Australian Biography: Charles 'Bud' Tingwell
Charles 'Bud' Tingwell (b. 1923, Sydney, NSW) is one of Australia's best loved actors. His career began in radio but, after flying Spitfires in World War Two, he moved to the movies, scoring a role in Hollywood by age 30. A short stint in London television extended to 16 years and made him one of Britain's most famous faces. As an actor then director, he has also worked on some of Australia's favourite TV series including Homicide, The Sullivans and Flying Doctors, and starred in films such as Breaker Morant, The Castle and Innocence. At the age of 80, with all ambition behind him, he's busier than ever. And that, according to Bud, is beaut.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: November 12, 2002
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.
Well, it was a close family, a Coogee family in Sydney and there was my mother and father, of course. Both grandparents were alive. My mother's father died not long after I was born, I can't remember exactly how long. I have no memory of him but lots of memories of my maternal grandmother, Nan, as we called her. Dad's parents had died when he was quite young so none of us had met his parents. And it was - and my mother's brothers, Uncle Viv and Uncle Charles, and Uncle Charles was my godfather and, yes it was just a beaut Coogee family. We lived, I think, in a house in Byron Street or Melody Street from memory. And we never really moved out of the area until we - the furthest away we went was Randwick.
We had a flat in Randwick for a while, some years later, and then went back to Coogee in Carrington Road. And, yeah, and of course that meant the surf club where I got my nickname, I'm told, before I was born. "What's budding there?" was said on the front at Coogee when the pregnancy was becoming obvious with Mum. Mum was very slim and slight and so I presume I was becoming quite apparent. And so they called me The Bud before I was born and I didn't find that out until many, many years after Mum died. I've got a feeling she didn't want me to know. But an uncle told me about it, not all that long ago, I guess. A few years ago now.
But I've just got very happy memories of a sort of an ordinary family who had quite a link with the sea through Coogee Surf Life Saving Club and my godfather, Uncle Charles, in fact I've got it up on a wall there somewhere, got a certificate of bravery for a shark rescue. He was part of about four or five chaps who raced in and pulled out a man called Mickey Coughlan, Milton Coughlan. And I think Frank Beaurepaire, his name was Frank Beaurepaire, who got the gold medal or something, and Uncle Charles got the certificate. So, it was a, you know, we had a strong connection with the water and, of course, I joined the surf club as soon as I was sixteen, got my Bronze Medallion and did all the swimming training and all that. And that's about it really.
Well, I found an old photograph the other day, that's got the, a huge tree in a park at Coogee, opposite the surf club and it used to be opposite the Boomerang Cinema which isn't there now. And I can remember seeing a close-up on the screen in the Boomerang Cinema and I have a feeling I must have only been about two or three, and screaming in horror. I don't know who's close-up it was, I don't think it was a horror movie. It was probably just some poor Hollywood actor. Suddenly this huge face must have frightened me and I remember, I can remember being taken out of the cinema and sitting under that huge tree which isn't there now. Nor is the cinema. But I've got a distinct memory of that. Now, I have no idea what the film was. I think my mother and I had talked about it but not in great detail. But that's a very, very early memory. So I'm kind of surprised, looking back, that I ever went into films.
Well, it was at Randwick Intermediate High School.
No, no, no. I think I was probably told not to show off or something. But, no I remember sitting next to Owen Weingott, who died not all that long ago, and he and I sat next to each other. I think the T's and the W's and the A's and the B's were all alphabetically sort of linked somehow. And our English master in first year, Ernie Silk, encouraged Owen and I to try to do little pretend radio plays because we were very, very keen on the new thing called radio drama. Radio serials. This would have been about 1935. And Owen and I used to do pretend radio plays, which Owen used to write and we'd go behind a cupboard. We didn't have any equipment. No microphones or anything like that. But Owen had a book on sound effects, you know, lead shot on a tin tray for rain and coconut shells for horses and things like that. And then Owen's ambitions started to expand and [he] wanted to do proper little sketches and then he got even more ambitious, well I don't know if we were in second year by then.
But we were studying 'Tale of Two Cities'. So he decided that he wanted to do a classroom production of 'A Tale of Two Cities' which I thought was pretty ambitious as it's about the French Revolution. And my first role was Lucie Manette in a borrowed dress of Mum's in a boys high school - and it was rugby league school and probably still is - and I played full back and it was pretty embarrassing. But Owen says - told me once that, no we were in a sort of before and after marriage sketch even before that. But certainly my early work was terribly, terribly embarrassing. And we went to different schools after the Intermediate and I went to Sydney Grammar School which had a very good dramatic society run by a man called Arnold Moate. And Owen went to Sydney High School where I really wanted to go because all my mates were going on there and they had a very good dramatic society. But they had a tremendous advantage over us at Grammar because they could use the Sydney Girls' High School Dramatic Society when they did plays. So they could work with real girls. But after my experience with Lucie Manette I said "No, no more female roles for me".
And I found that, looking back over, my youngest brother, not long ago, found a review of a play I was in at Grammar in which I got a fabulous review, a notice. And, for a comedy called 'The Crimson Coconut'. And it's all a lovely sort of mixed up jumble of school stuff. But Owen's ambitions then took us, as we lived near each other, despite the fact we were at different schools, we, he used to talk me into entering radio competitions. And there were a lot of radio competitions for amateur actors in those days. One of which was 'Do You Want to Be an Actor?' compered by a man called Rod Gainford. Now we both took part. Owen won his heat. I didn't win anything although somebody sent up a consolation prize for the young man in the light sports coat, which was me. But that night Joy Nichols, who went on to great fame in England, she won the finals that night. And then Owen went on and I think he won his final.
But I didn't win any prizes at all until he talked me into taking part in another competition which was for amateur dramatic groups. And I said, "But we're not in one". He said, "Well we'll form one". So we formed a phoney amateur dramatic group. Took part in this competition on 2GB I think it was then and I got one of the leads in a radio serial with Jack Davey as a result of that. Because the producer of the competition was also the producer, John Appleton, of the radio serial. So Owen's hard work and enterprise resulted in me getting a proper, professional job. Still at school and I used to do - record my episodes after school. And Owen went on to do very good work in the theatre, mainly the amateur theatre for a while, and then, I think became a professional actor after I did which was a bit unfair considering that he did all the work.
Well I suppose it did. I can't remember when we got our first radio but I remember, like everybody else, we used to cluster round the radio set to hear whatever was, the famous cricket broadcasts of course with the pencil on the desk for the click of the bat and ball. Brilliant stuff that they were doing, particularly at the ABC. But there were serials I remember called 'Betty and Bob' which I think came from America and then the great George Edwards started his production company up in the thirties. They were doing 'Dad and Dave' with wonderful actors like John Saul who became a great mentor and director, a great mentor of mine and Rod Taylor's and Dinah Shearing's and a wonderful influence on a lot of us. So that's all a bit of a jumble, I can't remember exactly when but the interest was there.
And for people who can remember the start of television, it was about as exciting as that. It was a big, big thing and you got hooked on your favourite radio serials, no matter where they came from.
Dad had left school very young because his parents died young and I think he had to sort of go out. I think he claimed to be the first employee of, I think it was Kiwi Boot Polish. He used to help fill the tins or something. But when it got - survived World War I and was overseas and wounded a lot - he studied accountancy and he became a qualified accountant and he got a job with one of the big car companies and was retrenched in 1930 when the Depression hit. So for a while they were having a good run and I think he wanted me to be an accountant and, to satisfy Dad, I did work for a while in what was then known as Smith, Johnson and Co, a firm of rather posh chartered accountants. And I had the right school tie and that got me a job. But I then managed to fail the elementary exam in my first exam as a clerk or whatever it was - I forget what we were called - doing all the additions and ticking all the figures and things. And I think it's quite hard to fail the elementary exam in accountancy. But it sort of proved to Dad that I wasn't going to be a very good one and by then I was, I had been doing that radio serial.
So he - I did a deal with him. I said, "Let me go back to school and have another go at some exams and continue with the radio". And he did and he even found a job for me by finding an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald for a cadet announcer/panel operator for a well known, unnamed commercial radio station. He said, "Apply for that and see how you go". I did. It turned out to be 2CH and I got the job. He found that there had been something like three hundred applicants for it so I got his blessing to become a radio announcer and I did.
I think I did very well at Coogee Public School which was only round the corner from where we were living then. I can't remember whether that was Byron Street or Melody Street, but not far from Coogee Public School, which I believe is still there. I was selected to go to a special school in Woollahra for likely lads and, it was boys, that's right, yes. I suppose, you know.
Yes, you know, I hate to use the word, for 'gifted children'. And the idea was you did your two years at the end of primary school and more or less automatically went to one of the great schools like Sydney High School or Fort Street. And I didn't quite get to Sydney High School so I had to go to Randwick High School and I'm very grateful for that because I met Owen, I got into this amazingly interesting business, because of Randwick.
Well, Dad won a big prize in the lottery in 1937 and he very carefully looked after the money, put a new kitchen on for Mum, bought the small house we were renting in Carrington Road, tarted it up a bit and then put me and my brothers down for Sydney Grammar School to give us the opportunities that he did not have because he left school so young. The difficulty for me was, I had to go past Sydney High School, the school I really wanted to go to, every day in the tram to get to College Street where Sydney Grammar School is. And that was a bit difficult.
I think I probably was but the logic of Dad's problem got to me. How could he have one, two lads at the posh school and the other lad at the highly respected, but not quite as posh, school. I think by me saying yes, got him off a bit of a hook, I guess, there. I didn't pass too many exams after that. I think the first time I did the Leaving I got two A's and a B and you had to have four subjects. Now, in the Intermediate, I got three A's and five B's which was a very respectable result. But I did do well in English and things like that.
I suppose they were but by then the war was on. The war started in 1940 and I was still at school and I was having that exciting thing of doing the radio acting with the great Jack Davey. But I think most of us of my age group were thinking, got to get into the army and, and that strange thought process that hits young, vigorous fellas who - and women I'm sure - will the war last long enough for me to be in it? And then Dad wouldn't let me join the army when I did turn eighteen because he had, he had, legally had the say so. But he said, you can join the air force. Now he, his logic was that if I joined air crew and trained as a pilot, there'd be such a long period of training that with luck the war might be over. But, of course, it wasn't.
Oh great. We were great mates, yeah. But I do remember having a punch up with Barry which was unwise because he was very good. I seem to remember he thumped me, hard. But he was the younger brother. He went on to be a QANTAS pilot and he was a pilot as well in the air force. But - and Pat was the very quiet. Barry was two years younger than I am, Pat is seven years younger than I am. So he was very much the little brother for a quite a long time. Very quiet, ultimately brilliant.
More a teasing one I should think, yeah. But I know we all loved to play cowboys and Indians. Barry, the one who became a QANTAS pilot should have been the actor. He was very - he was taller than I, very handsome and years later, before he started flying with QANTAS, when he got out of the air force, he was doing a clerk's job in a shipping company. And because he was rather keen on one of the girls in the office, who happened to belong to an amateur group, he joined the amateur group and took over the lead in a play and was brilliant. And taught me a lot. I started to pass radio auditions because of one tip Barry gave me. And I was already a professional radio actor, but occasionally I couldn't pass the Macquarie audition or something, you know. And Barry taught me how to obey punctuation to create light and shade and change of pace and different thought processes. Looking back, that was pretty advanced stuff. And anyhow he, they did the play, we went to see it, he was wonderful but then he got his invitation from QANTAS and away he went and became a QANTAS pilot.
Oh, it was, it was great. I had tremendous - it's very difficult - well, admiration for him. He was badly deafened in the First World War. Really in the last few months. He was wounded a lot. I think he worked out he had five Blighty wounds. A Blighty wound was a wound bad enough to take you out of the line and if they could get you across the Channel to a hospital in England, and then when you're fixed up, back into the line again. And, but in the last few months of the war a very close shell burst partially deafened him and he'd lost about forty percent of his hearing. And it's a really difficult problem for anybody that because you can hear a lot, but not quite enough. And therefore in family conversations, we used to - must have driven him mad. We'd have two levels of discussion. We'd be, Barry and I and Pat would be chatting about school, Dad'd say, "Speak up, speak up". "Oh, I was just saying", and then you'd have to project. And that made some difficulties.
As we got older and could go into a pub it was great because Dad couldn't hear the background noise because of his form of deafness. He could only hear people shouting over it so he could have happy conversations with people. Some forms of deafness it's the other way round, you can hear the background but not the voice. In his case it was the other way round. And it wasn't until about 1940 that they developed a hearing aid that gave him any help. And then it was - it was considerable to see the difference in him when he could happily join in conversations. And he had a great sense of humour. Probably should have been an actor.
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Dad was pretty handsome. I'm pretty sure there were a few, Aunt so and so, and Aunt so and so, who weren't really relatives I'm sure they fancied Dad. But I saw no evidence of any - anything naughty happening at all. But no, they had a great, great strong relationship. Yeah.
Oh Mum was great. She was, she was small, very energetic and, I think, happily disorganised. Was always running a little bit late and she had a very strict English friend, Auntie Elsie, they lived up at Pymble. And they were school friends. They'd met at Claremont College, I think, in Randwick. And I remember Auntie Elsie always saying, "Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up", whenever they were going anywhere and Mum would always be trailing. But she was terribly charmed, you know charming about everything and her mother, Nan, she was a great person. I remember if there were any family fights at all, especially involving me, or getting into trouble, I'd always go to Nan when she was staying with us and she seemed to be staying with us a lot. I vaguely remember that the house, or even the flat, when we had a flat in Randwick, was always full of other people like a relative who didn't have anywhere to stay so they'd stay with us. Or my grandmother would stay with us or an uncle or a dear friend of, particularly friends of my uncles.
And I remember a very nice guy called Tom, Tom Quine came out of the army, he'd joined the AIF very quickly at the beginning of World War II and - but he came back and seemed to be with us for years and years, looking back, after the war. And I, I used to wonder occasionally, I wonder what it would be like if it was just us? Just Mum and Dad and the three of us. But I don't remember that. There was always somebody there. But that was purely out of the goodness of Mum's heart.
Oh, considerable. Though I was pretty unaware. The only memory I've got of it, we were living in a flat in Randwick, in Daintree Crescent, and I remember being allowed to nurse Pat, my brother, when he was born. He was born at home in the flat and I can still remember holding him. But I didn't know, but just before that happened Dad had lost, had been retrenched. There were - he was one of two cost accountants in one of the big car companies and they kept the other guy and let Dad go. And Dad apparently used to do what a lot of fellows did, pretend to go to work. Especially in the last few months.
Yeah. Ooh, sorry. It's got to me a bit. Yeah, I think.
Sure. I think he used pretend to go to work, dress up and, you know, and then after Pat was born and safely born, she found out. And that's when I think their real battles started. And then he got a job as a humble clerk in one the government departments, I think it was the Taxation Department, and he stayed there forever and ever. And he was always on the temporary staff I remember. Never made permanent and so, when he won the lottery in 1937, that was a huge deal. Five thousand pounds. Gosh. And, but then they didn't spend any of it on themselves, I don't think. Except for the nice kitchen, that's all.
But I associate that with a lot of unhappiness too because Mum became very ill, coincidentally that year and had to go into hospital for an operation. May have been a hysterectomy, something like that. And young Pat, the youngest brother, tripped and fell when they were adding and fixing the kitchen and a bit of a sleep out, the equivalent of a family room, I suppose. Picked up some infection from the timber they were using and he had a very bad time. But recovered brilliantly. But we weren't too sure whether he was going to recover for a while. So, winning the lottery, wow, what a great thing. But there was a down side as well. And I, for many years sort of resented the fact that he had won it because I wouldn't have had to have gone to Sydney Grammar School, you know and all those things.
Oh, I suppose, it was good to see that they didn't seem to have too many financial worries suddenly but they didn't spend the money on themselves. He never bought a car or anything like that.
When you were a little kid and they were - you know he was in this difficulty and, I mean, you can imagine what it must have been like. Obviously you can imagine it. When you were a small child though, were you aware of it? Did they shield you from it or did you know that there was a lot of worry?
No I don't, I don't remember having a hard time at all or being aware. Except that Mum used to make most of our clothes. But I think most mums probably did. I remember she used to make the short pants we wore at school. I don't know that they always fitted terribly well but she made them and that was the norm, you know. I mean you were conscious of the family up the road had, you know, "Ooh, they've got a car", you know. "They must be rich." But I don't remember any jealousy or anything about that.
Do you recall that the gap between the rich and poor, they say was much less than it is now. Did you have a sense that people were, some were a bit better off and some less ... How do you remember that?
Yes, I'm sure. And I know there was a lovely family next door to us when we were in the flats when Pat was born in Daintree Crescent. And they were a big legal family and, in fact, the son became, until he died not all that long ago, Adrian was my lawyer when I bought the house and things like that. But we weren't, they were just very nice people. I don't remember ever thinking, "Ooh aren't they lucky cos they're rich?" And I suppose because we didn't much know what rich people did. I know we didn't go to things that cost a lot of money like the theatre and things like, we'd go to Randwick pictures because our friend Tommy Quine who stayed with us for a long time, one of his jobs when he got out of the army, and I think even before he joined the army, was to be an usher on the door at Randwick pictures. And if Tommy was on duty, we could get in for nothing. And that was a great help. Now, Audrey, my wife, on the other hand, they lived at Randwick and she and her mother had permanent bookings on Saturday nights in the dress circle and so, and we didn't, but if Tommy was on duty we could get in for nothing and otherwise you saved your - whatever pocket money we might have got - and went to the pictures.
Oh, it was marvellous. It was sort of illogical looking back but they got the rights to 'Billy Bunter of Greyfriars', one of the great sort of English school comic stories. And Jack Davey, who was by the standards of those days, very round. By today's standards he probably looks quite slim. But, Jack I think had something to do with the production company and he elected to play Billy Bunter and I played, I was cast as Bob Cherry by John Appleton, who was the producer who'd also produced that radio competition where they found me. And then we had people like Howard Craven playing Harry Wharton and I think there was a great actor called Ronald Morse, one of the big stars, he played the headmaster I think. And Redmond Phillips who went on to be a great writer as well. I think Red may have something to do with the script as well. And it was, sort of, I was in the deep end with some of the best radio actors that Australia had in those days.
Golly, what a good question. I don't know. Because, you know, I'm not very tall and I wasn't sort of really movie star material. Whatever looks I have was a combination of Mum and Dad. Although I thought Dad was handsome, Mum, you know, oh she was very pretty when young, your Mum. I was very English, very interested in English as a subject and also in the spoken language long before I got into radio. And Owen and I, I think one of our, Owen Weingott and I used to love imitating the, whoever the big radio stars were. Most kids do and still do with telly stars and things. So I think we got very much involved in pronunciations of things and, this is without trying to sound posh or anything. And I think we were, considered ourselves very good at American accents as well and all that sort of thing.
As far as I can remember, yeah. Yeah.
Yes, I think it has because I met a very great radio man called Charles Cousens who with John Dease were the two senior announcers at 2GB - and this was before Charles went into the army, who was, he was a Sandhurst graduate from there, they were both English. And he gave us some marvellous tips about learning to speak clearly. Not with a posh accent or anything but just clearly. And one of them was to read the leader article in the Sydney Morning Herald aloud every day. Not because you agreed with it or anything, but usually that language was not normally meant to be read aloud so it was probably more difficult to read but it was perfect English. Or it had gone through several processes before it was printed. So you knew you were reading very good English and well constructed sentences.
And then I used to add another level to my sort of private practice and try to read it as if I was making it up and it was me talking. Owen and I were pretty interested in naturalistic acting as demonstrated by some of the greats of the day on films, like Spencer Tracy and Fredric March and the greats like Robert Donat in England and I suppose the early Redgraves and people like that. Wherever there was really realistic acting, I used to get locked off on that. I was always a great fan of that. Owen, I think, moved more into the classical, you know, the great Shakespearean voices and things like that. And I think we both developed very phoney voices and accents for quite a long while and, though I remember Owen and I had to meet a producer about something and, as we were walking away he said, "That is the phoniest accent I've ever heard". "What do you mean?" He said, "You put on that terribly phoney voice". And it was very good instruction because I don't think I was any more phoney than Owen was but he noticed it and he said so.
And I think that after a while the way you speak is probably the way you have to, you know - I often say to, you know, to people, well how do you learn to speak posh, or whatever and - or read a lot. And I think people who have to talk a lot, whether they're very upper crust or working people, or whatever, if they've got to speak a lot, tend to speak clearly after a while. And whether they're rough diamond trade unionists or whatever, they eventually use the language in a clear speaking way.
Oh I practiced, yeah, yeah, yeah.
It was [a] cadet announcer and panel operator. And a panel operator was the person who put the records and flicked the mic switch and sometimes, as a cadet announcer, you had to introducer the big star announcer. Our senior announcer was Ken Layton and often I was the man who introduced Ken doing the evening show. For a while I was put onto the breakfast program and then, during the day I'd have to introduce people like the great Joan Reid, who was the star woman's announcer, personality, whatever. And she was really a very big, big name. And, I had to, and sometimes you'd do the commercials for them. It was a combination of doing, you know, but technical stuff, of course, compared to today was very basic.
But you used to have to change the needles for every record and I've still got little scars on the fingertips where you had to screw them up tight otherwise they sounded funny. If you used a certain type of needle, you could use that for commercials and you could use that for a few playing, sort of a ten inch or a twelve inch record. Otherwise they were copper needles and they had to be changed every time you played a record which were the old discs of course. Yes, it wasn't much more technical than that. But I, I remember getting, when I'd only been at 2CH a few months, I was chosen by the Commercial Federation of Stations in Australia to do a [sic] outside broadcast describing the handing over by the Dutch government to the Australian government of a ship called the Oranje which was a very good ship and became a hospital ship. One of the two main hospital ships and my eventual father-in-law was chief engineer of the other one, the famous Manunda which got bombed in Darwin.
But that - and I remember getting a terribly brutally frank comment on my work from a taxi driver. They gave me a taxi to go home after the broadcast down on the wharves in Sydney. And the taxi driver saying, "I believe they've just given us a ship, the Dutch?" I said, "Yeah". He said, "Yeah I heard the broadcast". I said, "What did you listen to, ABC or the commercial?" He said, "I listened to the commercial for a while then went to the ABC". I said, "What was it like?" He said, "Oh, the commercial bloke was crook". And that was me. And so, and he finished up with the ABC. So that was a bit of a blow to the ego. But it was good experience of course.
Oh, I think I was pretty nervous. I remember they did some good research and gave me a bit sheet with all the quotes about, you know, the, the details of the ship that we might have been allowed to say. I imagine there would be fairly strong security limitations too. So, I had quite a lot of information and, as it wasn't on television, I could look at the notes. But then I had to ad lib, you know, a lot of stuff and I'd love to hear it. I'm sure there are no archival records of it. I bet it was pretty raw.
Yeah, I must have been pretty daunted by it. We had a couple of radio magazines then, I think it was the Radio Pictorial and also the Wireless Weekly or something. And I know suddenly the odd picture started to appear of Charles Tingwell, the youngest announcer at 2CH and then there was one where I was, at one stage, the youngest announcer in Australia. And there was a great organist called Charles Tuckwell and that, that created some publicity when Charles Tuckwell was introduced by Charles Tingwell. So little things like that. And I, I'm ashamed to admit that I loved all that. I loved the publicity and I really thought I'd arrived and - but I don't know. I was daunted, I suppose, by the, by the fact that I'd actually got the job and there were about three hundred applicants for it which pleased Dad and he wished me well when I got that job which was because he'd seen that advertisement.
Three pounds a week. A bit embarrassing when I joined the air force because in those days your employer had to make up the difference in your pay and the service pay. So that if you had a six pound a week job and you joined the air force and the air force pay was three pounds a week, your employer had to make up the difference and you got that three pounds a week as a, somehow I suppose some sort of deferred pay, bonus of some kind. I forget how the technical things were. Didn't apply to me because actually my air force pay was bigger than my radio stardom pay of three pounds a week. I think I got three pounds, two and six in the air force or something. But I mean three pounds a week, you know, I used to give Mum two pounds a week or something and four pence for tram to the city to walk down to Martin Place to where 2CH was in the AWA building.
Seventeen and soon to be eighteen.
Well I was eighteen in the beginning of January in 1941 and I think Dad let me enrol in the air force, you know put, sign the papers in about March or April that year. And then we had to - if you were accepted for air crew training, you had to do a few months on what was called the air crew reserve and attend night classes on maths and navigation and things like that. And Dad was very pleased about that because that delayed my actual, you know, active service, I suppose.
I'm pretty sure that I didn't do any, with any amateur groups. I think that was after the war. Certainly Owen was. Owen was, was working I think at the Independent Theatre in North Sydney. That was sort of a bit above my head. I was, that was a bit, I didn't feel confident enough to have a go at that. And it would have been difficult because it would have meant I couldn't do night duties as an announcer and that sort of thing. The radio commitment was pretty all powerful. I had to - when I joined 2CH I had to give up the radio acting work. That was a bit of a blow. Apart from the financial advantage that might have been, I would have loved to have been able to continue working with those great people like Davey and Howard Craven and co. But the terms of my employment said, thou shalt not have an outside job. So I didn't.
Well, I was called up to start training in - shouldn't have used the word called up because we were all voluntary and all that. But your, your, your batch will start training in September 1941. I could have started training in August '41, that is putting the uniform on and doing the ground training at Summers in Victoria. Again Dad was a bit concerned about that because I was a bit young to be going so far away from home and I think he pulled a string or two through some of his old First World War mates and got me delayed until September '41 when I went to Bradfield Park which was at Lindfield and only up the road from where we lived in Sydney. But - and that consisted of lots of ground training, lots of marching and getting fit and arms drill. All the things that a lot of the army guys were learning but on top of that we were learning things like navigation and a lot of maths. And then I had to have my tonsils out so I had, I was pulled back of course while I had my tonsils out in the air force. And I completed training about a month or so later than our original batch. Which, for all I know, saved my life.
I don't know but it was out, Dad's plan about keeping me out of action, you know, away from the war for a while fell apart when our particular batch not only, you know, the September lot but the October, November lot, we really copped a lot of pretty heavy stuff during the war and very few of my mates that I trained with actually survived. So I was a bit lucky.
Yes, I've tried to think about this a lot over the years. It was just that you didn't not try to go, you know. It, it, you were so, I suppose orientated towards the fact that the war's on and this is the right thing to do. We also did know quite a lot, a lot more than people realise I think, that difficult things were happening in Europe and, you know, we had Jewish friends who had rellies who had an awful time and we knew that was happening and refugees were arriving in Australia in the pre-war time. I know in Carrington Road we had German family next door and they had a son-in-law who wouldn't not say - he was a suspect, possible Nazi sympathiser, so he had to go inside somewhere. I don't think they were very horrific camps but he had to be interned for quite a while but the rest of the family weren't touched.
So I thought, it seemed to me that there was some fairness in the way we were treating people who were possible [sic] sympathetic to the then enemy, Germany, of course. And Hitler, we knew a lot about Hitler and about Mussolini. Mainly through newsreels and lots of those impressive shots of thousands and thousands of soldiers marching through the streets of Berlin or Rome or wherever. You know, I think we were swept along with the propaganda that was pretty powerful.
Japanese [sic] was a bit of a surprise to the system. I know we had some very old friends of the family, they were in business, they were a Jewish family and actually changed their name from a Jewish sounding name to a more Anglo name. They were Australians and great friends of my uncle's. Lovely family. But they were trading with Japan a lot. They were importers and they used to bring out lots and lots of Japanese goods right up until, it seemed to me, just before Pearl Harbor. So, I've got a feeling we weren't all that concerned about Japan at all. And I think we got a heck of a shock when Pearl Harbor was bombed too, in Australia. And then a few months later I was on leave, about to go overseas, when the Japanese came into Pearl [sic], into Sydney Harbour. And I remember, you know, the air raid warden telling Dad to shut the doors and the curtains. And we had sort of a brown out, not exactly a black out, but a brown out in Sydney.
And then the stories of, you know, some of the bad things that were happening came through. I mean you are taught how to hate your enemy a lot in a big war. Well there's lots of evidence of it in recent wars, I'm afraid. And some of it is, of course, true but it is emphasised a lot, all the bad things. And you got swept along by that. Especially, you thought, you know, we've got to stop the Germans taking over every part of Europe and, gosh, what if they get England? And then, of course, when the Japanese came in, what if they keep coming down and coming down, coming down.
Oh, well I was already training so that, what it, what it did make was, I was already with a batch that had to go to Canada to complete our flying training as pilots. Some of our, some of the boys were posted to Uranquinty and places like that in New South Wales, but our batch, we had to go to Canada. Now that was a pretty awful feeling to think we were being sent away just after Sydney had been attacked. There were some sort of theories that they weren't going to come down that far and there was the controversial Brisbane Line which I think Dad used to get very upset about and the fact that we could give up part of Australia strategically and, oh no, we couldn't do that. But I think that was more or less after I'd gone away when all that controversy blew up. But then when the war settled, and although the people think the Brits didn't do anything, the British were having a very heavy war in Burma and Singapore had been captured and all that. It was a pretty awful period. So there was no question about not going to the war, you know. It was a worthy thing to be doing.
Yes, well we went, we were half trained as pilots. We had a few hours in Tiger Moths, about sixty hours I think it was, and you were, you were then, you know, you were good, you were possibly going to do alright and you were average, above average and all that qualifications. And we were sorted out as to whether we would be useful as bomber pilots or fighter pilots and I was in a fighter pilot stream. And mostly the younger ones were selected as fighter pilots and the older, in the bracket I think for pilots was from about eighteen to twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Above twenty-eight, yes you could be navigators and air gunners and things but - and I was in the younger end of that, the pilot's age group and so we were trained as fighter pilots.
And we went to Canada to fly the, the aircraft we flew was an aircraft call the Harvard. An American built, quite a powerful aircraft. And the equivalent here in Australia was the famous old Wirraway and, in fact the Wirraway was so like a Harvard I believe one was copied from the other. But I should think the Wirraway was influenced by the Harvard. But we, you know, got our wings and I managed to prang one on a bad landing once in Canada. And I thought, oh that'll finish me as a pilot. No, and what was even more surprising, they made me an officer at the end of it. About fourteen of us, out of our course, were made officers and the lowest commissioned rank is pilot officer. So we graduated as pilot officers and then we were given a choice of either, those of us who'd got commissions, could either be instructors or do what was called a general reconnaissance course.
And we theorised, my mates and I, that if we, those of us who'd got commissions, that if we did the general reconnaissance course we would have a fair chance of getting back to Australia quicker to join a squadron there. Our theory happened to be wrong but, because we were sent on to England, but it was a very good navigational course as well. And that eventually got me on to the job I did which was long range photographic reconnaissance, which was a very interesting job. But that's, I was sort of lucky to get on to that job because it was, and lucky on the squadron I was on because we had fairly low casualty rate on our... sorry... [INTERRUPTION]
Well, normally you went to, we went to Bournemouth as a sort of air crew reception centre and then the overall strategy said we want so many pilots to go and train as bomber command pilots now and you'd do refined training as fighter pilots or bomber command pilots. Now, I was suddenly sent to the Middle East before I'd had what was called operational training. Which is the refined part of the training before you went into action. And because of my qualification as a fighter pilot with training, trained as a fighter pilot with a general reconnaissance course, which was the navigation, fairly sophisticated navigation course, they said we need pilots with those qualifications in the Middle East. But in those days you had to go all the way round the Cape of Good Hope and - to get to the Middle East. Couldn't go through Gibraltar because the Mediterranean was closed. The Germans were very much in control there. And, and it took us quite a long time to get to the Middle East. We had to wait in South Africa for a while for another ship to take us on. So I had suddenly a big gap in my training as did my mates and we had - we weren't all that experienced. We were qualified as pilots but not very experienced. And it was difficult for us to pick up our training again, which I did in what was then Palestine, now Israel. And I learnt to fly Spitfires and things like that and did this pretty amazing sort of job flying an aircraft loaded with sophisticated cameras and flying over wherever the enemy were. And, and it took quite a bit of training too, it was tricky.
Well, we were given targets and I was in the Mediterranean area. Wherever the Germans were in occupation, they occupied all of Greece and Crete and the islands and they were very heavily defended because the Germans weren't too sure whether, if we were ever contemplating invading - as they did in June of 1944 - they weren't too sure where it was going to come from. There were some theories that we would try to invade up through Italy where that very slow, slogging campaign was happening. A lot of - there were a lot theories that the logical place to do it would be to come up through Greece. And then with the Russian front, well, you know, that looked like a big, sort of pincer movement that we might indulge in. And we encouraged the Germans to think that and that's when they dropped the body of the British officer over with fake plans. I think they called it 'the man who never was'. There was a film called that and, and our - on North Africa we had lots of dummy aircraft and dummy ships and all sorts of things to fool the Germans.
And they eventually did bring about ten thousand crack troops from the Russian front and regarrisoned all that area. And the more sorties we flew, the more they thought we might be going to attack and, of course, the more they shot at us too. And then, ho ho ho, we came in from France eventually and it was a huge, sort of, almost like a game or a chess game I suppose.
No, I wasn't shot down but we get [sic] - shot at an awful lot. And they had very accurate anti-aircraft fire. We used to fire - fly over at about 25, 26, 27,000 feet with lenses of about twenty inch, thirty-six inches lenses on the cameras and take stereoscopic photographs, or 3-D photographs, by using a certain technique. And occasionally we would do low level stuff at about three hundred feet with an oblique camera fixed on the side of the aircraft. Eventually we converted to another aircraft called the Mosquito which had two engines and I had a navigator, who is my son's godfather. But that was good because you had somebody to talk to and you could aim that, the cameras more accurately with the Mosquito because he had a bomb sight and we used a bomber version of the Mosquito aircraft. And it was, yeah, it was good.
No, we had to do it ourselves. We had little, you know, remote control devices and you had to estimate your time interval between shots and things like that. Had quite a bit of work to do. And...
Yeah, yeah. Oh yes, yes, yes. But the enemy area was Greece, Crete, all those islands. Rhodes I know was one of them and some targets were more dangerous than others and Athens was a tough one. Salonica was a really tough one.
Pure luck. Pure luck. Especially once we started a run, we had to fly straight and level and that gave the gunners plenty of time to have a good look at us. One good thing was we flew in daylight. Well, it was good in one respect. You, you could see the bursts in the sky around you so you knew where their aiming points were and with a bit of luck, you, they wouldn't be right on to you of if they were bursting underneath you, often we didn't know until we developed photographs and you found a big burst of anti-aircraft fire in the middle of a photograph and you thought, oh, if that had been a few feet higher, you know, we wouldn't have known what hit us.
For about twelve months, yeah. And I did about seventy-five trips on that tour.
Yeah. A bit of really bad flying on my part. Me, the captain of the aircraft, with Bill down - my navigator - down on - in the nose of the aircraft saying, "Left, left, right, right", like they do in the movies. As we were going over Athens one day - but instead of going downwind which would have increased our speed, we were, because of the other targets I said, "Oh we'll go upwind", which slows you way down. But we were iced up a bit in the cockpit which was unusual but it was, crystals had formed inside the cockpit. It was like driving a car when it's all misted up but they were ice crystals. And I had to keep scraping a patch out of the windscreen in front of me so I could see the horizon. And in the middle of my patch suddenly a huge burst of flack went boom right past me and I tried to warn Bill. And all I could hear, in my earphones, was my voice saying, "vvvvv vvvvv", and Bill saying, "What are you saying? What are you saying?" He was Scottish and has this lovely Scottish accent. "What are you saying?" And eventually I said, "Gosh Bill. Flack". I probably used another word. No I don't think I did. I probably did say, "Gosh Bill. Flack". And then him saying, "Well do something".
