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The origins of the TVW Channel 7 Newsroom – Part 1

Posted by ken On July - 2 - 2009

The origins of the TVW Channel 7 Newsroom

with Darcy Farrell – TVW’s first News Editor

Darcy Presents.jpg

Let’s start by referring to the technology. Ken has just given me this microphone to clip on, and if we go back to the use of the Auricon 16mm camera, in the first days at Channel Seven, you had a hand-held mic, with a wind sock which probably distorted more than helped, and you had to hold the microphone close to your lips as you asked the question; then poke it right under the nose of the person being interviewed. If there was any wind blowing, it became outrageous distortion, so it was very difficult. As a comparison, and I’ve used this before, that in the days of 1959 and before that, in the 1956 Olympics, when the eastern states channels started, the difference between then and now is like flying a Tiger Moth compared to an F18 Hornet, or a space shuttle.

Now my introduction to television started when I was working in newspaper journalism. Prior to 1959 I had been in England working for a couple of years, and I used to be amazed at the performances of newsreaders like Ludovic Kennedy, or Ludo as he was known, and people of that class. I also saw a lot of the Ed Murrow interviews in programs like Small World and so forth; and Walter Cronkite and several of the other American broadcasters.

When I came back to Perth and rejoined The West Australian, television was very much in my mind, and as the WA Newspapers application, for the television license started to unfold I went to Jim Cruthers, who had been installed as the first General Manager, leading the application. I said to him: “I would really love to have this job, I’ll do anything for the job”. It was a I’ll work for nothing approach. At that stage Jim Cruthers, and two or three others, were in the WA Newspapers building . They were virtually in the cellar down in the old Cadbury Chocolate offices, under WA Newspapers at 125 Saint George’s Terrace. Now Jim Cruthers was interested and said: “Well write me an application”, and I did that, and Jim told me: “Well you’ve got terrific competition because Lloyd Marshall, an outstanding journalist on the Daily News, has just been to the States on a Nieman Fellowship and he has been studying television because he recognised it was the thing of the future. Lloyd was an outstanding man, an outstanding journalist, and had been a great wartime RAAF and RAF officer. He submitted a wonderful TV report to J.E. Macartney, who really was the driving force behind the application. Macartney, of course, gave it to Cruthers, and that’s when Cruthers said to me he thought Marshall would be in line for the job. However, I persisted and I got the job, and at the same time got a shellacking from the editor of the West Australian W.G.T. Richards. Mr Richards said I had gone behind his back to get this job, and he had done a great deal to help me, and was very disappointed in me. So I left under a cloud, to rejoin the other branch, the new branch of WA Newspapers which was TVW Limited. From there, we set about the News and how we were going to do it.

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The Birth of Television News in WA

Darcy Farrell directs the soundtrack recording for an early film production, assisted by Keith ‘Digby’ Milner (cine cameraman) operating the film projector, David Farr (announcer) providing the narration, Jim Healy (film editor) playing the gramophone records, while Tom Hall (cine cameraman) records the content on a quarter inch Byer tape recorder, for later synchronizing with the 16mm film. This early activity was taking place before the TVW studios at Tuart Hill were completed.

The still photograph which shows a number of us doing a recording at WA Newspapers in the photographic section, at the back of Newspaper House, is what I describe as, “The birth of television news in Western Australia”. We had a projector, and we had Byer wild tape, and we had literally a gramophone and several discs. We had David Farr doing a recording and there was no sound proofing. We just asked everyone in the building to keep quiet. We had Jim Healy, Dig Milner and Tom Hall and myself and I would cue David Farr when to start his commentary.

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Keith ‘Digby’ Milner with two Arriflex cameras and Tom Hall with the Auricon

Having recorded the newsreel, which was a combination of some material being shot locally, and processed in a very crude, but brilliant way by Tom Hall, and we had other newsreel material we received from various other organisations. We would record it on the wild tape and take it up to the transmitter at Bickley, and then we would play it. Now this worked effectively two or three times. They were the first newsreels ever shown live on television during the trade transmissions in WA, and as we were progressing towards October the 16th, we got a little bit more ambitious. Jim Cruthers and Brian Treasure said maybe you could do a longer version of this, and we’ll show it about a month before we officially go to air. So we did another one and we took it up there to Bickley and we were quite chuffed about what outstanding ‘ television geniuses ‘ we thought we had done all of ‘this marvelous work ‘. We rolled the telecine and off the program went, and suddenly everything went wrong. What we had not thought about, no one had, was this unlocked Byer tape, and the weather had become warmer. It was very warm in the transmitter, and the tape stretched and got out of sync. By the end of the program we would have been about seven or eight minutes out of synchronization. You can imagine what a really great gaffe that was – to the guffaws of the public and people who knew anything about TV. As you can imagine, we quickly realised we had a lot to learn, but it was start.

