Childhood memories are usually regarded as our strongest, and one I will never forget is the arrival of my family’s television receiver in May of 1960.
My parents had sought to keep secret details of its proposed arrival in the late afternoon of the first Friday of the school holidays. When it hadn’t arrived several hours later (reflecting the obvious sales boom for TV sets at that time), they revealed all and headed down the road to a public telephone box to try to find out why – and when it would be coming. It finally turned up around 9.30 p.m., and I remember the programme “Bourbon Street Beat” was playing as the technician in white overalls fine tuned it. Our first exposure to commercials was the famous McWilliams Wine advertisement featuring an animated Monk. Bedtime loomed within he hour, with the promise that I could watch all day on Saturday.
For me, the highlight of that day’s viewing was “Captain Fortune’s Saturday Party”, a programme I’d seen and enjoyed on neighbours’ TVs – but was now able to absorb without the obvious distractions of other viewers sometimes wanting to switch channels.
Looking back, I think it was a combination of that programme and Australian television’s first breakfast show, “Today” with Peggy Mortimer and Enzo Toppano (Mondays to Fridays from 7 to 9.15 am, also on ATN-7) that whet my appetite to hopefully work in television some day.
I also enjoyed “Small Time” on weekday afternoons with Captain Fortune, and a younger man called Chris Beard who went on to big things behind the scenes in television overseas.
Saturdays with Captain Fortune replaced occasional visits to the movies for me, and became such a viewing must that it wasn’t long before I was pestering my mother to take me to Channel 7 to be part of the audience of youngsters who always seemed to be enjoying the show even more than me.
I still remember my excitement at receiving the envelope stamped with ATN-7 and containing the tickets I sought to be part of the show, and opening it to find not just those tickets, but a small “With Compliments” slip of paper signed by “Captain Fortune”.
My first studio visit was on Saturday, September 3, 1960 – somewhat significant for television in that The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Channel 7 had signed a deal the previous day with MCA-Revue Productions for a new variety programme, which aired the following year as “Revue ‘61”.
The Saturday Party was a morning show at that time in 1960, and that meant rising early at our home at Sefton to take trains first to Strathfield and then change for Epping – with mum shelling out for a taxi from that station to the ATN studios.
Tossing and turning in bed the previous evening as excitement kept me awake, I had tried to imagine what the studio and being in it would be like … but the dreams were nothing like the actual experience.
We youngsters were directed into Studio B and seated in front of curtains I later learned were called “The Greens”, while our parents went to watch the show in Studio A.
Once in the studio that morning, we had to be very quiet because an Olympic Report was being resented live to air from the other end of Studio B by the station’s then Sports Director, Ray Connolly. It was the time of the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Ray wasn’t with Channel 7 for long after that, but he continued to have media involvement as a boxing expert and referee that sport – and I had the pleasure of meeting him in later life, and discovering he shared my passion for the Western Suburbs Rugby League Team (The Magpies).
The hours in the studio that morning jut flew by as I watched the proceedings and excitement of live television, and learned that the occasional cartoon went to air mysteriously from another part of the building rather than (as I had thought) being projected onto a screen and photographed by one of the studio cameras.
I got close to Captain Fortune as I joined the line of youngsters presenting him with a pile of comic books for the “sick children”, and went home with a mix of excitement and disappointment – the latter because I s wanted t be back in that studio again the following week, to watch the bearded Captain deliver his familiar catchcry, “Ahoy there, Shipmates” and begin another couple of hours of truly live fun and entertainment.
On arriving home, there was a letter for me (Saturday mail deliveries existed at that time) and my father noted I was writing to myself – as the hand-writing was mine. Indeed it was, as I had earlier sent off the requested stamped, self-addressed envelope to “Captain Fortune’s Saturday Party” to join the TAA Junior Flyers’ Club – and by coincidence my “wings” arrived the very day I’d been to the Party. It was to be more than a further 7 years before I had my first taste of actual flying, but it was great to have the wings, and feel a special part of the Captain Fortune Show every time they rolled the film clip o a Fokker Friendship aircraft in operation and brought us Junior Flyers’ News.
My second (and final) visit to the studio came exactly 9-months after the first, on Saturday June 3, 1961 – the day I can claim as my television debut.
By now, “Saturday Party” was an afternoon programme with the audience of children seemingly larger and moved to the longer (southern rather than western) side of Studio B.
Mum again did the hard work of ensuring we made it to he studio by public transport, and this time I also took a friend from the same street, and luck was on our side as we were both selected to be part of the segment called “Lucky Dip Quiz”, which was done late in the programme, around 4.00 p.m.
Ken was immediately ahead of me in the line as Captain Fortune welcomed him and invited him to dip into a long box divided into age groups for questions sent in by home viewers of the same age. If the studio contestant could answer the question, the prize went to him/her; if not, it went o the home viewer for stumping he would-be star. Sadly, Ken missed out – and I had the frustration of knowing his answer, but not being able to help him. I remember thinking that I wished I’d had his question, fearing hat mine may be harder.
With heart pounding, I approached Captain Fortune and in answer to his questions told him my name, suburb and age – and was invited to dip into the barrel and select a letter. The Captain opened it, named the sender and read the question. “Who discovered the West Indies, which led to the discovery of America?” I knew Christopher Columbus had discovered America, an I even know the names of his three ships, but I wasn’t sure about the West Indies …. But I opted for Columbus anyway, and I won!
The prize was an airline bag, emblazoned “TAA, The Nation’s Jetline”.
I don’t think there’s been a prize before or since that’s meant as much as that one did as Captain Fortune congratulated me and handed me the bag, which has a lot of use over what seemed at the time to be many years. When I got home, dad was beaming at having seen my win, and at school the following Monday, my 6th Class (now Year 6) teacher said he’s also seen my performance.
My visits to the studio for Captain Fortune showed me how television worked, and whet my appetite to be part of the medium.
I left school after completing the Higher School Certificate in 1967, and after writing to every television station in NSW I scored a job as a stagehand at ATN 7 and began work there on Monday, April 1, 1968. Just six weeks later I moved to ABC as a Cadet Journalist – but in that short period I did once work on the set-up of the programme that had evolved from Captain Fortune’s work, “The Town of Make Believe” with “Uncle” Reg Quartly and Arch McKirdy.
Four years later, in 1972, I returned to ATN and spent 13 years there doing just about everything as a news journalist – including reading my first live to air television news bulletin from that same old Studio B in June 1974.
Captain Fortune died far too young – but not before he made a lasting and positive impression on a family of children much, much larger than his own.