Babs Mackinnon (now Crawford) and Bill Crawford

Conversation with Bob Sitsky 11 September 2006

Babs The first time I was at Gore Hill was late in 1956. George Trevare rang me up and booked me for a show. (He used to be an orchestra leader at the Trocadero in Sydney) Of course the main studios were not finished and we worked in the Arcon Studio, which was really a tin shed. At that time of the year it was very hot. There was no air-conditioning. So Doreen Castle would put the make-up on, and by the time I was ready to do my show, the make-up was already melting off! They had fans going, but it didn’t seem to make any difference to the temperature.

Babs George Trevare was one of my producers – he was quite volatile, and used to scream and shout at everyone, although we did not take much notice of that. I can remember doing a variety show and I was singing this very sweet song. However, the control room microphone was left open by mistake. Something went wrong in the studio – maybe the floor manager Bill Smith, forgot to do something, and all of a sudden all this terrible language came out of the control room – it was George Trevare of course, telling everyone what they done wrong. The whole thing went straight to air, as all we were doing was going live. The people who had a television set started to ring up, complaining about the terrible language that was coming through! That was my first appearance on television from the Arcon. It was in December 1956. I sung a couple of songs that day.

Babs I can remember a corridor outside the studio and Doreen Castle had set up a big mirror and a table – this was where we got our make-up put on. While this was happening someone like Martin Royal or Michael Charlton would come in to do a presentation or read the news and we would all be sitting there with this terrible make-up – it wasn’t a natural make-up, but something applied to make us look good on Black and White television. Dave Tapp once took me round to see the new studios being built – it was very interesting.

Babs We were all pioneers in those days – no one knew much about television We were all learning – every time we went on air we learnt something new. I ended up doing many shows at Gore Hill – all through the late 1950s. One of the shows was ‘Make Ours Music’ in the late fifties – produced by James Upshaw. We also did the ‘Hit Parade’ with Jim Gussy and his band, and different singers singing the songs. Barbara Potter was on the show introducing all the performers. We used to come in and do our rehearsal during the day, and then do the show at night. This was in the big studio (Studio 21) after it opened.

Bill I was working at Artransa before the start of television – we were doing both 16mm and 35mm films – mainly commercials. I came over to the ABC in 1958 as a floor manager. I was approached by the ABC and asked to come over. Some of the early floor managers who worked with me were Brian Brutty, Don Bethal, Brian Shannon, Sammy Leon, Robert Flemming (who went back to the BBC). Alex Ritchie was a studio hand who worked with me. A bit later the ABC advertised 2 positions of Senior Floor Managers and Rex Henry got one and I got the other one. Don Bethal came over from the Props area. Don worked with me when I was stage manager at the Tivoli. My boss was Al Gordon. He gave me a short interview before I joined up. I remember that he used to idolise Tanya Halesworth. He was a nice fellow.

Bill ‘6 O’Clock Rock’ first went to air in 1959. We used the camera crane for the show – Bill Dayhew was the driver and Len Richardson the cameraman. I had to jump on the camera crane with this huge stick – it was the only way I could control the crowd. That was the method I used to get through all the people to get to the front of the set. It was a tough job being a floor manager on that show, and I had some terrible times – it was hard to identify and remember some of the performers after just one rehearsal – I had to write down on the script what the people looked like. It was all good fun.

Bill I can tell you a funny story from the early OB days of televising football matches. The crew placed a number of effects microphones around the whole ground to get the audience reaction. The kids on the field had a great time shouting and swearing into those mics. As you can imagine that caused a lot of concern in the OB Van! So that was the finish of that practice, and in future OBs, a special effects microphone was strategically placed – away from kids.

Babs I recently had a look at some of the early shows I performed in the 1950s – it seems like the producers only used one camera on the artist and the second camera was on the musicians. We had to stand in the one position, and we were told not to move. I remember the shows we did with Jim Gussey were all pre-recorded, and we had to mime during the on-air performance. Even the orchestra had to mime. The Hit Parade was an exception – we used to do that live.

Babs The actors who worked for many years in radio had a hard time getting used to performing in front of a camera. In radio they were used to standing in front of a microphone with scripts in their hands – when they came over to television they had to learn their parts. There was plenty of work for people like me who worked on the stage.

Bill It was a good atmosphere in the 1950s. We went in cold. We were all learning television and there was a great team spirit present. I worked with very many people with my time with the ABC – from Johnny O’Keefe to the Queen!

Babs Zilla Weatherby was an early wardrobe mistress. She used to work at the Tivoli before joining the ABC. When Katherine Hepburn came to Australia, Zilla was her dresser. Katherine loved her and wanted her to come with her to America. Zilla used to be a straight talker and she always told Katherine the truth. But she talked her way out of a job at the ABC.

Babs At the beginning of television we had to supply all our own clothes. We never received any payment for that. No allowance was provided. Also, unless we were working with an orchestra, we had to supply our own music.

Babs Mackinnon (now Crawford) was a well known vocalist on Sydney TV stations from 1956 to 1972 - she received the "Order of Australia" for her contribution to Australian Entertainment.

Bill Crawford worked at Gore Hill in Production Facilities from 1958 till 1980.

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