Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Baume, Frederick Ehrenfried (Eric) (1900–1967)

by Valerie Lawson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Frederick Ehrenfried (Eric) Baume (1900-1967), journalist, author and broadcaster, was born on 29 May 1900 at Auckland, New Zealand, eldest of four sons of Dunedin-born Frederick Ehrenfried Baume (d.1910), barrister, member of parliament and compulsive gambler, and his wife Rosetta Lulah, née Leavy, a schoolteacher from San Francisco, United States of America. His parents, both unorthodox Jews, had German ancestry. Eric (as he was always known) enjoyed a privileged childhood, although his quick-tempered father often beat him. He was educated at King's College (1910-11), Auckland Grammar School (1913-14) and Waitaki Boys' High School, Oamaru (1915). On leaving school, he served as a bandsman with the Garrison Artillery, Territorial Force, for three years.

Matriculating at Auckland University College in 1917, Baume briefly studied law, then joined the New Zealand Herald (edited by William Lane) as a proof-reader before becoming a cub reporter. He began writing verse and drawing cartoons which were published in New Zealand and Australia. In 1919-20 he was sub-editor of the Waipa Post and in 1921 moved to the Dominion, Wellington, for which he wrote editorials. On 17 December that year Baume married Mary Caroline Jack in the Methodist Church, Whangarei. The choice of church had been Mary's; Eric rarely attended the synagogue and at times was accused of being anti-Semitic. They were to have three children.

Having worked for the Christchurch Sun, Baume became editor of the Timaru Herald in 1922. Invited to join the Daily Guardian, owned by (Joynton) Smith's Newspapers Ltd, he sailed for Sydney in June 1923. One of Smith's Newspapers founders, Robert Clyde Packer, became Baume's mentor and successively promoted him chief sub-editor, news editor and night editor.

Next year his wife joined him. In 1925 Mary developed rheumatoid arthritis: Baume maintained that her illness kept the family in debt, but he was addicted to gambling and often lost his entire salary on payday. He played slot machines, two-up, poker, roulette and chemin de fer, and bet on the races; later in life he stuffed his wallet with Sydney Opera House lottery tickets. A lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, Australian Military Forces, in 1926-30, Baume became known to naval intelligence as a 'strong supporter' of the New Guard.

When the Daily Guardian was sold to Sir Hugh Denison's Associated Newspapers Ltd in 1930, Baume became managing editor of the Referee. In 1931 Packer moved to Associated Newspapers and recruited Baume as editor of its Sunday Sun and Guardian. Eric was energetic and full of ideas. Although Baume described himself as Packer's 'devoted servant', Packer subsequently believed that Eric betrayed him in boardroom intrigues. In 1935 Baume was appointed assistant editor-in-chief, with responsibility for the Sunday Sun, Telegraph and Woman magazine. The task proved too much for him and he reverted to being editor of the Sunday Sun.

In the 1930s the Baumes lived in a large house at Gordon. There they entertained politicians and artistes such as Gladys Moncrieff and Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. The roulette wheel was always spinning. From 1932 Baume also wrote thirteen books, mostly novels like Half-Caste (1933). He had begun wireless broadcasting in the early 1930s with a programme called 'Pros and Cons'; from 1936 he ran 'The 2GB News Review'. In 1937 he visited America and in Mexico met Leon Trotsky whom he interviewed for a series of syndicated articles.

Returning to Sydney in 1938, Baume resumed his editorship of the Sunday Sun and his radio work with 2GB. That year one of his news commentaries, critical of Germany, led to complaints from the German consul-general and to Baume's consequent removal from the air. He was urged to enter politics by Ethel Elizabeth Falkiner, widow of the wealthy grazier F. B. S. Falkiner. She befriended Eric and Mary, giving them jewellery and £20,000; despite her later request, the money was not returned. Baume sued Smith's Weekly for revealing the incident in 1941, but did not proceed with the writ.

In August 1939 Ezra Norton had appointed him European correspondent for Truth and Sportsman Ltd which from 1941 included the new Daily Mirror. Leaving his family in Sydney, Baume established the office in London, in rooms at the Savoy Hotel. He lived in an adjacent suite where he entertained many celebrities; his bed had black, silk sheets. In England he became friendly with the Countess of Oxford, widow of prime minister Herbert Asquith, and with Lady Margaret Stewart, daughter of Lord Londonderry. Baume was reputedly the first to report Germany's intended invasion of Russia. He travelled on the Continent during the war and indulged his passion for uniforms. Caught in the bloody battle at Arnhem, the Netherlands, he described his nine days under continuous barrage in Five Graves at Nijmegen (1945). An imposing figure in evening dress or in uniform (with which he sometimes wore a digger's slouch hat), he was six feet (183 cm) tall, with black hair, dark eyes and a strong, straight nose.

Late in 1949 Baume was recalled to Australia; having seen a photograph of him wearing spats, Norton had roared: 'get him back here, he's been duchessed'. Baume became deputy editor-in-chief of the Truth and the Sportsman group, but was dismissed in 1952. During this time Eric developed an ulcer and a nervous tic in his left eye. He grew a large moustache. Next year he returned to radio with four 2GB programmes. In late 1956 he joined the new television station, ATN-7, as its news-commentator. There he was nicknamed 'Eric Boom' from his habit of bumping into the sound boom when he leapt from his studio chair to deliver the punch line of his live show, 'This I Believe'. His by-line also appeared in the Sun newspaper column, 'Face the Facts', which was largely ghosted by his nephew Michael Baume.

A natural showman and actor, Eric became a television celebrity. He was tempted back to newspapers in 1958 after Norton asked him to return as editorial director. When Norton sold Truth and Sportsman later that year, Baume was stripped of his authority and paid out of his contract. He resumed work on 2GB and contributed freelance commentaries for the press and television. From January 1964 on ATN-7 he compered a new television panel show, 'Beauty and the Beast', in which he and four women answered viewers' letters. On air, Baume was deliberately beastly to his fellow panellists, a tactic which made the programme even more popular. He liked to say of most people at this time, 'they love me yet they hate me'. In 1966 he was replaced—his performance had slipped due to ill health and to his own boredom with the programme. He told his biographer Arthur Manning that he was a serious writer and commentator, not a court jester.

Because of his medical bills and gambling habit (he continued to lose large sums at the Journalists' and Imperial Service clubs), Baume was forced to continue working beyond normal retirement age. He was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, London, and in 1966 was appointed O.B.E. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, he died of cardiac and renal disease on 24 April 1967 at his apartment at Kirribilli; following a non-denominational service, he was cremated. His debts exceeded his assets by more than $4000.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Manning, Larger Than Life (Syd, 1967)
  • P. Baume, Baume—Further Record (Gordon, NSW, 1980)
  • R. B. Walker, Yesterday's News (Syd, 1980)
  • Woman's Day, 31 Oct 1966
  • Nation (Sydney), 25 July 1964, 6 May 1967
  • Bulletin, 6 May 1967
  • Intelligence report, MP 1049/9 file 1887/2/35 (National Archives of Australia)
  • F. E. Baume papers (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Valerie Lawson, 'Baume, Frederick Ehrenfried (Eric) (1900–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baume-frederick-ehrenfried-eric-9456/text16631, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014