So we just turned around and looked back and there was a sea of black bursts in the sky. And so we finished - I don't know whether we finished, we must have finished the run and, because we had the photographs when we landed. But what was, what was so strange about it, as frightened as I was so that the vocal chords didn't actually make the appropriate noise, within a very short time we were roaring with laughter at the picture of ourselves, a couple of idiots flying upwind instead of downwind and being shot at and not knowing because we were iced up except for that one patch. And suddenly it seemed, and I can remember, whenever we talk about it even to this day, we still laugh about it. So the contrasts were pretty extreme. And, but one moment when I thought I was really crashing in a Spitfire, again it was bad flying, I got caught in bad cloud. And I knew the cloud base was only about five hundred feet above the water and I was suddenly out of control in what we used to call a spiral dive and you stop believing your instruments and you fly by the way you feel. And the instruments are saying, you are in a spiral dive, but you feel as if you're doing the right thing.
And I knew I was, I was very tired, it was my second trip of the day, which ws unusual. And I knew I was about to break cloud at 500 feet and the - there's a danger line on the airspeed indicator in the spitfires we flew, at 480 miles an hour. It was past that so I was probably at about 500 miles an hour going down vertically. And we broke - I, I broke out, nobody else in the aircraft - and there was the water straight ahead of me. And I can remember letting everything go thinking, "Ah, this is it". And it was the calmest feeling I can ever remember having. It was extraordinary. Then I realised I hadn't hit the water yet, grabbed the control column, hauled back on it and I'd come out in a strange hump of cloud. There was probably about 700 or 800 feet. Over there it was only 500 feet. And I've staggered across the top of the water. But I've never forgotten that extraordinary feeling of calm for probably only a split second but in my memory it was longer than that. Couldn't have been 'cause otherwise I'd have been in the water. And so I was safe.
But the tough thing was having to go back into this enormous bank of cloud to get back to our base in North Africa and that was one of the toughest days flying I ever did. And, again, trying to stop, trying to stop me believing my own body and believing those instruments and I nearly got into another spiral dive and then broke cloud. I came out of the top of it and as soon as you can see the sun, bang, you're alright. You're reorientated. But that was, that was a pretty, you know - other times when I got off course and nearly flew into a mountain in Turkey which was on the way to one of our targets when we had a flight in Cyprus at one stage. You weren't supposed to but I cut the corner of Turkey at a safe height and I let down too soon and came out in a valley in Turkey. God, that was very embarrassing. That was on my first operational flight I think.
I don't think it could have been very good because I was in a bit of a nervy old state by the end of the war. I had to go up to Borneo to - we were doing some photo survey work. We were doing Australia first. I was an instructor for quite a while and then as the requirements for trained pilots diminished when the war ended because of my photographic experience I was posted to, to 87 squadron I think it was, which was eventually called the survey flight and we were flying Mosquito aircraft and mapping Australia from the air. An endless, endless task. For some reason they decided we should go to Borneo and start mapping the islands up there but it was the wet season and, again, we got into terrible trouble over Borneo, my navigator and I.
We ran out of oxygen about 20,000 feet and we both passed out and I woke up in a valley with mountains all around us and then that was pretty terrifying. That was our first experience in Borneo. In fact the other two aircraft also had a tough time and the three of us landed, all very experienced operational pilots. We'd been shot at a lot, all three of us. Now the war's over and we had a really tough flight into Borneo. Then we tried to do our mapping but in the wet season it was pointless and eventually the air force took the squadron back - or the flight, I suppose it was, back, leaving me up there as flight commander and I did become very ill and started to lose a lot of weight and I think it was partly nerves and I think - but I was due for release and I was suddenly offered a screen test.
So I did a screen test and then I left the air force, you know, with honourable discharge and all that and away I went. But I don't remember it having too many hangover problems. But I think we were, I think any of us who'd flown as long as, I suppose, I had and, you know, a lot of others, we were all probably a bit of a quiet mess inside that we weren't either too sure about or hid it well. Maybe drank a few too many beers and things.
No. There were things like operational fatigue and I've got a funny feeling I was probably in - officially classed as that. I, we were pretty casual about it I think. And I do think that our sort of wild parties in the Officers' Mess at night after a bad day flying and getting too drunk and then flying the next day, was probably one way of coping with stress perhaps. I had one horrible operational flight. I had engine trouble over the target in a spitfire and it kept cutting and no matter what I did, it kept cutting and I was, and I thought I may have had to bail out before I got back to base. So they vectored me, I think was the term, to a South African squadron, a spitfire squadron, a fighter squadron, further down the coast but closer to where I was at the time. And I just got in and landed. Turned out that we had, you know, spark-plug problems or something.
And they proceeded to get me very drunk that night because I'd come back from an operational flight over the enemy and the South Africans filled me with brandy and I was hoping they wouldn't be able to fix the aircraft for a long, long time. But at five in the morning, some young mechanic with his delightful South African accent said, "Your aircraft's ready, sir". And at five in the morning and I had to fly with this terrifying hangover and probably still, I should think I'd be way over .05, fly back to my squadron. And just as they strapped me in, they said, "You'll give us a good beat up sir", which meant doing something pretty spectacular and zooming around. No, I gave them the gentlest, wimpiest, low flight over the aerodrome that they'd probably ever seen. But oh that was awful. And yet - and I suppose recovering from that hangover was as good a way of getting over stress as any other. It became a funny experience of course.
Well, before I started, I came back from the Middle East in the early part of 1945 and Cinesound directed - a film directed by Ken Hall, they were about to make a film about Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, the great flier. And Ronnie Randall, one of our top radio actors was going to play the part and he looked a bit like Smithy. And Ron went on to Hollywood later and became known as Ron Randell but Ron was cast. But my mother said, "Ah, they're making a film called 'Smithy', you'd make a wonderful Smithy and you know where Cinesound is. Why don't you go out?" And I was a flight lieutenant and I had wings and some service ribbons and things. So I went out to Cinesound and the casting director saw me approaching and you had to go up the steps because Owen and I used to hang around Cinesound and watch them making movies when we were still at school. And the casting director said, "Have you come about a part?" I said, "Yes". He said, "Is that your own uniform?" I said, "Yes". "Can you read lines?" I said, "Yeah". He said, "Good, you're in, providing you bring your own uniform".
So they cast me as the control tower officer at the beginning of the film which was - started as a flashback. American aircraft arriving and, ho, ho, ho, we're talking about that wonderful pioneering work done by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and that's how the story started. And some many weeks later I was called to do a day's work on the film and Bill Townsend, Group Captain Townsend, my commanding officer at Williamtown where I was being a flying instructor on Mosquitoes, gave me a day's leave. And I went down and did the part and got it right apparently and a year later, now that I'm back from Borneo, I got a call to go and do a screen test for Charles Chauvel's film 'Sons of Matthew' because of that role. But before they made a decision on Charlie Chauvel's movie, I was offered the lead in another film so I accepted the other one and the boys went off, and girls went off, to do 'Sons of Matthew'.
Well, when I'd gone to these special classes at the school in Woollahra, I had to catch the Waverley Depot tram from Coogee which went through Bondi Junction. And coming back from school, if I walked to Bondi Junction, I could go down Ebley Street, I think it was, to where the Cinesound studios were. And I think occasionally Owen would come with me and we would look through chinks in the door and watch them making a movie. And eventually Alec [Alex] Ezard, Alec Kellaway, not Alec [Alex] Ezard , Alec Kellaway invited Owen and I in on the set to watch - these two schoolboys. So, then we found out they were shooting some scenes at the showground of that particular film and we went out to watch them shooting there and, in fact, we were both unpaid extras in a scene. So that's my, that was 1938 and I was then, what, 15. And, but Alec Kellaway was very good. He used to let us come and watch them shooting.
A film called 'Always Another Dawn'. It was set - had a naval background. It was a fictional story written by a New Zealand writer called Zelma Roberts. Sort of based on a rather gallant action by one of the Australian naval ships which was sunk in a naval battle. And she wrote this story about a young man from the country who, who's father had been a naval officer in the First World War and he had this ambition of joining the navy when the war started and I played the young man. But that was an absolute fluke.
And I met a woman recently, when I was on tour with a play, who reminded me that she sort of introduced me to the director who - not the director, the producer who gave me the audition or introduced me. My mother had a friend who's a great old school friend of hers and her daughter, Peggy, was in the navy. Now just before the war ended I called into Mum, came home to Mum's place where I was staying anyway. I must have been on leave or something and there was Peggy in her naval uniform with - I'd forgotten about the friend, but Peggy had a friend - and they, we were talking about films and things and I think by then I probably had just played that part of the control tower officer. And they said, "Oh, you'd be interested in this then", and they gave me a card which had L. Scott Ehrenberg, Producer, Director, Commonwealth Film Studios. Said, "Why don't you give this chap a ring?" So I rang him and I was - think I was just about due to leave the air force anyway and he said, "Oh yeah".
He said, "I run free workshops for people", he was production manager and producer and director of Commonwealth Films, "on a Monday night". It was Monday night. He said, "You know, when you're able to, come out". He said, "It doesn't cost you anything. If you want to be behind the camera or in front of the camera, you know, likely people". A lot of people trying to get the film industry sort of going again after the war. And so when I was able to I went out on the Monday nights. I think we're about now into 1946 and it was Scotty who put me up for the screen test for this film 'Always Another Dawn' and I got it. And after I did that film he had me directing commercials for one of the advertising agencies for the cinema and where I met Joe Scully who went on to be a producer and director with Film Australia.
It was tremendous. And Scotty, who was an Australian, who had worked in Hollywood in the thirties and knew a lot of the training methods they gave American actors when they left the theatre to go to Hollywood to do this new thing call sound films when sound came in in the early thirties. And they had a fairly well organised training system to teach stage actors how to be film actors and Scotty knew all the stuff. And he'd worked there, there were rumours that he'd once been Ronald Colman's stand-in because he looked a bit like Ronald Colman, same hair and general look. And Ronald Colman, of course, was a very, very big star in those days. And Scotty certainly knew his stuff and taught it well.
Mainly discipline. Very - about hitting your marks and shutting up on the set and all this, you know, burbling when the microphone's over there and you're talking about what you had for tea last night, you know. And I'm afraid I still teach it when I'm lecturing. He, he was a bit of a - a bit conventional. Step off with the upstage foot even in front of a camera. I used to walk up and down tram stops trying to turn like Scotty did. He was very, but very, very - like any good film, you know, any department respecting the problems of the other department and not mucking about and do your job, learn your lines, don't trip over the furniture. All those things. But hit your marks and if the soundman wanted you to lift your voice, yes, you had to work out a way of doing and all those things. And I found that, oh it just gave me more and more respect for each department. And when I worked in the industry, apparently I had a good reputation for being easy to work with, but that would have been thanks to Scotty. And if there was any sign of us swanning around trying to movie stars or anything, that was very, very frowned on.
Yes, and after I'd finished the film, Scotty invited me back to help run the course too with him and that was very good experience.
Yes. Yes. Well, again it was Scotty. They needed another director at Charles E. Blanks and he sent me along to meet Clarrie Blanks who was the - one of the managers of the company. It was a very, very low budget sort of advertising agency that had kept themselves going through the Depression when a lot of other advertising agencies had a bad time. And they developed a system of making films without wasting any film and you had to fit into that. It sounds extraordinary but I think we were sent out to make a ninety foot commercial, which would be about a one minute commercial on 35mm, with about a hundred feet of raw stock. You only had ten feet to spare. Admittedly some of that would be the little logo at the end of commercial. But these were for the cinema. So, you had to have everything really very well worked out so you didn't waste a foot. And it taught me a great deal.
I must admit I liked it very much.
I don't know. I - again I think thanks to Scotty, knowing what the problems were and also, yes because I'd acted in a film, I knew what the actor's problems were. And I had a bit of a feeling, I loved, I loved doing things simply. I remember I got a heck of a kick out of - I had a - my cameraman was John Walker, Johnny Walker, and we had a studio in the basement of the building in which Blanks had their head office in the city. And he had a bit of a good lighting setup there. We had to do a commercial for hairdressing and I had about four very, very beautiful girls, some of whom I'd worked with in Scotty's classes, young models and actresses as well. And I wanted to imitate the kind of lighting that they had in those lovely MGM movies where all the faces looked beautifully moulded and everything and I decided that they must have used one main key light. And I remember telling John, we had the girls there and all they had to do was look around and look attractive, you know, into the camera. And he had about eight lights on.
And I slowly talked him into turning all the lights off until he had just one key light. And he was very worried about it, the exposure and everything else. I said, "No she'll be right". And I got a tremendous kick because when I went to the laboratory to see the rushes there was Alec [Alex] Ezard and all the boys saying, "Hey, mate, look at this". And these glorious shots he'd taken of these girls. And I was very pleased about the fact that my little, simple approach had worked terribly well and they were quite successful commercials. But Johnny Walker was very, very concerned about turning out the lights and just working with one key light.
There are patches that are not bad but I, again I had a marvellous influence by an actor called Guy Doleman who was, who'd come over from New Zealand. Guy had a terribly rich, fruity, very, very British voice. In fact I think he had a marvellous part in 'The Ipcress File' many years later playing a very, very proper British MI5 man. But he had this rather rich, fruity voice. I think he, you know, probably had a posh English background in New Zealand where he grew up. He was born there. But he had a passion for naturalistic acting and Guy and I used to have hours and hours of discussion as to how, how did Spencer Tracy get to that point where he so played a scene that you thought, it couldn't have been scripted. It had to be coming from deep inside him and had to be what he was really thinking. And we had all these theories about it and we used to try and put them into practice.
Oh, that we don't speak all that glibly all the time. We don't, you know, you don't, it ins't always smooth. You do have to stop and think what to say next a bit. And I think it worried some directors when they were used to people sort of, you know, with the lovely flow of dialogue, particularly in radio. But there were some great directors in radio like John Saul who fully approved of us trying to sound as if we were just making it up at the time. And I think we were right and probably a bit ahead of our time. But that was largely Guy's influence. Or it was, certainly it matched what I'd always wanted to achieve, was to be so natural in front of a camera or real or true or believable, that the people forgot they were watching a movie and it was a chunk of life going on there.
Well, it was an interesting time because we'd had this drought during the war when I believe it was official policy that we weren't allowed to make feature films in Australia once the war started. They could import films in big cans which was a bit unfortunate because radio, people couldn't import radio discs because they took up too much wartime space. That's how our radio industry really got going in the early days of the war, in my memory. But with films, films were allowed to come in. But the powers that be said all our film work must be devoted to training, propaganda and anything that could help the war effort. Now the average entertainment film couldn't get into that category. They worried about the morale aspect of it or whatever.
The first film, I think, that really hit the headlines would have been 'The Overlanders' which was the Ealing film. Oh no, Charles Chauvel did get permission to make 'The Rats of Tobruk' when the war was still on. He'd made 'Forty Thousand Horsemen' right at the start of the war and that would have been the last feature film made, I think, when the war started. I think I'm right in that. I may be a bit wrong. But there was this long official gap in feature film production. But he had made 'Rats of Tobruk'. He had Peter Finch and Chips Rafferty and Pat Twohill, then became known as John Sherwood, and it was a worthy film about this, the defence of Tobruk that would have come under the heading probably of propaganda movies or, you know, educational documentary or something. But the first, the first genuine feature film would have been 'The Overlanders' made by Ealing Studios.
Well Tom McCreadie and Alec McCreadie, his brother, had been making some documentaries. Most famously I think they made some about the coal industry and they would have been part of that, you know, educational documentary stream. And when the war was over, then the restrictions were off and you could make feature films if you could get the money. And, as I remember, Tom McCreadie had some access to some money and I think the budget for 'Another Dawn' would have been probably only about 15,000 pounds and he was able to raise that and make it. He also must have had enough money or was able to raise money before 'Into The Straight', before 'Another Dawn' was on release we were already planning 'Into the Straight', their next movie which he made twelve months later. At the same time there were people like Arthur Collins who raised money to make a film about William Farrer in which Guy Doleman played the lead, playing Farrer. There were a couple of others from Rupert Kathner who was always having to battle and, you know, the theory was that he would pinch what he could buy, a lovely guy who made a very early Ned Kelly movie which I narrated.
And I saw it again recently and it wasn't all that bad. But it was a real battling time. Trying to get just enough money to get up and running and if you could beg, borrow, steal, whatever you had to do to get the film together.
Well, he was a young man from a farming background, not all that far from Sydney. We shot it around Camden somewhere and we did go to a real farm. But he was sort of obsessed by the fact that his father had been a sort of a naval hero in World War I, so when World War II started, he had a passion about joining the navy. And Queenie Ashton played my mother and I know there were some lovely scenes when I had to sort of tell her that I was going to join the navy and away I went. And, in fact, in the story I do rather gallantly go down with the ship firing a lone gun away at the Japanese ship over the horizon somewhere and Guy Doleman, who played the best friend, my best friend, turned up at the farm right at the end to explain what had happened and everything. So it was a nice story, written by Zelma Roberts...
Ah, I did the film when I was - 1947 - when I was 24.
Yes, Betty McDowall, she was 'the girlfriend'. Very - one of our very good actresses in Sydney at the time - theatre and radio. I don't think Betty had done much film. Very few people had had a chance to do any films in those days. And she was lovely, yeah, yeah. I used to think that my love scene with Julia Blake in 'Innocence' was my first big love scene but then I - the archives have got a clip me of me actually kissing Betty McDowall. So, yeah.
No, I didn't know. I was more concerned about my all [sic] bad angles. My Adam's apple used to stick out too far and I was always trying to tuck the chin down and, you know, the cameraman would say, "Lift your chin". "Oh, they might see me Adam's apple." And I had a scar - well I've still got a scar under my nose that happened when I was born - and I always thought my eyes were too little and they were close together. You know, and all those things. I had made the mistake of sneaking in, sort of illegally - and see, to see the rushes once after we first started shooting 'Always Another Dawn'. And Guy Doleman and I decided we'd go and try and sneak in the back of the hall.
Well, the director didn't want us to. Turned out he was absolutely right. And I saw a big close-up of me and went, "Ooh, yuck", and I was horrified. Of course what I'd forgotten about is that when you first see yourself on a screen, you're looking at the wrong way round. You only know yourself from the mirror image which is washing your face or combing your hair or whatever and the version up on the screen is what you're really like. And it's a shock. And I never quite got over that and I still don't go to see rushes if I can help it, yeah.
Well, when I was doing the films with Margaret Rutherford, rushes used to be at a quarter to two and a couple of times I made the mistake of seeing them and I, I was so self-conscious for the afternoon shoot that I decided not to go to see any more rushes, particularly lunch-time rushes. Evening rushes, say at six o'clock or six thirty, you could at least have a few beers or something and get over it then muck yourself up the next day. But what I did like to hear, was to hang - do, was to hang around outside the rushes theatrette and have the crew and everybody else coming out saying, "Oh you should have been there, they were great. Lovely scene between you and Margaret". So you went on the set in the afternoon in a rosy glow of false optimism.
Well, Audrey and I were very, very devoted. She was waiting for me to come back from the air force...
Oh. One of my school friends introduced me to a friend of his that I think, when we were about fifteen or sixteen - and a very nice gal too. And I was a little bit interested but I was, I was a bit nervous about girls. You know, I wasn't too sure. All these strange reactions you got if you saw a pretty girl. I thought, and I hadn't read enough books about all that, so. But - I didn't feel anything - but at the end of one school year, I think it was my final school year, a great friend of Mum's had a daughter, Patricia. And Patricia said to me one day, "You must meet Audrey Wilson". I said, "Who's Audrey Wilson?" She said, "Oh she's the Captain of the Claremont College" - where my mother went to. And she said, "I'll bring her along one day". So my mother used to put on a, a Christmas party every year and you had to get in by bringing a toy for the Sun Newspaper Toy Fund. So Patty Adams - her surname was - brought, said, "I'm bringing Audrey Wilson". And I remember, can still remember, opening the front door in Coogee and seeing this breathtaking gal alongside Patty, Patty Adams.
And in they came and I was gone from that moment on. There are shots of her up there as she was at about that age and I think my judgement was right. She was fabulous and very quiet and very reserved. Born in Scotland, came out when she was about three or four or something. Then when I started to go to work, I found out what tram Audrey took to go to work. She was going to a business college. Didn't go to university. And I used to contrive to catch the tram she caught and then would get into her compartment and that wasn't very popular because then I'd offer to pay her fare, the four pence to, into the city from Coogee. She got on a couple of stops up the road in Randwick. And I used to get some rather stern looks and embarrassment. Anyhow, after, it was hard work getting, getting sort of to know her. And then I found her mother was very strict indeed. But slowly we, you know, got together and I was potty about her from the time I first saw her. And then when I went away in the air force we were, "Will you wait for me?" "Oh yeah, of course."
So we had the understanding and I bought an engagement ring in Cairo and I was going to smuggle it in when I got back from the Middle East and one of the boys on the squadron was a bit of a jewellery expert and he said, "Oh you've bought one with a flaw in it". So I went back and bought another one. And he said, "No, that's a good one". So I kept them both and I gave me Mum the one with the flaw. And Mum loved it anyway, didn't matter if it had a flaw. And, but - and Audrey had the engagement ring so we got engaged. But then the war was still on and her mother was very worried that we were going to think about getting married too soon because you a couldn't find a flat unless you were terrible rich and bribed somebody. I didn't have a proper job and, you know, all that.
I'd just gone back to my announcing job at 2CH but that wasn't really, you know, a job with prospects and I'd gone back there for just a few months while waiting for the result of the screen test I did which got me the lead in 'Always Another Dawn'. And then when I got into films I thought that was beyond the pale, you know, never get a proper job at all. But Audrey's mother was - and also in fairness to her, she'd lost her husband who was chief engineer of the Manunda, on the hospital ship and he - the ship was badly damaged in the Darwin raid. But they recovered and he wasn't wounded himself and he'd been highly decorated in the First World War in one of the Scottish army regiments. And, anyhow, he sadly got ill and died not long after the war, from an illness of some kind. So now Audrey's mother was on her own with her only daughter who wanted to marry this ne'er do well, some actor. And, and so she was making it difficult for us and eventually she took Audrey to America where she had, Mrs Wilson, had cousins in Detroit, whom I've met. Lovely family. Part of the Scottish family. Some had gone to America and some had gone to Australia.
And I thought, well that's it. America's full of glamorous men and taller than I am and Audrey will fall for them and so I thought it was all over. But after about a year or so, they came back and I felt just the same.
Ooh yeah. Oh yeah, we had a, we had an interesting little correspondence scheme. We used to - I used to write - we decided we would write personal letters to each other, telling each other how we felt, and impersonal letters. And the code was if I addressed it to Miss Audrey Wilson, Astolene Hall, Judge Street, Randwick, that was personal. But if it was Miss A.M. Wilson, her Mum could read it. Oh yeah, we went to Cairo and we went to the pictures and all that sort of stuff. They were the safe letters.
Very much, yeah, yeah. And I've got a photograph to prove it which I didn't know had been taken. It was taken by a press photographer. We landed in Melbourne and had to get off the ship in Melbourne and then go up by train to Sydney, our particular batch. Now very experienced, lucky survivors. Flight lieutenants and all what not. And we got to the station and there was Mum, Dad, my little brother, Pat - now up there - and Audrey. And I kissed her and it was, it was lovely, you know. And years and years later, well after the war, there was an article in a women's magazine about how to treat your man when he comes out of the services.
And there was a photograph of two people kissing, you couldn't quite see their faces, and the woman's hand was there on the shoulder and had a glove on it and a little bracelet on. And I recognised the bracelet. I'd bought it in Bethlehem, a little filigree thing. And I raced into the newspaper office, "Can I see the original photograph?" And then I saw the full print, they'd only used this tiny little bit of it, just the, almost just the two faces. So close together you couldn't read the faces properly. And there was Mum, Mum there, Dad there and my little brother now towering over us. And in the background another photographer called Scotty Polkinghorne whom I had - I didn't know who he was - but I could see him standing there with his camera trying to take an opportunity shot of all these greetings. And years later I was working with Scotty Polkinghorn in radio and I've got the print somewhere. I've got a few copies of it now. And the full picture's great. So I remember the homecoming terribly well largely through that photograph. But the fact that we were all together was fantastic, of course.
Well, getting the job back wasn't hard in radio because under the wartime regulations they had to give - if you were on the permanent staff anywhere, they had to give you your job back. Even if it meant they had four hundred of you, they still had to give you your job back. So before I'd heard the result of the screen test I did, I'd gone back to being an announcer with 2CH while I waited to see if they really wanted me. It might have even been before I did the real screen test for the role. And so there was I, you know, back in a nice secure job at six pounds a week. A bit less than they'd promised me. Because the year before, when I was - I had a fairly long batch of leave I was due, sort of five or six weeks, because I'd been overseas for a long time - and to fill in the time and 2CH was keen to use it for publicity, they invited me back to do some temporary announcing while I was waiting for an air force posting - which was the one that made me a flying instructor.
So I had done some announcing work for them, now as a senior announcer, not a cadet announcer. And I think they paid me eight pounds a week. And the shock to the system was they only paid me six pounds a week. Might have been six pounds ten - but when I went officially back to work under the terms of the wartime regulations. And then as soon as I was offered the film lead at twenty pounds a week, I, the money wasn't a consideration, it was just the fact that I got the thing, but then I thought, "Ooh and I get three times me wages too", which was great. I raced off and they were, I'm sure they were pleased because they had a lot of chaps coming back from the services so I was sort of out of the way a bit.
Yes, I did eventually, yeah. I loved doing films so what I didn't want to do was to get tied up in a long run radio serial because that was a heck of a problem for radio producers if you - and theatre people had the same thing. You kow, a lot of fine actors like John Alden and people like that who were often doing tours, even Peter Finch was in danger of being away doing theatre tours. And then Peter did a very clever thing, he started, he formed a theatre company in Sydney and took plays around to factories, short plays to interest people in the theatre, and then put on a season of plays that, those three one act plays at the Conservatorium in Sydney. And that was a marvellous theatre breakthrough. It's where Laurence Olivier discovered Peter Finch. One report said Peter Finch was discovered acting in a factory by Laurence Olivier. Now, what they neglected to say it was a wonderful theatre company going around giving performances in factories and Olivier and - who was out doing a tour, this was now well after the war, probably about 1948 - there's a photograph somewhere of Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier in the factory watching Finchy doing one of, one of the great plays he was doing.
Yes, yes, technically I played the lead in that. I was the ne'er do well son who was - should have been studying medicine at university and had gambling problems but came good in the end and actually got his degree and became a doctor. And we shot it in Scone. Forget the name of the stud, but one of the famous stud farms. St Aubins it was called. St Aubins. AUBINS as I remember. And there was a famous racehorse there called Magnificent which was, had sired a lot of great horses. And we had access to all of that which was terrific. And we improvised and did, I remember Bren Brown, the assistant cameraman, and I went to see a film called 'The Homestretch' made by 20th Century Fox which Maureen O'Hara and Cornel Wilde, and it was about racing and we saw all these amazing shots that they would have done with cranes and all sorts of things and we had to improvise and Tom McCreadie had a rather smart American car with a - a Roadster I think they called them - and the top came down, you see.
And they did brilliant stuff. Bren Brown and Harry Malcolm on the camera team, Harry as senior cameraman, with a tripod and a camera in the back of his car. And wonderful shots of the horses and the - because they staged races for them. Tom McCreadie had a great friend who was a former jockey and was now a businessman friend and he went back into the saddle to do some of the scenes. And there were some remarkable shots. At least as good as 'The Homestretch' except 'The Homestretch' was in technicolour and we were in black and white.
Oh, well I tried to do a lot more radio. Guesting roles. I got the lead in 'Great Expectations' for the Lux Radio Theatre and we used the screenplay, the John Mills film. And one of the good writers, radio writers, adapted that screenplay into an excellent radio play. And, as a result of an audition, which I think John Saul conducted, I got the lead as Pip in 'Great Expectations'. And then I remember I got the acting honours of the week in the famous 'Listener-In'. And I went, the following week I did an audition for Macquarie and failed with a note saying, "dull voice, no light and shade, must do better", or something. And I kept failing the Macquarie audition but I'd once played the lead in 'Great Expectations'. But, which meant also that I did get some guest roles in shows.
But, again because I knew I was going to be doing 'Into the Straight', down the track, and I was already working with Alec [Alex] Ezard as a sort of assistant editor. Alec [Alex] was editing 'Always Another Dawn' and they put me under contract for 'Into the Straight'. And then I did some work on the screenplay of 'Into the Straight' and they gave me a secretary, Pauline Phillips. And the director, Tom McCreadie, loved a very detailed shooting script for his screenplays and I had to learn how to do that for him. It's not a method I would recommend because they're not very flexible and we found, once we started shooting, Tom wouldn't use all the shots that - I think there was only one scene where he stuck to my shooting pattern. But it was good training to have to put it all down and learn how to it.
That's right, yes.
It did and it made me work very closely with Alec [Alex] Ezard because I'd say "Can we go from a wide shot to the this shot to that shot?" "Yeah but be careful, don't go that way, go this way." And Harry Malcolm, who's the director of photography. "Can you really do this and do that?" And he'd say, "No, careful. If we get hold of a zoom lens we could but we may be not be able to get one. We may have turret lenses." "Oh righto." And all those sorts of little things which were great.
It may be have been a bit of a test for me too or to keep me occupied. I mean, when he, they offered me this contract for a second movie with a retainer of ten pounds a week, it might have even been more, which was pretty healthy salary, you know for a, if you're working in an office for ten pounds a week, ooh you know, be good. And I didn't really have to do anything for it but I wanted to do something. And that's when Tom McCreadie invited me to work with Alec [Alex] Ezard as an assistant editor. Now, first, I was practically just sweeping the off-cuts and things off the floor, throwing them out. Then Alec had me assembling short ends and things like that. And then he really taught me how to do it and that was fantastic.
Probably could have, yes. Chips Rafferty, some years later, was going to take advantage of it with his company. He was going to get me to direct every second film they made and when people, years later when I went to Hollywood and we came back after having been offered a contract over there, the plan was for me to direct every second movie of Chips' company. And had Tom and Alec McCreadie kept going with their more modest ambitions, I might have been directing. In fact I was a sort of an assistant, unofficial assistant director on 'Into the Straight'. We didn't have a first assistant for that film. I filled that role. Which was tricky because I was rather proud of the script that I'd achieved and if Tom McCreadie changed it, I used to query it a bit and I don't think he liked that very much.
But he was a good bloke, Tom, and he did what he should have done. Just, you know, he should have flown a bit more by the seat of his pants and not used the wide shot if it wasn't appropriate. You know, that I'd scripted. And of course it made the script very thick too, very heavy. But that period, it was sort of like having an intense period in how to make movies from early 1947 to well into late 1948. Which was a terrific experience and hands on experience too, you know.
She didn't and she didn't come to the wedding. No. No we had the wedding reception at home in Mum's place in Coogee.
Oh, we couldn't find a flat and you didn't get married unless you could find a flat. And you had to have somewhere. And by then Audrey, it was tough for her because she loved the thought of flying. Her mother wouldn't let her join the air force. She wanted to join the air force when I did. Well, she was too young. She had to wait a year or so because she was about eighteen months younger than I. And then we discovered that Audrey's mother had actually been in the Royal Air Force Women's Division in World War I. So, but anyhow no. Not only that but she was an only child and she would have been on her own, etcetera, etcetera.
But eventually Audrey got into Trans Australia Airlines as an air hostess as they were then properly called. Cabin attendant now or what the official term is. And she loved it. It was back in the days of smaller aircraft, harder work and it was very selective and she got in. Now I'm concerned because, although Audrey's mother didn't approve of us getting married, I was in, I wanted to, I was very keen. And Audrey was sort of accepting the idea and she put up with, I think when she was based in Melbourne for quite a while so she was, Ina, her mother, couldn't, you know, wasn't able to lecture her quite so much. And eventually after a film we did about Captain Thunderbolt, Hans Adlerstein who was one of the production people on the, at the film company, he and his wife had found a house and he said, "You're looking for a flat, you can have our flat in Killara".
Which was a small, self-contained flat built under a house owned by a lovely German couple, Pitschs. And I remember ringing Audrey from Sydney saying, "Darl, we can get married. I've got a flat". And I remember that little pause that said, "Oh good". Because she was loving flying. The thing was the moment she resigned to get married, the moment she indicated she was going to get married, she had to resign. You weren't allowed to fly and be married under those post-war regulations. So, the pause was, "Oh dear, yes I'll get married but now I've got to lose this wonderful job". And had she been allowed to fly it would have been fantastic for her. But she gallantly gave up this job she loved and we went into the flat in Killara, as I remember.
I got a small part in 'Eureka Stockade'. So small that it was cut out and I think I caught a glimpse of myself in the crowd scene leading up to that scene. That was 1948. It was either just before or just after we shot 'Into the Straight' and 'Eureka Stockade' was made by the great Ealing Studios, Ealing Company that had made 'Forty Thousand Horsemen'. And Harry Watt was directing, a very distinguished director, and it was sort of flattering to be asked to do it but disappointed [sic] that I didn't survive in the film. I remember the scene was a chap who couldn't read, one of the miners and Peter Lalor, or Lawler [the character was Lalor], played by Chips Rafferty, read the letter that he'd got from home to him. And I remember Chips was standing on a slight rise and I was standing, and Chips was six foot six, and I'm about five foot seven and a half or eight if I stand up very straight, and I was looking up at this huge, so it may have looked a bit ridiculous. But, also, it was probably a bit of padding that they could get rid of easily. But in their kindness, Ealing the following year invited me to play one of the strong supporting roles in 'Bitter Springs' and so that was great.
Yes, although I had met him in the air force he reminded me. And we once worked out that we'd both been extras, I as a schoolboy extra, he - Chips was fourteen years older than me - and he was an extra in a film called 'Come Up Smiling' in 1938 and Owen Weingott and I had been unpaid extras on that. Chips I think probably got paid. But that was his first job in front of the cameras, purely as an extra. Next time I met him was at Narromine when Corporal John Goffage - Chips Rafferty, his real name was John Goffage - turned up to help us. He was working with amenities or whatever it was called, helping us to put on the odd show and, you know, morale boosting stuff. And he always said he remembered coming to Narromine and had been chatting to me about it and me saying, "I've done radio". And I must have taken part in the show. And by the time I came back, he was Squadron Leader John Goffage, he had quite a good job, a very good job, and was nearly badly wounded in an air raid in New Guinea at one stage. But [cough] my first meeting with him properly as actors together was in 'Eureka Stockade' when he read the letter to me.
Oh, I loved that. A, I worked with Gordon Jackson who was already a rising star in England. Scottish actor, lovely bloke. And he'd been in 'Eureka Stockade'. So he was back in Australia the following year for 'Bitter Springs'. Nonnie Peifer, who, or she became Nonnie Piper, she played my sister in 'Into the Straight', she was playing my sister in 'Bitter Springs'. A very fine actress called Jean Blue was playing the mother and Chips was playing the father. He objected to that a bit because he was only fourteen years older than me but it didn't matter. And we had Henry Murdoch, Aboriginal actor, and Clyde Combo, the other Aboriginal actor, and we worked with the Ooldea tribal people who came and joined us for many, many weeks and we worked together with them, which was fantastic.
