This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993
Sir John Beals Chandler (1887-1962), businessman, radio entrepreneur and politician, was born on 21 February 1887 at Bunwell, Norfolk, England, posthumous son of John Chandler, bricklayer, and his wife Mary Ann, née Green. One of a large and poor family, John left school at the age of 8. He migrated to Queensland in 1907. Having worked off his government-assisted passage for two years in the cane-fields at Mossman, he was employed as a manufacturers' commission agent in Brisbane. On 24 February 1912 at the registrar's office, Red Hill, he married a nurse Lydia Isabel Parish. In 1913 Chandler opened a small general hardware store in Elizabeth Street, Brisbane. He expanded his business by dealing in household and electrical appliances, selling and installing petrol-vapour and electric-lighting systems, and entering the electrical contracting field.
In 1923 J. B. Chandler & Co. opened a store in Adelaide Street that specialized in electrical appliances and equipment. He then began to sell radio parts, eventually assembling his own 'Gloriola' wirelesses and also importing sets from America. In 1928 his company became the Queensland distributor for Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd. Growing interest in radio prompted him to build and operate 4BC (BC for Beals Chandler) radio station in 1930. It was Brisbane's first, commercial broadcasting operation and, within a few days, joined in the coverage of a cricket Test played in England. Chandler subsequently established a radio network, with stations at Rockhampton, Maryborough, Toowoomba and Kingaroy; he also helped to establish stations at Ayr, Atherton and Gympie. In 1936 he exercised an option to purchase 4BH Brisbane, but the Federal government's restrictions on the ownership of broadcasting stations forced him to sell all his outlets—except 4BH—the following year.
His aggressive marketing of electrical household appliances in the 1930s, combined with his acquisition of the Australian franchise for Sunbeam Corporation Ltd products, led him to open branches of his firm throughout Queensland, in Sydney and in Melbourne, and to find distributors in other capital cities. The J. B. Chandler Investment Co. Ltd was formed in 1932 to provide hire purchase finance and in 1938 a public company, Chandlers Pty Ltd, was established. That year the company's wholesaling, office and servicing divisions were moved to headquarters at the corner of Albert and Charlotte streets, Brisbane.
During World War II the firm was associated with A.W.A. in installing and servicing radio, radar and echo-sounding equipment in ships. Prospering in the postwar years, Chandler's operations were merged in a public company, Chandlers (Aust.) Ltd, in 1950. After losing the Sunbeam franchise, the Melbourne branch was closed, the Sydney operation converted to general wholesaling, and the group was confined to Queensland and the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales. In 1959 Chandler closed his electrical contracting supplies division in order to finance his purchase of Fame Television (Qld) Pty Ltd. Always active, he remained chairman and managing director of the Chandler group of companies until his death.
Chandler had been a councillor of Taringa shire before the creation of Greater Brisbane in 1925. In the 1940 Brisbane municipal elections he led his Citizens' Municipal Organization team to a resounding victory over the Labor administration of A. J. Jones. During the first of his four consecutive terms as lord mayor (1940-52) of Brisbane, Chandler worked closely with R. H. Robinson, the assistant under-secretary of the Department of Health and Home Affairs, and also with the town clerk and city administrator J. C. Slaughter to rationalize and revitalize the city's management.
Although the C.M.O. was returned in a majority of wards in subsequent elections, Chandler's promises of extensive civic improvement were frustrated by wartime restrictions. The council had formulated a judicious wartime policy of 'Preservation, Conservation, and Preparation' which produced a five-year programme of postwar city development estimated to cost £15 million. With priorities based on pre-war assumptions, the plan's effectiveness was diminished by unforeseen inflation, population growth, and shortages of manpower and materials. In the 1952 elections Labor defeated the Chandler administration by campaigning on the inadequacies of sewerage, water-supply and transport services, and by drawing attention to the money spent on Coronation Drive. Nevertheless, Chandler's council had pointed the way to Brisbane's future development in services, town planning and urban beautification.
In 1943 Chandler had won the Queensland Legislative Assembly seat of Hamilton as an Independent. His conviction that the 'collectivism' of the Labor Party was incompatible with democracy induced him, almost immediately, to found the Queensland People's Party. It speedily absorbed the fading State section of the United Australia Party. He retired from the assembly in 1947 to concentrate on business and on developing the City of Brisbane. The People's Party later became the Queensland division of the Liberal Party of Australia.
Chandler believed that it was possible to form a government free from class consciousness and was convinced that the city council under the C.M.O. was an administration of this kind. He also held that capitalism should operate in the interests of the many rather than the few. His political views were clearly outlined in his published addresses to the Brisbane Rotary Club in 1942 (What of the Future?), to the Australian National Service League in December that year (The Privileges and Responsibilities of Democracy) and in his Policy Speech of the Queensland People's Party (1943). Knighted in 1952, he retired from public life after his defeat in the council election that year.
Five ft 3 ins (160 cm) tall and lightly built, but with an impressive presence, Chandler was known to his associates as 'J.B.' and to the citizens of Brisbane as the 'Little Man' who brought efficiency to the city council. A practising Anglican, he considered it his duty to repay society for the opportunities it had afforded him to become a successful businessman. He never wore the lord mayor's robes of office and, by waiving his salary and reducing his expense account, saved the city an estimated £25,000. An idealist, with the acumen, energy and courage to achieve many of his goals, he had, as well, the necessary balance and sense of humour to take success and failure in his stride. His self-assurance and tenacity were sometimes interpreted as arrogance or stubbornness, yet, while not prepared to be imposed upon, he inspired respect and loyalty in those who worked closely with him.
Twice president (1938-40) of the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce, he was a treasurer (1939-40) and life member of the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland. He founded the Australian Federation of Broadcasting Stations, and was a foundation member and president (1928-29) of the State branch of the Electrical Federation. A member of the Rotary Club of Brisbane and of the Young Men's Christian Association, he was president of the Queensland Patriotic and Australian Comforts Fund during World War II. Growing orchids and motoring were his main hobbies, though he also enjoyed golf and bowls. Sir John died on 19 January 1962 at his St Lucia home and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and two of their sons; two other sons were killed in action in World War II. Chandler's estate was sworn for probate at £326,433. A portrait by A. Baratin is held by M. N. Chandler, Beaudesert. The family's connexion with the Chandler group of companies ended in 1977.
John Laverty, 'Chandler, Sir John Beals (1887–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chandler-sir-john-beals-9724/text17171, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 September 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993