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NFSA Stories: Quiz Kids

NFSA Stories: Professor Alanna Nobbs Remembers Quiz Kids

From Classic Radio and TV to the Classics
 Amanda Diaz

The NFSA was recently able to help an Ancient History professor delve into her own past.

From the age of nine to sixteen, the future Professor Alanna Nobbs (née Conlon) was on the panel of the hit radio program Quiz Kids. Every week, quizmaster John Dease would challenge five schoolkids to answer questions sent in by listeners from around Australia. 

The show was produced by Sydney station 2GB, and had a short life as a TV spin-off in 1957. It was an episode from the television version that Alanna was able to watch with her family during a visit to the NFSA:

Quizmaster John Dease introduces the TV 'Quiz Kids' in 1957, including 12-year-old Alanna Conlon, before the panel is asked to identify particular breeds of dogs. Courtesy Seven Network. NFSA title: 13093

An Encyclopedic Reader

'It was lovely for me to see it, and I was thrilled,' she says. 'It made my family very happy.'

Alanna joined Quiz Kids in 1954 after a neighbour suggested she apply.

'I was always reading and had my nose in a book,' she recalls. 'I loved reading encyclopaedias.'

Her audition to be on the panel was not exactly what you would call conventional. After being picked up from her family home by limousine, she was taken to the zoo, where she and the program’s compere John Dease strolled around the exhibits and chatted about the animals.

After landing the gig, Alanna and her mother would make the trip into the auditorium where the show was recorded every Tuesday. The quiz took place in front of a live audience before being broadcast on 2GB on Sunday evenings. The questions were drawn from a range of topics, including history, geography, etymology and current affairs.

If the Quiz Kids were unable to provide an answer, the audience could have a go, with correct guesses winning prizes. 

According to Alanna, there was no competitiveness between the kids on the panel. Everyone was friendly and supportive of each other, as you can hear in this clip from a 1955 episode of the Quiz Kids radio show:

Excerpt from the Quiz Kids (1955) radio program featuring Alanna Conlon. This delightful recording effectively captures a time when radio quiz shows focused more on being educational rather than competitive. Note the clear diction of the contestants, which is captured perfectly by the clarity of the recording. NFSA title: 633731

To this day, Alanna keeps in touch with some of her fellow Quiz Kids, and says many of them have gone on to work in intellectual fields such as law, medicine and the classics.

The young panellists were each paid £3 per week, and received 10 shillings and sixpence in an envelope at every show to compensate them for travel expenses. Alanna eventually used her savings to buy herself a second-hand car (a black Austin A40) after she’d finished Year 12.

Although she went on to appear in a few other short-lived quiz shows, she says she never enjoyed them as much as Quiz Kids.  

Not-so-Ancient History

A love of languages and ancient history led Alanna to complete a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and a PhD in Latin.

In 2012, Professor Nobbs received the award of Member of the Order of Australia for service to education in the fields of ancient history and the classics.

She says it was her son and husband that conspired to organise a viewing of one of the TV episodes of Quiz Kids.

'We’d known it was in the archive for a long time,' she says. 'But my son looked it up a few months ago and colluded with my husband.'

The Sydney academic took a trip down to Canberra with her husband and, together with her son and his partner, watched the program in the NFSA library.

'It was really funny, but it was quite nice,' Alanna says. 'It was strange to go back to 1957 and see how different everything was. Everyone spoke differently and wore very different clothes to today.'

Alanna says it was odd to see herself as a 12-year-old girl and that she didn't really remember what she looked like back then. 'My husband said I looked more like my sister!', she says.

Although she enjoyed watching the show on a personal level, Alanna feels that preserving programs like Quiz Kids in the NFSA collection has a greater cultural significance too.

'It’s important in the history of TV and radio too,' she says. 'It’s just changed so much since then and will keep changing. It’s important to have a record of how things were.'


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NFSA Stories: My Bollywood Aunt

We will publish more NFSA Stories here on the first Monday of every second month.