I think it must have been, yeah.
Oh, I loved them, yeah. We all did. A huge bond. Clyde taught me how to crack a stock whip and Henry taught me - they both taught me how to ride reasonably well. They were good actors, very, very reliable. They'd done, not only movies, they'd done documentaries and things, you know, so they had quite a lot of experience. But they were also working horsemen too. They'd go back to Queensland and do their proper jobs, and highly respected. Henry and I used to love talking about our youths. And we worked out that we'd had, although Henry wasn't full-blood, Clyde was full-blood, but Clyde's father and Henry's father had once tied for the Buck Jump Championship of Australia in 1919. I remember those figures, I was always very impressed by all that. But Henry and I worked out that we'd had exactly the same influences on us. I forget what part of Queensland he came from. The same movies they used to go to see. And we used to play cowboys and Indians. He used to play cowboys and Indians but the advantage he had over us was that they played with real horses. And I said, "How'd you get them?" He said, "Oh, we'd just go into a paddock and hop on one". And, he was, yeah, he was great, Henry. And...
They, yeah, there was a bit of a discrepancy and Chips and I had to go to bat. We found that Henry and Clyde had actually, technically been paid a bit less than the award rate. As far as the tribal people, there was certain regulations which I think people have talked about a lot over the years. But they were very, very heavily protected, the tribal people. By - and even our crew, the tribal people had - weren't allowed to handle much money themselves. Enough to buy cigarettes and everything. The powers that be, rightly or wrongly, were frightened they might get ripped off.
So, they husbanded their money and made sure it was theirs. Then occasionally they'd be allowed to go into town. Towards the end of our time at Quorn, in South Australia, they were allowed to go in with their saved up pocket money from their allowance - this is the tribal people - and buy what they wanted in town. Now the crew blokes were so concerned that they might get a bit ripped off here and there, that they elected representatives from the crew to go with them to make sure they paid the right price and got what they wanted. Now these were tribal, fully tribal people who would normally wear no clothing of any kind and they came back sometimes looking like English gents and things. And there was a lovely - one fine dancer called Peter, not sure what his tribal name was but we did get used to the fact that we gave them names. There was Sunny Jim and, except for Kawarri who was the tribal elder. And, I mean Peter looked magnificent. He had a - and they had wonderful taste in clothing.
We also seemed to be very conscious of that in the post-war years. Do you wear those trousers with a tweed jacket or that? And I remember Peter coming back and he had a knitted tie, which was very fashionable. A pale blue knitted tie on and a big beard and no shoes, of course, because shoes were a bit uncomfortable for them. And beaut trousers, lovely jacket and shirt. And a bit later that day I remember seeing him without a tie and he made me understand through our limited language communication that he'd been told by one of his mates, that if you had a beard, you didn't wear a tie. Then I explained to him, no, no, no, some of the top professors in universities had beards and also wore ties. So he was very pleased about that and the tie went back on.
I don't think so. I, strangely, I, I wasn't too ambitious, except that I thought, if I'm going to be any good in this, I'd better in Hollywood by the time I'm thirty. And I was in my late twenties. Twenty-eight, twenty-nine or something. And suddenly, I was suddenly whipped over to Hollywood to do 'The Desert Rats' when I was twenty-nine and eleven months or something and I thought, what a stupid ambition. However, I started to learn a lot there. I'd learnt a lot from Scotty Ehrenberg with his classes. I learnt a great deal from Owen, Owen Weingott in the early days and then later Guy Doleman and this passion about naturalism and reality.
But how to really go about it, I didn't learn that much until I worked with John Saul a lot. He had, he was a great Stanislavski student. He and his wife, Georgie Sterling. And we studied together. We used to go down to John's place, Rod Taylor and Ken Wayne and Audrey and I used to go down to John's place on a Saturday night and we'd talk all night probably until the sun came up, about all the acting theories. And I reckon in that period I was getting better and I had had this quick trip to Hollywood. Not quick, a trip to Hollywood to do 'The Desert Rats'. I'd got to know Richard Burton very well and watched the way he worked. Now, he was a very inexperienced film actor. He'd only done one major film. He was an experienced radio actor from Cardiff so - and he had a bit of a theatre background. Not all that much, I think it was the Young Vic or something. And I'd done a bit of theatre. But I loved the confidence with which he worked.
And I used to go round to all the other films in production at Fox. I had permission to visit any set I wanted to. And I used to watch the actors at work and the thing that impressed me about the American actors was that they were so confident and secure in front of a camera. I'd also worked with, before I went to Hollywood, with Peter Lawford and Richard Boone and Maureen O'Hara on the 'Kangaroo' movie and I found that very daunting because I had some wonderful scenes to do. One very emotional scene and I was very daunted by having to do it. It was a scene with Maureen O'Hara and Chips Rafferty and I think Letty Craydon was in it somewhere. I had to confess to stealing some cattle because of the drought and all that. And I remember the care with which they rehearsed it.
But I didn't feel I'd improved all that much as an actor except under Johnny Saul's influence particularly. When you start, he got me thinking much more deeply. I think the, one of the problems with looking for the naturalism, I think superficially there was a naturalism, but I don't think it had all that much depth to it. John Saul's influence created a much stronger feeling for the depth of a role.
I suppose it was, yes.
Not so much from the English but certainly, I think, from the Australian. Alec [Alex] Ezard and I often used to talk because Alec [Alex] insisted on working on it but he had to be, he was a third assistant make-up artist or something and he had been a fine make-up artist before he became a film editor. When we talked years and years later as to what we learnt from the Americans, and it was technicolour too, so we expected to see all the things you saw in Fan Magazine. Huge cameras and all that sort of thing, great lights even outside. Yes, they did use quite a lot of light but they brought out a very modest sized camera without a blimp. Fox had developed a blimpless camera that was like an ordinary newsreel camera. And a great cinematographer called Charlie Clarke, Charles Clarke, came out in charge of that and with very simple gear they created wonderful stuff.
The other big thing that Alec [Alex] Ezard reminded us that we learnt, was the use of wedges. Timber wedges about that long, going from nothing to about that deep. We used to use wood blocks to prop up say a dolly track. And that was difficult because they were square or oblong or something. And when we talked about what we'd learnt, the main thing was, Alec [Alex] always said, the use of wedges. Which is the simplest thing you could think of and that clever idea of just putting wedges under it. They had to fit the space you wanted them to reinforce. I also loved the way they rehearsed. I also loved the respect from one department to another. And if the cameraman said, "I want to shoot this way", that's the way you shot. If the microphone operator wanted the boom there for the sound department, nobody said, "Couldn't you put it over there?" They said, "Right, OK". They had tremendous respect for each other's skills and I kind of liked that.
Oh, it's just that we did it over and over. When people ask me, you know, "How do you do that?" I say, "Well you do it exactly the same way you'd do it exactly the same way you'd do your local amateur theatre production around the corner. You rehearse it until it's right and you don't shoot until it's right." I don't remember ever being asked to do a take that I wasn't ready for and I liked that. Sometimes with insecure directors, you can be asked to do something in case it gets exciting during the take. Most of the American directors of that period, I'm sure, rehearsed until it was dead right. And I when I went round the studios, the other sound stages, when I was in Hollywood, that's the way they all worked. And I'd sometimes come in at the beginning of a, of a scene just as they were about to shoot it. And you'd assume that it was about the umpteenth take because it was perfect. Often you'd find out it was take one. But they'd rehearsed it until it it was ready to go.
Well, I suppose the next proper job offer came when I was asked to play Chips Rafferty's son in 'Bitter Springs' in 1949. And that was very pleasing because, although I'd played that tiny part for, in 'Eureka Stockade', I thought it would have made no, you know, had, made no impression at all. But they called me in. I don't, I'm not even sure that I had to screen test. I think they just offered me the part and that was good. And also too, we broke the drought in South Australia. We went to Quorn to shoot in that area which was, then, in those days, one of the driest parts of Australia, probably still is, and rain was not predicted it seemed for a long time but it did start to rain and we were there for many months instead of many weeks. And Ralph Smart, the director, had a pretty tough time, just trying to cope with the weather. And eventually Leslie Norman came out from England as associate producer and we hurried up a bit and we eventually caught up some of the schedule but we were way behind. But the more behind we were, the more I loved it, because I loved working on the thing. I loved working with the Aborigines particularly. The Ooldea people. And I just loved it. It was a great experience.
Yes it was, that's right. And that came up probably because of 'Bitter Springs'. Yeah.
We were terribly curious as to what it would be like and Chips was alright because he'd already worked in England. I think he had a Rank contract for a while so, and he'd worked in, I think, one or two movies over there so he wasn't too daunted by it. We were terribly impressed by how down to earth they were. It was a tricky period for Americans because the McCarthy thing was starting up in America and, you know, the anti-communist campaigns conducted by McCarthy and a few careers being destroyed. I was appointed Equity deputy by the head office in Sydney and Richard Boone and Peter Lawford were young and slightly rebellious actors in those days. Very good, very professional. And I was terribly impressed, without any negotiation, we found the Americans were paying the Aborigines very, very well indeed. The Ooldea people were invited back.
The Americans hired a lot of extremely knowledgeable experts on Aboriginal culture. Often white people like Monckton, C.P. [possibly C.A.W.] Monckton I think had written some books on it. And we all knew, those of us who'd worked on 'Bitter Springs', that they knew nearly as much about filmmaking as anybody, even though they didn't speak much English, because they'd got used to the routine on 'Bitter Springs'. And when the Americans realised that it was great, it was plain sailing.
No, no. I, I found that the only tension sometimes was between one of the horse experts who'd better be nameless, a white man who did a bit of stunt work. And he was helping to round up a lot of cattle, well I suppose it was his job, for one of the scenes with cattle approaching a waterhole. And Henry Murdoch was sitting near me on a horse watching and this man said something along the lines of, "Come on Henry, you black so and so, come and give us a hand". And Henry walked slowly down to where the horses were and this chap was on a horse, and he, Henry said, "Get off your horse, Frank". And he got off his horse and Henry thumped him and knocked him down and there were general cheers all round. Particularly from the Americans. And that was the only trouble we had that I remember.
And Henry of course objected to being called whatever it was he was called and we all applauded that. It was great. And, I had a feeling Henry may have done it once or twice before to other people in other parts of Australia. But he had no compunction at all, just went up and so calmly said, "Get off your horse", and then, whack. But that was the only trouble I remember. I do remember the Americans were just as respectful of our skills as we were of theirs.
All the American actors except Maureen O'Hara. She wouldn't join because she was a bit nervous about the, what was happening politically back in the United States and she'd heard that our secretary was or had leanings towards the Communist philosophy. And she said, "Nobody's game really to join anything where that might be the case now" - in case McCarthy got a bit inquisitive and upset. And eventually Equity, Australian Equity, was very good. They said, alright, we can understand that because we, although we didn't know how tough it was in Australia, that there were some indications that it might be starting to develop that way. We all knew that a lot of very fine American artists had been, you know, in trouble with the un-American Activities Committee. So the Equity compromise was that if Maureen had to do any shots in Sydney she would join Equity and she agreed to that. But while she was working in South Australia, legally she was outside the jurisdiction of head office in Sydney and she didn't have to join.
Mind you, Boone and Lawford used to say, "Come on, strike the show. Make her join". And I said, "No come on, we've got conditions here we're only dreaming about in Australia, particularly for the Aborigines and people like that". And they used to send me up a bit but it was very good natured and we got through quite comfortably and Maureen didn't have to do any shooting at all in Sydney so the show went through quite comfortably. Unfortunately, despite the skill level on the film, it wasn't the world's greatest movie. But you can see indications of what it could have been. Milestone, Lewis Milestone, lovely man to work with. Famous for that great war film, 'All Quiet on the Western Front'. When he got to Australia he realised that we should be making a much more important film and he arranged for Harry Kleiner, a very respected New York writer, to come out to join him to try to upgrade the script from what was a really, a fairly standard big western but in Australia. And we didn't quite get there I don't think. But the intentions were good.
Yeah, I - one started to be aware it. It was quiet and subtle and I used to get a bit worried because I was known to be a fairly square, loyalist person who'd been an officer in the air force and all that. And sometimes, you know, you'd meet somebody and think, "Is he just curious or does he have a secret line somewhere?" You'd find yourself occasionally being asked slightly tricky questions about your mates. And...
Oh, "Joe Blow, has he ever talked about politics and things?" "Oh, no I don't think so." "Well, I mean does he go to Equity meetings?" "Well, well I suppose so, yeah, well we all do." And I found myself saying, "No, just a good bloke, he's a fair dinkum Aussie" and so and so and so and so. No, I can't remember ever having any reservations about anybody at all. Except, there was one bloke who I met somewhere who was a bit snarly about something and, you know, and very quiet and reserved and I wasn't too sure whether - but we were all being slightly affected by the propaganda and, and that there were these secret societies, not secret societies, you know, little groups of people. But eventually somebody tipped me off and said, "You know, anytime you're asked about this, you say good things about somebody, they'll start to be suspicious of you, you know". I said, "That's going silly if it gets to that, you know".
I think it could have been and it may well have been behind the scenes until the Petrov affair and I was always rather impressed that when the findings came out of the Petrov affair, I think it said that that well-known journalist had actually written an article that was published in Moscow for which he was paid a bottle of brandy. And I thought, that doesn't sound like a very dangerous situation to me.
'Captain Thunderbolt'? 1950. I think it was just after we did, it was - no '51. I think it was just after we did 'Kangaroo'.
Well, yeah, I, I suppose looking back the fact that we treated the Thunderbolt story very sympathetically from the Thunderbolt point of view, as people quite openly do about the Ned Kelly story now. I found it, I found it very interesting. I, that we just treated him like a bloke and we shot it where Thunderbolt operated. In fact there is a scene in the film near his actual gravestone in the town just outside, oh, golly, where we? Anyway, it's easily - Uralla I think it is, URALLA, in New South Wales. And there were two views. You could get into an argument in the town by saying, "I believe Thunderbolt was shot there". "No, he didn't, my great-grandfather helped him escape." So you'd say, "I believe Thunderbolt escaped". "No, he didn't, my great-grandfather helped shoot him."
And we took the view that some of the research showed that his friend, Alan Blake - Thunderbolt's name was Fred Ward - that Alan Blake and Fred Ward operated together and our, it may have been a movie touch by Cec Holmes, but they both rode white horses and they both dressed the same. So that if they got into trouble they could split up and the authorities wouldn't know which one to chase. And there was a shoot out at the end of the film and we took the view that the guy I played was the one who was shot and buried as Thunderbolt, Alan Blake. And there's a nice scene with Grant Taylor and Rosemary Miller standing by the actual Fred Ward gravestone right at the end of the film. I suppose it was controversial for a while there and I think we weren't terribly sympathetic to the authorities.
I remember Harp McGuire, an American actor playing the beastly warder, getting us when we were breaking up the rocks with our chains on and things like that. But, yes, Cecil also many years later did some, I thought, very, very interesting things. I met him when I came home from overseas and he asked me to look at some footage that he'd shot, or had shot or had made to be shot or what do I mean? Arrived at the situation. So that the shooting could take place of this film. He'd taken cameras up to some parts of Australia where there were tribal groups still living very away from any white influences. And somehow or other taught them how to operate a camera and somehow or other explained what the camera did and then left the camera with them and suggested they play with it. And he - I wonder if the footage still exists? It would be fascinating to see. Because it was them trying to tell their story with some equipment that they'd never seen before.
And there was some, I remember being terribly impressed by some of it. It didn't really hang together as a proper production but it was a very, sort of worthy experiment. And only somebody like Cec would have probably thought of doing that.
No, I don't think so. By then I was slightly over over-confident on a horse because of the training by Henry Murdoch and Clyde Combo. We did get to gallop a bit which was good fun. We did, as I say, operate, shoot the film in the general area where he had operated so there was a strange feeling of history about it all. There was a famous rock up there called Thunderbolt's Rock and the locals said, "Oh you must use the rock". What was it for? Well, he used to climb up on the rock and he could see stagecoaches and things coming from vast distances. So we went out to check it and it was covered with advertising signs. Fred's Café, coffee threepence or something. And all hand painted on. And we said, "Well we can't really use it. It's been wrecked". "Well, couldn't you cover it with hessian?", somebody suggested. But no, we had to find another sort of Thunderbolt's Rock. But, no, it was just, I found it a beaut experience, you know. Working, and, you know, a part of slightly controversial Aussie history in that there was that view and that view, you know.
Well, I suppose we did, yeah. I didn't, I used to worry if I had to ride with Chips when we were doing 'Bitter Springs' because Chips was very courageous and he wasn't, he was alright, he could handle a horse and he had done a lot of riding and had done a bit of jackarooing I think in the Depression years. But, I remember Ralph Smart saying, "Oh, go up the top of the hill Chips and Bud you can go with him". This was on horseback. "And then on action, Chips you can gallop down and Bud you go." Up? What? And galloping down a hill. And Chips would say, "Yeah, right". And I would, and somehow we managed to do it. But I wasn't doing that sort of stuff with any great confidence. Thunderbolt, as I remember, we did a lot of sort of fairly fast safe riding, you know, behind a camera truck or something and usually on, you know, if it was smooth enough for the camera, it would be alright for us too, so, yeah.
Yes. When we, or before we went to Hollywood, Chips made a film called 'Phantom Stockman' starring Bob Tudawali, or as Ernie Dingo says, "You've got to call him Toodawally". I said, "No, I knew him as Bob Tudawali". He was full-blood and a tribal man who did 'Jedda' and things like that. Lovely guy. And Bob starred in the film with, I think, Max Osbiston, Guy Doleman I think was in it. And Chips made that for very, very little money and the story was that he and Lee Robinson, his director and colleague in the venture, worked for no money at all, tried to pay people the proper rates and probably did. And when we were summoned to Hollywood to do 'The Desert Rats', Chips waited on there until they flew over the first proper print of the film.
And he took it round the world like a travelling salesman under his arm and sold it outright to various outlets and countries and things. Including places like India and Pakistan. And he came back with the film actually in profit. Not a big profit but in profit. So he was able to raise - I think they made that for something like ten thousand pounds - and he was able to raise I think either twenty-five or thirty thousand, I think it was about twenty-five thousand pounds to make 'King of the Coral Sea' which we did when got back from Hollywood. And that was a very well organised film. Set against the pearling industry in Thursday Island. I had a bit to do with the storyline on that.
So to pay me they brought my wife, Audrey, along for the trip which was great. And she didn't have to do anything except be in a crowd scene once, I think. And - but, yeah, that was great and it was - his plan at the time was, knowing I had done a bit of directing, that they were doing to try and make two pictures a year at about that same cost. At about twenty-five, thirty thousand pounds. And Lee Robinson would direct the main one and I'd direct the second one. And I was thrilled to bits about that. But because of the success of 'Phantom Stockman' and then 'King of the Coral Sea', they were talked into doing a big production, sort of French co-production called 'Walk Into Paradise' and I don't think that worked quite as well. So the other plan that I loved the thought of, didn't really ever happen.
Well, when we were doing 'Desert Rats' around the pool in Hollywood, we talked a lot about this project of the pearling film, the pearl shell film, the Thursday Island one, Coral Sea. Chips' idea, he'd talk about his idea for it, and it was a very straight up and down story. The old and the new. He was the manager of the pearling company, I was going to play the owner, the absentee owner. Lived in Sydney, lush life, raced cars and did all sorts of things and suddenly took it into my head to go up to Thursday Island to see how they were running the business. But because of some work I'd done in the navy during the war, I was an expert in underwater work and wanted to introduce the aqualung into the system up there and brought the gear up.
And it became a bit of a clash of the old and the new and the absentee owner, all that stuff. Mixed up with a bit of stuff that we thought was a bit far-fetched in those days, immigration and illegal immigrants and things and that stream was fed in. But when they started to do, when we got back from America, and we were discussing the story proper and we were, we almost had the shoot date in mind and the script was being refined, I went into discuss it with them and I thought they'd overloaded a good, simple, straight story with too much detail and too many subplots. And I remember going home to Audrey and, and we had a flat in the Cross, and I said, "They're mucking up a beaut, simple idea".
And I typed an angry letter to Chips and posted it on Sunday, that Sunday and, in those days, if you posted on Sunday in Sydney they got it in the city office next morning, early. So about half past eight the phone rang on the Monday morning and Chips said, "Got your letter". I thought, "Ooh, here it comes". He said, "No, you're right. We want to buy it from you". I said, "What do you mean? It's your idea". All I'd done was re, you know, tell them what we had originally talked about. He said, "No, come on in and discuss it". So he said, "No, you're absolutely right". He said, "We did get too this and too that". And I said, "But it's your story and all I'm doing is presenting your story back to you as this is what we discussed around the swimming pool". "No, no, no, we'll pay you for it. How much do you want?" I said, "Well, I don't know". I said, "What's the full board in Thursday Island?" It was about seven quid a week I think, seven guineas a week. I said, "What's the airfare up to...", we had to fly to Cairns and then go by boat, I think, from Cairns. And whatever it was.
And I said, "Good, well you can pay all Audrey's expenses and she'll come with me for the trip". "Yeah, OK. Is that all?" I said, "Yeah. Also you can have five quid a week back." I'd beaten him up from fifty pounds a week to fifty-five pounds a week in the ordinary negotiation for the role. So I said, "You can have five quid a week back". So, we had this fantastic honeymoon. It was really great. Including two weeks on Green Island where we did all the underwater stuff linking up with Noel Monkman's scientific unit and they were all geared up to do underwater scientific stuff and we did all the underwater stuff there. It was a wonderful, great experience that.
Ah, yes, yes. And Chips was a good swimmer too. Yeah. Oh, we could both swim pretty well. But Chips did things - we did things underwater that had never been done before. They'd written in a scene, almost the inevitable scene in an underwater movie. The man in the helmet gets caught and the air line is fouled and the water's going to rise up in the helmet because the divers on Thursday Island in those days - I don't what they do now - they used to wear a big, old-fashioned diving helmet sitting on their shoulders but without a diving suit so that the air bubble was what they breathed and the air bubble kept water out. And they used to wear, I think, a flannel shirt, a grey flannel shirt, it was like a uniform. And herringbone tweed trousers and sandshoes and that's all they wore. And Chips did that when he was doing the underwater stuff.
Now they'd scripted, it became known as 'the Ipie's failed' scene, because it was the pipe's failed, meaning the air, but there was a typing error and pipe was spelt IPIE instead of PIPE. And so that became 'the Ipie failed' scene. And the scene was me coming down gallantly with the aqualung to see what was wrong, and seeing that he was trapped, and the water was filling up and I took the mouthpiece out of the aqualung and put it up under the collar of the thing. Now, until we did it, we didn't know whether it'd work. And, Lee Robinson, who couldn't swim at all but was there with an aqualung on, while we were doing it, very courageous. He said to Chips, "How are we going to fake the water rising in the helmet?" And Chips said, "Turn the bloody air off". But we were thirty feet down doing that scene. We had to swim down thirty feet which is not a long way but there's a lot of water above you.
And Chips and I didn't know, and they had to, on cue, had to turn off the air and you see the water rising above the helmet, above his face and he's doing this struggling acting. And I swim in and I put it in and that huge mass of bubbles and Chips' face appears and the water, it worked. And he's got this wonderful grin on his face, the most realistic bit of acting you've ever seen because it worked. Then we had to do another bit which had not been done before either. Taking down another helmet and he changed helmets. So the next bit of the scene, they had to turn the air off so the helmet was full of water, I bring in another helmet that is working. He takes off the helmet that is full of water and puts on, thirty feet down, the helmet and the air bubble, boom and that all worked.
But trying to struggle across with that helmet, which was so heavy, those big metal helmets, even though it was full of air or air was flowing, bubbling around it, was hard work. And there was Chipsie, holding his breath with the camera crew, you know, everybody had aqualungs on and, you know, breathing gear. And Noel Monkman with his camera and tripod and I always remember the pencil hanging upwards on a string that he had to make notes. So that was remarkable stuff, you know.
Well, they'd say Tom Cruise does. I always get a big cynical of when I read that actors do their own stunts, because I don't know of any insurance company in the world that would let a famous star do anything really dangerous. It would be terrible silly to do that.
Yes, once. I had my life saved once by Salapata Sagigi, not once, I reckon they saved me six times. And we were up at Thursday Island. We were doing the surface scenes where I dived in to help him. Now we had the aqualung, we had the lead belt and I had all the gear. One thing we couldn't get was compressed air for the air bottle. We had to do it and we had to anchor the lugger in what turned out to be a very vicious tide race and we didn't realise that at the time. And because I had to dive in and then appear to dive down deeper, you know, but with no air in the thing and heavy gear I was a little bit worried. Just before, we were going to try a rehearsal and Salapata Sagigi, who was a Badu Islander, marvellous guy, he was playing the head diver and the helmsman of the boat and everything, beaut bloke. He said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, whoa, whoa, whoa".
And he got into a dinghy and went, it seemed to me, about thirty yards or metres behind the boat. Then, "OK". So I did it and as I surfaced I realised that we were anchored in this tide race and I was being swept by the tide and this huge black arm, bang, grabbed me as I went past. So, yeah, "Ok, that'll work", and all this normal rehearsal stuff and then they pulled in the dinghy and I got out of the dinghy. And I remember we did three rehearsals and three takes and at the end of the day I said to Sagigi, "What would have happened if you'd missed me?" He said, "Well you might have got to Darwin if the sharks hadn't got you".
And we laughed a lot and I reckon, looking back, because of the day, and we didn't know, the tide race was something like, oh, ten, twelve knots or something outrageous like that. I couldn't have swum it and the lugger was an anchor so by the time they'd have got the boat, you know, if I had got swept away or if he had missed me, even if I'd been able to get rid of the gear and float a bit, it would have been very dangerous indeed. But he was the only one who recognised the danger Sagigi. And, yeah.
Ah, good, yeah. It was good old Chipsie, you know, reliable, learns his lines and all that and anyway he's a star. There was a bit of that until he came to England once. He, I think it was after his wife died he wrote to me and said, "Look, things are a bit...", no, it was before she died. That's right. He came over because he wanted to do a bit of work in England where he had worked before in films and things. The film industry had changed. One of my writer mates on the medical series I was doing in England for many years had met Chips with Audrey and I once. And he said, I said, "Chips would love to come over". He said, "Oh, if we could get Chips that would be fantastic". So they wrote a role for him into this medical series. And it was a different producer, I'd left by then, I was doing some freelancing. I'd done some movies and was waiting and I thought maybe getting a job in Australia in the theatre. So I was freelancing and, but all my mates were still doing the show.
And they wrote this marvellous role of an Aussie journalist who was getting towards the end of his career and had gone to London as a freelance to try to follow a test match series and write freelance articles and got ill and suddenly was frustrated, he was in hospital. Now a lot of things happened. Chips' wife died unexpectedly in Sydney. By the time Chips found out it was too late to get - by the time they contacted him and let him know she'd had a heart attack or something. And she hadn't been discovered for two or three days. Awful shock for Chris [sic], for Chipsie.
And he insisted on doing the contract because he said, Quentin would have liked, wanted him to. He couldn't get back in time because of various medical things with, had to get the burial organised quickly and everything, and he insisted on completing the role and another producer bought a play, a television play for him to do when he realised he wasn't having to hurry back for the funeral. And he played an Irishman in a very posh 'Play of the Week' thing on tellie. And the producer of the medical series said, he said, "We all knew that Chips was a good actor", he said, "We didn't know he was a great actor". Now the English thought he was a great actor. Now, you'd be laughed out of court in Australia.
Oh yeah, he did a very convincing Irish accent. What he wouldn't do, he was a man of great principle, perhaps unwisely. We joined the club, you had to sound posh, sound posh, to make sure you get the part. Or, yes, I played my, you know, my version of the English accent when I played Pip in 'Great Expectations'. Well that was reasonable, he was an Englishman. But Chips, for run of the mill stuff, didn't know why we had to put on posh accents for the run of the mill radio serials so he wouldn't do it. And he only ever did one radio serial and that was lined up by Peter Finch who shared Chips' view and respected him for it. But Finchy was a very, very versatile actor indeed and a highly distinguished actor long before he went to England. And, but he teed up the series, and I think it was called 'The Sundowner' and Chips played a guy who was a sundowner wandering around Australia. Narrated the story and there was some beaut stuff done and he was excellent in it.
Totally out of the blue. I'd played the role with 20th Century Fox in 'Kangaroo'. I'd in 1952, we finished 'Kangaroo' the first half of '51. In '52 a very fine radio producer in Sydney called Grace Gibson, she had an American base, she was born in America but had been living in Australia for many years, was married and had settled, but a very good and successful radio production company doing a lot of very good series. And I was pretty well employed by her and sometimes did some directing for her and she had some fine actors like John Saul and Johnny Meillon and all the guys and some marvellous women's roles and things came up that she was very good about. And suddenly decided she wanted to make a television movie in 1952, four years before tellie started in Australia. So she decided that the storyline wouldn't be bad if we had an American ex-GI who stayed in Australia. We thought it was lay down misère for a fine actor called Alan White who was really a big radio star.
And Ken Hall directed a sort of test thing for Whitey playing a test scene which was sent to some of Grace's friends in America to see if they could tee up a deal. And we were, you know, obviously all very new to the thought of television. And they sent back, "Yes, it's a great idea but you've got to screen test the lead", and they sent out a director who was Francis D. Lyon who was an Academy Award film editor. He got the Academy Award for editing a boxing film called 'Body and Soul' with John Garfield. And this was - Pete was his nickname - he, it was his first venture into directing and he came out, we had to screen test, about ten or twelve of us including some real Americans who were settled in Australia and radio actors, very good ones. People like Harp McGuire and Paul McNaughton and people. And all the tests had to go back to America and I got the gig. And I felt very upset for Alan because he was the lay down misère, Alan must get it. Anyhow he didn't mind. That's show business. And we shot it in Sydney.
And that was one of the reasons I was invited to Hollywood. Because when they decided at the last minute they needed an Aussie actor for the young lieutenant in 'The Desert Rats', Fox had lost my address and didn't how to contact me. Somebody knew that Grace Gibson lived in Sydney and was an American and, and they rang, Grace rang me about ten minutes before I went on air as assistant compere on a big national show, 'Colgate Palmolive Strike It Rich', I think it was called.
Radio. And there was Grace at the end of the phone at the radio theatre saying, "Bud, can you be in Hollywood on Saturday?" And this was Wednesday, Wednesday night. And somehow or other everybody cooperated and I recorded something [like] thirty-four quarter hour radio eps in two days. All the producers hating me of course because what a disruption. Got on a plane on Saturday morning and I was in Hollywood the following day. It was an overnight trip in those days as I remember. And I didn't have a deal or anything. Just a return ticket by Fox. And they kept the casting department open on a Sunday afternoon.
Billy Gordon was the casting director and I was whizzed from the airport out to him. We'd been delayed in San Francisco because of smog. I had Richard Boone introduce me to an agent called Sam Weisbord who was a very important agent in later years. And he hadn't, I hadn't contacted him but he'd heard I was coming but didn't know when. An arrival agent was there to meet me and I eventually signed with him which was probably unwise. But I had to do my own deal with Billy Gordon who started - and I remember Michael Pate was over there. Michael was there to meet me too and Michael waited outside with another Aussie friend who lived in Hollywood. And I think I got one of the lowest rates of pay on the whole thing because I stupidly said, when Billy Gordon said, "Now you've probably heard that we pay huge salaries in Hollywood?" I said, "Yeah". He said, "Well, we don't". And then promptly started to prove it.
And I said, heard myself actually say, "Look it's such a wonderful opportunity, it's worth me paying you". So he must have, and his wife, I remember his wife, very sweet, she was sitting there because 20th Century Fox absolutely empty except for Billy Gordon and his wife and me and Mike Pate sitting outside. And poor Mike, when I walked outside he said, "Get in the car, just get in the car". He said, "Oh boy", and he gave me a lecture on, you know.
I know. Oh, I met an agent years later in London, he said, "My God", he said, "No actors ever, you have a return ticket and no deal, of course you're going to", you know. And I assumed it was a fairly small part. No, I was in the first shot. We went out and first of all we were on location in Borrego Springs in California. I was in the first shot and didn't have a day off or a scene off for about six days. So it was, there was more shot than actually finished up in the film but it was great experience. It still was, it was really wonderful experience.
Oh, working with Burton who was hot, the new guy and a beaut bloke. Fabulous guy. And nothing like the image people have got of him now, you know, lots of booze. We had, enjoyed a beer after work. I discovered he was actually in the air force so we had that in common. He was a navigator in Mosquito aircraft. He was younger than I and he was on a squadron that was about to go into action when the war ended so he didn't have any active service against the enemy. And he'd been a radio actor about the same time I'd been a radio actor in Sydney, he was a radio actor in Cardiff. And he'd had one big break doing 'My Cousin Rachel', I think it was, with Olivia de Havilland the year before. And he was the hot actor and then he did 'The Robe' shortly after and all that.
But he was terribly down to earth and a beaut bloke and he would take us around and meet people. One night he said, we had to come back later to, Richard was going to have to give a presentation speech to Robert Wise, the director. Fabulous director who was also newish, he was starting out and getting a few good breaks. And we had about three or four hours off because that wasn't going to take place until about eleven o'clock at night after they'd finished shooting some scenes. It was at the end of production and I remember him saying, "Oh we'll go out and call on Jimmy and Jean". I said, "Oh yeah, OK, who are they?" He said, "Oh, Jimmy [sic] Granger. Oh, Stewart Granger". "Oh right." [coughs]
So we drove up into the hills and suddenly we were four actors sitting down, having a meal and chatting, laughing, swearing a bit as I remember and two of their friends called in, Michael Wilding and Elizabeth Taylor. Elizabeth was about to have their first child and she looked about fourteen. She was probably seventeen or eighteen or something and very pregnant and very beautiful. And it was a really stunning night and that gave me a wonderfully down to earth look at the actors and they were just like we were in Sydney. Could have been Johnny Saul and Rod Taylor and Audrey and I at Johnny's place talking acting. And I was very impressed by the fact that Stewart Granger was the only one in America I met who knew that Jimmy Carruthers had won the world bantamweight boxing championship which had happened that year and we were all very proud that we at last had a world champion boxer. And he knew that. He was a keen boxing student.
Jean Simmons had done 'Blue Lagoon', I think by that time so she knew a bit about Australia. Michael Wilding's parents had toured Australia. Elizabeth Taylor was the only one who didn't know about it but she had other things on her mind like their first baby. And I loved that sort of really down to earth thing. A bunch of actors together. Could have been a bunch of factory workers or something. You know, and it was, nobody was being movie stars. It was great.
Oh, again it was the, the discipline of the very experienced actors. The not mucking about on the set. A little gentle jokes [sic] and things too. But there were some very distinguished actors in 'The Desert Rats' like Robert Newton, the great English actor. And he and Richard had known each other in London anyway I think and he was playing Richard Burton's old schoolmaster who suddenly turns up in an Australian battle unit in the defence of Tobruk. And I just loved all that. There were a lot of English actors working in the film, pretending, hoping to do Australian accents and things, not terribly successfully. But quite a few Aussies like John O'Malley was there, Michael Pate was there and, you know, and, I grew up wondering about the great Australian horseman, Snowy Baker, who was a great friend of my mother's in, when they were very, very young and they had, he had a brother called Frank Baker who was, became a very well-known stuntman in Hollywood and blow me down, Frank turned up playing an elderly general, an Australian general in 'Desert Rats'. So we used to spend many hours chatting about Coogee Surf Club where Frank and Snowy used to swim with my uncles.
