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Brian Williams

Posted by ken On March - 11 - 2009



1959 – 1967 and 1978 – 1979

Brian Williams young.JPG

Brian Williams came to Australia in 1951 and joined the ABC in Melbourne.

He trained in television at Melbourne Technical College and the ABC TV Training School in Sydney. Brian rose rapidly from studio supervisor to producer and director and as the youngest producer/director in Australia at that time, he was responsible for a broad range of productions.

At age 25, Brian was invited to join the newly established TVW where his creative flair was put to good use in generating many innovative local productions. The liberty to do so was largely due to early management’s desire to create a positive Western Australian image – and that desire was supported for the first three years by financial guarantees from West Australian Newspapers.

In the early days of television as a TVW producer director, Brian Williams had a high profile, as demonstrated by this newspaper advert…

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Brian was a very debonaire gentleman about town in those days.

Lots of well educated English school class and charm with a hint of the mischievous.

He demonstrated considerable flair, imagination and know how..

Most TVW directors learnt on the job, where as Brian was properly trained.

TVW directors either came experienced from other eastern states stations (ABC, ATN7, TCN9 etc) or overseas, or they came up through the ranks at TVW.

Earlier in 1959, he employed Max Bostock at the ABC in Melbourne to be musical director on a series called ‘Two’s Company’. Brian said, “When I came to Perth, I lobbied Brian Treasure to bring Max over here for the ‘Tuesday Date’ and ‘Saturday Showtime’ series which I produced and directed. Well-known Melbourne performers, Frankie Davidson and Dorothy Baker, both of whom had worked with Max on ‘Two’s Company’, featured in this production. Joined by the talented Rolf Harris, it was a winning combination.”

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Dorothy Baker

Contrary to popular belief, Brian says the first TVW outside broadcast (OB) was not the Commonwealth Games in 1962. “It was in fact a coverage of the ‘Head of the River’. Unfortunately, the first hour of the programme was hampered by fog on the Swan River. The presenter, Syd Donovan, was sitting on the escarpment in Kings Park and couldn’t see the rowing activity in the early events. It must have been a world record for ad-libbing.”

His next OB was ‘Hearts of Oak’, a documentary made from the HMAS Leeuwin and Fremantle Harbour as a prelude to the OB coverage of the Royal Visit. Others to follow included the annual ‘Miss Western Australia Quest’, International Cricket, the Inter-Dominions, a Miss Australia Final and the TVW Christmas Pageant, to name a few.

More ambitious projects were to follow. ‘Invitation to the Dance’ was a one-off programme, produced and directed by Brian, with Sam Gilkison as his associate producer. During that period, Brian was responsible for a number one-off specials. Some of these included ‘Songs of the Wars’ (a cavalcade of songs and music sung and played by Australians in conflicts from the Boer War through World Wars I and II), and ‘Do You Remember’, a trip down Memory Lane of Perth in the 1920’s.


This railway scene shows cine cameraman Tom Hall filming an outside sequence for ‘Songs of the Wars’. Brian is standing to the far left in the shade.

A version of Tchaikovsky’s ballet masterpiece, The Nutcracker, soon followed, before he set his sights on ‘”Baptism of Fire’. This one-hour documentary focused on the first-ever naval engagement of the Royal Australian Navy when HMAS Sydney did battle with the German raider “Emden” off the Cocos Islands. Interestingly, in the late 1970’s he produced another version of the same story, called ‘The Cocos Incident’.


Brian’s keen interest in naval history was satisfied when asked to produce and direct a documentary on the Dutch East India vessel Zuytdorp, wrecked on “The Skeleton Coast”. Then there was the first documentary on Sir Donald Bradman, (despite what Channels Two and Nine claimed years later). Brian still has the correspondence between Sir Donald and himself.

He kicked off ‘In Perth Tonight’, which ran for some years. Working with the likes of Gary Carvolth, Lloyd Lawson, Bon Maguire, Graham Kennedy, Stuart Wagstaff and a host of other guests proved an enjoyable challenge and generated some excellent television humour. Other hosts and production teams were to follow in Brian’s footsteps.

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Bon Maguire, Brian Williams, Eric Walters and Script Assistant

The teenage audience was not overlooked. Brian’s ‘Teenbeat’ was TVW’s first rock’n’roll effort with Brian Prior, Clive Higgins and the Zodiac Allstars. This one was succeeded by Club Seventeen, with Johnny Young and the Strangers.

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Garry Meadows with the Top Ten hit parade chart

TVW also encouraged popular eastern states personalities to visit for specials featuring Mavis Bramston, Bobby Limb and Co. including a city parade with the Good Lady Mavis in an open vehicle, which captivated an eager Perth audience. Brian particularly enjoyed the experience, as it was an unusual sight to render speechless the often loquacious ABC sporting commentators, George Grjlusich and Jim Fitzmaurice, as they replenished their thirsty government vehicle at an Adelaide Terrace petrol bowser.

With the issuing of a second commercial licence to STW 9, upper management sought a degree of constraint with local programme making costs, while at the same time attempting to maintain substantial local output. Under sometimes trying conditions, Brian succeeded in creating many fine programmes, whilst inventively employing production techniques and special effects, which in a Hollywood environment, would have added substantially to the production budget.

