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Tribute to Digby Milner – TVW cine-cameraman

Posted by ken On March - 12 - 2013

    Television News not only covers the dramatic elements of real life, as a window on the world, but sometimes the disasters and tragedy can occur within the News gathering team, for them to inadvertently become part of the News story.

    Television was right at its infancy when the industry suffered its first blow with the loss of talented cine-cameraman Keith ‘Digby’ Milner in 1960, only two months after TVW’s and Dig’s remarkable coverage of the Rome Olympic Games. It didn’t matter that TVW was a new kid off the block, as their pioneering spirit knew no bounds. They would try things regardless of it being deemed too hard or impossible for the fledgling broadcaster. They pushed the limits as to what was possible or not.

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Digby Milner

    Dig Milner epitomised this spirit, taking on big tasks with professional aplomb even though it was only a short time between him being a valued still press photographer and adapting to the new genre of moving pictures with accompanying sound in the field of television.

    The inaugral TVW senior cameramen were Tom Hall and Dig, supported by cadets Peter Goodall and Lu Belci. Dig’s adventurous spirit was a big factor with him boarding a press chartered aircraft to venture above a stricken fishing boat to capture the event. No doubt pushing the envelope to gain the best camera angle regardless of personal peril.

1960 Air Crash claims the life of TVW cameraman Keith “Digby” Milner

WA TV History
Jocelyn Treasure and Darcy Farrell reminded us of the loss of TVW cine-cameraman Keith “Digby” Milner in 1960.

    Keith Raymond Milner, known as Digby, and West Australian newspapers photographer Richard Owen Williams were killed on Monday 28th November 1960, when their chartered aircraft crashed into the sea near Cervantes Island whilst photographing a stranded freezer-boat, which was holed and resting on a reef. The pilot Robert Ian Owens and journalist Alan McIntosh survived the accident.

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    The pilot, who was flying a two-year old single-engine Cessna, also worked for the West Australian. He circled the wreck twice, then inadvertently hit the ocean and sank immediately in deep water. The pilot and journalist Alan McIntosh were flung from the aircraft on impact, and though shocked, managed to swim to safety.

    Digby had joined West Australian Newspapers in 1949, and served as a Press photographer until joining TVW in June 1959. He was married with three children.

    Channel Seven had been operational for little more than one year when this family man and much valued member of the staff was taken from them.

    Digby’s son Greg went on to be a journalist with TVW Channel Seven in Perth, to later work for STW Channel 9 and become the News Editor at the Golden West Network.

Peter Goodall provided the following information regarding the unfortunate crash…

“I can remember vividly being in the newsroom at 7 on the Monday when news came in saying that there had been a crash……First report said all were OK but there were some injuries….Then we heard that two had died…but didn’t know which !

Reports later from observers on the beach said that the circling aircraft was lower than the top of the mast of the wrecked boat….and that it had stalled into the water. Both Dig and Owen were on the same side of the aircraft getting their pix…..and were the ones who didn’t survive.

From memory I think the pilot was a “Comp” (compositor) from the West, who had a private licence …but didn’t have enough experience for low level flying and stall-turned it into the water.

This incident was to change for ever, throughout Australia, the way chartering of aircraft would always be piloted by an experienced commercial pilot.

Also TVW didn’t have insurance for crews flying on assignment like that and that situation very quickly changed throughout Australia.

When Dig died….he left a young wife and three children.

TVW7 set up a trust fund for the children’s education and made a large payout to Dig’s wife to help overcome the lack of insurance.

I remember one day in the film room Jim Healey and Keith Milner having a light hearted discussion concerning the use of “panning shots” in shooting news film, Keith was for and Jim against…..Keith won!!!

Nigel Felangue provided more details…

“Keith (Dig) Milner was killed whilst filming a job on 28/11/60 at Cervantes Island, north of Perth. Their single engined Cessna hit the water and sank immediately.”

Nigel still has the original copy of “The West Australian” of 29/11/60.

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Nigel goes on to report the following…

“I joined TVW-7 before the studio was completed, the staff at the time occupied part of a floor at Newspaper House in St Georges Tce. We put together motor racing docos from various oil co’s, which were sent to the transmitter at Bickley for Trade Transmissions. Film cameramen Tom hall and Keith “Dig” Milner even shot a number of news stories which they processed by hand on a wooden rack, prior to the completion of the film processing facilities at the studio. A Dutchman named Jan Vermazen was later in charge of reversal B/W film processing, (on a Houston Fearless 16mm processor). My first task at the studio was to set up the film vault, and then work as a still photographer and slide maker. The senior photographer was Brian Hooper.”