No. I loved working with Robert Wise who was - he'd had a very fine film called 'The Set-Up' with Robert Ryan which got him very strongly noticed. He was, you know, one of the bright boys and then to be given 'Desert Rats' was quite a thing to, you know, a wonderful thing for him. But he was delightful to work with. Wanted reality and truthfulness and all those things. Rehearsed very well and didn't seem to shoot until it was ready and all that. And, again, I saw that fantastic cooperation between the departments that we saw on 'Kangaroo' a couple of years before.
And the nth degree of cooperation to me was, one night we were shooting on the back lot which was supposed to be the Tobruk township badly damaged by war damage and it was a redressed set that had been built for a film called 'The [A] Bell For Adano', an Italian village. And there was a beautiful outdoor set, houses and everything and they'd redressed it to make it look bomb damaged. But there were some large areas of plain white wall on the lot. And we were doing the scene where we're marching out of Tobruk to go up to the front line and the Aussie soldiers marching out and we all looked up because on the white wall, it was a night shoot, is the biggest microphone shadow I'd ever seen. Sharp and clear, right in the middle of the thing.
And all the assistant director said was, "Is that where you want the mic?" "Yup." "Is that where you want the key light?" "Yup." "Is that where you want the camera?" "Yup." "OK, paint it out." And the painters went up and they painted a big black shadow across it. And I thought, nobody said, "Couldn't you move your mic?" or "Couldn't you move the light?" They had - and I loved the correction. It was so simple. It was just painting a black shadow across it so that you couldn't see. And I loved that. To me that became the symbol of interdepartmental cooperation. And you didn't challenge, you, maybe they did after a few beers, I don't know. But on that occasion it was, it was great to see that. And I noticed that on all the sets. I used to, you know, watch some of the greats at work on other films and that was the thing and I liked that.
It's becoming less usual, it has become less usual in Australia once or twice. And I love working with Paul Cox for that reason. Paul Cox doesn't shoot a foot of film until everything's ready. Some people have said, "Oh, it's to save film". Because he, in 'Innocence' for instance which we made, what, two or three years ago now, nearly all of that is take one. Hardly ever did he do a take two. But he doesn't shoot, and that's the third film I've done with him. The other two were very small roles in, very nice films to be involved in. But playing the lead, or one of the leads in it, it was marvellous experience because the security builds up. You know you're not going to be doing anything until not only you're ready, but the camera boys are ready, everybody's ready. Wardrobe, props and Paul just makes sure everybody's ready. And I think that shows. Rob Sitch to a large extent worked that way on 'The Castle' and that was a very, very fast shoot. But Rob, I don't remember rolling the camera when a scene wasn't ready. And we shot that in, what, eleven days or something.
Oh yeah. Yeah.
No, they offered me a seven contract that Sunday afternoon. I said, "Uh, hang on". And I remember thinking, no, wait a minute, Audrey's in Sydney. I can't be here for seven years while she's, you know, silly thinking. Probably the equivalent of jetlag. But all I remember saying was, "No, no, no, I can't do, we'll do it just for this one movie". "OK. " So I signed for three-fifty a week plus one seventy-five expenses and...
Oh, it was alright yeah. I did, I did a lot of careful arithmetic and the contract they offered me, it was a seven year contract which I grandly turned down, was the first two years, three hundred a week and then five hundred and seven and go up to about, I think it was fifteen hundred or seventeen-fifty for the seventh year. But what you didn't know from the fan magazines, you got paid forty weeks for the year. You had twelve weeks unpaid lay-off. Unless you were in a film for those unpaid, those lay-off weeks.
My cynical American actor mates said, "Don't get too impressed about this because they offer anybody a contract if they've paid their fare". Because they can sack you every six months. You only had security for six months and they would keep you on. I mean Clark Gable, people like that were there for years and years and years with MGM contracts. And then you meet some of the tough guys who'd been a while for a long while. I remember, I hope he doesn't mind me saying this, he probably isn't, I'm not sure. Anyway, a great American actor, Richard Widmark, we were at a Christmas party on the Fox lot.
He said, "Have you thought any more about the seven year contract they've offered you?" I said, "Yeah, I don't think I can", because it was going to muck up Chips' project, it was going to muck up Grace Gibson's project, had we made any more for that 'Al Munch' film that had helped get me there anyway. He said, "Well be careful, be careful of your seventh year". I said, "Why?" He said, "Because they give you a lot of rubbish to do in your seventh year so that you're not worth a lot if you decide not to sign on for another seven years". Now whether or not he was right, I don't know. And he wasn't bitter about it. We laughed a lot about it. But it might have been a Hollywood joke. But the glamour of being offered a seven year contract has never been very strong in my thinking. And you still meet young actors, "My God, how could you turn down a seven year contract?" "Well, easily." I was going to direct every second movie of Chips' project. If Grace Gibson's project had got off the ground, I was playing the lead in a TV series that was based on that one-off film we'd made. So there were a lot of great reasons for going back to Australia.
No, I was in Hollywood before I was thirty by about two weeks I think, or four weeks. And that's when I had my thirtieth birthday, in Hollywood thinking what a stupid ambition. So that wiped that away. No, I, look it was a wonderful learning experience and I obviously from what, I hope from what I said, I respected their way of working enormously and no wonder they made films that people went to see. Whether or not they were great movies, I don't know. But there were a lot of very great movies made in America, of course, over the years and still are being made.
No, I didn't have any strong feelings about that. I loved the way Pete Lyon and Anne, his wife, lived. They had no children. He was the man who came out to direct that, I suppose telly movie that I did for Grace Gibson.
Yeah Al Munch. Yes, we called Munch. I heard somebody saying "Münch" the other day, I said, "No, it's just Munch". Like me and Bob "Tudawali". However. Pete and Anne, Peter was a highly respected Academy Award film editor becoming a director. He told me once that what they did, they loved the thought of seeing as much, they were in their forties then I guess. They loved the thought of seeing as much of America as they could. And he had a rather nice car. I think it was a Cadillac. And they lived in very comfortable, modest sized apartment in Los Angeles and Pete used to set himself, I think I'm right in the arithmetic, fifty thousand dollars to earn in a year and as soon as he'd made fifty thousand, he'd stop work and they'd get in the car and they'd go exploring. Now if it took him until November the 30th , OK. If he did it by June the 1st, they had six months off.
And I thought, to me that was a sort of highly skilled man with an Academy Award who wasn't very ambitious. But loved the idea of directing. And he, after he directed that film with me he went back and he directed some things like 'The Great Train Robbery' and he had a good, respectable directing career. And was a hell of a nice guy and I think I've got one of his books that he's written. Learned books about technical matters on film and everything. But I just loved the fact that the people I kept meeting - Richard Boone said to me, he said, "I can't - I was going to say come out to dinner but I can't decide, I've got to do something". "What's that?" He said, "I'm", I think he was helping to paint set at La Jolla. I said, "What's La Jolla?" It was the La Jolla Playhouse - spelt LA JOLLA. And he said, "Greg Peck and I are doing, we're doing", and they were doing an amateur play, just as we were doing in Sydney at the Independent Theatre. And it was so many ordinary things that I loved that were not huge, super-colossal glamour stuff, you know. And they were working actors.
That time I guess it was about three months. Probably late November I guess when I got that amazing phone call and I guess we were there until about February or March. And then I zoomed back and Chips went on with his film under his arm, yeah.
It was like a second language to radio actors in those days. Because Grace used to sell nearly all of her stuff to America, all her radio stuff. Most of, most Australian radio drama was sold to America. Often without American accents. They'd sell them to country stations and all that sort of thing. And, no, we just did American accents or English accents. When I was working in England I was part of the voice team on 'Thunderbirds'. And Gerry and Sylvia Anderson loved getting Aussie radio actors because we could do anything. No, you don't have to be that good at it. Just do it with confidence. American accents vary a lot and when you're living there, they're all over the place. So I remember Hugh French, the agent, whom I eventually did sign with, was taking me around meeting people, casting agents.
And for a while I was going and being very belligerently Australian. "G'day, yes it's nice being over here" and, you know and, "Yeah, yeah, interesting yeah, but, my God, that accent. Ooh, you know". So Hugh said, "Look, could you play it down a bit?" I said, "Look alright I'm being a bit naughty". I said, "Would you like to just, you know, lose the accent altogether?" He said, "Oh please". So I'd go into the next - I remember going into one bloke and I was chatting to him and, "Morning, yeah, glad to be here. I love working here". And the guy stopped and looked at me, "This is amazing, this guy has no accent at all". And it was so easy to do. You don't have to be a brilliant actor to do it. You've got to have a bit of a skill in imitation but most amateur actors can do it anyway. I mean good American plays are on the schedules of most good amateur companies. It's no big deal.
We in Australia though, on the other hand are very tough. I - When I played 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' a few years ago, one - what was it? - one well-known newspaper wasn't all that flattering. And it was a Roger Hodgman production, you had - Roger had worked in Canada and everything - and we had an accent coach and I was worried about the accent coach because he was teaching - this is a very distinguished southern family in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' and they were showing us pictures of very tough guys and people with accents that I didn't think represented the kind of people we were supposed to be playing.
So I bunged on my own accent that I thought was OK and one of the, the newspaper that wasn't terribly flattering said the accents were all over the place and some were hard to understand and Tingwell just didn't bother with an accent at all. So they assumed I hadn't put on any accent. Later on in the run of the show, Americans came round. They said, "My God, that's amazing, how did you get such a real American accent?" And so I satisfied them, but not the Aussie critics. No, accents I think are making far too much of. Watching Russell Crowe in 'A Beautiful Mind', if you listen to it very carefully, he's using very little accent of any kind at all. It's just such a wonderfully real and truthful performance. Who's going to worry about the accent. A great performance.
Now we've moved ahead with your film career and got you to Hollywood but in the meantime, you were of course very involved in the Sydney radio scene. So let's go back now and pick that up a bit. In those early years of radio, how did you get established as an actor in radio?
I find that a bit hard to remember now. The fact that I'd done that radio serial when I was at school with Jack Davey and co. At least I could go and say, "Yes, I have done radio", truthfully. And I think if I had to audition, I had enough experience to be able to at least give a reasonable reading. Except at Macquarie, which ran the 2GB station in those days and they had a very, very good drama production company. But I never seemed to be able to until my airline pilot brother gave me this tip and then I did pass. And once you'd passed, OK you were just, you know, on the list and if you happened to be right for a role, you'd be at least considered for it.
And then there was a very fine director called Lawrence H. Cecil, who was directing, he directed a lot in the theatre as well. He was a very good theatre man, particularly with Shakespeare. And I was in one of his productions and then years later he was directing a series called 'The Amazing Mr Malone' staring John Saul, my great mentor and a great director himself. And suddenly Lawrie Cecil had to go into hospital for a while and Grace asked me if I'd like to take over and direct. And that was amazing because I was directing my mentor, playing the lead in the series. And the exchange of ideas and things was extraordinary in that period. I don't quite know whether I've answered the question but it's just one thing leading to another. When I did - I remember the first show I directed in 'The Amazing Mr Malone'. I forget, let's say it was a Tuesday. On the Monday I was just an ordinary, working radio actor and we usually used to go into the Carlton Hotel, in those days, and have a sandwich and a couple of beers for lunch.
And my first call for the show that I was about to direct was two o'clock on, let's say the Tuesday. So I called all the good actor mates, I'm sure they won't mind, but say Rod Taylor, Johnny Meillon, Johnny, all the guys who were good, good actors. And they all turned up and I was horrified because I'd gone, I hadn't gone to the pub that day. I'd gone to work with Peter Bernardos who was doing the technical stuff on the production and for the hour before two o'clock, we worked on all the details of where the sound effects where and the music and all that sort of stuff. So in came my actors with about one and a half beers inside each of them sounding totally inefficient to me and I was horrified. And I thought, my golly, that was me yesterday. They weren't boozed or drunk or anything but they were just not as efficient as I'd thought they were.
And so I decided I would never drink at lunch-time again, even one beer. No, that was out. Because I think we underestimated just what a couple of good, strong Aussie beers would do to your own skill in a, in a medium that required pretty clear speaking. Not, you know, regardless of what accent you were using, you had to be clear. So I had to have two casts. I had the good, good, good, good boys who never went into a pub at lunch-time for the afternoon stuff and all me mates in the nine o'clock calls in the morning. And we did some marvellous stuff there.
Yeah I have, yeah. Yeah. Oh I love a, you know, few beers here and there as my waistline probably says, shows. But no, no, not at work. No. I don't think I've ever drunk during working hours since. And I warned young actors, you know, sometimes if they're having champagne, particularly on a set out here in Australia, sometimes they have to use the real thing. And I was directing one television show some time ago now, when the actors got strangely inefficient as the afternoon wore on because they got into the props a bit. And yeah, no, you've got to be very careful.
Are you like that over other aspects of your work? Do you have this professional approach that means that anything that might compromise the quality of your performance, sleep, eating, all of those things, do you take care of everything like that to make sure you're at your peak all the time?
Well, I try to. It's, it's, yeah I haven't thought of it being at my peak so much. But it may be as simple as, gee whiz, I don't want to muck it up, you know. I got a bit worried doing 'Man From Snowy River' because it was every - that was a wonderful show to be in, but there were so many responsibilities. If you didn't get out at the right time, you were mucking up forty horses, you know, not just, you know, a bunch of actors about to do a scene. And I remember in a couple of rehearsal times when we were rehearsing in the afternoon. They put in a new scene, a lovely scene between Martin Crewes and Georgie Parker, but I, as the angry father, had, Georgie's father, had to interrupt that scene. And on two or three rehearsals I totally missed it. I'd gone back to the dressing room, sat down and forgotten about it.
And I never did it in a performance, but I was reminded just how easy it is to lose concentration and if you've had a couple of glasses of beer or something it's very easy to lose concentration. And so, yeah, it sounds all a bit sort of holier than thou, but, you know...
Well, the older I get, the less I see the differences, interestingly enough. But, at the time, yes, you'd pride yourself on being able to be heard at the back of the theatre. So that'd be the major difference with radio. And yes, you've got to learn it. With film, I always felt film was a bit of a cross between the two. The intimacy of radio plus the, the precision of theatre, hitting marks and coming on at the right moment and that sort of thing. What I, in recent years, discovered, that there's a huge link between, I believe, between good radio acting and good film acting. One of my sort of amusements in a radio drama studio, was to mentally put a screen around the actors who were up at the microphone and, and see them as film actors, admittedly with a script in their hand. But we developed a technique in Sydney - I'm not sure what they did in Melbourne - but we tried to play to each other across the microphone so that we were trying to maintain eye contact and, of course, you had to keep your eye on the script as often as you could.
But some of the actors, I remember Lloydie Berrell, a very good New Zealand actor who, Lloydie would, would be looking straight at you most of the time and only glancing at the script occasionally. Joe McCormick did that - who was a Canadian actor, who'd been in Australia for many years - and Joe and I co-leads in a drama in front of the audience, for one of the big sort of Lux or it might have been the Macquarie radio theatre, and he was looking at me for most of the production. Now, if you get the camera not to see the script, go above there, that's a film performance. And the same actors would often say, "Yeah, but I can't do film". Yes they could. They could have.
And then years later, as years and years go by and we're rehearsing 'The Castle', and Rob Sitch asked me what I thought about the idea he had of sitting down and reading it for several sessions. I said, "I'd love to, I'd love you to do that, because I've tried it a couple of times directing in the theatre. Don't try and move it or learn it or anything, just try and get more and more into the characters". And we had four, four hour sessions rehearsing 'The Castle' exactly like a radio play and I believe that's one of the main reasons it was successful. Because by the time we started to shoot, we were so involved in each other's characters and so in tune with our own characters, that it, it moved itself and it was a delightful shoot. Very quick and very fast, but a great shoot.
Oh, I was going to say not a lot but I've forgotten too that Owen Weingott and I and Joe Scully formed a theatre company which we did at Circular Quay in Reiby Place. We were once the Sydney Repertory Theatre and then we were joined by a lot of other actors who wanted to be part of our group. Joe Scully was doing most of the directing. Owen and I were being actors and we were doing things like 'Night Must Fall' and interesting plays and some of the comedies, 'Hay Fever' and things like that. So the very traditional, old, you know, theatre stuff in a very small theatre space. Small theatre auditorium but very vigorous and then eventually we decided this - the new group of actors wanted us to do much more meaningful plays and some of the stronger and more powerful Irish plays particularly. And we worrying about getting too deeply into that because we, I don't mean we were just commercial but we were enjoying what we were doing. We were enjoying doing the plays we were doing.
And so we formed a breakaway group called Scully Productions and we insisted on calling it Scully Productions in honour of Joe. And we did some beaut stuff. And I've lost count now of what we did. But I have, you know, memories of Owen doing 'Night Must Fall'. I don't think I was in it. I think I directed one once myself. But, so we must have done a lot. And what I didn't do was much of the posh theatre, amateur theatre I mean, by working with say, the great Doris Fitton at The Independent. I have a feeling I only did about one or two plays for her. And I'd have loved to have done, you know, in the, admittedly it was the amateur theatre but there were, you know, steps and stairs within the amateur theatre. She was way up there somewhere.
Not necessarily. I - it's - I don't know, it is the basis of it. Fascinated when we arrived in England in '56 and I had to go over there to finish the 'Shiralee' film, Anthony Kimmins' daughter, Verena, was a stage manager and she said, "I can get you free seats for one of the top plays in London", where she was being a stage manager. It was just after we arrived. And I said, "Oh, well, I'll pay". She said, "No, no, no, they don't charge". BBC in those days, used to send a very hot crew down to a well-known play running in the West End and they would shoot with three cameras, may have used four occasionally, but three cameras, live to air, no recording, one act of a play. And you used to see some superb television performances but they were in the theatre.
And she said the only thing you've got to get used to is they take a lot of the colours out of the lights because it was black and white telly in those days and some of the make-up may be adjusted slightly. But she said, that's the only difference. You will see the play. You won't see the cameras because they're well back with long lenses and one either side and one down the middle. And we were fascinated by that and to me, that started to destroy the differences even more. That you saw really great actors working in wonderful theatres where the acoustics are great and you weren't aware of them projecting with strange, unnatural voices or anything and you saw some wonderful theatre. And it was a great thing the BBC did. I think they eventually had to stop doing it for whatever reason, but it was fantastic for keeping the theatre in front of people's minds too.
Well, that would have been 'King of the Coral Sea'. The next big thing for me, I suppose, was being invited by Bill Orr to join the cast of the first Phillip Street Theatre production which was 'Top of the Bill'. And Bill had already produced a few shows. Done as amateur company. I mean Len Teale was in the one before and people like Barrie Cookson, a very good New Zealand actor and they could handle the music a bit and all that. And I loved the thought of doing this and we were going to do it as an amateur production at the famous old Metropolitan Theatre in Sydney. And halfway through the rehearsal period Bill suddenly applied for and got the rights to the Phillip Street Theatre which is where Peter Finch used to run the Mercury Theatre and it came up as 'that hall'. And Bill grabbed it, put in a bid for it, got it, beat a few people to it which didn't make him all that popular but he got the rights to it.
And under the terms of his lease of the theatre, he was allowed to do a trivial piece like a revue, which we called 'Top of the Bill', but he had to do something posh. So, he'd once stage managed 'Hamlet' at the Old Vic, so he did 'Hamlet' as his second production and that was, that confirmed that he was, that he had honourable intentions. And then we did a third revue after 'Hamlet' and by the end of that we were a fully professional company. And I remember asking Bill, "Why me?" Because I loved it and doing all this mad stuff and everything. He said, "I don't know". He said, "I just thought you might", and he was Scottish, I remember and he was a bit dour with things. And he said, "I thought just thought you'd be interested in doing it". And that became very important because shortly after that I joined Googie Withers and John McCallum for their first tour of Australia.
Yeah, I sort of, I preferred comedy and I sort of still do. I think I've got to be a bit careful when I do 'The Carer', which is a deadly serious subject, but beautifully written by Alan Hopgood and it's the one-man play which I sort of do every now and again. But when we did the first read, we did a rehearsed reading of it, I knew there were great laughs in it. And the late Peter Adams directed it and he said something to me after that worried me a little bit because I loved the laughs we got. And people were saying, it was fantastic because I was laughing and crying and laughing and crying, which is about as like, as much like life as you can get. And I remember saying to Peter, "I just love those laughs". He said, "I think we got a few we don't really need". And I thought, "No, Peter, you need every one you can get, especially in a serious play if they're legitimate".
And I think all great theatre, and I think Shakespeare does that, makes sure there's laugh [sic], there's a laugh here and there. Alright, sugarcoating the pill, but I think really great writing often does that and if it reflects life properly, there's got to be laughter out there.
Yes. Yeah, I suppose, you know, the old fashioned thing of you've got to be clear. Don't muck up the lead up to a gag. Then I discovered that in 'Hamlet', the best advice for film and television acting is in a speech by Hamlet to the chief player, to the head of the players. When he says, "Speak the speech I pray you, as I pronounced it to you trippingly on the tongue", etcetera, etcetera. Wrapped up in that is some great advice about film and television acting. And fantastic advice for comic - for comedies and comedians. And it really translates into keep it real, don't shout unless you have to, don't wave your arms around too much which is good for cameramen because they say, "Oh cripes, he's got his arms all over the place". And don't tread on your mate's good gags and make sure you don't upstage the guy who's got the best line in the comedy sequence. And it's fantastic and I usually carry it with me, a little copy of it so that I can quote it to actors who think that, you know, we're all terribly modern now. No, Shakespeare was way ahead of us and everything that he says about comedy I've found is absolutely true.
And I get worried when you work with actors and they don't seem to have realised that the feed line is just as important as the gag line. And even in relatively recent experience at times, I've finished a scene and think, "Oh struth, he should have learnt that by now". Nobody in the world would have heard that feed so they've no idea what I've just reacted to, you know. And a lot of, you know, really good actors can fall into that trap. But I played the lead in a comedy in London for two years. A play called 'There's a Girl in My Soup'. And I wasn't the original guy, but I took over when it had three months to run and the enormously flattering thing was that it took off and it ran for two years and when I left it folded. So my agent said, "Don't you dare leave London". I said, "No", and that's when we came home to see Mum. But all I did was stick to those basic principles and also try to play comedy as realistically as you can while making sure nobody misunderstands the gag, you know.
I didn't leave. What - we were hired on a show by show basis, you see, so that I don't, I think, the next, I think we were doing 'Hit and Run' when I did an audition for 'Simon and Laura' for John McCallum. And John, I think, had seen the show, or he'd heard of it - because we'd all got rave reviews for 'Top of the Bill' and 'Hit and Run'. And suddenly my comedy reputation had increased enormously and, you know, there were people saying, "I didn't know you were doing comedy. I thought you only did 'Great Expectations' or 'Hart of the Territory' or something", you know. And, and it was a wonderful role in 'Simon and Laura'. The nutty television director which was very important. I think it was Ian Carmichael who did it in the West End and suddenly gave him a tremendous boost in his career. It was a great role in a play by Alan Melville.
Did eighteen months and we were a two play company. We were to have been a three play company but we were so successful with the two plays, we did the comedy, 'Simon and Laura', and the drama, 'Deep Blue Sea' by Terence Rattigan, which Googie had already had huge successes in London with. I think she had taken over from Peggy Ashcroft for the West End season. I think Googie had done the television version too and she was really superb in it. And John played the lover. I played the bloke upstairs. At one stage we thought I was going to play the lover and John was going to play the judge, but John wanted to have a go at the lover and he was very good. It was a lovely performance. And Williams Lloyd played the judge and, when we were touring, he had a rather nice gentle run because he wasn't in the first play.
But it was a wonderful tour that. We did all the capitals in Australia, Sydney - Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth. But before going to Perth we did New Zealand and we did three months in New Zealand playing in seventeen beautiful theatres. And, of course, there weren't that many great theatres outside the capitals in Australia in those days. There are now, thank goodness.
No, Christopher and Virginia were born when we were in London. Audrey hadn't been too well, had a couple of problems and they tried some surgery when we got to London. In '57 I think it was and that seemed to remove the problem, whatever it was, and she became pregnant and Christopher was born in 1959 which was great.
She toured on the one around Australia and New Zealand, yes, yes. And she was very good. She was asked if she would look after - in 'Simon and Laura' there's a boy who's supposedly of twelve or thirteen and John Cadwallader played that part. And one of his family would go around Australia but they couldn't go to New Zealand so they asked Audrey if she'd become the official guardian for him. And he rang me the other day to see how I was from Port Douglas or something. He runs boats and things now. And, but that was terrific and we became his sort of surrogate parents and his parents Jack and Gwen - I haven't seen them for quite a while - but they were beaut people.
Ooh yeah. Ooh yeah.
Relatively. Knew, I think, like most actors my ego's a bit fragile. So - but yeah, if she said, "No, good darl", it was probably alright. "How's that?" "Yeah, good darl, yeah alright."
Well we were very influenced by the very experienced actors like Queenie Ashton, for instance, who played my mother in 'Always Another Dawn', the movie. She was a radio star. There were wonderful people like Kitty Bluett and I was very impressed by the man who passed my Lux radio audition which was John Saul and we became very close friends afterwards. John and his wife, Georgie, and Audrey and I, and John became, I suppose, my great mentor. And I seemed to work with him a lot as actor and he as the director of programs, particularly for Grace Gibson productions.
And later, you know, when I was asked to direct when Lawrence Cecil was ill for a while, I was directing John in 'The Amazing Mister Malone', I think the show was. And that was extraordinary. But John was a tremendously well-informed student of Stanislavski, the great Russian drama teacher, writer and I have all his books and we used to read 'An Actor Prepares' and then discuss them with John. And, oh John was also one of the most brilliant directors I've ever worked with. In one short sentence he could change the whole tone of a performance. I remember a great note. I was doing a show co-starring with Ethel Lang and it was a script that had been done by James Dean as a television show in New York.
This was long before television had come to Australia but we were doing a radio version of this half hour drama. We used to record the first quarter hour, rehearse and record, and then rehearse and record the second quarter hour. And it was, the young man was being very, very vitriolic about his mother and being very angry and saying dreadful things to her in the first half. And John walked past me without stopping and said, "Play it like you love her". And went on with the rest of the notes. And I thought, "What'd he mean?" Oh, hang on, he says all that but he loves her. What the heck? And the complexity of that thought then rubbed off onto the whole thing and it was an extraordinary thing to be involved in. And that opened my mind to all sorts of things.
If you're playing a baddie, is he all bad or is he nice to his mum or his dog or something like that? So it gave, gave me a tremendous insight into, I suppose greater depths in a character. And from that point on is when, I think, we used to go down to John and Georgie's place every Saturday night, Audrey and I and a couple of our mates like Rod Taylor and Ken Wayne and we'd discuss all the things about drama, probably until dawn. And Rod Taylor talked about John so much in Hollywood that the American producers of the series Rod was doing, tried to get John over there to work as a director in Hollywood and John wouldn't go. Because, he said I only know radio and theatre. But he was a tremendous influence on me obviously from what I'm saying. And not only me but Rod and Dinah Shearing and lots of fine actors who were very, very lucky to be influenced by John.
I'm sure that's probably true. I saw no evidence of that because all our meetings, particularly away from the, from the studios, in my memory very, very pleasant indeed. Georgie was a lovely cook and, you know, to go down there for a meal on Saturday night and a bottle of Cawarra red, I think it was. It was pretty well, very stimulating for me. That may have just been me being a bit obtuse and not knowing other problems. He was also wonderful in the theatre when I moved in, did the first of the Phillip Street revues. John and Georgie came to see that and a wonderful letter about the work we were all doing and yes, concentrating a bit on my work perhaps. And then when I joined Googie Withers and John McCallum, I remember getting a letter from him saying, this work was so good that it would be the sort of work you'd hope to see if you went to London to see the very best. And I thought, "Oh wow", you know. Very encouraging.
Oh yes, I believe all that work was really terrific for film work and not a lot of people saw that. And some great actors like Lyndall Barbour used to be worried about ever [sic] the thought of doing films. And she was a splendid radio actress and was good in the theatre as well. But she said, "Oh films, no, no, no, I don't know about films". A lot of people set up barriers about film and that's one of the things I loved, I suppose, when I was directing a lot of television and a little film in years later, years later, was to try to remove the barriers that I thought existed. And I was very thrilled a couple of times when I gave people their first television shows to do. And one - I hope she doesn't mind me mentioning - Sally McKenzie, whom I'd seen giving a superb performance in a Melbourne Theatre Company play and I cast her in the lead in a telemovie length 'Cop Shop' that was beautifully written by Vince Moran, one of Crawford's writers, that was based on a real case. A very, very ugly case. A rape case.
And I cast Sally and I remember we were shooting the outside stuff and she said - and we were about two days into the shoot and she was being tremendous - and she said, "I think I better warn you this is my first screen work except for one day when I walked on as an extra in something". And she, and she was astonishing and then when we did the studio stuff, she was brilliant. And at the end of that year she won best actress for that role. And I loved trying to prove that you didn't need to have film or TV experience to know how to do film or television. Particularly if you had good theatre and or radio background. And a lot of people didn't seem to understand that. But more and more people seem to be understanding it now.
We loved the luxury of working in the ABC because we had more time. I forget what the rate was but a quarter hour in a commercial radio drama thing would be allowed one hour to rehearse, notes and then record and they did break it down to three quarters of an hour but I don't believe the ABC ever did shorten their production time. So you knew if you were going to do a half hour drama, you'd probably have maybe half a day to do half an hour or maybe a whole day depending on the show. And that was considered a luxury but also it was a marvellous way to sort of take advantage of more preparation time and that sort of thing. I can't remember what they did on, was it 'Blue Hills'? When I guested in a couple of episodes of that.
But I just seem to remember it with that lovely unhurried thing and I don't say that speed kills good drama because often the very fast production resulted in some really astonishing stuff as in the first few episodes of 'Hagen's Circus' which we had to do without rehearsal and everything to pile up a stack of episodes because they sold it very quickly and they didn't have the normal number. I think it was eight episodes had to be in reserve before it went to air. And we had to achieve those one Sunday morning, and we did. And it went to air and was very, very successful.
Well, I, I was asked to join Bob Dyer's 'Pick-A-Box' show in the strangest way. There was a marvellous actor who was mainly a compere - oh my golly, the name will come. But he worked with me in 'Always Another Dawn'. He was one of the ship's officers. Now me, playing a humble sailor, didn't have many scenes with him. But some time later when I was directing those commercials for Charles E. Blanks, I asked him to play a part in one of them. And he wanted, I think he wanted five pounds and we were only allowed to pay two pounds ten or something. And I said, "All I can do is to say, I'll pretend we've got a two day call and call you for the first day but could you pop in at nine o'clock and we'll shoot one shot the next day and I can give you the five pounds". And he did and he was terribly grateful. Not that he needed the money so much, that we'd bent the rules a bit so that he could get his five pounds a day, you see.
Well years went by and I got this charming telegram from Bob Dyer mentioning this man's name, saying, he recommends you to take over from him as assistant compere. And when I rang him to - and I went to see Bob and he hired me straight away to be the assistant compere on, on his recommendation. And I rang him and I said,"That was very good of you". He said, "Oh it was just to say thanks for that day on the commercial". So, isn't that awful, I can't think of the name. I know it's sitting there in a reference book somewhere.
I loved it because Bob was a wonderful showman and we were live to air so you had to be on the ball a bit. And I used to introduce him and he used to use my name very emphatically when he'd say, "Thank you, Charles Tingwell", and so and so. And that was a national show with a huge audience rating. And I used to do the commercials and this was when we were sponsored by the Atlantic Union Oil Company. And then we eventually went over to Colgate Palmolive and I think before long, I think it was still sponsored by Atlantic we did 'Pick-A-Box' and 'Cop the Lot'. A different show but two nights a week. So I had the double whammy of, "Thank you Charles Tingwell", in two shows.
Then we went over to Colgate Palmolive and that's where I joined Anne Bullen and Margaret Christensen and the three of us used to do the big, posh Colgate Palmolive commercials during the show as well as me being the assistant compere. And the assistant compere meant the introductions of course and then when Bob said, "And who is our next contestant Charles?" "Here is so and so from so and so. So and so, Bob Dyer." And occasionally he'd hand me a gag and, I know when we were sponsored by Atlantic Union Oil he used to pat me on the head sometimes before we went to air and he'd go, "Ooh, I've struck oil", and look at his fingers. And one night when we were now being sponsored by the other company, a chap with very greasy hair came on and I just sort of looked at Bob and touched his head, he said, "What's happened?" I said, "I've struck oil", and he handed me the gag back. We may well have been sponsored by the oil company still, I don't know.
But I loved all that, that generosity. When Audrey was very ill and had to go into hospital I had a chance, we went to air live at eight o'clock and I think at a quarter past seven he said, "Here are the keys of the car. Drive up to Crown Street", I think it was, the hospital, "so you could see her". And I did - back in time for the show. Which was very generous of him and it was a lovely big, posh Riley I think. And it was a bit daunting driving it. But it wasn't far to go from the theatre, but I couldn't have possibly done it without the use of a car. And he kept, he then, when I went away on a film, he would hire a replacement on the understanding that that replacement stayed there only during the run of the film and the moment I wanted to come back, that replacement and that was sometimes John Ewart - a very distinguished, marvellous actor and great colleague - he would happily leave.
So it was an extraordinarily generous period, working with a very, very good professional. He was the last of the hillbillies. He had a strong, strong, very successful career working with his wife, the ovely Dolly. Dolly Dyer. And he used to have a strong relationship with Dolly's mother and her, I think it was her cousin, Stan who used to come on and do the opening gag. People wondered how on earth we got the laugh and I'm not sure whether I'm allowed to say even to this day but it was marvellous.
Well, I don't suppose Bob would mind but especially for radio it was terrific. I used to introduce Bob Dyer, "And here is Bob Dyer", and there'd be this huge laugh and then he'd come on, "Thank you Charles Tingwell". And all Stan, Stan used to come out wearing a dinner suit with a white jacket, very loose fitting but he was a big man and you didn't notice that, clutching a script in his hand and just before we went to air, when we were getting to the last few seconds of the countdown, Bob would say, "Oh audience, watch Stan, he'll give you the signals to [sic] when to applaud". And so all the audience would be looking at Stan and when I said, "Here is Bob Dyer", Stan would lift up the script but his trousers would hit the floor because he had lead weights in the pockets of these very loose fitting trousers.
And, of course, this huge roar would hit and it was only the privileged people who were out at the front who knew what happened. And Stan used to have to put flat lead, you know, I think it was building industry stuff and you'd wrap it up flat. But his trousers were very heavy which is why he was clutching the top of the trousers. And I think I volunteered to do that on television not all that long ago as a tribute for, to Bob Dyer, but they talked me out of it.
Oh, fabulous. And sure-fire stuff.
