So here we are in the town of Young back in the mid-50’s. Now I have to introduce you to one of the most horrific episodes in my career.
Worse than being trapped in the 2MG studios alone late at night... Worse than doing breakfast at 2LF in the middle of winter... and even worse than seeing yowies lurking in the undergrowth. This is one of the nightmares of any radioman’s career... The dreaded BALL BROADCAST.
I’ve seen grown men flee the radio industry and return to their previous occupation measuring ball bearings, after being subjected to this most awful of events, the BALL BROADCAST. It can sneak up on you when you’re least expecting it and when it strikes – the results can be terminal.
It happened to me this way. Things were going pretty well at 2LF when one afternoon somebody told me I’d be doing the BALL BROADCAST on Friday night. I got dressed in my best suit – and pretty ordinary it was too – and went to the Town Hall, accompanied by a girl from accounts who was to do the frock descriptions and the technician who was to ensure the excitement of the evening was captured for posterity (and you can take that any way you want to, ok?).
When I walked in I was surrounded by the cream of Young society, and without being intentionally nasty, isn’t that a contradiction in terminology? The women were dressed in their finest and, to my surprise, all the men seemed to be decked out in Scottish regalia. Here we were out in the middle of the Australian wheat and wool belt and all these blokes are running round dressed up like Bonnie Prince Charley. I found it quite bizarre.
Anyway Ric Colson and his Band got things going and it was on. I should say from the start that I always found this dancing thing highly embarrassing. I didn’t mind watching professional dancers but to watch all of these average Joe’s treading on each other’s toes was quite bizarre. So I went on describing how great all the men looked wearing their skirts when about an hour in I got an urgent message from management which read briefly, ”They’re kilts you bloody idiot!”.I found out that night that Frank and ball broadcasts really didn’t mix well. I did three of them I think and always mention with pride that I managed to get to the end without rolling on the floor and bursting out into hysterical laughter.
During my time at 2LF somebody mentioned to Paul Horne, who had the local shoe shop, that I’d trained at the Sydney Independent. Paul and wife Patricia were mad keen amateur theatricals and he quickly set up a meeting to plan a local production. I wasn’t really interested but everyone was enthusiastic and it was pretty hard to stop the train once it’d left the station. Paul and I didn’t get close when it came to theatre. I wanted to do a quality material, Paul’s choice was a broad English farce. And I’m talking really “broad” here. Well, I’d better publically admit it here. Paul knew a lot more about the local audience than I did. Naturally, as in 99% of all English theatre the male leads inevitably had to dress up as women for whatever reason. What is it with the English and dresses? Oh well, we all said yes and so Paul put “Love’s a Luxury” with yours truly as Bobby Bentley into full scale production. The dreadful thing is that after a week or so I really started to enjoy it all again. My memory was sensational in those times. I knew my lines in the first week and knew everybody else’s lines in a fortnight.
Paul booked the Young Town Hall for two nights as I faced up to the reality of finishing the show around 11, getting home by 12, and then getting up at 4.30 for breakfast. I asked Paul how bookings were going and he smiled and said “it was looking pretty good”. 15 minutes before the curtain went up I took a peek out through the curtains and found it was indeed “pretty good”. The hall, a very large hall, was absolutely packed. We swung into Loves a Luxury with all stops out. They wanted farce. We gave ‘em farce. And the audience loved it. We got curtain call after curtain call. We were superstars.
The look on Paul’s face was enough to make it all worthwhile. He was elated. The local paper gave the show the biggest thumbs up you’ve ever seen in your life. My review roughly placed me up there with Sir Michael Redgrave and Larry Olivier. And word of mouth was sensational.
Our second night was packed enough for Paul to book us for another weekend. We even went on tour. Well, perhaps I exaggerate. What really happened is we piled into two cars one Friday night and performed in Harden, again to an absolutely packed house. Ah, these were heady days.
The local paper even started campaigning for us to be a candidate for the Arts Council’s annual theatre awards. Life it seemed was just about perfect. Except for one little problem. Somewhere in an office deep in Australian bureaucracy, somebody was pulling my birthdate out of a hat. I was just about to learn that my number had come up for National Service.
Goodbye Young, goodbye radio career for three months and goodbye “Love’s a Luxury”. Hello living in tents, digging tunnels, firing 303’s, Bren guns and Owen guns and lobbing hand grenades.
I’ll tell you about that experience next time we meet. Thanks for reading my recollections. Tell your friends.