Women in radio: Lynn Foster
By Chris Arneil
Born in Sydney in 1914, Lynn Foster spent her teenage years writing numerous plays, aspiring to be a writer. She would later become an important pioneer in the radio industry, being the first woman in Australia to direct a major radio serial on a national network, as well as the first to write and direct one. She also played a major part in the advancement of the status of writers in the radio industry.
Initially limited by a lack of paid writing opportunities, Lynn Foster was 19 when she was offered a job at the radio station 2UE Sydney after winning second prize in a playwriting competition they had held. While initially only writing small pieces for 2UE, in 1936 she began writing scripts for the BSA Players (for Broadcasting Service Association) production unit, whose programs were broadcast around Sydney on 2GB and 2UE. This writing team became known as the Macquarie Players in 1938, and it was there she honed her skills writing for radio.
Preferring freelance work, Foster wrote for a number of different sponsors during the Second World War (including the play There is No Armour, performed on radio in 1939 and later published in 1945) before becoming the main adaptor of radio scripts from America for Lux Radio Theatre.
The 1939 play There is No Armour, written by Lynn Foster and performed at the Independent Theatre in Sydney, was also adapted for radio, NFSA title no. 195608
In 1942, Foster became the director of the serial Big Sister, Australia’s first nationally sponsored morning serial, billed as ‘the first Australia-wide show designed exclusively for women, with the biggest cast of stars in any show on the air’. Adapted using American scripts, the serial was extremely popular, attaining top ratings among daytime programs during its five-year run. Lynn Foster’s direction on Big Sister gained her enormous respect among her peers and colleagues; they fondly dubbed her ‘The Sergeant’ due to both her authority and iron discipline.
In 1944, Texas-born radio producer Grace Gibson began her own radio production company in Sydney, Grace Gibson Productions, and chose Lynn Foster as the company’s first director. In 1945, Foster wrote the radio play The Lost Generation to assist in the sale of war bonds, first directing a cast of leading radio actors and later adapting the play for theatre. Lynn Foster received a letter of appreciation from Prime Minister Ben Chifley on behalf of the Government, thanking her for this contribution to the war effort.
Lynn Foster wrote The Lost Generation in 1945 to assist the Commonwealth War Loan Office’s appeal for people to buy war bonds in the Fourth Victory Loan, NFSA title no. 690760.
Lynn Foster’s experience and authority led to her becoming the spokesperson for writers in commercial radio when they successfully lobbied for radio writers to be transferred industrially from the Australian Journalists Association to Actors Equity. This laid the foundations for the formation of the Australian Writers’ Guild, for which she would later become a member of their management committee.
After Big Sister finished in 1946, Lynn Foster wrote and directed the serial Crossroads of Life, this time using all original scripts. She wrote a part for her friend, actor Peter Finch, and persuaded him to play it so he could make a weekly wage in order to save the fare to travel to London, where he became well known as an actor.
Lynn Foster wrote and directed the 1946 radio serial Crossroads of Life featuring Peter Finch and Thelma Scott, NFSA title no. 570762.
Foster travelled to London a year after Finch in 1949, where she stayed for 20 years, writing radio and television scripts. She returned to Sydney in 1970 and worked as a writer and script editor on the television soap opera Number 96. She passed away in Mosman, Sydney in 1985, aged 71.
Lane, Richard and National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, 1994, The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama 1923-1960: A History Through Biography, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic
‘The World of Women: Writes and Produces Plays for Radio’, The Examiner, 7 January 1947, p 5
‘Every Day Brings Another Play: Sydney Girl’s High-speed Job’), The Australian Women’s Weekly, 31 October 1936, p 38
Foster, Lynn interviewed by Diana Combe, NFSA title no. 191376