Well, I'd by then had done that tiny part in 'Eureka Stockade' in '48 and then in '49 we did 'Bitter Springs' and [coughing]. Excuse me. I can't remember whether he or Jack Rix, who was the associate producer, contacted me when we heard the rumour that they were going to do D'Arcy Niland's 'The Shiralee'. D'Arcy Niland? Yes, I think it is. Anyway, the wonderful Aussie novel. And Peter Finch was coming back. Now Peter by now is a very big name in the UK and very successful and then we heard that Leslie Norman was going to direct it. Now, Les had been associate producer on the others. Les and I used to have lots of deep and meaningful chats about World War II because he was in the British Army on an amazing job. And somebody got in touch and said, "Look there's a small part at the beginning of the movie, would you like to do it? It would be beaut to work with you again".
And I was very keen to work with Leslie, now a distinguished director, and not the film editor he used to be or associate producer for Michael Balcon. And out came Les and we did 'The Shiralee' and I had a ball. And Jack Rix it was, after we'd finished the location shooting in country New South Wales and they were about to wrap up to go to England, and Jack said, "If you could come to London to do your studio scenes that'll help us a great deal". Because I had one or two scenes to do and had to be studio because they wanted to do a back projection scene of me driving the truck and I think there were a couple of other bits and pieces. And I was about to do another film for Chips Rafferty and, playing the lead in, it was a Jon Cleary novel called 'Justin Bayard' and they'd talked me into playing Justin Bayard which I shouldn't have really done because I wasn't tall enough and all that.
Anyway, Ken Wayne was available and he hadn't had a decent role in a film since 'Sons of Matthew' so he was happy to take over the lead in 'Justin Bayard'. Then I think it was eventually called 'Dust in the Sun'. And he, he took over and that allowed me freedom to go to the UK. We took our ticket through Los Angeles so I could show Audrey where I'd worked on 'Desert Rats' and Rod Taylor had the lead in a telemovie waiting for me if I could get permission from Ealing to do it and if I could get a work permit. And they reluctantly gave me a work permit because I was only a visitors visa and I did, had the lead in a telly, short telemovie with Phyllis Thaxter and so by the time we arrived in London - Ealing were great. They said, "No you can have another fortnight if you wish". And by the time we arrived in London I was arriving having just worked in Hollywood and all that. And so it was, it was a terrific thing actually.
Well, Audrey and I were on the front page of the Evening News arriving. Me looking rather big because we were on I'd, we were on a - we bought our own tickets and Ealing were reimbursing us so as I had to buy two tickets which wasn't really covered by the deal, we'd decided to go economy and it was 44 pounds of luggage as I remember in those days. And I'd worked out a way of wearing two suits and not having to pack one. A loose fitting tweed suit, we'd all bought at one of the shops in Sydney. All the actors had the same suit. It was a bargain. I wore that suit and an overcoat and this largish version of me, probably looking about how I do now, got off the plane. But there we were on, I think it was on the front page of one of the afternoon papers - arriving to finish his role in 'The Shiralee', you know, which was rather nice of them.
Not really no. But when Jack asked me about it and I thought well, it would be a good opportunity to at least look around and study television. Because it was 1956 and telly was about to start in Australia and I'd been on a few committees about it and discussions about, you know, could we do it, etcetera, etcetera. And I asked Peter and he said, "Well look", he said, "It's better to say you are going to work in London rather than to say you are going to look for work in London". So that decided me and when I found that Ken was available for the other film and - as much as I would have liked to work with Chips again - that was OK. And we hadn't intended to stay. In fact we tried to keep our flat on in the Cross which we'd been able to do when I was on tour with a play around Australia but the rather wise owner of the flat said, "Yeah, but, you're going overseas and anything can happen". I said, "No, we're coming back in six weeks, eight weeks", whatever it was. And he said, "No, look, no". He said, "But don't worry", he said. "I'll make sure you get a flat when you get back." OK. So we put all our stuff in store at Grace Brothers, packed very quickly, and off we went.
And I accidentally got trapped in London for sixteen years. Because all sorts of amazing things happened. Les Norman said, at the end of 'The Shiralee', he said, "Listen, if you're still here, I'll give you a part in my next one". I said, "What's that?" He said, "Dunkirk, a big war movie". I said, "Gee, that's very good of you Les". He said, "No, that's alright mate. Don't worry". He was a lovely Cockney, Les. He said, "There are a thousand speaking parts and", he said, "you can have one of them". And I played the part of a, an English sergeant in the cook house in the, in the scene with John Mills.
But what was marvellous about that, was that I'd got that part in 'Emergency Ward 10', which was only to be a fill-in program and it took off like a rocket and we were all suddenly, you know, the number one show and things and, but when they asked me to sign on for a bit longer - I did six years in that show on three month contracts. And then Tony Keary, our producer, said - I said, "Look I have promised to do this part in a film for Les Norman". And he said, "That's alright". He said, "Give us about three or four weeks notice when you want to do the shoot and we'll write you out and write you back in". And I did several movies like that. All thanks to Les Norman saying, "Ah, you can have one of the parts in the film". It was great. [INTERRUPTION]
Well, Googie Withers and John McCallum and I think maybe the Ealing people, introduced me to MCA, the big agent, London agent and also with, you know, very big America as well. And David Twohigg was my man, my man looking after me and he said, "Now, you're going back to Australia, but before you go", he said, "there are a couple of offers come in". And David Nettheim, the Australian writer was already with Peter Sellers and Michael Bentine, on a possible new comedy series. And David had said - David and I had worked together at the Phillip Street Theatre, and were old radio mates anyway. David said, "Look before you go back, there's a part you can play, one of the comedy parts, in the new Peter Sellers series". The MCA boy said, "Look, there's a part in a projected new, experimental series about medicine which is live to air and only designed to run for about five or six weeks, and there's the lead in a BBC television play, playing an Australian". He said, "What do you want to do?"
And I said, "Well, there's the Peter Sellers thing". Sellers was getting to be pretty important by then. He had a lot of success. And I suddenly thought it would be interesting to play an Australian surgeon working in a London hospital and what would it like to be an Aussie surgeon? You know, very respectable job in a big London hospital. That, or a big hospital in the UK, I think they set it somewhere between Oxford and Cambridge in a place called Oxbridge. But, I thought that was the most interesting to do. And as they all clashed, I made that decision. And I was cast in episode one, two and four. There were two half hours a week, live to air. No recording of any kind. And that was the norm then and it was to fill in the toddlers' truce which nobody's heard about, even in England, these days. All screens went blank in the UK for one hour between six and seven every night, blank and silent. Nothing on it, not even a test pattern. So that Mum could get the kids to bed.
At about the end of - towards the end of 1956, they said, ooh aren't we quaint and old fashioned, we must stop this. And they did and suddenly found they had seven hours of television to fill on the commercial channel and the BBC. And we were one of the fill-in programs. That was the reason they were coming up with the idea. ATV in London raced around, apparently, and Tessa Diamond, who was working at ATV as a continuity writer, said "Well, my dad was a doctor in World War II and I've got this idea about a medical thing", and she put the idea forward and they said, "Yep, fine, that'll do".
And originally it was going to be called 'Calling Nurse Roberts'. Nurse Roberts was played by Rosemary Miller, very distinguished Sydney actress, born in New Zealand and she was having a very good career in England at the time and then they said, "Ooh, what if it takes off and Rosemary gets married and has a baby or something and leaves the show? So we'll call it something more general". And they called it 'Emergency Ward 10' and we never knew whether it meant emergency, exclamation mark, in ward 10 or was it emergency ward number ten. And we said, well it doesn't matter. We'll let people argue about it. And it was only going to run for a few weeks anyway. Well, we went to air on February the 19th 1957. David Nettheim rang Rosemary and I at the television studio to say it was brilliant.
The next day the newspapers agreed with him and we, within a week or two we became number one show and one of the publicity people worked out, in very primitive terms, methods they had. They worked out that the possible viewing audience per episode was 27 million. And we begged him never to use those words again in front of us. Because we were live to air and the thought of half the population of the United Kingdom watching us was too alarming and we never talked about it. And so now I can safely talk about it. And somewhere I found a, a handout from the company talking about that 27 million figure and, of course, as more stations came in, BBC2 and I think there are more, many more stations now over there, that number reduces of course.
But it was, I loved the fact that it had very humble ambitions. It was really just a fill-in show. But we had a wonderful director, producer/director called Anthony Keary, lovely guy. And Tessa Diamond wrote wonderful scripts with great love for the medical professional because her father actually died tending a patient during the blitz on Liverpool in an air raid. He was killed by bomb splinters or something. And so it was a tribute to her father's, late father's profession. And the background for me as an Aussie, was that I had a sick wife and I was going to be concerned about her and at an appropriate time that would be the reason I went home to Australia and all that, took home to Australia. But they hadn't revealed any of that in episode one so Tony said, "We're going to change that. She'll be a sick fiancée". OK, fine. So, just in case the show, when we got that great reaction the next morning, just in case. So finished up, I had a sick sister in the Isle of Wight who we never saw and never met and I think she was - finished up months later saying, "How's your sister?" "Oh, she's fine, yes. She's gone back home." Or something like that.
I loved doing live telly and so did, so did we all. Very little went wrong. We rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed meticulously. We worked with the same crew for six weeks, the first six weeks. We felt sad when they had to move off onto other shows and a new crew came in. The next crew were just as good. We built up this extraordinary, like a wonderful family and we could almost read each other's minds, you know, and I loved all that and eventually we did go on to videotape, two or three years down the track and we weren't all that happy about that because it changed the way we had to do the show a bit.
But it was a fabulous experience and I finished up doing six years in it with Australia House saying, please, stay in as long as you can because the show rated extraordinarily highly all the time and more and more people are knowing about, that there are other things from Australia other than stockwhips and Drizabones and horses and it's sort of generally good for Australia's image. So that was nice. And I became a bit of a one man information bureau for people who were thinking of migrating to Australia which I had to treat very carefully but I used to aim them strictly to Australia House and get all the information and, you know, all that. It was a wonderful period.
The lovely thing about live, you couldn't see yourself, you see, so that was, that was great. It was a bit like working in the theatre. Well, yeah, I mean we had some wonderful directors and generally excellent scripts all the time and we did arrive at the fact that if you, you know, if you were fair dinkum and played it for real, and all that, it generally worked very well and they were medically very accurate. We had the University College Hospital guiding us and we had Meryck Roberts, I remember was one of the senior doctors and he was our technical adviser and we had others including Phyllis Gibbon who was a, a very distinguished doctor.
So we had to get all that right. But then we could be a bit naughty. I remember they wrote in some wonderfully controversial medical stuff. Very fine actress called Jane Downs was cast as Audrey Blake, which was slightly complicated for me as my wife was called, her name's Audrey. But Jane - fine actress - and she was a physician and came to the hospital and I was the Aussie surgeon and he was a bit brusque and forthright sometimes. And I know they wrote a marvellous sequence where she thought the patient should be operated on immediately and I, the surgeon, said, "No, no, no. Must be conservative treatment for at least six months".
And they built this up and we used to have some wonderful fiery scenes together about this patient. And I remember saying to her one day, I said, "You know, we ought to play this for sex". She said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, I can imagine he would fancy you and, you know, and perhaps he..." She said, "Oh that's a good idea". So, we started to play these strict medical things but with the thought process saying, "Yeah, gee what a beautiful gal", and this and that. And Jane, being such a fine actress, there were [sic] quite an interesting thing. And we had a lot of fun with it. And I remember years later I remember Rex Firkin who was the producer at that time - he later became famous for producing 'Upstairs, Downstairs', a very fine producer. But he was being interviewed by one of the papers and he said, I thought naively, "Of course as a producer of a show like Emergency Ward 10, you had to be on the look out for things that the actors themselves weren't, weren't aware of".
"Such as the interesting spark between Jane Downs and Charles Tingwell in their early meetings in the show". He said, "And, you know, they weren't aware of it, but this interesting thing was going on". Well, we [were] naughty actors. We were being very naughty and playing different thought processes to what was intended by the script. Now, that, I don't recommend that for young actors but we had a lot of fun. And, but eventually we were hoist by our own petard, we were - they married us off. And then that was complicating for my real wife. I remember once we were at a - Audrey, my wife, and I - were at a film premiere going up the red carpet as guests and a woman said, "Ah, where's your wife tonight?" I said, "Right here". And she said, "No, I mean your, your other wife, Audrey". I said, "This is Audrey". "No, no, no, your real wife."
So by the time we'd got this strange conversation going up the red carpet there seemed to be thousands of eyes looking at this strange person, me, with this strange woman who happened to be my real wife. And I don't think Audrey, my wife, liked that a lot.
She said something very wise to a dear friend of ours once and I was doing a stage play, either on leave from 'Ward 10' or, I think it was probably during a dispute, we went out on tour with a play. And I had to kiss the leading lady about four or five times during the play and we took this, Audrey took this elderly friend of ours, lovely woman. And she's sitting in my dressing room later and she said to Audrey, "Aren't you worried that, you know, Bud having to kiss this very beautiful girl. Aren't you worried that he might be enjoying it?" She said, Audrey said, "I'd be much more worried if he wasn't". And so I didn't take that as a, you know, "have fun darling" but I thought it was a rather wise thought.
Oh, one night I dried, stone cold. That is forgot my lines. An absolute blank and I was given a fabulous prompt by our stage manager, Brian Smith. And he - at exactly the right timing, and I picked it up and went on. The following week I put in a very good, you know, method type pause while we were on the air, and Brian gave me another prompt that I didn't need and when he realised he'd prompted me unnecessarily, now the audience couldn't hear this. The good floor managers used to go round to the dead side of the microphone. For a while we had what was called a 'cut key'. They'd press the cut key and everything would go blank and you could say, so and so, so and so. But the audience could hear that sudden dead sound so they found that by going on the dead side of the mic.
Now, Brian this night gave me an unnecessary prompt and he was, when we came off air, he said, "Look, I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have done that. It's awful". And I said, "Brian, after giving me the brilliant prompt the week before, never apologise again". That was, you know, that was fabulous. And I don't think I ever lost, forgot a line after that. It was just the confidence that knowing we had those skills round behind the camera that were terrific. It's like in the theatre, you know.
Oh, I - it's the immediacy. Like David Nettheim's phone call after we came off air after that first episode. In a recorded show, you have to wait a long time, sometimes many weeks or months or a year before you get a feedback. We got instant feedback. Fine, fine director, Christopher Morahan and I had a - worked a great rapport. Used to give him a lot of John Saul's ideas and he often quoted them back to me years and years later. And this was an extraordinarily well-written episode and it was very under-written so there was a lot of thought processes and things. And after the dress rehearsal when I thought I'd really whipped up all the correct emotions and things, Christopher came out and said, "Uh-uh. I can see you doing it", and went off and gave some more notes. And I thought, "What does he mean? Oh, hang on, oh". And I hadn't worked out a few details in exactly what the man was thinking.
So I worked out a little thought script of exactly what he was thinking and on the air I remember walking down the corridor after this tremendous moment. A very quiet and silent moment and suddenly my legs went funny and the set seemed twice as long and I had to play a short scene with a wonderful actor called Peter Howell who played the orthopaedic surgeon. And Peter came up to me and I had to give him some very bad news that concerned him and I, I found it hard to say the words. I sort of got them out and then, and this was about three quarters of the way through the show, and Peter went on and then he had a wonderful final scene with an actor called Dudley Jones, a Welsh actor. Marvellous scene. And the studio was as quiet, so quiet. And, when, when the final credits rolled up, suddenly all the crew, "Hey, wow, what a beauty", and so and so and so and so.
And I told that story to Rod Taylor and he said, "Yeah, but what did the audience think?" I said, "The phones went hot all over the country immediately". Not just, not me and my clever acting or anything. It was just that atmosphere that was created by that extraordinary reality that Christopher, the director, had generated by that fabulous note saying, "I can see you doing it". Meaning he could see me doing it falsely as a clever actor, you know, trying to be impressive. And when it became dead real, that audience reaction all over the country was extraordinary. And Rod said, "Oh, well, alright". He accepted that.
The show itself went through various stages. I actually resigned eventually because J.C. Williamson's, the old J.C. Williamson's, had asked me if I would consider going out to Australia to do a stage play and I knew - they told me the play, I met the London manager and I was already on leave doing a movie. And - because Tony Keary used to give me time off to do any films that came up from the time we did 'Dunkirk' in that first year of the show. So, you know, I'd do sometimes two a year and be away for six weeks or four weeks, whatever the production time of the film might be. And I was already on leave when the offer from Williamson's came in. So I rang John Cooper, the then producer, and said, "Don't write me back in, I think I've got a job in Australia". So they immediately said, "Oh, OK", so they wrote into the, the, the story that I had gone to Australia to do some medical work out there.
And then J.C. Williamson's lost the rights of the play. So they couldn't really write me back in quickly because I'm, you know, a long way away. And my agent, Tim Wilson at that time, said, still with MCA, said, "Don't go back in, freelance for a while. You haven't really freelanced here". And I had a ball. I went to all sorts of things. Telly shows and guest roles and a bit of theatre and even formed a theatre company with some mates. And even wrote a play and took it out on tour and things. So it was, it was a lucky sort of fluke in a way otherwise I'd have stayed with it for fifty years if the show had run that long.
Well, I - the first one would have been 'Dunkirk' or finishing 'The Shiralee' a bit before that of course. I forget what the next, oh yes, we did a film version of 'Emergency Ward 10' directed by Robert Day for one of the independent companies. And that starred Michael Craig, who has been in Australia for a long time. He was a Rank contract star. And Wilfred Hyde-White, who was a very distinguished character actor. And all of us from the show, in good roles of course, the same roles we were playing on the air, except for Jill Browne who played co-lead with Rosemary Miller in the first year of the show playing a nurse called Carole Young. And some of the people in Australia often remember her fondly. She was excellent. A lovely actress. And her agent decided the deal wasn't good enough so she didn't do the film and I've always regretted that we didn't talk her into doing it anyway. Because it wasn't a big budget film, but it was quite a distinguished group of people working on it. A very fine crew and Robert Day went on to have a very good career as a, as a director and he was, in his early days as a director, he'd been a very good cameraman, as was his brother. And...
So, the - that lead to 'Cone of Silence' was another one I did for a similar company. A distinguished cast. The first Tarzan film ever made in Africa. I went out to Africa to do that. What else? Oh golly. Oh, the Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford for MGM.
Well, they were marvellous because they were little supporting films originally. That was the original plan. Not films, one film based on 'The Four Fifty From Paddington' by Agatha Christie. Margaret Rutherford to play Miss Marple. A small film to be shot at MGM with a quite distinguished cast, James Robertson Justice, an American actor called Arthur Kennedy, fabulous, lovely guy. But a small film. When it was released it was the bottom half of a double bill, is the way they described it. The double bill was two modest sized feature films going out together. Not in the West End, it just went into the suburbs of London on a Monday night and on Wednesday I was rung up by MGM to say, could I help out doing some personal appearances, because I'd gone back into 'Emergency Ward 10'. Margaret Rutherford wasn't available because she had gone off on tour with a play.
And I dutifully went round and introduced the film at certain showings and it became a huge hit. And they had to reverse it and make it the top half of the double bill. And they already had plans to make a sequel to it which we shot the following year. And we finished up doing one of those films per year for, over about four and a half years. And, again, it was a bit like 'Emergency Ward 10', totally unexpected success. And again, because it was done with great integrity. Fine director, George Pollock, who'd been David Lean's assistant director so the track record of all the people, including the camera people and the sound people, excellent and a lovely cast with beaut script.
Oh, we were all madly in love with her after about the second film. She was absolutely fabulous to work with. She was enormously professional. Take one was always perfect. Never forgot her lines. Delightful to work with. Very, very intelligent woman. Nothing like the slight daffy character she played. She'd been an English teacher, gone into films lateish, I think in her early forties. She had done a lot of amateur work. Did a lot of quiet work for prisoners and young offenders without publicity. And a really lovely woman and a highly educated woman. And her husband, Stringer Davis, worked in each film too, as I did. He played the librarian and I played the local police inspector. So it was a lovely - and George Pollock directed every one. Sometimes the camera crew would vary, but it was terrific and we'd meet each other about once a year which was great.
Well, we'd gone out on tour with 'Doctor in the House' when an Equity dispute was on and all the major TV shows all - I think it was only, may have been only the commercial channel, ITV, shows were off the air except for one. And so we had nothing to do and an enterprising management said, "How would you like to go out on tour with 'Doctor in the House'?", a well-known, tried and true comedy. We were all a little bit old for the parts, not that much, but a bit old, and we were a huge success. So they had to form a second company.
When the dispute ended some months later, we went back to our shows and - but when I started to freelance, sort of accidentally, a mate of mine and I said, "Why don't we form a company?" And by then John Alderton had been playing my sidekick, my assistant surgeon, a lot and David Butler was playing my anaesthetist in a lot of operation scenes. David was a good writer as well as being a fine actor. So we formed a company called Altinger Productions. Al, 'Al' for Alderton, 'ting' for Tingwell and 'er' for Butler. And we did a co-production of a Philip King play, 'See How They Run', I think it was, with Michael Codron, a very distinguished management. They had they set because they'd had a return season in London of the play and we went out on tour with our company and, with Michael Codron. And then after that we were all nagging David to write a brilliant play for us, just our play. And David then got busy writing television and couldn't. So I sat down and wrote a play and we took that out on tour and it sort of worked. [INTERRUPTION]
It, I called it '5,4,3,2,1' because that was always an alarming thing you heard on live television. "Stand by, stand by and on air in five, four, three." So I wrote the play about a television writer who'd suddenly become very famous. And that was happening to quite a lot of writers who were being interviewed a lot and suddenly their personalities, if they were lively, were more interesting than the movie star. And some of the writers were becoming quite famous and eventually became, I suppose like Ben Elton and people like that today, they're, they're, they're very good value on screen. And this was happening to this chap in my story and he hated the idea because he loved the anonymity of being a writer but he'd been suddenly made famous and he became the subject of a bit of a, a scam to try and get somebody a role in one of his movies that he was writing and put him in a compromising situation. Very basic plot.
One critic said it could be written on the back of a postage stamp, the plot. But never mind, we filled a few theatres with it. Never quite enough to go into the West End but we did a tour and somewhere I've got a poster with, you know, my name on it as the writer. And I played the lead in it to keep the costs down and Jill, I think Jill Browne came out on tour with us. And John Bentley, who was quite a well-known TV actor at the time.
I, I haven't, I haven't really done - I found a short story in an old scrapbook that I'd written which was published in a, one of the Sydney papers just after the war. I got credit for a lot of the plot lines in the 'Flying Doctors' mini-series. I forget how they wrote it but I was up amongst the writers for that. And I was producer of that. I also had - I didn't get any credit for the screenplay of 'Into the Straight' but I certainly was co-writer on that. Zelma Roberts, the original writer and I. But they had a policy of no double credits so I was already starring in the movie. So...
No. Well, I don't know. I've, I've never really tested myself. I've put up a few ideas for things that have been rather well looked at and all that. But by the time you feed it into the general machinery of production, it, you know, it, I don't say, I'm not saying they steal your ideas but when you're a staff producer particularly, you throw ideas in all the general conferences and things. And I got a heck of a kick out of doing it and I didn't particularly want much credit for it. I've got a few film ideas that if I weren't so lazy, I'd put down on paper and, you know, might try and do one of these days if I live to 120 or something.
Now you wrote this play about somebody who had celebrity thrust upon them, but, particularly during that period in England, you had a bit of that yourself. Of being asked to appear in things, to open shows, to do all sorts of things. How did you deal with that? How did you find it?
I got worried about the family particularly. I had two very unpleasant experiences of concern with that. I mean funny things. I remember a chap stopping me in the street and say, "Hey, don't you play the lead in, or one of the leads in 'Emergency Ward 10'?" I said, "Yes". He said, "Oh, my wife likes you but I don't. How are you?" So, that was the lighter side. But that happened to me in the pub after doing a play at Bromley in Kent and we went into, I went into buy the cast a drink at the end of production, a fortnight's season down there.
And a bloke got my autograph for his girlfriend. I had to borrow a pen, as I was handing the pen back he said, "Thanks very much" and whack and punched me on the side of the head. And I looked round - he was quite a big bloke - young fellow. I said, "What was that for?" He said, "My girlfriend's a great fan of yours, so there". And off he went. And fortunately one of the actors was very big too and he was, "What's this?" And the chap went off and the pub manager said, she said, "I'm sure you wouldn't have said anything to insult him. Isn't that awful?" And I had this sore head. I did go to the doctor about it and he said, "No, nothing, no damage". But he said, "It'll be sore for a while". And then he said, "This must be happening to you chaps a lot". I said, "What do you mean? No, this is England. It doesn't happen, nothing like that happens here". He said, "Oh yeah".
He said, "Dad's been working hard in the factory all day. He comes home after a hard day's work, the dinner isn't ready and there's Mum watching you on 'Emergency Ward 10'. He hates you". I thought, "Oh, thanks very much". But then there was a lovely photograph of - I think it would have been about that time, no, a bit before probably, when my son was only a few months old. And there was a front page photograph on one of the afternoon papers of Audrey and I either bathing or weighing Christopher. And late that night I got a threatening call about him. That took a lot of the glamour off that. So, nothing was done. I rang the police, they couldn't do anything about it. There was no way, in those days, of tracing calls. John Alderton told me that about the same time he was starting to get some unpleasant calls too. I was in the phone book. The police said, "You shouldn't be in the phone book". I said, "But I didn't know I was going to be famous when we went into the phone book".
And to be an Aussie in London and not in the phone book is a nuisance for your friends when they're trying to look you up. But we were about to move to a house and the police said, "Do us a favour and don't be in the phone book". So I've not been in the phone book anywhere ever since and it is a bit of a nuisance not being available to your friends, I suppose. But it wiped a lot of the glamour off fame and I've never told anybody what the man said and I won't tell anybody because it was unpleasant but clever and if anybody used the same technique it would be very unpleasant for them.
In general I found in England, as here, people are very respectful. In recent publicity for 'The Man from Snowy River' and 'The Carer' and 'Innocence', people, who I've mentioned going up to my local supermarket, the Safeways up the hill and they said, "How can you do that and wander around?" I said, "Look, they leave you alone". I've got a couple of mates up there who are the regulars, regular staff up there and we're good mates. I don't notice people nudging and saying, "Isn't that the fellow?", so much. Audrey used to and the kids do and my son and daughter today. If we walk through somewhere, if the profile's been up a bit through recent publicity or if 'The Castle' has been on television again, I tend not to notice it and people look round usually after you've passed. And so that the person who's walking with you may notice them turning but I often don't and I've never been bothered by it.
I think it was Shirley MacLaine said, "if you've got a very high profile and you don't want to be recognised, you don't have to be". She said, more or less the same as I feel about going up to Safeways. You can wander around, not disguised, but looking like you're in your own little world and people are often, generally very respectful of that. And she never had any problems with it at all. She didn't mean she put on dark glasses and a scarf around her head or anything like that. But, or you go, can go swanning around being a movie star all over the place. And probably fall over because nobody does recognise you. But it's, it's not all that difficult. But it's the more alarming stuff that, you know, that with, any threat to, and things have happened recently in England which must be appalling for the people who're very famous.
Well, I had the lead in a play called 'There's a Girl in My Soup' in London for two years in London. I was not the original. Donald Sinden started it, there were two other actors and then my agent, Tim Wilson, said, "If you want to do some work in the West End they'd like you to play the lead in 'Girl in My Soup'. We think it's got three months to run". They said, "That'll be a nice run, you know". Well, I, I took over. Robert Chetwin, the original director, directed me in. I had a very good fortnight rehearsal. One or two people were already in the show and a couple of others joined us as new people too. And we opened and business took off again and we were playing to capacity very quickly. And the management kept it running. I had a, a holiday period written into my contract at the end of the first year, which sounded wildly optimistic at the time.
But we actually used it and my wife and I went over to France with the kids for a short, a very short few days holiday. Came back and it ran on for another year. And I eventually left because we'd saved enough money to shout ourselves a trip home to see Mum in Sydney. Dad had died when we were away, unfortunately. But we came back and all sorts of things happened when I got here and we never really went back to UK. But it was really a sentimental trip home to see my mother and to show my son and daughter, who were Australian registered citizens but had been born in England, and wanted to show them where Mum and Dad grew up and, and all that. So that's what brought me back. Purely a sentimental personal trip home. But I did have a letter from Hector Crawford before we left London, said, "If you've got the time, I know you're on a personal trip, but do some work for us". And I came down to Melbourne to do a guest role in something and Alwyn Kurts resigned from 'Homicide' at the same time and Hector asked me if I'd like to take over for a while. I said, "Alright for a while" and I loved it so, and that's how, that's what brought us back.
No, we didn't have much furniture because the flat we had in Sydney was furnished. But a lot of stuff that we'd accumulated was still in Grace Brothers. We did buy some furniture in - table there, and a few things, that little cabinet behind me - in London and once we decided we were staying, we got it all shipped out. So I've got bits and pieces all round the house.
No, I had a theory that most Australians overseas, in any job at all, want to get home. And certainly showbiz Australians always want to get back. Actors doing a lot of television or film, always want to do a film back home in Australia. And the thing that we all were envious of was anybody doing a filmed series on television in Australia. Because that was a combination of both things. And 'Homicide' had just gone onto film. Which I think was one of the reasons why Alwyn resigned and maybe Len Teale too. They felt that they'd become very, very efficient of course at videotaped television, which 'Homicide' was originally. But they had gone onto film and I think they were having some difficulty keeping to the schedule and, and they were shooting in colour and that was presenting new problems. To me they didn't sound like problems because what I'd seen of Australian work when we came back - and I did a couple of ABC tellies as well - I was very impressed by the technical efficiency here and I thought, these people can do it. And I thought the work they were doing on 'Homicide' technically was really wonderful. So I had no such problems and we had no trouble sticking to the schedule and all that so I, I loved it.
Yes, yes. Because we - I would have been Sydney based had it not been for that. But we liked Melbourne and I think my son and daughter preferred - oh dare I say it - preferred Melbourne to Sydney. Perhaps it was a little bit more like England than Sydney, I don't know. But I know they were a little bit daunted by the fact that when we arrived in July, in Sydney, to a bright, bright sunny Sydney winter day, a superb day. They were saying, "Well hang on, this is mid winter". But when we came down to Melbourne, it was a little bit less bright and, "Oh this is alright". So they liked Melbourne.
'72 yes, sure.
Oh, if we'd worked out a wonderful time to come back to have a look, but not that that was what we, we were just coming home to see Mum. Then to find all this amazing vigour going into the political system. The election that brought in Gough Whitlam was coming up at the end of the year. There - we saw shows like 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and we were astonished at the standard. And there was a wonderful feeling of optimism all round. Now a lot of that may have been coloured by our own attitude, "Wow, this is the new Australia", and we had been away, Audrey and I, sixteen years and it was a very different Australia. Not always better but it, it was amazing, the general feeling around was extraordinary and a lot of wisdom and political wisdom seemed to be abroad.
And then the wonderful production standards and the work by Jon English and Trevor White and people like that in 'Jesus Christ Superstar' was fantastic. And then we saw other shows and I thought the theatre standard was wonderful. I'm not saying it was better but it was just wonderful and energetic and vigorous and all that. And there were - and when Hector asked me to take over, it wasn't a very big decision to make. We didn't know how long we'd stay. But we thought, well, a year anyway. And it was a good time for the children as far as school was concerned. Chris had just started secondary school and Virginia was coming up towards it, had another year or so to go for primary school. And so it wasn't a bad time for them.
And I remember one of the teachers said, when I said, "Is it going to muck things up if we're there for a quite a few weeks and maybe a month or two?" And I remember her saying, "No, no, no". Said, "Be good because we're about to do a project on Australia anyway". And those projects they did at school in England were very, very good. They really went into great details [sic]. So, there were no real problems personally for us. A couple of years later, yes, it might have been a problem for school either way. So.
I have been haunted by a comment by Tim Wilson. When, when I left 'Girl in My Soup', which had, while I was doing it, had become the longest running comedy ever in the history of London theatre. Which was nice to be associated with that. It folded in eleven days or something, it was a very short time, when the next chap took over. Who had been patiently waiting to take over the lead. He was already in the show. And Tim said, "Look, please don't leave London now. You take over a show that's only got three months to run and it runs for two years, you leave and it ends shortly after". He said, "That changes your status totally in London". And I said, "Don't worry, we're only going home to see Mum and we'll be back". Which is what we fully intended to do. But when we got to Australia, we changed our thinking considerably.
And it was just terribly exciting to be involved in what was happening. And I think, frankly, accurately saw that the technical standards being done on an all film series like 'Homicide' with young technical people who were like sponges for any information you could give them, providing they asked for the opinion. Never come back and say, "In England we did it this way, or America", whatever. Be careful of that. But I just found it so, it was extraordinarily stimulating.
I loved it because they had various depart - in a way it was like the very best of the old American big studio system but on a smaller scale. They had a music department with excellent musicians in charge. Hector himself was conducting a symphony orchestra, free concerts in the Myer Music Bowl every Sunday afternoon. And there was this marvellous feeling of, of showbiz right across the board. Because I'd directed a couple of productions of 'Doctor in the House' in England, including one very film starry one with James Fox and a lot of very well-known people. That had popped up in my CV and I remember Bill Gordon, the publicist at Crawfords, came to me one day and said, "How would you be directing a production of 'Doctor in the House'?" I said, "What, with the 'Homicide' schedule?" He said, "Don't worry, we'll fix that".
So I, during the second year of 'Doctor in the House', I directed Crawfords' first attempt at the theatre. And we got a marvellous cast for 'Doctor in the House', including two of the lads who were quite well-known in England for doing it, Robin Nedwell and Geoff Davis. They came out to play the characters.
Yes, yeah. And I used to do 'Homicide' from 7:30 till about 10 in the morning and then we'd rehearse 'Doctor in the House' from 10 'till 4:30, I think it was and I'd go back to the studio and do an hour and a half at the end of the day. And we filled the Princess Theatre, got rave reviews and it was hugely successful all over Australia. And I didn't have a percentage, damn it. That would have been nice. They paid me well.
Yes I did. Well, I had asked Hector, "If I stay on in 'Homicide', is there any chance of doing a bit of directing and producing?" Because I was invited to direct in England but I was having too much fun as an actor and also one producer said, "Mind you, you'll have to take a drop in salary", because my leading actor wages for the show I was - could have directed - were something like ten times what the director's salary was. And with a young family and all that - so all that came into it. But I would have liked to have done it, I must say, over there. But I did direct two or three things in the theatre. And, anyhow, when the show ended - 'Homicide' ended at the end of 1975 which was another very dramatic year in Australian - in Australia politically with the sacking, Whitlam sacking etcetera. Suddenly all the cop shows that Crawfords had had to come off the air. All their ratings dropped for the simple reason that the, the channels, for some reason or another, put them all on at the same time against each other. They were all carefully spaced. You know, Channel 10 had 'Matlock Police' and Channel 9 had 'Division 4' on another night and 'Homicide' was on another night on Channel 7. Suddenly they were all on at the same time and the ratings were then divided by three so they came off the air.
And I remember saying to Hector when we heard that the show was being cancelled, as were the others, "This would be a bad time to remind you that we once talked about me directing". And he said, "No, give us a bit of time". And in a few weeks I was called back to direct the early days of 'The Sullivans' and things like that. And another show they had, a very difficult to produce comedy called 'Bluestone Boys' which was a tough schedule, very good training, marvellous actors in it. And a couple of other shows like that. And then I became a regular director on 'The Sullivans' and then produced a few things here and there. And, so that sort of launched my directing, producing career. And did a bit of acting as well, too.
