View Full Version : TV's original voice speaks up

20-07-06, 06:50 AM
THERE is a man living in the west of Auckland who is struggling to get his voice heard. For years John Godson, television announcer, on-air news director and author, has tried to correct the historical record about who the first person on Australian TV was.

The matter has become pressing because the 50th anniversary of the arrival of TV in Australia occurs in September and Godson predicts the celebrations and documentaries to mark the occasion will repeat the myth that former Nine Network chief executive Bruce Gyngell was the first person on the box.

Godson doesn't want to split hairs but considers it a matter of accuracy. Gyngell was the first person to be beamed live into people's lounge rooms, but it was Godson's voice that opened the world of Australian TV, to Sydneysiders, at 6:59:30pm on Sunday, September 16, 1956.

After 15 minutes of test pattern the audience heard Godson read the opening station announcement while a slide of a map of Australia was broadcast.

"This is television station TCN Channel Nine, owned and operated by Television Corporation Limited, 168 Castlereagh St, Sydney, transmitting on 195 to 202 megacycles per second from Artarmon Road, Willoughby, with an effective radiated power of 100,000 watts vision and 20,000 watts sound," he said.

The suave Gyngell then appeared in a two-piece suit and declared: "Good evening. Welcome to television."

A copy of the TCN opening night working script, lodged with the National Archives of Australia, verifies Godson's recollection.

"Having read the station's opening announcement voiceover does not detract from the fact that I was on television before anyone else," says Godson, now 73. "And you cannot call the opening announcement as being radio, then 15 minutes later change your stance to television."

Cameraman Brian Morelli, who worked at TCN from 1956 to 1994, agrees: "It is a fallacy that Bruce Gyngell was the first person on Australian TV. He was the first person to welcome viewers to television on the opening night."

The then 22-year-old Godson - born in Australia but whose British father and American mother had bequeathed him a mid-Atlantic accent - had been working as a radio announcer at 2AD Armidale, 2CA Canberra and 2CH Sydney.

In July 1956 he auditioned in front of a young Kerry Packer and Gyngell for a position at the fledgling TCN, two months before the planned launch date.

Godson's memory of those days is growing foggy but he remembers nervous tension, the impending deadline and electricians, architects and builders rushing around the two purpose-built studios in Willoughby, on Sydney's north shore. There was a sense that no one was really in charge, knew what to do or realised the reach TV would have. But certain indelible impressions remain, he says with a wink.

"The night of the launch we were all told we had to be in positions in the announcers' booth in the control room. Bruce Gyngell walks in - I wasn't sure what his job was, everyone seemed to have the title station manager - with a shoe box full of hundreds of pills, offering them to everyone. I asked how many I should take but he said he didn't know, to take a handful. I said, 'What are they?', and he said, 'Valium, Mr Packer got them for us."'

Godson continued at the station as an announcer, reading weekend news bulletins and advertisements. He hosted the first teenage pop music show, called Accent on Youth (before Gyngell changed it to TV Disc Jockey).

"It was disgusting, we were standing there playing records on a turntable with about 40 people in the audience dancing. We had no budget, no production, no one helping," he says. "I thank God there are no recordings."

The weather forecast was drawn on a blackboard in chalk, rather than projected on to the screen. There was no delay before going live, so floor managers loved telling presenters their fly was down just as they went to air.

Godson remembers doing live reporting in Sydney for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics torch relay. He was perched on an awning across the road from the town hall when the lord mayor took the torch and began his speech. Without the benefit of a monitor or binoculars it wasn't until well into his commentary that Godson had to back-track: the lord mayor had been handed a chair leg with a tin impaled on the end, as a prank by university students.

After five years at the station Godson was fired. He says the station manager, Ken Hall, gave him a piece of paper that said his services were no longer required but he still does not know why.

"Still, it was the best thing that ever happened to me," he says. "I thought 'To hell with it' and went to Britain and within five weeks was on the BBC management staff."

Godson spent the next 10 years working as an on-air news director for the BBC. He was posted to Northern Ireland, then worked in TV in France, Geneva (where he worked for the UN), The Philippines and Hong Kong.

Along the way Godson researched and produced documentaries on faulty aircraft. In the 1970s he wrote The Rise and Fall of the DC-10 and Unsafe at Any Height.

In 2002 Godson moved to New Zealand to set up Cinefex Ltd, a special effects company.

Today he is one of about 20 people known to be alive of the 187 staff employed at TCN when TV started.

It was in his downtime, searching on the internet, that he found most people thought Gyngell had been the first person on TV. He fired off letters to newspapers, the Nine Network, Peter Beilby (who edited Australian TV: The First 25 Years), Kerry Packer and the Australian Film Board. "Some told me to bugger off. There are no pictures of me so they don't care. If I was the first person on television they should acknowledge it. I'm not out to bang the drums; all I'd like is the facts to be told properly. Perhaps it's a legacy of working for the BBC."

Source (http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,19845891-7582,00.html)