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RADIO DRAMA

By the mid-1930's there were a number of Radio Production companies supplying weekly programs and serials to commercial radio stations across Australia.

Reg James, worked from mail boy through to manager of Grace Gibson Radio Productions. Now retired, today he is recognized as an authority on Australian Radio Drama. Start of radio drama.

One of the very early serials to be broadcast over 2AD was a production by George Edwards Production, The Count of Monte Cristo, which was broadcast Monday to Saturday. The first episode of this serial was at 7.30 on Monday 30th March 1936. The picture on the left is of a newspaper advertisment in the Armidale Express.


One of the earliest and very successful production houses was owned by George Edwards and his wife Nell Sterling, many listeners would have known them as the voices of Dad and Mabel in the long running radio series Dad and Dave which ran for 2,276 episodes. Have a listen to the very first episode of Dad and Dave.

In the late '30's, New Englanders would sit around their radio sets each evening following the lives and adventures of many radio characters such as -  Fred and Maggie Everybody ('32); Greenbottle, Standforth and Bottomly in Yes What ('36); Dad and Dave (cast pictured on the right) ('37) and Martins Corner ('39) which ran for 2,244 episodes.

Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (the AWA Company), became one of the largest in the Australian transcription industry, in 1935 it first recorded a feature show for local broadcast called "Fred and Maggie" which had previously been broadcast as a live show. By 1951 AWA had recorded more than 1,500 episodes of Fred and Maggie.

All radio programs were recorded onto large sixteen inch (407cm) records, known as Transcription Discs which used an inside start, meaning the record player needle was placed on the inside track of the record and as it played, moved to the outer-edge. Reg James from Grace Gibson Radio Productions recalls those early days of recorded radio drama.

With the introduction of 10 and 12 inch micro-groove transcription discs in the late 1950's we saw a phasing out of the 16 inch format and a change from inside start disc to outside start. In 1978, the last 12 inch vinyl transcription disc, "Crisis Point" was pressed by CBS Records, (formerly the Australian Record Company) for Grace Gibson Productions.


Yes What started under the title The Fourth Form at St Percy’s in 1936, the same year as 2AD started. Yes What followed the daily happenings of three school students Greenbottle (Jack Gardner) Standforth (Jim Williams) and Bottomly (Ralph Peterson) and the harassed Master of Fourth Form Dr Pym (Rex Dawe) who wrote and produced the radio show.  For many years the show was sponsored by Samuel Taylor Pty Ltd makers of Mortein. Let's go back to the class room with part of an episode of Yes What

Many of Australia’s greatest radio serials were produced during the 1940s and '50s in what has been referred to as the Golden Years of Radio. 2AD listeners identified with the daily happenings in Doctor Paul, When a Girl Marries, Portia Faces Life and Big Sister just to mention a few.


Doctor Paul was commercial radio's longest running radio serial, started in 1949 and on-air for over 22 years with 4,634 episodes, cast photo on right. Actor John Saul (pictured seated second from left) shared with Alistair Duncan the role of Dr Paul with Dinah Shearing as Virginia Martin, (second from the right). Doctor Paul was produced by Grace Gibson Productions, Reg James.

Portia Faces Life started in 1954, starring Lyndall Barbour and Diana Perryman as Portia and James Condon as Walter Manning, running for 3,544 episodes, and many 2AD listeners also followed the daily happenings of When a Girl Marries which commenced in 1946, and ran for 2,390 episodes with Ron Randell, Queenie Ashton and Marie Clarke. 


And the kids weren't the only ones interested in what was going to happen to Superman (1948) starring Leonard Teale; The Shadow (1946) with Lloyd Lamble & Richard Ashley playing the main character; Tarzan started in 1954 and had a few actors star in the role including Rod Taylor and Roger Climpson; The Air Adventures of Hop Harrigan (1954) was a favourite with young listeners, with Bruce Stewart and Stewart Ginn playing the main role of Hop and John Ewart as off-sider Tank Tinker; The Smoky Dawson Show (1950's) with Smoky, pictured left, providing some of the sound effects and The Air Adventures of Biggles with James Mills, Moray Powell and Rex Waldron starring in the lead role over the life of the series. Tthen there were popular American programs such as Dr. Fu Man Chu, Lone Ranger, Air Adventures Of Jimmy Allen and Chandu The Magican.

Each week we followed the happenings in Hagen's Circus (1948) starring Thelma Scott as Christine Hagen with Guy Doleman as Grant Andrews; Martins Corner (1940) with Nellie Lamport as Granny Martin; Dr. Mac with Lou Vernon; I Hate Crime (1949) with Ken Wayne as Larry Kent .