Yes I did. I think 'Homicide' helped me with the film roles. Not necessarily that I was a good actor but a lot of people said that I, you know, I was reasonable to work with on the set and knew how to hit the marks and all those things.
Well, it was Scotty Ehrenberg's training. [laughs] But, no, Tim Burstall very kindly asked me to play Jack Thompson's dad in 'Petersen' and then a strange character in 'Eliza Fraser' and, yeah, and lots of things. And if they, if you could fit them in, it was great. It was a bit like being back in England when Tony Keary would give me leave from 'Ward 10' to go off and do a movie. And even go to Africa on the 'Tarzan' film. He wrote me out of the script very quickly for that one because that was an interesting thing to do. However. It was similar to that and I just pottered along and at the same time tried to do a few voiceovers to pay a few more gas bills and electricity bills and things.
She was fine, yeah, yeah. She had come over to see us after Dad died. Mum and Dad had been over for quite a while. They came over for about a year in the early '60s and then got back and Dad died later when they were back home. And, unexpectedly too with a heart thing. But Mum made ninety and, she, she was a tough kind. She came over and stayed with us. Travelled around in her late 70s, helped a bit by the fact that my brother was a QANTAS pilot. I think he made sure she got good treatment and all that. But she was fine and we rented a house that was big enough for her to come and stay with us as well when I was, in the early days of 'Homicide'. And, and she loved travelling. She was a good traveller. And it was beaut. And both my brothers were alive then so good strong family reunions and things. Although I often thought I was a bit of a nuisance with all the publicity and I had a cousin who was publicist for one of the big hotel chains and she said, "Do you want some publicity?" I said, "Well not really. That's not the idea". But then I thought, well it might help her.
So she said, "You've got to spend a night in the hotel". So my son and daughter thought that'd be great fun. We went into this big posh hotel for the night and we were invaded by journalists from everywhere. Suddenly publicity all over the place which, of course, did no harm at all to future employment opportunities, you know.
No, no, oh, no, no. But I - in fact there was an occasion when Chips Rafferty was beaten up in London and, badly, and we had been having dinner, Audrey and I, with Chips and some friends of mine and we'd gone home to our babysitter. And he rang the next morning to tell me he'd bashed a bit and he wasn't feeling too well and by the time I raced into the apartment he was staying in for just a few days in London, friends had whipped him off to hospital and an Australian surgeon friend of Chips and mine, mutual friend, was very worried because he had some heart attacks that day because he'd been kicked around the chest and head. And the - he was OK. He lost some skin and things like that, badly bruised, but the heart attacks were, he thought, were revealed by the chest injuries. So there was a sort of an upside to it in a way. Chips didn't know he had a heart problem. But he was in hospital for about three days and then came home to our place and Audrey nursed him for about ten days.
Now, I was trying to be very careful because we had earlier that evening been to a rather posh do at Australia House for ex-Prime Minister Menzies and I thought, gosh, if I say we were at a do for Menzies and then he got bashed up at the end of the night, it's going to look, you know - so I was trying to be terribly clever and not say too much. By the time it was reported in Australia, it read in one paper, the leading Sydney paper, it said Chips and I had been involved in a brawl and what had happened, the journalist had sent out a full story that I'd gone, you know, the next day and Audrey was going to look after him and they'd subbed out a lot of that explanation stuff. And the shortened version read badly. So much so that my QANTAS pilot brother wanted to go and bash the editor of the newspaper himself, punch him on the nose or something. He didn't and I thought, "Ooh, my golly". So, and I - it happened to be about the time that J.C. Williamson's lost the rights of the play and I often wonder if the two things were connected. But Chips recovered and went back but missed two very important international films.
He was - it happened on a Friday night, on the Sunday he was supposed to go to Spain to meet one of the great Spanish producers and the next day to go on to Rome to meet another of the top Italian producers and he was in hospital.
No it wasn't. John Meillon knew about it and helped put Chips in a taxi to send him home. And apparently an Aussie who was working as a bouncer at a, we were actually at an Australian restaurant in London run by an actor friend of mine who, I wasn't a - it was a club but I wasn't a member of the club and being a friend he allowed us all to go in - a lot of English actor friends knew the place and they all wanted to meet Chips. That was the whole idea. And Audrey and I had had to leave early to go home to the babysitter. Apparently this chap who was, we - the bouncer, claimed, apparently, that Chips ignored him and didn't remember meeting him. Something like that happened and it was all a bit woolly, the explanation that John gave me. But an argument started inside and they went outside to have an argument. And little did Chips know, this man was also a professional wrestler. Chips, as tall as he was, and I think pretty strong, was no match for a skilled professional. And the owner of the club, this actor friend, said he'd had trouble with this man before when I asked him what happened. And he said, "I nearly banned him from the club before". He said, "I'll have to ban him from the club".
But nobody knew how serious Chips' injuries were. He was just - you know, got bashed a bit - but it was quite serious. And I asked Chips when he was staying at our place what he wanted to do about it. He said, "Nothing". He said, "If that bloke comes home, I'll have a few schemes". But I don't know whatever happened. But - and I haven't heard about that man and sadly the mate who owned the club died some years later. A very distinguished actor too. He was actually playing the lead in a very big production in London at the time. This was the owner of the club... Unfortunate for everybody.
Oh, I don't know. I, I suppose as much for the sake of the family as anything, I try to be as non-controversial as I can. I've, I'm happy to stand up for Aussie production and that sort of thing. I've tried not to be too politically orientated publicly, although my wife and I solved the problems of the world once or twice over the years and my son and daughter and I know what's wrong with everything. I'm sure like most families. But - and also frankly I understand. I remember there were some very fine journalists connected with that Chips Rafferty thing in London and they tried to write correcting type articles. One journalist had to turn it into a sort of a jokey piece because he couldn't really follow up the stern piece with the ... And they, they were obviously concerned about their newspapers' reputation too. And I can understand all that and I used to be a member of the Journalists' Club in Sydney. Most actors were. It was a great place to go after hours to have a beer when you couldn't get a beer anywhere else after work on a late night radio show. So I knew a lot of journalists and I, I think I understand their problem.
Once or twice I've been taken advantage of by being rung up to see if I could get some inside information on somebody who'd had an unfortunate self-inflicted accident in one case in London. I was rather shocked because this journalist friend of mine would have had to have told a real tale to get me on the phone on this production and it was really to find out if I knew this person and I, thank goodness, didn't know the person. I knew that that person was quite famous. And it happened once, once or twice from the same journalist again when we came back. Just to get some inside information and I, a, I wouldn't give it to him and b, I was genuinely not aware of what the real story was.
You worked with Jack Thompson on 'Petersen' and you worked with him again on the very great success, 'Breaker Morant'. When you did 'Breaker Morant', did you have any idea what a big success it was going to be?
No, except that I loved the way Bruce was shooting it, Bruce Beresford. And we had a wonderful crew. Don McAlpine on camera and Gary Wilkins on sound, who's a dream sound man. I worked with Gary on 'Homicide' and we'd even done some sound experiments together and things and, yeah. And the set was brilliantly designed as a four walled set so you felt you were in a real place, though you were inside a studio. And I was working with Teddy Woodward again, Edward Woodward, who had been in 'Emergency Ward 10' with me. Twice. He'd been in as a patient and was a chest surgeon and I think I took over from him so he could go to Stratford in that very cooperative way Tony Keary worked. And he fitted in beautifully. He's a beaut actor and a beaut bloke.
And it was a pretty astonishing cast, looking back, and you think we had Bryan Brown and Lewis Fitzgerald and, oh, yeah, it was, it was great. And a fine script. Now, my controversial feeling about the script is, as finely written as it was and therefore wonderful to play, I have heard that there were other views of the whole event. That it wasn't quite as black and white as perhaps we suggested. But apart from that, it was a great production to be in. Jack and I had worked before 'Petersen' when he was in a Sydney episode of 'Homicide' which was set on board a, a police launch and he was the Sydney copper. And we had lots of time to discuss all aspects of acting because we were doing lots of wide shots with - out of range of sound cameras and things. And I loved his attitude to work and to acting. And...
Oh, he was - Jack's a very good, strong, sincere actor with a great background. His father, his foster father, was John Thompson, one of the ABC's great producers and I'd had the pleasure of working with John and his brother Peter as a distinguished film expert. And I just loved, the, the whole thing. When, and I, Jack's work in 'Breaker' for that big speech, that big speech to the court. The close-ups of that were take one and didn't do a second take. Bruce - and I loved Bruce's courage at printing that one. We did other angles on it, of course, but the main part of that was Jack's take one and it was superb.
Oh, love villains, yes. Yes, I had, I used to get lovely villain roles in England. And even played a Hitler parallel in a, in an advertising agency story, beautifully directed by one of the - and I said, what - "I love the role" and it was quite successful and I said, "Why me?" He said, "Well I've seen you play a lot of nice guys", he said, "but it would be good to see what you do with a baddie". And this was the, the real, real baddie. Yeah...
Well, I, I've never quite understood the psychology of somebody who could do really evil things and apparently enjoy doing evil things but there must be something that motivates them, whatever it might be. And I think they must lead a double life anyway. Because to get by in the world and go to the supermarket and be nice to the waitress or the taxi driver or something, you've got to be able to lead a pretty accurate double life if you're going to go off and then order somebody to be shot or whatever. And I find that absolutely fascinating, you know. I don't want to be a baddie but I find that study, and to play them like that. One of my most favourite roles in Australia was the one we did before 'Breaker Morant', directed by Bruce Beresford, 'Money Movers' and I played the Mr Big, real baddie and he was the big shot in a rather good suit and all that, ordering these terrible things and bank robberies and things to be done on his behalf. And I loved all that. It was great and wasn't - they said I wasn't too bad in that one.
I took it that he firmly believed that he was doing the right thing. However ill-informed he was, all his research said, under the rules that we have, war rules, these men have done this and the book says they must be executed and my duty is to follow through those orders. And, having had to be briefed during the war to do things that we thought were almost suicidal, and having great sympathy for the officer who told Bill and I on one particular operation, to go out and most likely be shot down, and "Have you written any letters?" "Yes." "Alright." And feeling terribly sorry for the man, a flight commander who ordered us, I had a strange sympathy for the guy who had to do apparently appalling things under wartime regulations. I don't excuse the awfulness of it but I understood that it's a pretty enormous dilemma for a human being to have to face.
Very much so, yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, I played him as a guy who didn't like being interrupted and all that sort of thing as well. And these chaps must obey all the rules of the court and all that. So, there were, there were lots of opportunities to show little weaknesses in the guy being, you know, sort of upset by something and that sort of thing. Or making a little silly crack. Especially about Bryan Brown's character. There's a lovely little moment there that I think often was lost in the cinema because there was a bit of a laugh too which was nice. I can't remember the exact words now but I think Bryan Brown says something about having gone to somewhere with a, with an attractive woman and he came up with the evidence somehow. And I had to say something like, "Oh, yes, obviously", or something, you know, there was some little comment. I loved doing little things like that in it.
Did you - do you always, in roles that you play, draw on your own experience? I mean you just explained that it was a wartime experience that you made you understand the motivation. Do you use that a lot, your own experiences in things?
Yes, I think so and, unless you're extraordinarily highly educated which I'm not, that's really all you've got is the evidence provided by the writer, the input of a director of course plus your own experience to know what a character is likely to do under those given circumstances. So, yes, I suppose. Obviously too, if you've read enough or if you've read, say, Hamlet's advice to the players, there are other elements, of course, coming in. But I think that your own experience or knowledge, plays a huge role in, in what an actor does.
You've made a lot of films with Paul Cox. You've been involved in his films. Is that - is he very - his films seem quite different from a lot of other Australian directors. Do you experience that as an actor?
Oh yes. To me he's the master director. And I was very pleased to see one of the critics in America who raved about 'Innocence' said "master director Paul Cox" in his review. Paul is a very intelligent man and a man of deep feelings, a fine photographer himself before he went into movies. Born in Holland, during World War II and, I think by the age of four the Nazis were still in occupation there and he has strong and difficult memories of hiding under tables and things like that when the chaps were looking for an uncle, I think in his case, and the family were trying to hide the uncle and safely got him out and back to England. So he's got a lot of depth in his experience and his own father was a distinguished photographer too. So he's looking at films from many different angles.
And - or in the case of 'Innocence', his, he told me that long before we made the movie, he had this, this feeling, this understanding that people don't change inwardly as they grow older but - and are capable of hatred, love, falling in love, all sorts of things. And then when he wrote the script and sent it to me, it was an amazingly beautifully written script. And, in my own experience, of now being very much older, very accurate too.
Well, oh yes, that's right.
Well I just love the way he sort of, you - to me one of the signs of a great director looking back over the many years, that with the really great directors, it's very hard to remember who did what. Did the director tell me to play it faster or slower or did he allow me to play it faster or slower or - I mean there's lovely rare moments when Johnny Saul said, "Play it like you love her", instead of play it like you hate it. When you look at the surface said, oh he hates her. No he doesn't, he loves her but he says that. Those are lovely, great insights and Paul's got that too. I can't remember details now during 'Innocence' but there were many times when he'd guide me into some way of doing it. And then on another occasion he'd allow me to bring something to it that I almost wasn't aware of. And then at the end of it, because he prints mainly only take one, he doesn't shoot an unnecessary take two, which is a fabulous way to work on film because you know that you're not going to shoot until everything's ready. I - to me, he's, he's an extraordinary person to work with and a beaut bloke too, of course. You know, we had a couple of glasses of wine after work once or twice and discussed a few things. He's a beaut fellow.
Now you have also taken a very strong role, despite your determination to be non-controversial publicly, in the whole business of building an Australian industry. You were recruited fairly soon after you came back to be involved in that. What made you decide to break your rule and get involved in the Make It Australian campaign and so on?
Oh, look, I just think it's, this doesn't even have to be controversial. I think it's, the Australian industry is so long, film industry anyway, going right back to the early part of the 1900s and all those, did we make the first feature film? But I also think that film is such a wonderful record of a country, and it doesn't matter what country it is, and if you can keep building it up and have some sort of archival situation, it's great for the people who may only ever see a bit here and a bit there. But also if you, if you develop your skills as the Americans did and the Swedes did, particularly after World War II when Bergman was making wonderful films first. Suddenly realised that the world was very interested in Sweden. We've always been interested in America, we might not always agree with the Americans, but they've got a wonderfully vigorous industry that's been an enormous, I suppose, propaganda tool on their behalf. Not always successful but it's there.
I'm always a bit sad when people seem to know more about New York than, if they live in Adelaide, than they do about Sydney perhaps, you know. But we are slowly but surely increasing our own knowledge about ourselves through, alright 'Dad and Dave' in the old days and 'Mr Chedworth Steps Out' in the pre-war movies and 'Breaker Morant' in, in years gone by and 'Rabbit Proof Fence' now. And things like that. It's, it's a fabulous way of recording, alright your own culture, although I find culture a slightly difficult word to come to terms with. Our own history, our own knowledge about ourselves. And we don't have to be all that controversial about ourselves. Let's tell it like it is.
I'm worried sometimes that a lot of our filmmaking is tending to show only one side of, say, the difficulties of the Aboriginal community. I'd love to see a little more work being done on the wonderful people from the white community who've dedicated their, their lives, their skills to looking after the Aboriginal community. Now that may sound to some people, paternalistic and all that. But we have a neighbour, lived across the street, Michelle, who, as soon as she graduated as a nursing sister, went up to Melville Island and she's the same age as my children and she's been there ever since. Now those people are unknown now. We don't know about them. And going back into history, there were wonderful things done and we forget that. The first cricket team to represent Australia in 1868 was an all Aboriginal full-blood team. And as I said to Ernie Dingo once, "Cricket's very hard to learn at the end of a whip if you're being bashed to do a better stroke". You've got to do it more subtly than that. And we've laughed about that. Ernie and I, I'd like to think, are good mates.
But I'd like to see a lot more knowledge about ourselves being spread around a bit more so that we see a bit more both sides of, alright, controversial political issues and things like that. But we are slowly - we are doing that and, and I think it's largely through the film industry and that which comes on telly. I think it's terribly important and, yes, there's a spin-off because I've found on trips overseas in recent years, I mean the rave reviews 'The Castle' got in London, in the press. I had them all here today, checking up on a few things. But every newspaper, except one, raved about that film. And that's not bad for Australia. It's terribly good for Australia. Some people might say, "Oh yeah, but we don't all talk like that", and you know, and that sort of thing. But it didn't matter, they loved the movie.
I was invited out of the blue by, it was the Liberal Party, I remember Bob Ellicott ringing me from Canberra. He said, "It's been suggested that you might like to be on the Board of the Film Commission". And I thought, "Oh yeah, OK. Yes". So, I said yes and I went, they used to fly me up to Sydney every month for the monthly meetings. I was then working mainly as a director at Crawfords so they were able to fit that into the schedule. And I think there was another producer from Crawfords, Henry Crawford, who was, I think, a relative of the family, he was also on the Board at the same time. So there was quite a strong input from us about television problems and things like that. And working with a lot of very distinguished people. Very interesting.
And it was at a time too when they brought in perhaps the over-generous 10BA regulations at 150%. And there was a lot of doom and gloom that we will wreck the industry with that and I was saying it doesn't - no we won't do that. What we will do is train a lot of highly skilled technical people by making perhaps films we shouldn't be making because they're too expensive and all that but the spin-off will be skill enhancement over a great range. And I think I was right about that. But, yes, it was a very interesting period.
There seemed to be quite a bit of propaganda against too much Australian content. At about the time that Crawfords lost all their police shows, there were some advertisements running, I don't know, presumably by the channels or something. But - and they were quite inaccurately worded. I remember one had a still of 'Upstairs Downstairs' and another still, or photograph, from one of our shows and saying, "Do you want to be prevented from watching wonderful shows like 'Upstairs Downstairs' by being forced to watch shows like this?" It was something like that and it was very unfair because I worked it out that there was plenty of time for people to see 'Upstairs, Downstairs' and, at the same time, see an Aussie show the hour before or after. And eventually, and I was very impressed by Edward Woodward in this, I was invited by Channel 7 to go into a controversial discussion live with the Head of the Federation of Commercial Television Stations at the time. And somebody wondered if Edward Woodward, who was out here doing a very posh stage play, if he'd like to join me. And he did.
And Edward and I were allied against this other man, a very powerful man and a very nice guy too, a beaut bloke. But I had done all the arithmetic on the hours required to show 'Upstairs Downstairs' and 'Homicide' and all that. And it came down heavily in the favour of the fact that there was plenty of room for Australian shows. And this, the FACTS man said, in the - and I think it was, it was chaired by Brian Naylor who did it very well indeed. And, at one stage, the, the, our opposition said, "By Jove, you chaps have done your homework, haven't you?" And the sort of argument was won and we sort of proved a point. And I don't mind them, sort of, desperately trying to defend their territory, but do it fairly.
Yes, it was a while mainly, dare I say, because my wife became less and less well and was quite seriously ill. She was still at home and I was once described as the 'sole carer' by the community people who came to the house to see if it was safe, and if we should put handrails in and things like that. And I thought, "Sole carer? No, I'm just looking after me wife, you know", as you do. But, it suddenly alerted me to the fact that it was much more serious. So I was really restricting myself to doing voiceovers and things that didn't keep me out of the house very long. Bruce Beresford invited me to do a film in northern Queensland and I'd said yes. Then we found out how seriously ill Audrey was and I had to ring him and say, no I can't. And Noel Ferrier was good enough to take over and play the role instead of me. And I was asked to do a play at the Ensemble Theatre in Sydney at about that time and I had to bow out, I'd said, yes, and then had to bow out and Norman Kaye took over and played that for me. A man who played a lot of leads for Paul Cox.
Now that worried Audrey. I said, but no, this, you know, I'm doing voiceovers, enough to pay a few bills and keep the expenses damped out. And it was a pretty difficult time so I'd virtually put myself out of action for feature films and plays and things. And really, I suppose, much on screen work because they're quite, with voiceovers you can vary it. You know, "Could you make it an hour later?" Or, you know, "Do you mind if I don't come 'til 10 o'clock rather 9 nine o'clock?", or whatever. Much more easy to manipulate the timings for those things. Not that they're not important but they are more flexible. And so I think people had got into the habit of realising that I wasn't available.
But before Audrey became very ill, I had done a serious of sketches for the D-Gen team called 'Charlie the Wonder Dog', in 'The Late Show'. I loved the way they worked. That lovely sort of, almost casual, but brilliantly skilled casual way of working. And I used to mumble to them, do a whole series like this. This is brilliant. This is long before I knew they were going to do 'Frontline'. And I loved doing those nutty sketches with Charlie the Wonder Dog and the dotty old grandfather. And it was because of that that they asked me to do 'The Castle'. And I remember when Audrey died, this huge bunch of flowers - I hadn't heard from them for quite a while, arrived from them. And then a week later they rang and asked me how I felt and I said, "Oh, you know, pretty crook. Long marriage and all that". And they said, "Thought about work?" And I said, "Well I'm told it's very therapeutic". "Good, we've written a part for you in our first feature film", and 'The Castle' script arrived. And it was a very therapeutic time. Wonderful.
Very important. It didn't stop the down sides. You know, home from the studio or wherever we'd been shooting. It still got a bit lonely and I think I would have, I would have loved her to have read the script. Sorry. But. It, also then, when the film came out, of course, we had this extraordinary reaction to it. And it said, "Oh, he's up and about again is he? He's doing a bit of work". So, all sorts of - and since then, since 'The Castle', I've had I think the six busiest years I've ever had. It's been extraordinary.
Yeah, yes. Certainly it did. Oh certainly it did, yeah.
Yeah. It tricked me on one occasion. I loved all the sentiments, you know, a home is full of memories, a house is bricks and mortar. And I remember the beautifully written speech that the barrister had trying to describe that to the High Court chaps sitting up there. And that we mustn't ignore that, you know, the difference between a house and home. And I was halfway through the big speech and I realised I was talking about myself here. And that got to me and I nearly had to stop but kept going. And Rob Sitch called cut very quietly at the end of the speech and they had a bit of a confab around the camera. He said, "I think we'd better do a second take", and - because we didn't do many second takes if it was OK. Like Paul Cox. And we did the second take and I'm pretty sure, I must ask him one day, I think he used the first half of the first take and the second half of the second take with a, an intercut with Michael Caton watching me.
But I, yeah, I nearly lost it completely there. But I loved the accuracy of the writing. I loved that first speech - scene I had with Michael when he assumed I was in court, I said I was in court to watch my son and he assumed I was in court to watch my son being charged with something, on trial. And he said something and I said, "Oh no, no, he, he's a barrister. This is his first day in court as a barrister", and so on, me as the retired barrister was watching the son.
And I loved - and the delicacy of that writing and Michael and I worked on that scene so that I didn't play what I said in such a way that would make him look an idiot if he misunderstood. And, you could have played it clumsily but under Rob's direction, we were, we weren't going to - but what was lovely was that all of us realised how delicately that was written. And I think quite a few critics probably missed some of the subtleties within that carefully written script. Though I do believe it was written fairly fast. But they're all pretty bright people.
Oh. I suppose the normal difficulties of being an actor and doing, I've done a couple of things for Patricia Edgar's marvellous, you know, Children's Film Foundation [Australian Childrens Television Foundation]. 'Round the Twist' and, oh, there was something else. And then recently we did '[Legacy of] The Silver Shadow' and I revealed that my body shape is not what it should be for a screen hero. But that was the joke of the character. He'd once been a famous sort of crime fighter, now he was old and past it and a bit of a derelict. He'd put on his crime fighting suit and didn't look too good. I loved the sort of, sort of sending myself up like that. If I wanted to ponder it and say, "My Jove, should you do that? And, what will that do to your career?" Fortunately being so old, it doesn't much matter. I had fun doing it and I loved working with it. It was directed by Julian McSwiney who reminded me that I'd trained him as a director at Crawfords which was one of my tasks there for quite a long time. I was, I used to train directors and that sort of thing and be a guide, comforter and friend and all that to them.
And he seemed very grateful and I said, "I was [sic], I'm impressed you're still working so that's good for my morale". So there were a lot of elements in it. And working, I loved working with young people to see how they're copping it. And I have been told by young actors, it is good to be, to watch the older, experienced actors at work and see how they behave, not just as actors but as human beings, you know, on a film set.
A lot of the films that you've been involved in in recent times have had this autobiographical element to them, haven't they? And also 'The Carer', the stage play. There was 'The Carer', there was 'Innocence' with a man finding a new lover after the death of his wife and, and there was also the little film you did with Rachel Griffiths which was - now you were happy to do that small film with Rachel. Was that because it did have - 'Tulip', 'Tulip' - was that because it did have a sort of certain autobiographical element about a man who'd lost his wife?
I'd like to say there were deep and meaningful reasons for it, but I was playing a small part in 'Amy' that Rachel was playing the lead in. She just asked me to read the script one night. Said, "I've written this little script because I'd like to direct something. Would you take it home and read it?" And I took it home and read this delightful script. The whole thing ran - what, twelve minutes? - was the film. I took it back the next morning. I said, "It's wonderful". She said, "Will you do it?" I said, "Oh, crikey, I'd love to". I said, "Who's directing?" She said, "I am". "Ooh." So, here was a very distinguished actress, well on the way to enormous success, and international success, wanting to have a bit of a go as a director and I just loved all that. Now, yes, it was close to the bone. It was, you know, a chap getting over from, his wife had just died.
And she put that lovely little tribute at the end, not only to Audrey but to the man who's farm we used. He was - he'd lost his wife. He was much older than I, he was in his eighties. And we used a farm that was a working farm and that - and I then found out that it had actually happened to Rachel's, an uncle of Rachel's mother. And so it was a family story and we then, as we, actors together, we chatted about, a lot about acting, when we were just, you know, when I was doing 'Amy'. And then we carried it on and we used it as a sort of exercise in how accurate a camera can be in actually photographing thoughts and thought processes. And Rachel, as a director, was superb because I don't remember talking about anything else other than what the man was actually thinking at any given time.
And that made my task as the actor much more interesting and, frankly, easier, in that I didn't have to worry about what expression I had on me face or whether I was feeling it properly. All I had to do was to think it accurately. And that went right back to some experiments I had done years before when I was doing 'Emergency Ward 10' and I found that, remembered that the thought processes are so enormously important because cameras are accurate and photograph that. And it fitted with a lot of the teaching that John Saul had imparted and a lot of his theories. So, in every way, it worked as a wonderful experiment. And I love to think that it may have even helped Rachel, not only as a director, but as an actor too.
Yes. Oh I swore that after Lucie Manette all those years ago at school but, she was rather proud of the fact, as she said on a 'This is Your Life', they did on me. She said, "I'm very proud of the fact that I'm the only woman to get you into a dress". [INTERRUPTION]
I frankly have no ambitions at all left. Or no, I was always nervous about ambitions because they can lead you astray sometimes. However, I frankly just want to do what I'm doing. I have been asked by three or four publishers now to think about doing a book and I've at last agreed, God, this sounds awful doesn't it? "I've agreed to do one." And an arrangement has been arrived at with the publisher and through my agent, Joanne Baker. And I'm very happy about that. But I, I confess I so love mucking about and being an actor and, yeah, even directing a bit, that I don't want to not do what I've been doing, certainly over the last six years. It's been absolutely fantastic. We have had some inquiries about Paul Cox's - gosh, Freudian slip - Alan Hopgood's 'Carer', for Singapore and even Portugal, there's an interest in it for the English colony there for some conference on caring. We're certainly going to lock off, we hope, on a Queensland tour next year and maybe the Top End, you know, Darwin, Alice Springs, which I'd love to do.
And 'Innocence' is soon to start in London. I've had a request to go to London to do some DVD interviews for the series I did in England in the, in 1969, called 'Catweazle'. So a lot of very exciting things and, if my health holds up, I'll - I just want to potter along doing all those. And it's a, it's - and none of them, I have to say, "I wonder if it's good for my career?" I frankly don't care. It sounds like fun. Not fun, you know, beaut, the whole thing.
I'm frankly basically very lazy and the enormity of having to sit down to write all those pages. I've got books and books there that I've been so lazy, I've only read the first quarter of most of them. Not because I didn't like them, but something would distract me or I'd put a marker in it and say I'll get back to that. And I had, I was frightened I might do that if I were trying to write a book. I find it difficult to sit down and I, I haven't learnt to use a computer yet, properly. I'd love to be able to do it and all that lovely correction you can do by typing on a computer and I can't find my dear old Olivetti. I think it's got lost in some stuff that's now in store somewhere. So I haven't typed anything for quite a while. So all that adds up. And then people say, "Well why don't you just sit down and record it on tape?" But I thought, that'd be, that'd be pretty boring.
I love it when people, well like yourself, ask questions and you've to enlarge on things, often too much, but do so but that's all. But this new arrangement, they've introduced me to Peter Wilmoth who writes very good articles, I believe, for The Age in Melbourne and he's going to work with me on it. And I, I'm starting to look forward to that very much indeed.
Oh, look, yeah, it's nice. A nomination's nice too. I, I, I never won a real fair dinkum acting award until I got the Las Palmas International Film Festival Best Actor Award about a year or so ago for 'Innocence'. Now, I, I was astonished at that. 'Innocence' also got Best Picture at the same festival. I was pleased about that because it was very nice. But nobody knows about it because it didn't actually hit the headlines and I haven't got a, you know, an award. It was just written down somewhere.
I've got a couple of what I call the NGY awards which means, you're 'Not Gone Yet'. That was the, I mustn't make light of it because it was a great honour, but they gave me the Raymond Longford Award from the AFIs as a contribution to the industry. I got a similar award the Penguin Award some years ago and a Green Room Award and things like that. But they're all sort of, well done, you know, a pat on the head. An awful thing to say but, you know. I, I was up against Eric Bana for Best Actor Award for 'Innocence' but, as we said, when Eric did the Chopper Reid movie, it would have been like being up against Geoffrey Rush for 'Shine'. Eric was so brilliant in that role and we were all thrilled to bits that he got the award for that. And, and he's, you know, he's having a wonderful run here and overseas of course. Which is terrific because he's - when we did 'The Castle', I realised that he wasn't just a comedian. He was a very fine actor indeed. So it's great to see that.
When I got the 'official award', and we were at Government House, yes it was pleasant, the family were there with me and all that. But, at the same award ceremony were the men and women who were getting the gallantry awards for those amazing rescues in Bass Strait. So, that, that puts you in your place a little bit you know. I mean I was so impressed by those, those fantastic people, what they did to pick the yachtsmen out of the water. Amazing stuff. And then, slightly thrown when they would come over and talk to me about my work in movies or get an autograph even, which was very, very flattering indeed. But you, you, you knew your place. You know, we'd seen the real thing, if you like. As lovely as it was to get that, that award at Government House.
It's funny. I, I, I'm sure I had some ambitions about, I would love to be an actor, yes, when I got over the shock of playing Lucie Manette in the high school classroom all those years ago. I always, I just had a funny feeling, once Owen Weingott and I had been allowed to visit the set at Cinesound, that just to do something in that marvellous atmosphere would be great. And I wasn't, I don't think I was too sure what I really wanted to do but once the lights were on and the leading actors looked good and the, the tape measure was out measuring the focus and all that, which they used to do in the old days. I thought, now that would be nice too. And I think I envied the actors who could walk on the set and do it well and I've got a feeling I was waffling around a bit but I also liked the thought of directing and I thought there was something glamorous about saying, "action" and "cut", as Ken Hall used to, any director still says. But I don't know that I had - it was just a general feeling of wanting to be in the business. I don't know that I any, had any really strong ambitions about the theatre but, like most of us, we all loved the thought of doing radio because that was, that was the television of its day, if you like.
Yes, it was - in some respects radio, I think, was even more powerful than television was. Which - I have no way of proving that - but I just remember that the discussion about the latest radio drama or the latest episode of the serial, whether it be 'Blue Hills' or 'Dad and Dave' or, later on when I was working in radio quite a lot myself, they, all the discussions about those shows in various pubs and, and it was just the same as it is now about television. Or used to be about television. I feel even that, that enthusiasm's damping down a bit these days. But, yeah, and there was something glamorous about it I suppose, especially to a teenager. And then suddenly to get that job offer because of Owen Weingott's hard work in getting me involved in that competition, the one with Jack Davey, I mean that, that was an extraordinary exciting - though it was tinged a bit by a sort of guilt feeling that Owen had done the hard work and I'd got the, I'd got the gig, as they say.
Pretty accidentally actually. I was managing very well without an agent and I didn't know much about agents, certainly in Sydney in those days. Then I gradually became aware that there was, I think it was James Joyce who was a respected agent, who seemed to have a lot of the big names. The Lyndall Barbours and the Nigel Lovells and people like that who were very big and well-established actors in those days. And then I was aware that Nora Burnett had an agency called Telecast and I think it was when I was directing a lot of those commercials for Charles E. Blanks, that I started to be aware that I, as a director, was using the services of agents much more than I realised was necessary. And I think I found that Nora Burnett was doing a lot of very good work on my behalf whenever I wanted somebody for a production. And, eventually, I think I said to her one day, "Gosh, it would be good if you looked after me too".
And then I found my work became far more regular and secure, I suppose. Given that I still wanted to stay away from anything long term so that I'd be available for any films that might come up. And by that I mean, I suppose Nora was restricted to me doing say, the Lux Radio Theatre or a one-off play at the ABC or a guest role in a half hour series or something like that. Or, if it was a serial, that I was only in for a few episodes. So that I, I tried to keep myself available for this, this passion about film.
I'd no - wasn't sure that I had much of a thought about a right agent. I was very lucky that Googie Withers and John McCallum were being looked after by one of the biggest agents in London and in America too at that time. MCA, I think it was the Music Corporation of America. And they were very, very important agents and they took me on, on their recommendation. Possibly also assisted by a recommendation from Leslie Norman who was directing 'The Shiralee'. There was a bit of an old pals feeling about it and, but it was great of John and Googie but at least, they had worked with me for eighteen months in the, in this very successful tour of Australia and in, and according to the reviews and things, I was, you know, quite successful in the role they gave me. Or the roles that they gave me.
Yeah. I think I worked out, that particularly in Australia, there, you can have a bit of trouble paying the rent if you only play leads. I love the fact that I was, frankly, happy to play anything. And I'm still like that and I still do things that people say, you know, "Should you have done that role?" A young actor on the set of 'Secret Life of Us' recently when I was doing a relatively small guest role - that I was enjoying doing it, playing a bit of a, a chap devoted to, to the poker machines in an RSL club and he had a bit of wisdom here and there to impart while pressing the buttons and whatever they do now. And this chap said, "What are you wasting your time doing this for?" I said, "I'm not wasting my time. I'm working with a director I've never worked with. I wanted to work with you guys up close and I love playing this part". "Ah". And he went away and he, he's becoming quite a successful actor himself now.
And, I don't know, I've, I've never been mad about being 'a star'. And, in fact I always remember hearing Peggy Ashcroft admonishing a, an interviewer when he said, "And what does it feel like to be a star at your age?", or something. "Oh, please don't use that word." "And, what's that?" "The word 'star', no, no, no." And she didn't like to hear the word 'star' being used about her. And we all sort of know what it means we think but I've never had that ambition. I love being handed a good role, even if it's only a short role. I must admit I did enjoy playing leads in radio because the laziness in me says it was great because you didn't have to learn it. I had some wonderful parts, wonderful roles in, in radio. Both tiny roles and big ones and I've always love, you know, even Charlie the Wonder Dog which led to 'The Castle'. And, all those things. And really, if you keep your wits about you, you can learn from everything you do. And I used to love that. Still do.
