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Saturday, 2 April 2016

Vale Raymond Menmuir - Storry Walton and Tom Jeffrey remember a TV pioneer with affection

Raymond Menmuir was one of the pioneer producers of Australian television. His work encompassed a broad range of subjects and styles and he set high standards for early ABC drama. Ray made a significant contribution to ABC-TV drama (multi-cam productions) in its early years from the late 50s to 1960, when programs went out live. There was no pre-recording then. The quality and innovation of his work set a high standard for other ABC-TV drama producers to follow. In the 60s he left for England where he carved out a prodigious career as a director of TV drama. He died last week. IMDB  gives you an idea of the extent of his work

Storry Walton, a former colleague, remembers: 

Ray Menmuir directing Citizen of Westminster,
live-to-air one  hour drama, ABC TV
ex Studio 21 Gore Hill. (photo by Storry Walton)
Ray Menmuir was regarded as the run-away best drama producer of live to air programs for ABC in the late 50s early 60s before he went to London and was one of the BBC’s top drama directors.

 I worked for Ray in 1960 and was his Assistant Director on a remarkable production of Richard II. The ABC suspended all of its programs for two hours at peak time for Ray’s three studio (that’s every studio including the presentation studio) live to air production. Actors had to scurry between studios and the floor management of the event was a magnificent unseen success. My job included calling the first 10 - 15 shots of an incoming scene in each studio giving Ray time to run from one studio where he had called the final shot to the next studio. I slipped out of the directors chair as Ray slipped in. His production assistant (or script assistant as the ABC confusingly called the job) was Prue Bavin.  A young woman of poise, elegant bearing and a regal cigarette holder, she too had to race, all skirt, hair, arms, stopwatch and script flying to the wind, behind him.  A tele-recording exists. The acting all looks a bit mannered by today’s standards and rather slow. Had it been high drama the ABC wanted to show, I reckon the behind-the cameras action would have set a record for action and suspense.

Ray had a farm in rural England at which he was very happy and content. Not so his neighbours, because, an early convert to sustainable agriculture, Ray introduced to his acreage the weeds and pests that generations of patient County farmers had spent hundreds of years trying to eradicate.

I saw him at the big reunion of ABC staff some years ago and I was surprised he could not remember the stuff-ups I had made on  the filmed inserts for one of his programs. I was disappointed by his grace in this matter because I had been nursing my guilt for 40 years and I was robbed of a final reproval and forgiveness.

Tom Jeffrey adds a memory;

Yes, a prodigious list indeed.

But there’s one title missing off the IMDB list.  Around 1960 he produced and directed John Mortimer's “Dock Brief” for ABC TV, with Reg Lye and Moray Powell.  It was a superb example  utilising the then available TV techniques (particularly Lighting - Harry Adams was the Lighting Director or TP as we called them then).  I was Floor Manager - and I’ll never forget it.

I was also Floor Manager of the Studio 22 scenes for the production of Richard II that Storry refers to - but that’s another story…..

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