The Search for the Golden Boomerang was produced by George Edwards in 1940 and run for 1,444 episodes, a book based on the radio serial was produced in 1941 by Edwards, the book cover shown on the right; First Light Fraser was a favourite during the War Years with George Randell and Richard Ashley playing Fraser; Inspector Scott of Scotland Yard which starred Edwards;Address Unknown(1954) with Henry Simons played by Lionel Stevens; Witches Tales (1941) starring Winifred Green would have kids scared to turn off the lights; Danger Unlimited with Nigell Lovell as Geoffrey Blackburn; Satan is My Shadow starred Guy Doleman and one of the more popular shows on 2AD - Nightbeat (1951) with Alan White and Harp McGuire in the lead role as Randy Stone … just a few of the memorable radio drama and live shows from the Golden Days of Radio.

Take a trip down memory lane - remember these great radio shows.

You will have noticed that in many of the radio serials the role of a character was often played by more than one actor, the reason – many Australian radio actors were offered acting roles overseas, particularly England and Hollywood, so another actor would take up that character, as was the case with John Saul and Alistair Duncan in Doctor Paul.

In the early days of radio there were no tape recorders, and all transcription recordings were done direct to disc. Australian actors were regarded as the best 'sight-readers' in the world, stay on cue and read scripts 'in-character'for anything for up to two hours at a time without a single 'fluff' (mistake). If an actor made a bad fluff, then the production had to restart recording the quarter-hour show from the beginning – a very costly exercise.

Radio serials or programs were usually produced as a series of 52 or 104 episodes. However one of the most popular and repeatedly played radio dramas was Cattleman (1961) which was adapted into 208 episodes by writer Ross Napier from an R.S.Porteus novel and starred Frank Waters and then Nigell Lovell as Ben McCready, here is one page of Ross Napier's Cattleman script that the actors would have read. 2AD would have paid between 10 shillings and two pounds an episode ($1-$4). Here is part of an episode of Cattleman

Grace Gibson Radio Productions was started by Grace Gibson in 1944 - today Gibsons is still providing great radio material and a number of features from their back catalogue are still being broadcast across Australia.  Some of the popular Gibson radio shows broadcast on 2AD – included the Major Gregory Keen MI5 series - Dossier of Dumetrius (1951) with Bruce Stewart as Gregory Keen, Dinah Shearing as Hedy Bergner and Guy Doleman as Dumetrius; Deadly Night Shade (1952) and 26 Hours (1952), to be followed by Two Roads to Samarra and Smell of Terror. Reg James recalls some of his favourites, which includes Dossier on Dumetrius

In 1956, the radio landscape changed forever with the introduction of Television into Australia. A number of the successful radio shows moved across to television, but of greater impact was the move by national advertisers to the new medium and away from radio program sponsorship, causing the output of product from Radio Production Houses to decline.

However, it would be the mid-60’s before television arrived in the New England, so 2AD like many regional radio stations would continue to broadcast radio drama into the early 1970's on a reduced scale and mainly between 9am and noon, but by then most of the Radio Production Houses had folded.

Then in the late 1970's, there was a return to producing Australian Radio Drama - bigger and stonger than ever

Following the arrival of television, the audience became educated to a more pacey style of drama, to this end in the early 1980's, Gibson's produced a new fast moving radio series called The Castlereagh Line, also written by Ross Napier and set within the New England region - this was to become the most broadcast radio series of all time, running in all metro markets and on most country radio stations. In all 910 episodes were produced. Reg James tells the story of the Castlereagh Line


Radio Comedy

We have already mentioned the popularity of shows like Yes What, Dad & Dave and Fred & Maggie, all very early radio shows designed to give listeners a good laugh.

Radio had the advantage of an almost endless supply of comedic actors and writers, coming to this new entertainment medium from the stages of vaudeville and pantomime, and bringing with them their tested skills at making people laugh.

The family situation comedy Life with Dexter ('53), starred Willie Fennell (pictured left) as Dexter Dutton, this sitcom took listeners through the daily happenings of the Dutton household with Dexter, his wife Jessie and their children Janie and Ashley. Willie Fennell wrote the popular 30 minute weekly series which ran for around ten years on Australian radio through to the early 1960s. Life with Dexter was recorded at the 2GB Sydney radio auditorium in front of a live audience each Wednesday evening and broadcast around Australia through the Macquarie Broadcasting Network. Have a listen to a little of Life with Dexter. Another popular comedy show of the 1950's was Bunkhouse Show.