Now, you don't look for the lead role, you've explained that. But what about choosing the right role for you? Do you play a big part in that or do you leave it to your agent? What do you do to choose a role that you think you can excel at?
Well, I'm - very seldom really had to choose. The main, the interest, looking back over the years, the time that I had to make a choice that became important, was when we'd finished shooting 'The Shiralee' in London and Audrey and I were about to go back when they said, "Well look", it was MCA, saying, "You can do this, this, this and this". And they were the five, I think it was four or five, choices and they all clashed, including the Peter Sellers' show, etcetera, etcetera. But the thing that looked interesting to do was the role of an Australian surgeon working in London in a London hospital. They didn't have a lot of character notes because the show was got together very quickly to fill that toddlers' truce that I may have mentioned before. And the idea of playing an Aussie in London, and I was an Aussie in London, I was an Aussie actor in London, he was an Aussie surgeon in London. I just felt that that would be interesting and I had no thoughts about it helping the career because, at that stage, I was in episode one, two and four.
So I had two weeks work and then Audrey and I were going to hop on an aeroplane and go back home to Australia. But, because it was live to air, the show took off immediately and, and so it was a lucky choice. But it wasn't done with anything else but saying, "Gee, that'd be interesting". Like the role many years later in 'Money Movers'. Ooh, you're playing the Mr Nasty Guy. But it was so interesting to be playing the guy in the best suit who was probably the most evil villain of the team. And I had to go crook at Bryan Brown a couple of times which was good fun.
Now, you didn't do the sort of formal training that they do nowadays and in which you participate in teaching at the VCA. Do you, do you regret the fact that there wasn't that sort of training around when were young?
I suppose in a way, looking back and seeing the skills of the young actors, when you think of people like, well Lisa McCune, who became, you know, hugely successful doing the 'Blue Heelers' show. When she went into the theatre and did musicals, like Sondheim musicals and 'Sound of Music', her range of skill was extraordinary which had to have been developed at that wonderful drama school in Perth, at WAAPA. Western Australia [Academy] Performing Arts. And then when I saw Hugh Jackman, who's a fine actor, saw him playing the lead in 'Oklahoma', and singing superbly. And recently working with Martin Crewes in 'The Man From Snowy River', the range of skills that Martin has, had to have been developed in the three years he did at WAAPA. See it's interesting that I've mentioned three WAAPA people but they, it just seems to me that the skills and the concentration on work that they get at the drama schools, of course must be enormously helpful to people.
I knew young Matt Newton, Bert Newton's son, and I remember seeing him just after he got into NIDA in Sydney. And he was telling me what he was doing and at one stage he was going to play Iago in a drama, in the school production, the NIDA production. And I said, "Ooh I envy you". It was the one, one Shakespearean role I'd have loved to have had a go at. And I, I sort of - and he's come out of that three years at NIDA as a very, very fine actor indeed. Yeah. But also I don't believe there were the highly developed training establishments in Australia in those days. There were some drama schools but, not too sure about them looking back. Worthy and well-intentioned, but I don't think quite as highly skilled as they are now.
Oh, I'd have to say mainly John Saul. That influence was wonderful. Not only on me but on Rod Taylor and Dinah Shearing and lots of fine actors. But also I'm very grateful to Guy Doleman who had this passion about naturalism and reality. Now his training, and I'm not sure that he had any formal training, but he was a New Zealander who'd come to Sydney to give it a go in about 1946, just after the war. And we found we shared - and we were playing co-leads in 'Always Another Dawn' - and we shared a lot of views about what was, I suppose what was attractive to an audience or what was, what helped involve an audience in the story you were supposed to be telling.
And we both agreed that it was the naturalism and reality of great actors like Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and - in the American scene and some of the greats like Robert Donat and I suppose the early work by Redgrave, Michael Redgrave and other great - and Laurence Olivier too, of course. Even in those very early days. They set a very good standard, I thought, of, of, of naturalistic, real and very truthful work very often. And that intrigued Guy and I and then we, in our clumsy way, we used to work out how to do it. Put in a few pauses as if you can't think of what to say. We, all those sort of things. It was great fun trying to. And then we had that great advantage when we were both doing a lot of radio after we finished 'Always Another Dawn' and we could put it into practice doing radio too. And get a bit of a kick if somebody came up and said, "Oh you sound so real. Oh, I can't believe you were acting". And that was, you know, that was great.
Ah, I was nearly going to say no but I did do the Phillip Street theatre shows and they were revues but I had to sing quite a few songs in the first revue, which was 'Top of the Bill' and then a few more in 'Hit and Run'. And that's one of my regrets, that, it was Lance Mulcahy I think who was the, the music director and I used to worry him enormously because I'd get mixed up with the accompaniment and try to sing the accompaniment and not the melody, which was a demonstration of my lack of skill. But I should have taken advantage of that situation and, you know, learnt singing and did all the things that perhaps you can do at a drama school now. But I was having too much fun just being a working actor I suppose. And also a bit lazy too.
Well, I used to do the old hard working method of going over and over and over and learning it a bit like you'd learn a piece of poetry at school and all that. And it was when I was doing 'Emergency Ward 10', Audrey who wasn't an actress, was always hearing me my lines and that means sitting there with the script and feeding me the cues and checking me if I got my lines wrong. And most wives, partners, friends do that at some stage to help the actor who's trying to learn the role. And, after about eighteen months, I realised that poor Audrey didn't, you know, she had a, she was working just as hard as I was on 'Emergency Ward 10' and trying to run our flat and all that. This was before the children arrived.
And I suddenly realised with the advent of audio tape, the good old reel to reel tape, that if I acquired one I might be able to use a tape recorder. And, I think it was 1958, one of the chaps at Associated Television where we were making 'Ward 10', was able to get me a reasonable tape recorder, a reel to reel tape recorder, at cost price and I brought it home and I used to record the scene and leave appropriate gaps for my role, for my lines, my speeches and I got quite good at estimating the correct gap. And then I could act my socks off and Audrey could do what she liked and she didn't have to hear me my lines any more. But we kept up and we did, up until not long before she had to go into hospital towards the end there, we would, we made it a ritual that on the night before a show, whether it was telly, film or the opening night of a theatre play, she would hear me my lines in the old way to see if I'd drifted away from the, the actual text.
And once I tried that, I had a ball just learning because I used to be able to act my socks off. The tape recorder never went crook. You just wound it back and started again and you could do it fifty times and - as long as the machinery kept working. And I got very, very secure with my lines and developed in England quite a reputation for being able to, you know - especially when we were live to air. Now, I'd like to think I was as dedicated now but I still use a tape recorder. In fact I've got a little tape there. I'm doing a film next week and I've got the lines on tape. I've got one run of the scenes I've got with the gaps and I also, if it's got a little stop start button, I sometimes do what I call a stop start track where I put only the other people's speeches and leave a little bit of a gap and then I stop so that if I want to do a long pause, I can stop the tape and act the long pause.
I feel sometimes like I'm five or six years old, having fun, but it's a great way to work. And then I discovered that some great mates in England, well people like Gordon Jackson, fine, fine, Scottish actor and a great friend. We were doing a film together and we'd already done 'Bitter Springs' and 'Eureka Stockade' and then years later we were doing some work together in England and I mentioned that and he said, "Yeah, me too". He found the tape recorder. George Cole, who became famous for 'Minder', George and I did a mini-series in, in England together playing sort of co-leads and he said, oh, he lived a long way out of London. He said he used a tape recorder but because he had to drive a long way to come to work, he used to record his scenes and shout his scene, his lines very loudly so he couldn't not hear them. And I remember I had to up into the provinces somewhere to do an Oscar Wilde play, playing, I think it was 'An Ideal Husband', and I had the lead in that. And I learnt one whole act while driving up to Bradford or Hull or wherever we opened the play, using George's method. Tape recorders have been marvellous and I think an awful lot of actors use them.
Not really but a drama teacher friend of mine who does a bit of telly acting occasionally, now overseas so I think I can speak freely. Very - he gave me a marvellous tip when I was learning Alan Hopgood's 'The Carer' and I was a bit daunted by the prospect of having to learn it. We'd done a rehearsal, reading and yeah, that was OK. All the old radio training came out. But, I said, now I've got to learn it. And I must admit I was getting a bit nervous about it and not exactly being as successful in learning it as I thought when I was working at home. And Ron said, "Well, there, there's the old repetition of three, you know". I said, "What, what do you mean?" He said, "Well, if you say something three times", he said, "it'll stick". I said, "Well, why not four?" He said, "Too much". "Why not two?" "Not enough."
And blow me down, from then on I started learning sentences by repeating it three times and that section of 'The Carer', even when they were doing it again recently in Melbourne, they're - I'm, I'm, they're the most secure I've got. And I must admit, must admit I don't think I learnt the whole thing that way but when Ron told me about that. And I still do it now. So there's - and that's only a little while ago, about a year or so ago that Ron gave me that, that tip. So. Also I did work out a way of using a tape recorder for children to learn things and as a, as a gag once or as a sort of fun thing, when my kids were quite young and their cousins were down from Sydney staying with us here in Melbourne, and as a fun game I had a book on the rules of chess. Not a big, deep and meaningful book, very simple.
And I think within an hour or so I had all the kids being able to rattle off the rules of chess. Not that I'm a good chess player but, you know, "Who moves first? White or black?" "White." By making it a question and answer thing. You know, "How many squares on a chess board?" Rather than, and then you had to fill in the gap. And I was surprised by my son who's a - who did nuclear astrophysics and got a PhD, which I mean a mind boggling amount of work to go into that at university. But he didn't tell me until he was coming in on, on, coming on 'This Is Your Life', when they did me a few years ago now. And he said he was always very grateful for that learning tip I'd given him. And I didn't know that until he said it out loud on, on the program. So, good old tape recorders have helped us a bit, the whole family perhaps.
Is there anything you need to do just before a show? If you're doing live theatre, especially a one-man show which must be quite a weight of responsibility. Do you have rituals? Do you have things you need to do?
I have a sort of a compulsive ritual where, now, I'm very old fashioned about the theatre. I do miss the curtain. Modern art designers and people don't the - like the curtain. I used to love the curtain because when I was playing the lead in that play in London for a couple of years, I don't think I ever missed going on stage with the curtain down about a quarter of an hour before, ten minutes before and running through the whole of the, say the first ten minutes of the play, by myself. And saying it but not loud enough to get through the curtain to the people who'd be coming into the theatre. And then I developed a technique, I don't know where I picked it up, but whispering a line loudly and over-enunciating while whispering, as if you're trying to warn somebody, be careful the boss is outside. "Be careful, the boss is." That sort of thing. I found that was a way of, of opening up the muscles of the mouth or clear - or making things more flexible.
And I used to combine that with that little ritual of going through the beginning of the play. Now I know a lot of other actors have got very sophisticated vocal exercises and strange noises and things like that, but even with 'The Carer' now, and I've done it very many times in several short seasons, I still find that the best for me. And, but I do like to whisper it but not in a sort of a mumbled way. I try to over-articulate and that seems to set up the, whatever the muscles are that do all the hard work. And the head seems to get into it a bit too.
Oh, it was interesting. I was doing a lovely play called 'The Herbal Bed' not all that long ago with a marvellous cast. With Frances O'Connor, who's now a lovely big international star too, like all, like Rachel Griffiths and all the others. Beaut gal to work with. And I had two beaut scenes. Nice old man's role. You come on for a beaut scene at the beginning. I was playing the bishop of wherever it was. And then a long gap and came on with another beaut scene towards the end of the play and got off and all the other actors had to do all the hard work, the really dramatic work, and the shouting acting and all that. Which they did superbly. And I loved playing this role, especially with that [sic] people.
But after a while I started to forget the lines, as soon as I walked on stage, of my second scene. Not the first, the second scene. And they were all being terribly helpful, they were wonderfully cooperative cast. Robert Menzies and people like this saying, "No, no, no, you were alright". Said, "Oh, I'm sorry", you know when I came off stage. And they'd help me and I'd dry a bit and then mumbled my way out of it somehow and they would help. And it, it wasn't a big deal but, you know, it was the little things that happen in any theatre company I suppose.
And, but my morale was going - oh, I really am getting old - and this was what? About five years ago, I suppose. And I suddenly thought, hang on, I haven't been thinking about where the guy's been, and this sounds a bit Stanislavskian method and all that, but I had, the scene was written where the bishop comes hurrying in to realise that it was a scandal concerning Shakespeare and his wife and I, and I knew they were there and they - and I had to, had to front up and talk to her. And I suddenly tried to work out what exactly he'd been doing for the last five or ten minutes before being given the news that they were actually waiting for him and he should have been there, the bishop.
And so the next time I did it, and a, it was much more lively and I came bustling on stage and played the scene. No danger of drying or forgetting my lines at all from then on. And, I suddenly realised I'd forgotten one of my own basic rules. Never, you know, you've got to, your head's not just got to be there when you're actually doing it. There's quite a bit of preparation. It may not be long but you've got to do it to get yourself absolutely ready to go on stage.
Yeah. I, I, I, look, it's wrong to say I teach acting because I once got into trouble in Sydney by saying everybody can act. And I think what I meant was, everybody does act. That is that if you're going to be polite to the boss when you really don't like him, you're acting. Or if you're apologising for not paying the newspaper bill, you're acting. So, I think it's part of our species or whatever we are. What I have tried to do is to pass on some of those marvellous things that John Saul taught me. I have read and re-read many of Stanislavski's books, particularly 'An Actor Prepares'. I still go back to Shakespeare's 'Advice to the Players'.
But by the time I work with people at the Victorian College of the Arts, they're, they've usually started their third year. So they've already had two excellent years under Lindy Davies' directorship. And they're already skilled actors. All my task becomes is to make them comfortable in front of cameras for film or television but, inevitably, I will pass on tips that have been important to me, like going on stage totally prepared for that scene in 'Herbal Bed'. So, and usually they seem to respond to that pretty well.
Yeah, very much, I do.
Oh, I don't know. Is it a reflection of seeing myself having a go and, you know, and I get a tremendous kick out of seeing them pop up on the telly and even in a commercial doing a good job. You know sometimes I think, gee I know that face? And suddenly, woo, you know. And, with Sybilla Budd, when I worked with her in that, the episode of 'Secret Life of Us', the penny suddenly dropped. I think, I haven't been able to do any classes in the last year or so because of my own busy schedule but, when I first met her, I said, "Hang on". I said, "I know, you were in that class". She said, "That's right". And I'd asked the whole class, there must have been about nine or ten, because they're culled down a little bit at VCA, down to the final year, and I went right round asking them what they thought was wrong with television or what they thought about television. And I hope Sybilla doesn't mind me saying this. But it got right round to her and she said, "Yes, I just want to know why it is so dreadful".
So I happened to have a box of tapes of award winning shows of the year before including that brilliant drama done about the, the Granville train disaster in - that was a superb production by all standards. And there were, there was a lot of work like that. A brilliant episode of 'Halifax FP' which could have been a great feature film. Things like that. And I played chunks from it and they all went, "Ah". And they were all a bit impressed by that. Because, you know, they've got work to do so they're not going to be watching as much telly as perhaps I might watch. And I reminded her of that and I got a tremendous kick out of seeing her being terribly successful as she has been in 'Secret Life of Us' and she's a very, very fine actor indeed.
Yeah, just in general I love it and I love their enthusiasm. I understand their cynicism, their thing, "Oh, it's who you know, not how you can do it". And you're trying to convince them that, no, it's how you do it that's important. And try to teach them some of the things that Scotty Ehrenberg taught, taught us. I was years ago asked by Hector Crawford to write down a list of things that actors could do to help us directors and I got to twenty points. And it's now known as Bud's, Bud Tingwell's twenty points. And it's now very old but occasionally, even recently, I was asked by a leading producer if I could, if he could have a copy. And the first one starts with 'Be early and if you're running late, tell somebody.'
And it think it was one of the leads in 'Neighbours', a very experienced actress, Anne Haddy, she read them when Peter Dodds, the producer, had asked me for a copy of them a while ago when Anne was still at work in the show. And he said, "Yes, we're - I agree with all of that and I showed them to Anne. She agrees, she said, except for the first one. She said, unless you're a quarter of an hour early, you're late". So. But simple things like that and, you know, and, and if you're, they're lining up a shot, stand still, don't muck about because the cameraman's trying to line up and get focus and everything. But if you start chatting about what you did last night and, and what you're going to have for lunch and scratches, and all those sorts of things, you're giving him a hard time.
And also remember that the microphones are often live, if you're, and you may be miced up with a little miniature mics we use now. Just be careful because the soundman's got a job and he's trying to determine levels and atmosphere tracks and all sorts of things. And it's surprising how some, some quite experienced young actors, don't seem to know that.
Now, you've done almost everything there is to do around the entire industry, theatre, television, film, the lot. But you've been a director, producer and a little bit a writer as well. Now, how do you characterise the difference in those roles? When you step from being an actor to a director, how different is that for you and how do you see the advantages and disadvantages of being in that role?
Well, I learnt my lesson very quickly when I was directing, I took over from Lawrence H. Cecil, directing John Saul in that radio show all those years ago. And, in my enthusiasm, I went through that script and I put marks as to how I thought each speech should be played. Then I hired some of the best actors in Sydney who were mates of mine. Rod Taylor, Johnny Meillon and, you know, and I was so wrong in doing that because if I started, I knew them so well that if I said, "No, say 'What's that on the road ahead?' Not 'What's that on the road, a head?'" And whatever I determined should be said and they could turn around and say, "Pull your head in. Who do you think you are?" And I suddenly realised, I didn't have to say anything to them really at all. Unless they totally misread it.
And I found that with good actors, the less you tell them the better unless you can come up with something as brilliant as John Saul used to say like, "Play it like you love her, not like you hate her". And, you know, things like that. And I then was able to work, I think eventually later on when I did a lot of television directing and, again, working with good actors, you had to - I really could talk, you know, about what I thought the guy was thinking if that was appropriate. If they'd misread something and thought, "Oh, I forgot about that. Yes, that's right. He was thinking that because of that". And actors in the shows that I was directing like 'The Sullivans' and sometimes even in 'Carson's Law', which was a pretty high standard show too. Often the actors were, their major task was to learn it and you couldn't go into the analytical depths that you perhaps would have with, say a feature film or something like that. So the director was there to help guide them if they were off on the wrong track at all.
But very little direction is needed to be given to good actors. And sure, if they ask for help, but I had to be careful because of one, now quite a distinguished actress, she hadn't been doing that much telly and I said, "I think if it could just be a little more real it would be good". And she said, "Oh, you'll have to give me much more than that. What do you mean?" I thought, "Oh gosh". But Tony Keary, who was the original producer and directed the first four episodes, I think it was, of 'Emergency Ward 10', he got wonderful results by coming up to you after a run through of something and say, "That's great. Just a little more real", and walk away. And you'd think, I won't ask. Ah, hang on, oh I can't ask him, he's doing something else now. And every actor, I think, has got some built in meter that says, "Uh uh, I wasn't real". And you can go back to being real.
Whatever you think that might mean. And I've found that that trick of, that method of Tony's, has helped me enormously. I found most actors have responded to it and the next time you run through, something amazing has happened. I had a very interesting task, I'm sure they won't mind. Gary Sweet, Peter Harvey Wright and, and Nick Waters, I think, were the three concerned. They were cast brilliantly as three mates in the AIF, in 'The Sullivans'. And Hector called me and said, "Could you have a word with them?" He said, "They're the best casting in the world for those parts. They're supposed to be close mates but it's not gelling". And he said, "Would you work with them in the rehearsal room?"
So, they come up to the rehearsal room and I, we had the next scene they were working on. And they started to run through it and I said, "Oh, hang on, you're not working with each other". They were very, very accurately portraying those characters as written but they weren't really working with each other. Weren't really listening to each other or, you know, whatever. Or getting through to each other. And so they said, "Ooh, sorry". The next time they ran it, it was fabulous. And I said, "Well, that's all we had to do". And, it was probably a bit lazy of me but I said, "I don't want to do it any more. You can just, away you go". And Mandy Smith was working with them on that next episode and I said, "How did they go?" She said, "It was like working with three brand new wonderful actors". Now, was that clever of me? No, it wasn't. It was just a very basic thing that Johnny Saul would have picked up like that and luckily enough, because of John's influence and perhaps Owen Weingott's influence, all those other influences, I happened to notice that and they responded wonderfully.
Now, you're talking about directing actors. What about when you're directing, you're arriving at an overall interpretation of the total work, how do you enjoy that? Do you like that aspect of it? Because that's the whole extra bit that you get to do as a director.
Yes, sure. Yeah, look, in fairness I don't think I've ever been asked to direct, you know, something as, 'Gone With the Wind' or anything like that. What that must be like, doing a really big film. Or as Fred Schepisi did with 'Evil Angels' and that would be an enormous task. But I suppose when I produced the 'Flying Doctors' mini-series, I've often thought that was like producing a really big, big movie. And I just found that it, you know, breaking them down into bits and making sure each bit responds, you know, links with the other and trying to keep it as real as possible, that seemed to work. But I know there are other many, many more deep and meaningful aspects to a big production that a producer and or director's got to be very, very aware of. And I suppose be careful of not getting too self-indulgent and realising too that if you've cast it right, both in front of the camera and behind the camera, you've got a lot of help there.
It's very hard to pin one down. At their best each one I believe is absolutely fabulous to be asked to do. It's great.
Oh, well, I suppose it's been very, very important. I don't think I've, I don't think I've made friends, deep, you know, deep friendships very, very easily and I've got a funny feeling I'm a little bit lazy about that. If, if, if the friends I do have maintain the friendship from their end I - but with, with people like Owen Weingott and I, we, you know, that was very special. And then, then we linked because, although Owen had a Jewish background, he married out of the faith and then, so we became godparents to each other's children. And Joe Scully and I met when I was doing those workshops in, at Scotty Ehrenberg's and I'm godfather to Carl and I was best man at their wedding and this - you know, strong, strong. The normal strong bonds I guess.
But I developed some good friendships when I working in England. With beaut people like Gordon Jackson and, and Christopher Morahan, the director and we'd, you know. They've, they've been very good. I, you know, I've worked with a little of people I would like to be, be, you know, friendly with over the years but it's a strange business. You suddenly, you know, you're great mates, suddenly, wham, he's off to America or England or somewhere and you exchange a few Christmas cards and things like that.
But people like Michael Pate and I, we were very good friends, having worked together. Michael was a very important actor, you know, and I always thought he was way up there somewhere when I was getting going after the war. And then, you know, he, we always had, you know, when he was back in Australia from when he was in America, we used to exchange a lot of letters and things and when he went back to Australia we still kept in touch. And I think it was because I'd forgotten to send him a Christmas card that, and I'd had a Christmas card from him in 1972, that I dropped an air letter about half way through the year and said , "I meant to send you a Christmas card. Thanks for yours". And it was that letter, I believe, that told Michael Pate's wife, Felippa, that we were coming home and she happened to mention it to Hector Crawford. And Hector Crawford wrote me a little letter just before we left England to fly home on that family trip, personal trip. "If - I hear you're on a personal trip, if you've got time, would you do some work for us?" So, it was - I'm glad I missed sending him a Christmas card.
In an acting career there are a lot of decisions that you have to make which affect your family. And in your marriage to Audrey, she often had to pull up stumps and move at short notice and change plans and so on. How did you find working through that balance between family life and career?
I - it sometimes was obviously, you know, very tricky. But she was remarkable. She seemed to say, "OK, fine, let's give it a go". I always regretted that I hadn't somehow been able to arrange for her to come to Hollywood with me. Because that, that went from being just a, a, you know, what a short sort of four or five week commitment to about two or three months by the time we had to wait for extra scenes and there were some added scenes to be done. And it would have been, I'm sure she would have got a tremendous kick out of it. But she was very good about it. Didn't ever whinge and didn't ever complain. When we did go to England via Hollywood, it was great that she was there with me when the, Rod Taylor teed up that telemovie. Having to delay our trip to England, it was great to have her, sort of by my side to help us organise all that. When the children arrived I was, when Christopher was born I was doing 'Emergency Ward 10' so I had a steady job and, I was just like anybody else going to work in the morning. And the studio wasn't all that far from where we were living in Golders Green at the time. And - so that was OK.
But we got a bit of a shock when we discovered that her health wasn't all that great when we had, when we bought the tickets to come home and we discovered sort of accidentally that her blood pressure was very, very high and the doctors thought it was nearly too high for safety. So we had to delay the trip and - while they got the blood pressure under control, which they did. The good thing about that was that we, it alerted us that there was a medical problem there, that we had to be very, very careful of. Of course as her health really deteriorated towards the end, I was quite happily turning work that took me away from home down so that I could stay with her. But I was lucky I was able to, you know, just do voiceovers and things, going back to the old radio training.
Oh, extraordinary. And she was never the sort of person that said, "Oh darling, can we go to that new restaurant that's opened up the road or in the West End or something?", when we were in England. We had our own little rituals for, for anniversaries and we'd go to what we thought might be a nice restaurant or a posh restaurant or something. Googie Withers introduced us to a lovely little restaurant in Soho, which served superb food, so that became our little private celebration place. And also we knew them well enough to be able to take Aussie friends there and grandly order venison and Chateau Neuf du Pape '51, you know. All stuff that Googie had introduced us to. And so little things like that. But, we - she was remarkable, Audrey. She, she, I mean she had once trained or done some dressmaking training before she became an air hostess with TAA and so occasionally she'd fall back on that. In fact I was wearing a shirt the other day that I'd - she'd put extra pockets on for me, copying a shirt I'd bought in Indonesia when I was on a location survey once many years ago. And, so, and she could make things for the kids if necessary. Not necessarily because she had to but because she wanted to. And she knitted beautifully and I got her to knit me a cricket set [sic], sweater once and I directed it and it was the biggest cricket sweater ever, anybody's ever seen. But she knitted it superbly. Yeah, it was great. And she was a reasonable cook and all that. Yeah.
I trusted her opinion on things very, very strongly. She had a wonderful ability, she was, she was a good reader. Most of the books here, I'm sure are because she wanted to read them or - and she would read them too. She was much better read than I am. She could read a script and really predict how it was going to work out, assuming that the director was whatever, you know, a competent director. And astonishingly accurate about things and I, and I now rely on my son and my daughter, who I believe between them have got the combination of her ability to read a script and determine whether it's worth doing or not. Now, I'm not, I don't, as I think I've indicated, don't turn down very much but if I really feel strongly about something, I probably won't do it.
But her, her, her awareness and her, her - before I got the tape recorder, I mean when I think of all the hours and hours and hours she spent hearing me my lines. Not just on 'Emergency Ward 10' but plays in the theatre and the Phillip Street shows. The lovely thing about radio, we didn't have to do that. But any films I was doing, she was always there to help me. And I loved her, you know, coming on location if we could, you know. And I loved getting that agreement with Chips Rafferty's company where she came with us on 'King of the Coral Sea'. And, I think she enjoyed doing that too. I'm sure she did.
Yeah, yeah. No, I found it terribly easy. I don't mean easy, because I was - it was a very sad, scary time. But as far as work was concerned that was very, very down the priority list. It didn't matter.
Yeah, I had no compunction about turning down the Hollywood contract. It didn't worry me at all. It didn't worry me when Tim Wilson, the agent, after I, you know, left 'Girl in My Soup' and it folded, I wouldn't have known it folded, I suppose, except that we were delayed because of Audrey's health and we had to postpone our trip back home by three or four weeks, whatever it was. And when Tim said, "Please don't leave London now, you know, you've left the play and it's folded. You took over when it was about to fold and it's run for two years". And it, that never worried me. It didn't worry me when 'Homicide' ended except that there were a lot of very, very good people who were going to be looking for work as I was. Though Hector Crawford took me back on fairly - as soon as he could as a director. But there were a lot of very good technical people and, you know, some excellent actors who were suddenly out of work. That worried me, but it didn't worry me about - it's funny. Johnny Saul once said to me, "Look after the work and the career takes care of itself". And that I found astonishingly good advice and I think I've sort of lived by that in a funny kind of way. And therefore if the work isn't there, oh well, bad luck. The next job you get, that becomes very important.
Oh, I don't know. It - is it conditioning, tradition or something? And we were a sort of close family. Audrey had very little family. She was an only child. All her relatives were either in Aberdeen, where she was born, or in America where some of her mother's family had gone. Her mother's sister had gone there because her husband was an engineer and his work took him from Scotland to America. So they were a scattered family. We were quite close and I seemed to remember having lots and lots of cousins in Sydney and, and lots of aunties who weren't really aunties but we knew them well. They were great old friends of Mum's and they'd grown up together. Dad had very little contact with his family because his parents had died when he was very young. He'd been brought up by an aunt, a very intelligent woman, a great woman. His brothers had a lot of children but they were in Melbourne so - and during the Depression we weren't very mobile and didn't travel around very much. But his - so I didn't really ever get to meet his family. But we were a, we were a quite a big family and, and very close. So it, I suppose I was conditioned to, and I, you know, frankly I also loved the sort of, almost privacy that Audrey and I had because we didn't have children for quite a while.
Not that we didn't want to. Audrey couldn't, wasn't well enough to and did need some surgery eventually to make it possible. And when Christopher arrived, he arrived absolutely on the dot, on the scheduled time and Virginia was about five days late but, and a bit rowdy when she arrived. But that was, yeah. And then there were, there were really just the four of us with a few close friends in London. That was interesting and, but in touch with family, then Mum and Dad came over and stayed with us for quite some time.
Sort of, yeah. She, she - we discovered that she wasn't in very good shape, you know, in Australia. She had been well provided for by her husband but unfortunately hadn't invested it wisely or something or hadn't got any good advice and we sort of had to rescue her by flying her over to stay with us. I wasn't in a position for us to come back at that time and - with various commitments and things. So we brought her over to stay with us and I rather secretly hoped once she saw Scotland again she'd say - loved being here, but she missed Sydney and she stayed with us for about fifteen months or so and we had to fly her back. And then sadly, you know, she wasn't, she became unwell herself and had to go into a nursing home. But I think by the time she flew, about halfway during the time she was with us in London, I think there was a bit of a reconciliation. And I think that children helped too.
Oh yeah. Oh well, I, I, I grew up, I assumed that I that I was a nuisance anyway to the family because I wanted to do this acting. And I remember when Dad won that prize in the lottery and sent me to Sydney Grammar School, we had a brilliant economics master and for some reason I decided to do economics and, with one year with E.W. Bonwick who was a very learned man and had written several books on it and had some very interesting economic ideas. And I remember Dad saying to me, "My God, I didn't send you to that school to learn to be a communist. What's this?" And I, I don't know. So I assumed the family then, from then on thought I was a rip-roaring radical and not to be trusted and things. But, I don't know, I never ever thought I was terribly well liked so I suppose that's the - which, which is, which is probably better than misreading everything.
Maybe it was misreading everything. I mean how did you take the fact that you couldn't get on with your mother-in-law? Or that your mother-in-law didn't take to you. I mean not coming to your wedding must have been quite a thing.
Well, I suppose it was. Selfishly perhaps I was more concerned about what it meant to Audrey and I thought, well, if that's how she's feels, I don't mind. I thought it was tough for Audrey but then Audrey was very strong about it. She said, "No, you know, if she won't come, bad luck". She kept in touch with her mother. Of course she didn't ever ignore her and we were there if she needed any help. But I don't think it really had to, ever should have come from me. I think Audrey would have quietly helped her. But I don't think she ever needed any financial help until all that time later when we found that she'd actually run out of money rather than investing it. I think what we discovered was she'd just put it in the bank and slowly used it. Whatever income she was - not income but perhaps a superannuation fund or something. Her husband would have been very well paid over the years as a chief engineer on a ship and I don't think they were ever short of money as a family. But I do think that, at the end we really found out that she, things weren't all that good. Well, and for quite a long time, yes, I'd been supporting her for quite a few years, I suppose, one way and another.
You've thought probably more than most because of the play, 'The Carer', the films that you've been in that have been around the subject of life after the loss of a wife and, more than most, about the experience that you went through in caring for and then losing Audrey. So you've probably got more to offer in terms of an expression of what that means in a person's life. What did it mean in your life?
Oh, I, I, I, I was staggered. I think if it hadn't been for that strange fluke of being asked to do 'The Castle', I reckon I'd have sat in a corner at home and just fallen apart. Apart from, you know, being able to, you know, chat to the, the, then then one granddaughter, Eleanor and my son's step-children. But no, I don't know, I was, I was, you know, quite happy to sort of sit there and do nothing and think a lot and probably get sick and, not be very well, I would think. But it was only the work that saved me. How people can do it if they've got to generate their own work or their own method of conquering that strange grief situation. I don't know how they can do it. I don't think I'd have had the strength to do it on my own. I think the, you know, the fact that I had that extraordinary burst of work was a life saver to me. I've met, you know, people who've done it themselves and I, you know, going around chatting to local community groups and things and you see the groups where people have, you know, elderly people after retirement or loss of a partner, have joined a working bee and they become social workers and helpers and things.
I - although yes I've done a bit of, you know, a bit of work over the years with say the Flying Doctor Service in a voluntary capacity or RPH, the print handicapped radio station, things like that. But that wasn't really enough to overcome the, for me, the, the, the sense of loss. But the discipline of the movie was and I think, still I'm a little bit fragile. If I have got something to do that I've got to do, I feel a bit fragile sometimes.
Yeah, and I find it hard not to think, "Well what's the use?", you know. With the grandchildren, yeah, that's great but that's almost just a, I don't know, that's great fun seeing them, you know, developing. But - and they don't really need me. But they're great, they're great kids. Particularly, you know, the, Virginia's eight year old and four year old. That's a delightful age to watch the development and everything. Christopher's teenagers are, they're light years ahead of me anyway intellectually. Like most teenagers, they're - and they're beaut kids. The little one is too young yet to, you know, to see that wonderful development. Though that's pretty exciting at the moment too, the five month old one. Young Lucie. But, yeah, I don't reckon I'd have coped terribly well without the work.
Oh, I, I loved that. It was great. I was at the birth of both of them.
Well, not really. No, I found London was way ahead in 1959 and 1962 when Virginia was born. And amongst our circle of friends, I've got a feeling it would have been unusual not to have been there. I know with the morning Christopher was born, he was born at twenty to eight in, on September the 15th - which I think is Battle of Britain Day - in 1959. And I remember I was doing a live to air episode of 'Emergency Ward 10' and we'd normally started to, it was a studio day and so it must have been a Tuesday or a Friday and I was at the hospital with Audrey when she, at about eleven o'clock that night said, "I think things", the night before, "things are happening". So, and she was drifting around totally in control as she packed the bag and I think we had a car in those days and I drove her in at the appropriate time. And then I was with her holding her hand and then Christopher arrived at twenty to eight and that was an amazing joyous experience and, probably the most disciplined I think I've ever been, I wasn't, I didn't want to see Christopher before she did and I can remember holding her hand and looking at her and the midwife, who was a lovely, big, very black woman from, I think, Jamaica, who said, "Well done, you've got a little boy".
And we got Audrey up so she could see him first and then there was Christopher. And I always went crook at her because her first words about him when she looked at him, she said, "He looks like Edward G Robinson". "What?" But, yeah, that was great. And the same thing happened with Virginia, except that she didn't look anything like Edward G Robinson. Yeah, that was terrific. Really great.