By 1964, he had achieved the specific goal he had set twenty years before and now looked for a new challenge. In December 1967 he left TVW to go into twelve years of Independent production. The 1970’s saw the Federal and State governments setting up film agencies to stimulate local production for cinema and then television, but not in Western Australia. A case had to be made.

Brian put a submission to the Department of Industrial Development (not as expected, the Department for the Arts). Premier Court’s Cabinet approved the plan after consulting with the Australian Film Commission. Consequently, the Western Australian Film Council (WAFC) was born, with Williams appointed to make it work. Simultaneously, he was approached by TVW to re-join the Channel after a number of co-productions with Seven. Soon he was appointed as Production Manager/Executive Producer.

During his decade of independence away from the day-to-day television operations, the system, with the notable exceptions of the “Miss Universe” presentation and “Disney on Parade”, seemed to have become an electronic photocopier churning out inexpensive strip programming that provided modest challenge to those involved. Film production development was to him the current challenge and he made the choice. Under the WAFC banner, a number of cinema features and independent television programmes were produced in the first eighteen months. Based on his record, Brian was invited to accept the position of Executive Director of the Queensland Film Corporation on a two-year contract. As an added bonus, this enabled him to meet and work with the industry in the eastern states.

He spent eight years in Queensland, during which time some house-keeping was undertaken and many cinema and television projects were completed. An advanced two-year training scheme for independent industry personnel proved successful, the Chauvel Award was inaugurated and the Queensland College of Art (now part of Griffith University) Media Degree course was written as a joint venture between himself and Tom Jeffery of the AFTRS.

In his last year in Queensland he persuaded Dino de Laurentiis to change his proposed plan to build a studio complex in Sydney, and convinced him that the Gold Coast was the right location for the project. At 24-hour’s notice, Dino flew north, surveyed the landscape and spoke with Brian and the State Under-Treasurer. His decision resulted in what stands today as a successful international production and tourist complex run by Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow.

Again he considered his job done. Two offers of production positions in Sydney could not dissuade him from returning to Perth, his first love, and retirement.

On his return to Western Australia, he was asked to instigate a review of the local industry. As a result, Screenwest was established and has been running successfully since 1992. He was invited to do some guest lecturing at the W.A. School of Art and Design on Production Management. This soon developed into a full-time occupation and he was appointed as Programme Manager of Film and Television, Broadcast Presentation, Photography and Music – over three campuses. It took a couple of years for these courses to be revised and accredited nationally, but it paid off.

At the 10th WA Film and Video Festival, the students secured sixteen award nominations, resulting in eight first prizes. In addition, the photography students won the Ilford Tertiary Students Photographic Award, in which five students’ average scores were higher than any other institution in Australia.

The job done, it was time to retire – again. Since 1957, Brian has produced and/or directed over 2000 productions. Deservingly, an “Outstanding Contribution to Industry Award” was presented to him at the 18th Western Australian Screen Awards Ceremony.

Now, in the Perth Hills, he is coming to terms with woodwork, watercolours, writing, gardening, reading and yoga. His wife Jan’s cooking, a well stocked cellar, a comprehensive library and a faithful Rhodesian Ridgeback are a priceless bonus.

The now very distinguished Brian Williams – and rightly so…

8 Responses to “Brian Williams”

  1. Bennie See says:

    I played in the Zodiac All-Stars with Clive Higgins in the early 1980’s and I would love to get in touch with Clive again. Please send any contact info that you may have. I live in Houston, Texas now.

  2. I’m trying to contact Brian Williams. I’ll be in Perth next month & would love to catch up. Please give him my email adress.

    Jon R. Noble ACS

  3. Dan Smith says:

    I’m also trying to contact Brian to seek permission to use a film he did for WAIT in the early 70s for our website. Could you pass on his my email address to him?

  4. Lyn (Brotherson) Page says:

    I know Brian through filming the Miss WA and Miss Australia Quest and the Tonight shows. Would like to make contact if possible to pass on my emails addy. Thank you.

  5. Mike Williams, Brisbane says:

    I’m an old friend/colleague of Brian since Film and TV School days. Am planning to visit Perth and would love to hook up again. Can you please pass on my email address.

  6. Steve Wakely says:

    TEN 10 Sydney News just announced the very sad passing of long term Newsreader Eric Walters – Eric worked at 7 Perth in the 60’s I am told. This is a dreadful loss to the industry and we his sad passing – RIP Eric :(

  7. Rob McGlynn says:

    I have left a message but then just found this entry. Would you mind passing on my email address to Brian please? I would like to use some segments of a film he made in 1970 in our production.
    Rob McGlynn

  8. Steve Bowman says:

    Vale – Neddy
    We worked together at Radio Australia pre TV and at ABV2 from day 1
    Recently spoke with Annete Klooger a great singer who was an early
    production at ABC which Brian produced and directed.
    Many very funny memories – only wished we had caught up bit I lost
    contact as went to ADS in Adelaide. In those days Perth and Adelaide
    seemed a long way apart.

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