman of the ABC,
Sir Richard Boyer. So let's go and join them. Over now to Sir Richard
Boyer."

Michael Charlton in fulfilling the role of the first face on ABC-TV was
repeating the role of his Father, Conrad Charlton. At 8pm on July 1st 1932,
Conrad Charlton announced "This is the Australian Broadcasting Commission"
and went on to introduce the Prime Minister, Mr. Joseph Lyons who
officially opened the ABC.

The Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies in his official opening address, paid
tribute to the staff of the ABC's Technical Services Division by saying:
"Now this may all seem very simple to you looking on, ...but the truth is
that this is a triumph for the technicians.. The technical skill of today
is wonderful, and I'm happy to think that we have a pretty fair share of it
in our own country".

The technical team that night included, in the Pye OB van, Lloyd Berndt
(Technical Producer), Jack Christopher and John Laker (Camera Control
Units), Gordon Waterhouse (Sound Technician), and Ken Middleton
(Supervising Engineer Television H.O.). Mungo McCallum was the Producer and
Prudence Bavin the Script Assistant. On cameras in the Kellet Street studio
were Pat Kavanagh (Camera 1), Eddie Berlage (Camera 2), and Peter Tkachenko
(Camera 3). Barry Lambert was manning the Mole Richardson boom microphone.
Dave Tapp was the Technical Producer back at the 'Arcon'.

(Insert Fig. 25 photo here subtitled "Inside the Sydney Pye OB van on
opening night - 5th Noveber 1956. From left: Gordon Waterhouse (Audio),
Lloyd Berndt (Technical Producer), Ken Middleton (Sup. Eng. TV NSW), Mungo
McCallum (Producer), Prue Bavin (Script Assistant).")

With the completion of the official opening formalities, it was time for a
panorama, apparently from the roof of the studio, across the Harbour,
towards Gore Hill, over the city skyline and down to William Street. The
truth was that the panoramic shot had actually been filmed some days
before, and was a telecine insert from back at the 'Arcon'. The panorama
had been filmed from the roof of ABC-Radio's building on the corner of
William Street and Forbes Street.

The first technical 'glitch' of the evening occurred after Michael Charlton
invited viewers to see the massive EMI Flying Spot telecine unit. He
'threw' to John West standing in front of the equipment back at the
'Arcon', who introduced the telecine operator Don Crowley waiting to run a
film specially recorded for the occasion, featuring the violinist Christian
Ferras. With the cue "Roll Telecine" from John West, the viewers were
surprised to see Christian Ferras energetically 'fiddling' but with no
sound!

A newspaper report the following day commented: "The voices of technicians
could be clearly heard asking 'Where's the sound? What has happened here?
There is no sound".
The problem was subsequently identified as being due to
the very complicated procedure required to change from the screening of
35mm film to 16mm film. All the necessary switches had been changed over -
except the audio! Unfortunately this wasn't the only telecine problem for
the night. Trouble struck again later with a newsreel, when the film broke!
However the real achievement of the night was the staging of a live drama,
'The Twelve Pound Look' by J.M. Barrie (of 'Peter Pan' fame), from the
'Arcon' using the two Marconi cameras relocated from the St. Peter's
training studio. Harry Adams was on Camera 1, and Len Richardson was on
Camera 2, as Len described: "two cameras on tripods which had minds of
their own."
The pictures and sound were excellent, with impressive lighting
and camera work, providing a most encouraging introduction for future live
drama productions on ABC television. 'Glitches' and all, the opening night
was, as one reviewer commented: "an exciting night, a foretaste of all
sorts of good things to come. The programme had movement, variety and the
spice of the unexpected. The technical achievement was considerable".

 

Doug Grant was an Engineer with the Australian Broadcasting Commission/Corporation for 30 years, and worked in both radio and television areas of the ABC's Technical Services Division.

 

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