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Bednall, Colin Blore (1913–1976)

by Patrick Morgan

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

Colin Blore Bednall (1913-1976), journalist and media manager, was born on 13 January 1913 at Balaklava, South Australia, son of Adelaide-born parents Edward Blore Bednall, bank manager, and his wife Naomi Caroline Gertrude, née Ferry. The family was Anglican. Colin was educated at Pulteney Grammar School and the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide. On his father's death during the Depression, Colin left school and followed his elder brother into journalism on the Adelaide News where he soon came to the attention of the proprietor (Sir) Keith Murdoch. After working as a reporter on the Melbourne Sun and Herald in 1932-37, Bednall was special correspondent in Darwin in 1937-38: he made a name by reporting Japanese intrusions in northern waters and by exposing the Larrakia fiasco. In Darwin he met Hilda Marion, daughter of the administrator of the Northern Territory Aubrey Abbott, and married her on 4 February 1939 at St Anthony of Padua's Catholic Church, Radlett, Hertfordshire, England.

Murdoch had encouraged Bednall to go abroad for experience and in 1938 arranged a job for him with Australian Associated Press in London. As aviation correspondent (1942-44) for the Daily Mail, he became well known to the British public: he flew as a qualified gunner in allied bombing raids over Germany and graphically described his experiences in the press. He was briefed by top Royal Air Force sources, and his articles contributed to the pre-eminence of the air war in British strategic planning and in the public mind. Bednall was one of a group of notable Australian war correspondents in the European theatre which included Alan Moorehead and Chester Wilmot. In 1945 Bednall served briefly as a war correspondent attached to Lord Louis (Earl) Mountbatten's command on the Indian subcontinent; at the end of the war he was appointed O.B.E. for his services to the allied cause. Although Lord Rothermere had made him assistant editor of the Daily Mail in 1944, Bednall was persuaded by Murdoch to accept managing editorship of Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd whose main outlet was the Courier-Mail. After Murdoch's death, in 1954 Bednall became managing editor of the Melbourne Argus.

In 1953 he had been appointed to the royal commission on television. When GTV-9 (one of Melbourne's first two commercial television stations) was formed in 1956 by a consortium led by Sir Arthur Warner, Bednall was the station's first managing director; Sir Frank Packer bought GTV-9 in 1960. Despite competition from the Herald and Weekly Times Pty Ltd which controlled HSV-7, Channel 9 soon led the ratings, largely due to Bednall's astuteness in promoting Australian content and fostering a number of television personalities, among them Graham Kennedy who described Bednall as the most important influence in his life. At GTV-9 Bednall assisted Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies in using television for election campaigns.

In newspapers and in television Bednall usually managed to satisfy his employers by running profitable enterprises; at the same time, he assisted journalists and performers to develop their talents. To a marked extent this dual achievement stemmed from the force of his personality: he had strong views, new ideas and a sense of what the public wanted, and he was prepared to back his judgements. Proprietors sometimes considered him extravagant in the way he backed his shows; it was over a financial disagreement of this nature that he left GTV-9 in 1965.

Unlike many strong-minded people, Bednall had the ability to listen to and encourage the views of others. He was a large, gregarious man of considerable personal charm who combined informality with courtesy. While involved in the higher echelons of the media, and in the worlds of politics and business, he mixed with all sections of society and with both sides of politics. From his background as a journalist, he developed wide-ranging interests: he published a booklet, Dingoes (1967), acquired a collection of Australian paintings and wrote an extensive (unpublished) autobiography.

In 1965 Bednall was appointed to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's committee on space communications which was based in Paris. Next year he tried to organize an Australian mining industry council. From 1966 to 1969 he managed a new English-Chinese television station, run by an international consortium in Hong Kong; the poverty he saw there dramatically altered his political views. On his return to Australia, he became active in Labor politics (then highly unusual for a member of the Melbourne Club) and stood unsuccessfully against (Sir) Phillip Lynch for the Victorian seat of Flinders in the Federal elections of 1972 and 1974. Bednall was a part-time media consultant to Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1973-75; he subsequently accepted various consultancies and wrote a media column for the Age. He died suddenly of hypertensive coronary vascular disease on 26 April 1976 at his Portsea home and was buried in Sorrento cemetery; his wife, son and two daughters survived him. To commemorate him, the Australian television industry instituted an annual Colin Bednall award for outstanding services to the medium.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Hall, Supertoy (Melb, 1976)
  • K. Dunstan, No Brains At All (Melb, 1990)
  • TV Times, 20 July 1966
  • Age (Melbourne), 9 July 1965, 27 Apr 1976
  • Nation, 8 Jan 1966
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 30 July 1970
  • National Times, 29 May-3 June 1972
  • Bednall papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Patrick Morgan, 'Bednall, Colin Blore (1913–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bednall-colin-blore-9469/text16657, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 2 September 2014.

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

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