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TVW Board members Mr Geoffry Friend and Mr Mel Fry view first TV images at the transmitter while Phil Salinger threads the 16mm telecine projector

When we moved out to the studios at Tuart Hill, we were able to get into it in a proper way. We were using the Auricon sound on film track, and we had Arriflex cameras (these were straight newsreel silent cameras) and two or three smaller cameras like the Paillard Bolex and the Bell and Howell. With these we were in full flight. Most of us went over to the eastern states and had a look at the Seven network and the Nines as well, to learn more about it and see news in action, and what happened behind the scenes. One thing we were very particular about was making sure we wrote the copy for the spoken word. This is the one thing I learnt in London; the difference between the spoken word and the written word. Now two or three of our newsreaders were wonderful radio announcers and wonderful presenters, but were pretty ordinary television newsreaders, who never really caught on to news reading as the way it should have been. Some of them used the excuse that we were writing for the written word and not for the spoken word. It’s totally untrue, and we had a few verbal brawls over these matters.

In the months leading up to the official opening of the station, we started auditioning for newsreaders, and for other personnel as well, and we ultimately selected Geoff Walker, from the ABC, and David Farr, who was a commercial announcer in Perth. I personally had a preference for Keith Flanagan, who was not only an outstanding journalist but he was a very good theatrical actor with a wonderful voice, but he didn’t do well in the auditions, whereas Geoff and David were excellent. I also had a preference for Garry Meadows, but at that stage it was considered Garry’s off camera, or out of studio, lifestyle might be difficult to contend with. So we’ll revisit Garry as he ultimately became an outstanding newsreader.

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Newsreaders David Farr and Geoff Walker

So we got to the opening night after days and days of rehearsing. We had been shooting film around Perth and processing it, we started to receive our overseas footage from ITN in Britain, which covered Europe, and CBS which covered the Americas, and when we went to air on opening night we ran three programs. We ran a newsreel type of program, which was a combination of material that had been shot in Western Australia by Cinesound and Movietone, and other newsreel companies over the previous few years, and material we had shot ourselves, including some terrific pre-opening stuff of the famous aviator Jimmy Woods at Perth Airport shot by Tom Hall and Dig Milner. On opening night we also presented two live news programs, the first ever live news in WA. It was read by Geoff Walker.

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The cockpit of Captain Jimmy Woods Avro Anson VH WAC – The “Islander” now on display at the RAAFA Aircraft Museum at Bullcreek in WA

The first night went like a dream, and every program went well, even though behind the scenes there were problems . But the next night… that was the tricky one. After the opening, by the way, there was an official party. It was a black tie event, but it was decided that the staff should be able to hold a party and join in the festivities, and after three months of constant work, seven days a week, it was justified that they should be able to celebrate. Some of them had to work the next day, including our news cameramen and our news staff. I was in at the office very early the next morning, probably about eight o’clock waiting for people. Ross Cusack was also in early and a couple more turned up by ten a.m. We got a couple of stories shot, and then by about one o’clock Dig Milner, Tom Hall, Jim Healy and Jan Vermazen, the film processor who used to operate a processing machine called the Houston Fearless, went up to the Charles Hotel to have a quick drink… a heart starter was more likely because they had had a very late night, the night before. There was only one problem with this… they didn’t come back.

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Ross Cusak and Darcy Farrell in Studio 2 Control Room

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Jim Healy & Jan Vermazen in the News film processing lab

We had a news bulletin to put to air and we had an American director, named John D. Brown, who said, “Well the News starts at 6 and I’ll be rolling the opening of the News at six.” By five o’clock when the guys still hadn’t shown up from the Charles, I said, “John you do not roll the opening, there will be no news unless I tell you so.” So eventually they got back and Jim Healy furiously tried to edit a roll of newsfilm. There was film glue flying around the room, and there were mistakes being made. Eventually we got a few items on a reel, but at six o’clock John D. Brown hit the button and rolled the opening, and then dissolved through from the opening to the camera which showed that no one was sitting at the news desk. Of course, John quickly went to black and then to the clock.

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John D. Brown awaiting the arrival of the News team in Studio 2
The original TVW clock
The small PYE caption scanner first used to generate the clock image

In those days, if there was a problem you would go to the clock, and, of course, this just illustrated to the people that something was wrong. The clock ticked on and on and on. I think it got to about seven minutes past the official start time of the program. By then Jim Cruthers and Brian Treasure, and others were starting to phone in, “What’s going on?” We eventually got a program to air but never again did we have anyone who took for granted the ease with which you could put programs together. Having experienced the first night, a number of people thought it was all pretty easy. But that first Saturday was a great lesson to everyone.

One Response to “The origins of the TVW Channel 7 Newsroom – Part 1”

  1. wido peppinck says:

    Great to see a photo of my late stepfather, Jan Vermazen in your article. Jan passed away in April 2015, aged 90 years and having lived a good life…

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