It was the former TVW News Producer and STW Chief of Staff, the late Brian Coulter, who earlier reported that (Dig’s son) Greg Milner became a journalist at TVW.

6 Responses to “Tribute to Digby Milner – TVW cine-cameraman”

  1. Quentin Hall says:

    My mother told me the story of this – all a bit sad really as it all finally panned out. Apparently my father, Tom Hall, was meant to do this job but my then 2 year old brother spotted a pink and grey galah fall into the water tank. Mom asked dad to get it out and it took longer than first thought. The bird bit my dad for the thanks of being saved and blood was everywhere.

    Dad had to phone in to say he was going to be running a bit late – but they put Mr Milner on that job instead as time was important.

    Dad said to me (in my teenage years) that he was sleeping on a hot summers weekend in January 1961 on the front veranda (in Wandoo Road, Forestfield where we lived) and he woke and saw and heard Mr Milner telling him, “It’s your turn next”. Apparently dad was mortified. As it wasn’t after 5 PM, it wasn’t as if dad had been on the old beer beforehand either. It really rattled dad (my mother confirmed dad’s story that he was somewhat rattled).

    Dad soon got the call to head down to Dwellingup for the bush fires down there. Apparently Channel 7 didn’t have a 16mm film developer up and running and dad hand processed his footage at the dark room at Channel 7, and they got it straight to telecine for the evening news.

    He felt that Mr Milner was telling him, “This is a big story for you, Tom”.

    Another story about Mr Milner was that he and my father tossed a coin to see who would go to Rome to film the Olympics for TVW 7. My dad lost the toss and I seem to remember hearing about a filmed piece sent back with Mr Milner tossing 3 coins in the Trevi fountain in Rome, saying “This is for you Tom”.

    My dad had already been in a plane accident in Newcastle when he was working on the Newcastle Herald. The plane got airborne and the engine conked out – it came down and they hit the fence at the end of the runway.

    I often think of Mr Milner as it could have just as easily been my own father on that plane on that particular day – and had that happened, I wouldn’t have been born.

  2. mike brennan says:

    In the last decade aerial filming has claimed more lives than all other activities combined (excluding war zones).
    We have lost three cameramen this year.

    It is inherently dangerous.


  3. Keeli Robson says:

    My father was the journalist and growing up it always fascinated me that he had survived a plane crash. He would go on to marry my mother Faye and have two daughters. He did not live to meet his six grandchildren. After battling cancer in his thirties he died at age 45 from a heart attack.

    I was not aware he was only 18 at the time, that is so young. It is remarkable that he survived and i remember him telling me he thought he was in a dream when he was flung, deep into the water, and wondered whether he should swim to the top, or just wait until he woke up….. I am glad he chose to swim to the top.

    Also there sure wasn’t any insurance in those days. Although his injuries, i think both feet were lacerated, would be bothersome in later life, not to mention emotional scarring, I can still remember him saying all he got as compensation from the West (West Australian Newspapers, who owned the Daily News) was a new suit and shoes!!!.

    News reporting can be a dangerous profession, but those involved are addicted. Although my father believed I could be a journalist, he always told me to try something else first (and make a bit of money!!!), but I never got back to the reporting!

    He loved his job and could not have done anything else.

    Keeli Robson (nee McIntosh).

  4. Greg Milner says:

    Keeli I remember you as a little kid when I worked with your Dad at the Daily in the 1970s. My dad Keith ‘Digby’ Milner was killed in the same aircraft crash. Alan always walked with a limp after the accident. Didn’t stop him enjoying a few hundred beers and a tall story though:-)
    Sometime in 1973, just after I started work at the Daily, Alan decided he and I would drive down the Busselton in his car with a miniscule dinghy strapped to the roof, to go crabbing. He picked me up at some ungodly hour of the morning. It was still dark by the time we reached South Fremantle, at which point he announced it was my turn to drive, whereupon we swapped seats and he reached into the back seat and, with much relish, retrieved a cold beer from a whole carton. By the time we got to Busselton there was little of the carton left.
    We caught a few crabs, as I recall, and I drove all the way back to Perth.
    It was a fun day. Alan certainly enjoyed it:-)

  5. John Arthur says:

    I worked with Macca in the 70s when the old Daily News was at Newspaper House. Macca was a larger-than-life character and all of his colleagues remember him. No-one put a phone down harder than Macca; no-one broke so many early-edition front-page stories about cyclones descending on WA’s northern coastline! He was an extremely proud Australian and a gem!
    John Arthur

  6. David Anderson says:

    My parents were friends of the Milners when I was a child and Keith was always known as “Diggy” not “Digby”.

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