In the Live Entertainment page on this site, we mentioned some of the live radio productions such as The Cashmere Bouquet Show with those lovable darlings Ada & Elsie (Dorothy Foster) and (Rita Pauncefort), who were always good for a laugh. Also during the 1940's, Mrs 'Obbs was a family favourite, with over 1,900 episodes produced. There was always something going on with Mrs 'Obbs (Athol Cheer)then (Dan Agar), and husband Alfie played by (Owen Ainley), Mrs Bottomley (Rita Pauncfort), Mrs Jeffreys (Nellie Lamport) and that Mrs Jupley (Fifi Banvard). Dan Agar was the creator and owner of the show, Mrs 'Obbs, another great example of early radio comedy.

When we talk of radio comedy, there were a number of important elements - the writers would provide the funny lines and the actor needed to deliver them with perfect timing, it would be wrong not to include the likes of George Wallace, Roy Rene, Jack Davey and Bob Dyer, each of whom contributed with some of the funniest radio segments during the Golden Days of Radio.

Radio Comedy was able to adapt and grow with the changing times - in the 1960’s & 70's we were laughing with that mild mannered shoe salesman Benton HarbourChickenman, then there was the Tooth Fairy, Chuck Chunder, Captain Kremmen and  Australian radio's longest running comedy/satire radio program Cactus Island, which caricatured our politicians - it started with King Bonza and has not looked back. Cactus Island.

Radio Actors

Many radio actors and actresses would become household names for the many characters they would play, George Edwards (Dad), Lorna Bingham (Mum), Nell Sterling (Mable) and John Saul (Dave); Bruce Stewart (Gregory Keen); Dinah Shearing (Hedy Bergener/Virginia Martin); Nigel Lovell (Geoffery Blackburn); Guy Doleman (Dumetrius); Ron Randell (Harry Davis); Rod Taylor (Tarzan); Lloyd Lamble (The Shadow); Len Teale (Superman); Lyndall Barbour (Portia Manning); Nellie Lamport (Granny Martin); Lionel Stevens (Henry Simons); Thelma Scott (Christine Hagen); Ken Wayne (Larry Kent); Alan White (Randy Stone); Frank Waters (Ben McReady); Ric Hutton (Jack Seager), Margo Lee, John Tate, Stewart Ginn, John Ewart and many others.

Australian radio actors who would go on to great success on stage, television and in film here or in England and America - included Rod Taylor, Ray Barrett, Peter Finch, Charles Tingwell, Michael Pate, Madge Ryan, Ron Randell, Bill Kerr, Betty McDowell, June Slater and John Meillon among others.

Radio Writers

The Golden Days of Australian Radio Drama were made possible by the many actors able to portray the numerous characters they bought to life from the pages of the radio script. However, the important role of the radio script writers should not be overlooked.

Writers such as...

Ross Napier -- Cattleman, Castlereagh Line, Portia, Address Unknown, Sara Dane, 30 Days Heth September, Ross wrote for Grace Gibsons from 1951 to 1985.

Lindsay Hardy -- Gregory Keen series Dossier of Dumetrius/Deadly Nightshade/26 Hours/ Stranger In Paradise/Two Roads to Samarra, Walk A Crooked Mile, Office Wife. Lindsay went to Hollywood and London in 1955 and worked for television and the movie industry.

Peter Yeldham -- Address Unknown, Court Dramas, Medical File, Golden Cobweb. Peter went to London in 1954 and wrote forTV and Films, returned to Sydney in 70's and wrote novels and scripts for television and films.

Kathleen Carroll -- Original local writer of Dr Paul. It was said that she excelled in adaptation of novels to radio such as Pathway of The Sun, Dinner At Antoines, Escape Me Never and many more, Kathleen scripted many Court Dramas.

Max Afford -- Hagens Circus, Danger Unlimited, Tales of the Supernatural.

Maurice Francis -- Created Dad and Dave from Steele Rudd stories.

Don Haring -- An American who wrote I Hate Crime, Dick Tracy and I Spy.

Phillip Jones -- Burtons of Banner Street, along with many of the Morris West projects. Phil would later work for 2AD's sister station 2TM as Sales Manager. Phil was also an author of distinction (The Fifth Defector, Johnny Lost and The Month of the Pearl).

These were some of the many radio writers that through their words and with the help of the actor truly made Radio Drama the 'theatre of the mind' during what were the Golden Days of Radio.