Oh. I'm not bad I suppose but - and they've been awfully tolerant of the worried actor dad and they must have seen me coming home worried after a thing and, sort of, having a few too many grogs to help get over whatever problem I might have had. But I, you know, I don't think I was too bad, yeah.
Oh, I should, I should read more. I've, I discovered the other night, I have to, I don't think I'm an alcoholic or anything but, like a lot of people, a few beers is good. I used to, when Audrey was still at home and not well, we couldn't do very much and missing a few shows and things which worried her. I used to love watching the news at, say, seven o'clock and then the show after it, and in that time consume about three or four cans of, three cans of beer I think was what I - was the limit until my son-in-law, I think, said, "You realise that puts you way over .05". So I thought, "Oh right, so I'd better stop doing that". And also, didn't help my waistline. But I do find that, you know, two or three beers is a rather calming sort of influence. But that's really about all. I suppose I sort of wander around worrying a lot but I don't have any clever methods of doing it. But a friend of mine in Perth, she's a doctor and she thinks, well you should be reading more and things. And I, I find that I've got a lot of very, you know, almost not quite fully read books around the place. Yeah. I don't - I'm not very good at those sort of things.
Not all that important. As long as there was just enough, I suppose. I've been very, very lucky in that I've always had just enough work coming in to cover expenses. My income when I was happily keeping away from long running radio series, so I could be available for movies and things, that did mean that my annual income wouldn't be anything like the very busy actors like, perhaps, Johnny Meillon or Ray Barrett or people like that in those days. And I remember when Audrey and I got married in '51, I said, "Darling I promise, look as soon as we get married, now that we've found a flat", and she had to give up the job she loved flying with the airline, "I will stop mucking about doing films and be a proper actor and just concentrate on radio". And I was astonished by - when I told Nora Burnett, the agent, my agent that and then I suddenly was cast in serials and things, the income did shoot up to a very respectable, I think it was something like a forty pound a week average one year which to me was a very high income in those days. In 1951, 52. And then, of course, I mucked it all up by going to Hollywood with very short notice and I was a...
But yeah, as long as there was enough and I know when we did 'Emergency Ward 10', 20 pounds an episode if I was in two and 25 if I was in one. And that was only going to be for a short time anyway but then it went on and on and on and the money slowly went up a little bit. But, as long as, as long as you get by and strangely, I've had an astonishingly busy few years since Audrey died and the income, of course, has gone up and my daughter, Virginia who now looks after all my tax inquiries and all that sort of stuff, liaising with the, my professional accountant. And she said, "Do you know how much you've earned last year?" And she told me and I was kind of astonished. It was a lot more than I'd ever earned before. So, funnily enough had my biggest earning years in the last three or four years, I guess.
Well, I'm, if I want to buy anything - I drive an old motor car, I'm too mean to buy a new one. But if I, let's say I did want to buy a car, I'd ring Christopher and Virginia first and say, "Do you think it's alright?" Because, they'd say, "It's your money". I'd say, "Well not really, it's sort of yours". You know, soon, whenever. And that sounds very, very noble but I'm still, I'm always very cautious of the fact that any actor I think has got to be very careful that you don't suddenly think, if you're suddenly earning 100 pounds a week, you're going to be earning that all the year. You might be only earning that while you're on that movie or on that play. So you'd better be careful. And I've never had any, you know, amazing formula for determining how much you should save but there's just that thing, be very careful. And sadly I've seen a few actor mates who've suddenly got into the big money and then forget to put the money aside for tax or something and then get into terrible trouble in about eighteen months time. And I'm sure it used to happen in Hollywood a lot too, in the old days when the, whether they were under contract or not, the money would go up and up and up a bit and, over the years and they hadn't provided for the things, "Oh, I forgot about the tax", or whatever.
I think that's, yeah, yes, I think there's a lot of conditioning there somehow.
How important do you think those early years, and the security of that solid family, how important do you think that's been to this capacity you seem to have to have a very long and sustainable career, to keep your sort of balance, to keep your head through everything? Do you think that comes from early life?
Oh, I suppose it does, really, yes. You know I could never remember Mum and Dad ever doing anything that was outrageously expensive or wasteful. And yeah, I - but I suppose it has been enormously helpful. I mean I, I don't live in amazing surroundings. It's comfortable, you know, and all that but occasionally I used to think when, when I became well known or the profile was high in UK [sic], I thought should we be living in a bigger or better house and, you know, on your visits - I remember Googie and John had a lovely house in, in just outside London and I was terribly impressed by their taste and their furnishings and things like that. But then, you know realistically that's not really us anyway. As long as the chairs are reasonably comfortable to sit down on and we bought our little round table there at the, the antique dealer across the road from the flats we lived in. And I think it cost 40 pounds and I don't think it was, you know, I don't know how good it is really. But, you know, we didn't ever go mad and sometimes I used to wonder if we should have done a bit. But, I don't know, Audrey never seemed to complain so, it was OK I guess.
No, I - well I had this silly ambition, I think I may have mentioned it before, of once I became a sort of a fairly established professional actor as a radio actor and, and did me movies in the late '40s and things, I thought, I think if I'm, you know, really to prove I'm getting anywhere I should be in Hollywood by the time I'm 30. And I suddenly, amazingly, flukily found I was in Hollywood just before my 30th birthday and I realised what a stupid, empty ambition that was. And what did it mean? Nothing. Especially when they said, "Here's a contract", and I said, "No thanks, I'm going back to work in with me mate Chips Rafferty". And anyhow, Paul Biden was a great close mate of mine at Sydney Grammar School and we were about the, I suppose the only long term friend I ever made there, and we shared a sort of feeling that we shouldn't really be there. He was at North Sydney High which was a marvellous high school but his father had been at Sydney Grammar School and his father was a civil servant and eventually found he had enough money to send Paul for the last two years to Sydney Grammar School.
So, Paul was reluctantly there instead of finishing his last two years at North Sydney. And I was reluctantly there when I would have liked to have been at Sydney High. And so we formed a sort of friendship. And I was shattered once when one of the masters at Grammar said something that referred to "you chaps whose parents could only afford to send you here for the last two years. You must really knuckle down". And I went, "Ooh". And it wasn't a big deal but that hurt a bit and I think Paul was a bit shattered by that as well. He was, he's such a good bloke he's probably forgotten that. But, I - after we left school my mother used to get worried about Paul because he's a hell of a good guy and, again, we're godparents to each other's kids too... She said, "He's got no ambition. Absolutely no ambition". But he's had a marvellous life and looking back, apart from some medical problems he had a long time ago from which he's recovered brilliantly, he's, he's been very, very happy and he's got a beaut family too. And I thought, he became my symbol of you can get by without having a lot of ambition. Because sometimes ambition can really drive you into really dangerous territory if you're not careful, I believe. Certainly in show business.
You don't seem to have ever had the kind of ego problem that a lot of actors have either. You seem to not be - have the need to always be in the front line, to be a star, to do all of those things that often drive other actors. Why do you think that you've been able to avoid the temptation to be a bit narcissistic?
Dunno. I think, again I think the good influences, people I respected enormously. I keep going back to Johnny Saul or Owen, Owen Weingott. Owen Weingott did all that work and I got the gig as I was saying. He could have been a, you know, probably our leading actor at one stage but he opted, he was also a very good athlete and a very good fencer and he suddenly then was devoting an awful lot of time actually training the Olympic fencing team and still did his acting but did it with, you know, distinguished amateur companies and things like that. Then he became a teacher and I think he went to Bathurst, to the tertiary establishment out there, running the drama section. He - and his son, Paul has done that too. Paul, a marvellous actor and my godson and tall, handsome, movie star stuff. But he's been, he's been, he devoted his life to teaching and a quieter life too, with lovely family. I, you know, I don't, I don't quite know what it is, but I suppose I've been, what, influenced by really, in my, as far as I can see very, very good people who have, who have just always been good people. I've known, you know, a few beaut actor mates who've suddenly become sort of stars and things like that.
Somebody to me who is a perfect example of a really successful actor these days, who's even got an Academy Award, but to me whenever I've worked with him - oh, I've only worked with him once, but whenever I've met him and talked to him, is a, a beaut, seems to be a humble guy - is Geoffrey Rush. And, tremendous respect for him. And I remember once at the Victorian College of the Arts, I went into the gents when I was running a class one day and I bumped into a chap who was changing his trousers and I thought it was a student. When he turned round it was Geoff, Geoffrey Rush. I hope he doesn't mind me saying this. And I said, "What are you doing?" And he said, oh, he was doing something at the college for somebody and as we came, and he was putting on a pair of tracksuit trousers. And as we walked outside, Lindy Davies came along and she said, "What are you doing here?", to Geoffrey. And he said, "Oh I'm just" - he was going to do some movement classes. Now whether he was going to do them as a student or whether he was teaching them, I don't know, but he'd already got the Academy, no, he was about to go to Hollywood to be told he was the world's best film actor because he was about to - we didn't know he was going to get that, we knew he was nominated for an Academy Award.
But he was using the gents loo, not the director's posh office or anything, to change his trousers before going to the class. And any time I've met him - he came to see the first showing of 'The Castle' and he'd just got the Golden Globe award and I went to say, "Congratulations on your Golden Globe", and before I could say it he said to me, 'Oh congratulations, what a wonderful movie and loved your role". And as though, and that very much fits in with the Owen Weingott's and Paul Biden's of the world. And he's a very, very important international actor and any time I've met him and I've worked with him briefly in the, the 'Ned Kelly' movie. And he was beaut. And I noticed he only had to do, in 'Ned Kelly', listen to me while I read the Jerilderie letter to him, as the, I was playing the Premier of Victoria. And he was always there, even though the camera was on me, he was always there, sitting there listening, always there for rehearsals and, yeah. That's, that's, that's the sort of guy that I respected always, you know, and perhaps tried to be.
You've worked internationally. You've worked with actors from all over the world. Do you think this lack of pretension, this willingness to just work like any of the others, is a particularly Australian characteristic?
Yeah, it could be, I guess, yeah, yeah. Certainly I was, I was delighted when Peter Finch came back to do 'The Shiralee', and now he'd gone from being one of our best radio actors and a great stage actor and a bit of a film actor sometimes, and I had had a few beers with him the day before he sailed off with, with his wife in those days, to go to England. He came back and he was the same sort of fellow and got just as much of a kick out of, you know, meeting lovely Aussie characters when we were outback doing the location scenes and things and he hadn't seemed to have changed at all. It was great and he'd been away for a very long time and was now an important international actor. So perhaps it is an Aussie thing. Rod Taylor seems to be the same, like that as well. I've met very few actors who seemed to have, I suppose certainly Australian actors who have been changed by great success which is, is a nice thought really.
In talking about acting, you've talked about how as well as the craft of acting, there are a whole lot of rules about behaviour. About to be a good acting employee, I suppose, somebody who behaves well on the set. Has that stood you in good stead, do you think, in getting roles?
Oh, very, well - I don't - it may, yes. It was interesting. I did a lot of first episodes of quite good series in England for a while, particularly ones produced by a very good producer called Richard Bates, son of the famous H.E. Bates, the author. I said to him, "This is beaut", because it often meant that I wasn't in for the whole run but a very good guest role. And he said, "Oh, it's just that we like the way that you work so it's good to get you into the first episodes because it's a good influence around the place". Which was a very flattering thing to say. But I would thank Scotty Ehrenberg and those classes all those years before, the workshops in Sydney before I did 'Always Another Dawn'. Because the one marvellous thing that I and Joe Scully and those of us who were in that class learnt was that there are other people doing very important work on the movie set and you must be aware of everybody else. I suppose that's one of the main reasons why I love movies. It's a very cooperative art, if you like.
Yes. Oh yeah, I think I claim to have got sacked five times by Crawfords at various times. Mainly when I was being a director. I laugh about it now but it was a little bit worrying at the time I suppose because of the family. But I was one of the early directors on 'The Sullivans' but I was trying to insist on the actors sticking to that very carefully crafted script and it was structured in a way that meant it was accurate for 1939 language in Australia and if the actors adlibbed, it came up to 1978 or 9, whenever we were making the show. And I used to, as I had once said to Johnny Alderton, "If you can stick to the script, you'll be a much better actor if you can make the difficult line work even if it's using phrases that you're not used to saying". And I remember saying to, I think it was Michael Caton, "Now look, if it was Shakespeare you wouldn't change it". And he said, "I think that this isn't Shakespeare", and I said, "How do you know?" In about 300 years it might well be considered to be the Shakespeare of its day. But, yeah, and I remember Ian Crawford saying, "Look, you know, it is a bit of a problem that you're being so insistent on that so we'll let you go". And I must admit in a few weeks they got me back and I said, "Do you want me to get them to stick to the script?"
He says [sic], "You be a bit more flexible if you like". Not on 'The Sullivans', though we tried to keep that accurate. But yes, there were other, I don't know whether I was sacked for bad behaviour or anything. But, no, I was, I think the euphemism is 'I was let go'. So. But I was always reemployed as soon as they could.
No, it wasn't. Oh, the feet went back on the ground pretty quickly I guess. But somebody did say something reassuring to me which is not a very nice phrase and I don't particularly want to use it accurately, that phrase accurately. But it was sort of suggesting that Crawfords were renowned for keeping people on who weren't likely to be able to look after themselves if they were let go. And they would let people go who were very likely to get another job fairly quickly. And it was quite a nice thing about Crawfords. Maybe a bit paternalistic or something but they, if they had people who, perhaps they were training and weren't fully skilled, they'd try and keep them on so they didn't have to go out into the, into the dangerous big world and fight for themselves. But those of us who'd been around a bit, yes they'd let us go so we could, knowing we could look after ourselves. That was the reasoning anyway. Slightly reassuring.
Now, in relation to your life, we've had a description of a life that was, even though you were sacked and - what implications did that have for the family? Were you, were you ever in financial difficulty when you had a family?
Yes and no. It was, in a way it was a sort of false difficulty. I remember when I was working out here first, we kept the house on in London. We had somebody in looking after it, paying what I think was called a caretaker's rent. A rather low rent but we knew they were happy if we had to go back, to go, they'd go out. A family, small family. And, and, so that was it. So I had a house and I think I owned it, I'm not sure whether we still had, we owed money on it or not. But I remember when I first got let go at Crawfords, I think it was my daughter saying, telling me she'd just heard me doing a voiceover that had gone to air. And she said, "No it's good. You'll get a lot of those". And I don't think I got all that many but that was slightly reassuring. They rallied, I guess and, again, it didn't seem to interfere with their school work. They were still doing well at school and Christopher was swotting hard for his, looking towards getting a science course at one of the universities which he did do eventually. And, no the family was great. Audrey never, as I think I said before, never wanted to go to the very posh restaurants or anything like that. We seldom were eating out. We were all sort of homebodies and things, yeah. So, yeah, it, but - yes, of course it's a worry and suddenly you realise, yeah, wait a minute, this is a big, real world I'm in here, you know.
Everybody talks about you, you know, in making enquiries about you, in talking to other people about you, everybody talks about you as really the essential Mister Nice Guy, as someone said. Have you ever had a serious falling out with anybody?
I must have done. Oh yes. I, I did something appalling to Scotty Ehrenberg, when I think back on it. And I bumped into him on the street and he was, "Ooh, I've met some people in my time but..." And what happened was, when he got me the job directing at Charles E. Blanks, he, I called out to say thanks and he said, "How's it going?" I said, "Ooh, golly it's tough. You know, very limited raw stock and we've got to be so carefully prepared and I don't know that they need to be quite so careful with the thing". And while I was sitting there he picked up the phone and rang Clarrie Blanks and said, "Look I sent you a very good bloke. Now that's, this is not the way to treat him". And Scotty really, perhaps thoughtlessly went to bat on my behalf. Presumably thinking he was doing, doing the right thing. Now when I got into the office next time, they were all saying, "What the heck did you say to Scotty Ehrenberg?" And I thought, oh the danger - what is it? Is it the Chinese whispering system or something, that something quoted by somebody else, by somebody else. And I said, "Oh, no, no, no. You know, Scotty, no, he, you know, went just a bit over the top". And, instead of saying, "Well yes, I did tell him how difficult it is to work with only a certain amount of raw stock" and so and so and so and so. And I suppose, yes, I did, I denied him in a - I don't think in a terribly serious way.
And then somebody must have rung Scotty and said, "What are you, what do you mean? He said it's all right. He's happy to be working here". And that's when Scotty, Scotty must have got very angry with me for not backing him. Now, if he'd asked me if I, I will ring them and go crook, I would have said, "Ooh no, don't", and would have talked him out of it. But before I could say anything Scotty picked the phone up and - believing he was doing the right thing. And that was a big lesson to me. Because I'll never forget his face when he bumped into me the street in the city and he said, "Ooh, listen", you know. And I, I'm - sadly I don't remember that I saw that much of him after that and I was very grateful to him. But you know, it, it, I'm sure I must have done that to people. But I think that's one of the things that made me extremely cautious about talking about people too much. Unless you can say something reasonably good about them, shut up about it, you know.
Well, it was, in my book it was severe, it was a big black mark I gave myself.
Yeah. And also, don't forget, I was living through what I thought was a fairly dangerous time when you think of the McCarthy situation in America and the disastrous effect that had on people's careers at perhaps a falsely active political, controversial time that was probably being used for other reasons. I, I felt that was dangerous and when I suspected that it was starting to happen here, it made me very, very cautious indeed. And I suppose if, according to somebody, I did stick my neck out by never saying anything, you know, particularly bad about anybody, even if I were in a position to know something about them. I'm sure my own family had suspicions about my political feelings and I think I, I've been sitting politically on the fence for very many years and it's very uncomfortable sometimes and it hurts. And I love the fact that I've never had to really tell people how I vote out here which I think is rather beaut. But, yeah, I - it, it can be dangerous and I'm trying to think of - you know, after getting sacked because I asked the actors to stick to the script and being rather shocked when a slightly disguised reporting of the incident appeared in one of the TV papers. All those actors have apologised to me, except one, who's - I've worked with recently and is a very good guy. And on one film we were working on, he was the only one in the cast who wanted to change one line and we all talked him out of it. And I helped talk him out of it. That was many years later. And he shall be nameless.
Now, you have lived through a life as an actor, where there's a lot of uncertainty. Where you're never quite sure what's going to happen next. You've lived through [cough]. Excuse me, I've got your problem. You've lived through a situation in which, you know, your wife sometimes - your much loved wife has been ill, and then you lost her. You've had all these difficulties and yet you seem to me intriguingly to be essentially a happy man. Am I right?
I think so, yes. I think I've sometimes surprised myself by being able to get over things when the circumstances are right. We had a really big medical fright five months ago when my youngest granddaughter was born. Things went wrong for both Liz, my daughter-in-law and the baby, and they were both in intensive care in different hospitals within about 24 hours and we weren't sure how it was going to go for about, oh, a bit over 48 hours. And awful for Christopher my son and we, we, we had no idea what was going to happen and weren't game to think of the worst, though the worst was possible. And, I must touch wood, we think everything's been fine and they both seem to have recovered. And I'm sometimes surprised that I've almost forgotten about it. And I haven't of course, the moment I think about it. But, there may be some lack in me that, that I haven't had to dwell on things too much. Except of course the ongoing problem when we realised Audrey was seriously ill over what really turned out to be quite a long period. But she was naughty because she'd never complain, you see.
I don't think I've consciously done it. And, I - looking back my memory of my mum a lot is Mum sitting there with a fairly benign look on her face saying, "Mmm?" And you wondered whether she was really taking it all in and I don't think that, you know, if I told her that "Gee whiz it was dangerous being shot at over an enemy territory", I don't think Mum would say, "Mmm? That's interesting". I'm sure she'd be concerned about it. But I don't remember that she ever displayed too much negative emotion. And she'd been through quite a bit in World War I, having lost a fiancé long before she met Dad, of course, and watched her elder brother go through all, you know, join the army, go to France and get back. And that generation had enormous things to handle and whether they developed a sort of front that, you know, covered things up. But I don't remember my mother being apparently terribly concerned. She must have gone crook at me a lot because I don't think I was terribly [sic] good child and I do remember being chased around the back of the flats in Randwick by my young, youngest uncle, Uncle Viv, Mum's youngest brother. And he had a feather duster in his hand and he had the feather part in his hand and I got whacked by the cane end for being cheeky to me mum. He was being the protective brother of the mum with the difficult child. So I've got a feeling I had been pretty difficult. But, yeah, no, I think - if it is a fairly basic optimism, I've think it's come from Mum somehow. And certainly she had to cop some difficult stuff in the Depression.
Oh, the, it, it - the feeling I used to get was a very deep feeling of great luck to be born here. If, even in the old days, I remember, you know, we, we used to, in the, I can remember in the primary school we used to think about, you know we didn't know that much about it, you couldn't fly around Australia very easily in those days except, unless you were Kingsford Smith or somebody. But I remember we, somehow or other we thought, especially living in Coogee, "Gee whiz, it's not bad. You've got a great beach here and it's only half an hour by tram into the city". And it was just a general feeling of what a beaut place to be. I remember being very concerned when, when I would have been about eight or nine maybe. One of our teachers at Coogee Public School saying the huge problem they had with the Aborigines and we were all, yes, paid attention. And that was to try to keep them alive. And they, there was a feeling at that time according to him, that if we weren't very careful the Aboriginal community could gradually die out after a certain time. Especially full-bloods and tribal people who were living in, what in those days were considered very difficult circumstances. And, and that, that was pretty alarming.
And the, the other thing I remember us having a big discussion about, what the potential population could be and that was linked to a - gee whiz, we are only about seven or eight million people in those days in this huge land mass. And then I remember we worked out all the land that matched in type. The land in, say, the United Kingdom and we did a great bit of arithmetic. Well, I suppose not bad for about eight or nine. That we could probably, with luck, make fifty million one day if we used the land carefully that was a bit like the land all over the United Kingdom and or Europe. So we must have been concerned about problems, but, in fact, those were not the same as living in an earthquake area or a, you know, a flood plain, or drought didn't really get that close to Sydney very often in those days. Used to be worried about your friends who may have relatives out in the country but I don't remember too many major worries about huge problems and we must have had, and obviously did have, bush fires and things like that. So, in general, you just sort of kind of felt lucky that you were in a country that didn't have those huge problems. And didn't seem to have many riots, except Captain de Groot did cut the ribbon at the opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1932 before Jack Lang did. I can remember Dad being very concerned about this chap in Germany who was starting to be nasty to all sorts of people and were they going to build up to yet another war. But, again, just being in Australia, you, it always felt beaut somehow.
You've lived overseas and therefore you have a bit of perspective on it. Do you have a view that there is such a thing as an Australian character and if so, what, what are the qualities that you think of as Australian?
Yeah, I, I, yes, I suppose there is and, and I suppose it's that which, you know, a lot of people discuss. You know, a bit of a rebellious background and, yes, the convict thing and all that. And I think people to have survived going way back to our very early settlers, must have taken considerable courage and expertise and skill and I remember having an argument with a very well-educated actor friend, a little bit older than I, not all that long ago, about the fact that we must remember that in 1788-9 and 1800, you couldn't hop in an aircraft and fly around and see if there were any people living out there. And to some extent that almost excused the terra nullius attitude that there were vast areas of Australia that were even, were bigger than Europe with nobody living there at all and even the Aboriginal community, knowing if a, a white or European person were going to try and drift out into those areas, they would try and stop them because they were uninhabitable areas. To feel that there were dangerous parts of Australia if you got lost or if you were going to try and do it by horseback or camel or something and your animal died, you were in a lot of trouble. Now, Europe wouldn't have quite as many of those sorts of problems and, even the controversial nature of Burke and Wills but, boy, they, they had to take an awful lot of supplies with them and they didn't have jeeps and trucks and things like that.
So it's an awful lot of courage, I believe, that's become sort of unfashionable to talk about, that was displayed by people who've - and it's not all that long ago by world standards. I remember we were going to do a filmed version for the ABC, long before telly, of the Sturt row down the Murray. And ultimately I had to drop out. Grant Taylor and I were going to do it. Play, he was going to play Sturt and I was going to play his, his lieutenant or second-in-command. And eventually Rod Taylor took over from me which was good for them because Row [Rod] was a good rower. He used to row with the surf club. And I went off to do the 'Kangaroo' movie. But I had the - and somewhere I've got an old fashioned photocopy of Sturt's diary of that trip and it's enormously inspirational. And the, the friendships they made with two particular Aboriginal tribal people, who became their friends as they went down, and used to run along the bank while they rowed down and joined them at night and just, they had no language in common but they, they made some sort of communication. And then they lost sight of them and they were about to be attacked by a warlike tribe at the end of the, the row and they'd lost sight of their friends days before and suddenly these friends turned up and turned it into a welcoming committee. And - fabulous story. But just thinking of the difficulties of doing all that with the happy outcome that could have been a tragic outcome. All that, I think, has subtly coloured us, you know, subsequent generations. And it's a long time - since they had to do that in Europe, you know.
Oh yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah and I think in, say in Sturt's case, I mean the, the support he had of his team of, you know, I bet they were strongly disciplined naval chaps who were, were used to the discipline of the navy. But, by golly, they were a very close knit together group as was the, you know, the Shackleton teams and, you know, and Frank Hurley, the brilliant Australian photographer. To be able to dive down and get - I mean of course it's done all over the world in various ways, but Australia seems to have had an awful lot of that in a relatively short history.
I don't know that there were [sic] anything in great detail. There was just a strange longing and we all seemed to share it, those Aussie mates. And we seemed to stick together a bit, not by design, it just happened that way, just missing home. Missing Australia. And I can't remember being terribly, you know, oh, I do miss being able to go down to Coogee and swim. I don't remember that all that much and there was, there were lots of beautiful parts of the United Kingdom all over it and Ireland and places. I don't know. I think there is a magic about this country and it gets into you and it's probably quite hard to explain, though great writers and things have done so, I'm sure, over and over again from their point of view.
Well, I don't want it to change too much because at the moment, compared with the rest of the world, it's having a pretty good run. I should touch wood for that too. But - and I love the fact that we are - we have received wonderful influences since World War II from countries all over the place. And that influence from Europe or from wherever and the general look of Australians is changing because of influences of other racial groups and things coming in. And to me it seems wonderful. Providing we can keep, keep it together and not sort of split up into too many factions. And I still feel a bit funny when somebody says "I'm, I'm a, I'm a Callathumpian, no I'm a Patagonian Australian". I'm trying to think of something safe to say. But, I, I like people to say, well I'm an Aussie, you know. But people are starting sometimes to say, "I'm Greek" or "I'm Italian", but they were born here and I think you've got to be a little bit careful of that. And, maintain their respect for the, their country of origin, or their parents' or grandparents' origin of course. And I got quite a kick out of finding out that my grandfather, Dad's father, was actually born in Sweden. I like that. I feel good about that. Though I think my mother was a bit worried when they were telling me.
She said, "You don't mind?" I said, "No, I think it's wonderful". Because they, we all thought that Dad's father came from some part of England or some, or Ireland or somewhere. So, but yeah, and I think at the moment we've got, not only, you know, the balance right, but - and I'd like to see, I'd like people to be a bit more open about and hear a bit more about some of the great achievers in the Aboriginal community. Going back a very, very long time too. Not just the recent high achieving people. And there were great achievers in, in, you know, way, way back. I'd like a little bit more knowledge to be spread around about things like that.
Well, I'd, I'd obviously love it to keep going because I think it's a very, very important educational tool for Australia in general for ourselves and it's very, very good public relations for Australia in general overseas. But I think a good film industry, whether it be for feature films or documentaries or both, is, is just a marvellous modern type of record. It's the equivalent a huge, well-stocked library or, or an encyclopaedia or something. But I love the fact that people get a surprise about Australia. We showed 'Bitter Springs', not all that long ago, at a special showing and there were quite learned film people coming up and saying, "My golly, I didn't know we knew about land rights back in 1949". So, I think it's very good for people to know that we did know about land rights and we made a film about whether we should be there or the Aboriginal community should stay there. I think that's, it's important that we made that movie at the time. It's a shame that nobody knew about until relatively recently again. But, you know, the modern filmmakers are making their 'Rabbit Proof Fence's and their 'Aussie Rules', 'Australian Rules' films with good, strong Aboriginal stories. So to me that, that increasing knowledge is, is very good for the country. I just think, I suppose, if we can keep it going at a, hopefully a very intelligent level.
It's a hard one. I, I like to think in the old days, in the '30s, I'm pretty sure Cinesound had a pretty good run when they were making quite successful films that did fit into the possible box office returns in Australia and show a bit of a profit. I, I don't think it's going to be possible to maintain a good film industry and a secure film industry without some form of government support. But I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be the only country to maintain some sort of government support. I'm sure the Americans, somewhere along the line, have got some sort of checks and balances that are covered by government support. Because I think the Americans have always believed that their film industry is a very important part of, not only their own culture, but their general public relations around the world. I, I suppose, I suppose it won't hurt for us to be very, very economical filmmakers and clever filmmakers like the people who made 'The Castle'. Or Chips Rafferty's 'Phantom Stockman', when he made it for almost no money at all.
In your own experience, have influential Australians in the film industry, such as leading distributors and so on, always been in favour of Australian content and Australian film industry? Or has there been some mixture of feeling there?
Yes, I, I think it would be unfair to say that, not to acknowledge that there were wonderful people like Hercules McIntyre, six foot six, christened Hercules. Tall man, known as Herc McIntyre. I think he ran Greater Union for a long time. He was always very supportive of the industry. There were other people in other companies, at least as important as Greater Union, who perhaps were quite open in their belief that we didn't need an industry in Australia. Didn't need a filmmaking industry because they had access to all the greatest films from overseas. In fact I did hear one particular leading CEO of one of those sorts of companies, when we were on location for a film way back in the post-war years, saying it was silly for us to be making movies because we could bring in, our company can bring in the very best from the United States and other parts of the world so we didn't need to make our own. And that, I'm sure, is the argument made by various shirt making people who said, we don't need to make our own shirts, we can bring them in from. I'm sure it's a standard sort of, you know, industrial problem, that should a company, a country like us be making things that can be imported even more cheaply. And I suppose it's alright if we can bring in cheap shirts, as long as we don't think about the poor people trying to make them for no money at all in strange parts of the world that have economies nowhere as rich as ours. So it, it's maybe a tricky problem. But film industry is, is different. It's really such a part of the, I suppose the cultural fabric, the educational fabric of any country, that we mustn't allow those considerations to govern our attitude and I've never agreed with that man who said, we don't need to make them because we can bring in the best from anywhere, particularly America.
At my age? To be able to get up in the morning and breathe is, is comforting. I, I - awful smug thing to say, I don't have anything I particularly want to do professionally. I love seeing the grandchildren growing up. But now that they keep developing brilliant electronic devices which are way over my head, I wouldn't mind doing a little bit of television directing again to sit in, in with one of the computer experts and see how editing can be done much more easily than the last time I directed. Wouldn't have to do all that arithmetic with time codes and things. But that's about all.
Yeah I do. Yeah. Not dramatically. As long as it doesn't hurt, I'm not too worried. But I occasionally think back to that extraordinary moment in the aircraft when I thought I was going to crash into the Mediterranean and that amazingly calm feeling I had. And I once heard a, I think it was a nursing sister, who was in a very difficult, oh, tunnel collapse or something and she was trying to rescue somebody and she suddenly realised in a moment she was to die and she described an extraordinarily calm feeling which matched the way I did. And whatever miracle happened, she didn't, and the rescuers got there or the collapse didn't take place. Something happened and she was saved. And it matched exactly the strange feeling I had for a very short period of time, maybe a split second. So that aspect of it - and I was actually holding Audrey's hand when she died and it was extremely peaceful and calm. So that aspect, aspect doesn't worry me.
I felt a strange, I felt a similar feeling myself to that moment in the aircraft and I'm sure she did though she was not very conscious. She'd been conscious in the morning and was very dozy in the afternoon and, and her breathing just slowly, gently stopped. And so, but there was a moment or two there. I remember the nursing sister, I was talking to Audrey and, and I said, "Oh, should I be doing this?" "Yes", said, "yes, keep doing that because that's the last sense to go". Hearing, apparently. And David Williamson had almost that same line in one of his recent plays. And I mentioned it to David when I was talking to him about it and he'd researched it and apparently that is true. So, somehow or other I felt Audrey and I shared an extraordinary, I suppose, calm moment at that time. But, yeah.
Yeah, I don't want it to hurt.
Oh. Yet to be proved I suppose. I do like, I'd love to think there's something going on. It's one of the reasons I'd loved about Alan Hopgood's play, 'The Carer', the chap is chatting to his wife's photograph a lot and, occasionally he says, "No, wait a minute, if you're anywhere at all", so and so and so and so. And I must admit I felt like that with Audrey a lot. And my son and daughter and I often laugh about the fact that, I remember if I did something silly in the kitchen, that became Mum having fun. You know, making me spill the sugar or something. And, but I, I, I sometimes, half joking, say, I've had such an amazing run, Audrey's got a great influence in high places saying, keep the old so and so busy. I, is - I once heard a bishop in England discussing such things and he accepted that we don't really know and no matter how many books they write about it, whether Old Testaments or New Testaments, we really don't know. And, yeah, I'm happy with that. But it's a nice thought and I can live on the possibility which is OK I guess.
Oh, yeah, yeah. I taught Sunday school when I was about fourteen. Until my seven old brother came into my class. And I can remember I was going through a slightly difficult teenage period at home and I'd have some violent, not violent but angry arguments with Mum and or Dad or both and then go down and try and teach Sunday school to my, my little brother. So I slowly stopped teaching Sunday school. The hypocrisy started to get me a bit. Or my hypocrisy. I, I can remember thinking, when I first became aware of, say Christ's history and work and what happened to him and everything or is said to have happened to happened to him, I thought what a beaut bloke he must be. And I was very impressed in the McCarthy period when, as a bit of a test, the people who were really terribly worried about McCarthy and what he was doing to the United States' political freedom, when they did a sort of plain language version of the 'Sermon on the Mount' and gave that to various people and say, "What would you think if somebody said all this?" They said, "Oh, Communist obviously". And I thought, yeah, well, that's interesting that there's been a lot of wisdom around, whether you agree with Communists or Socialists or whatever, but there's, there's a lot of very deep thinking going on the way our species might survive. And there haven't been too many people in high places, apart from perhaps Nelson Mandela, who've really obeyed some of those principles. And I suppose I'm into turning the other cheek and things a bit here and there.
I don't know that I believe, awful thing to say, the magic part of it. But as a practical way through life, I think it is terribly good and, at its best I think, dare I say it, a really good film unit gets close to some of those principles.
Well, a really good film unit can't operate unless everybody is absolutely totally cooperative. And that actor A is not trying to upstage actor B and you've got to be concerned about the guy behind the camera and the guy with the microphone boom and with this, and the make-up people and all those things. And if you're all working to one thing called a nice result called a movie, if we're all doing that in a community to work to a nice result called life or something, that wouldn't be too bad. And I think, often accidentally, often, you know, with some degree of inspiration from groups of people, it tends to happen. Not always and not everywhere.
Yes. Yeah. I'm haunted by the selfishness of me not being game to back Scotty Ehrenberg up when he perhaps tactlessly complained to Clarrie Blanks that time. I'd, I'd hate to be accused of upstaging another actor in a scene.