My following article appeared in yesterday’s Crikey newsletter:
During Wednesday’s Sydney launch of Patricia Edgar’s book Bloodbath – a tale of her years in TV, including being founding director of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation – ABC broadcaster Phillip Adams remarked that “nothing prepares you for the savagery of TV” in both the commercial world and ABC.
The event at Gleebooks attracted a small but loyal older crowd of people who were treated to an informal conversation between old friends.
Edgar’s book (extracted here) traverses the birth of independent Australian television. She said that even as recently as the 1980s, women behind the camera were objects of ridicule.
Edgar grew up believing through movies that everything in the US was great, but soon realised that Australia had to tell its own stories. Adams reminded the audience that only four local original plays were produced in the country during the entire 1960s. Many actors never played Australian roles and the ABC was “mock BBC”.
Adams said that when he was trying to build the film industry – and admitted children’s content was an embarrassing early omission – the greatest opposition came not from Sir Frank Packer but the ABC, so keen were they to maintain an entertainment monopoly.
Edgar remained highly critical of an industry that she said failed to provide suitable and stimulating programming for children. She gave context through the story of how the ABC initially rejected Sesame Street as unsuitable for kids and she writes in her book that, “today children spend more time with machines than with their parents. From infancy they are branded from head to toe as walking advertisements for global corporations.”
Perhaps the funniest anecdote of the evening was when Adams told of being with ALP figure Barry Jones in Prague in 1971 and meeting a UCLA professor who showed them a pilot of Sesame Street. It was a revelation, and they wondered when it would appear in Australia. There was much local resistance to come.
Edgar’s gloomy conclusions aren’t matched by others in the popular culture arena and at times she seems to dangerously veer towards romanticising the past. Academic Catharine Lumby wrote in the Good Weekend in June that although children are indeed bombarded with unprecedented levels of popular culture, there was no evidence that literacy was falling. “Research showing that TV can be good for kids if used wisely…doesn’t make for good headlines”, she wrote.