Saturday, May 21, 2011

An interview with Ian Grieve - expert in Australian OTR

I was very fortunate to have Ian Grieve with me.  American OTR fans, be prepared to learn a lot about radio Down Under.

OTR Buffet: Ian, thanks so much for joining me for this interview.   Could you tell me first of all about the wonderful, exhaustive software, the Encyclopaedia of Australian Radio Shows?
IAN GRIEVE: G'Day Jimbo, thank you for inviting me.
The Encyclopaedia of Australian Radio Shows database (EARSdb) is the basis for logging Australian Produced Radio Shows from the 1920's to 1960's.  In the future we may extend the database to the 1980s, and unofficially we do have some 1980's serials in there already, but we are trying to concentrate on what is considered OTR.  Moris Sztajer is the programmer behind the database and the chief researcher.  Instead of logging a show at a time, we work our way through everything and add an episode at a time as we work through the month or year.  We then go back over as we find new sources.  Basically we are working on 6,500 logs at the same time.  I then take time out to research individual shows when we get requests for information.

We log the Series/Serial/Variety program, the titles, the cast, the characters and the production details.  We include print advertising for the programs, cast photos, individual actors photos and where possible we include a single representative episode.  A lot of groundwork getting permissions from print media and production houses was done before we started. We have only had one Production House refuse to allow us to include a representative episode and that was a company struggling with the terms of their contracts with the actors.  We have negotiated a licence fee system where we pay a large percentage of the sale of each copy of EARSdb to the Production House owning most of the copyrights and they have the responsibility to divide the money where it is owed.

The searchable text version of EARSdb is online at to assist researchers. 
The current statistics for EARSdb is:
6,450 series listed.  Not bad considering the National Film and Sound Archives in Australia advised Government there were possibly as many as 1,500 Australian Series/Serials/Variety shows produced.  They now know better and have made EARSdb available to the public to use for research purposes in their Canberra Library.

2,334 people involved in Australian Radio Production are listed, many with photos.
27,368 people listed in logs, in other words characters
18, 712 episodes logged
555 complete episodes included and the aim is to reach 1,000 within the next two updates.
Future intentions:  To add voice samples for each actor to assist in identification.  To include non Australian produced shows that were broadcast in Australia.  Probably indicated by a different colour text.  To include a Bio of each person, rather than just list the series/serials/plays they were in and the roles.  We hope to have descendants write a more personal Bio as this database is for future generations as well.  
All in all, EARSdb will keep Moris and I busy for the rest of our lives and hopefully others will take it over and expand it further.

OTR Buffet:  I posted an article not too long about US entertainers and their shows gaining wide popularity in Australia due to the broadcasts of the Armed Forces Radio Service back in World War II.  This kind of opened up the airwaves in the Pacific to a whole new listener.  If you can, can you elaborate on that and do you happen to know what entertainers and shows were the most popular?
IAN GRIEVE: Actually, U.S. shows were imported and broadcast in Australia from the mid 1930's.  But were then banned basically during the 1940's and beginning of the 1950's.  This was for currency trade reasons and was also a shot in the arm for local production.  The recordings couldn't be imported but the scripts could.  Books were banned until 1970's or 1980's I think and it really helped the local writers.  AFRS discs were brought to Australia, with special permission, by the U.S. Armed forces when U.S. forces were stationed here in the latter stages of WWII.  They basically split the shows up between stations so that most stations played several U.S. series for the troops.  I do have several articles about it and they listed the shows involved and there were a lot of false starts as permission was granted, then rescinded, granted, rescinded and granted.
I honestly couldn't say which shows were most popular, but many of the U.S. OTR performers visited Australia, from Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy to Jack Benny and Bob Hope.  Also during the 1950's top Hollywood actors were flown out for performances on the Australian radio plays like Lux, Caltex or General Motors Hour.  Performers doing tours on the stage would also participate in local radio productions while they were in Australia.

OTR Buffet:  Originally, I asked you here with the intention of asking you only questions about the show, Dam Busters.  But even after listening to the series myself, I don't really know enough about it ask any good questions.  Could you tell us a little about the radio series?

IAN GRIEVE: The radio series follows the book by Paul Brickhill very closely and as you know, Paul introduces each episode.  It tells the story of the 617 Squadron that was handpicked and trained during WWII to bomb important targets, commencing with German controlled Dams then heavily concreted Submarine docks, ships in fortified harbours and bridges.  They used specially designed bombs and trained specifically for each type of bomb and target.  They were the cream of the RAAF and included several nationalities including Australians.  Bud Tingwell who plays Guy Gibson V.C. was a Pathfinder in WWII so there is realism in his acting.
For those who do not know the story, these was a British Film made in 1955 that is well worth watching and starred British OTR actor Michael Redgrave.  Also the book "Enemy Coast ahead by Guy Gibson V.C. that I read in my younger days.
Paul Brickhill also wrote The Great Escape (also a radio series that has survived complete).  U.S. fans of the movie beware, most of the parts played by U.S. actors were in actual fact Australian characters.  Hollywood likes to build up Americans at the expense of other Nationalities :)

OTR Buffet:  Where do you think Dam Busters ranks as far as Australian radio?   (And if you can answer this: How would you rank it with American, British or South African radio?)

IAN GRIEVE: I think Dambusters is well done.  It is historically accurate and well acted.  It has several other things going for it, it survives complete which is unusual for an Australian serial.  I am sure Dambusters was broadcast in U.S. and South Africa and it has stood up for quality.  Australia had a good reputation for producing quality shows.  Many series had their start in the U.S., then the scripts purchased and produced in Australia and the series sold back to the U.S.  Many Australia series were accepted as U.S. until Moris and I started documenting Australian Productions and identified them as Australian.  British Production Houses like Towers used to get their productions made in Australia, Black Museum is a good example.  It was British, made in Australia and had an introduction by Orson welles tacked on when the discs were produced, then broadcast in the U.S.. and nobody knew until I found the newspaper articles detailing the production and the crew involved.
Australia sold thousands of series to South Africa and South Africa started to make their own versions and sell them back.  They were buying them over about 50 years, so they must have liked what we were producing.

It is hard to rate radio series/serials against each other, let alone against other nationalities.  I prefer the Australian version of The Clock to the U.S. version.  I prefer the U.S. Gunsmoke to the Australian version.  It is hard to rate a well known actor or actors in the U.S. against the performance of a little known actor playing the same role in another country.  We all have our favourites.

OTR Buffet: What are some other Australian series we may have heard ?

IAN GRIEVE: Over the years I have released something like 3,000 Australian episodes into circulation as I found them or identified them.  Commonly known series include The Clock, Fat Man, Amazing Mr Malone (most of the surviving episodes in circulation are the Australian episodes), Air Adventures of Biggles, Danger with Grainger, Dangerous Assignment, Dossier on Dumetrius and the other Major Keen series, Famous Trials, Famous Jury Trials, all the George Edwards seials like Frankenstein, Afloat with Henry Morgan, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Corsican Brothers, Son of Pathos, Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, Adventures of Marco Polo, The Man in the iron mask,  Passage of the Tangmar, Undercover Carson, White Coolies, just to name a few.

OTR Buffet:  What are some old Australian shows that you would reccommend?

IAN GRIEVE: I like Detective and Mystery shows like I Hate Crime, Carter Brown Mysteries, Address Unknown, Nighbeat, all 5 of the Major Keen serials starting with Dossier on Dumetrius.

OTR Buffet:  Thanks so much Ian for your time and answering these questions.

IAN GRIEVE: No problem, I enjoyed it.  The reason I started researching and documenting Australian radio shows was that when I discovered OTR, U.S. collectors told me that Australia didn't produce any of their own shows, they just used U.S. scripts.  So I asked about Search for the Golden Boomerang, Yes, What!, Dad and Dave and was greated by Huh? and I knew that they didn't know anything about Australian Produced shows and that was because nobody had done the research.  That was about 12 years ago and now lots of people have discovered that Australia produced more than the shows based on U.S. scripts.
©Jimbo 2010/2011

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. I knew there were Australian productions out there but not the extent of them.


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