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Chapman, Ivan Douglas (1919–1994)

by Michael McKernan

This article was published online in 2018

Ivan Douglas Chapman (1919–1994), prisoner of war, journalist, and writer, was born on 14 February 1919 at Werris Creek, New South Wales, sixth child of New South Wales-born parents Henry Harold Chapman, storekeeper, and his wife Beryl Hilda, née Myers. Ivan was educated at the Werris Creek Public and Tamworth High schools and studied medicine for two years at the University of Sydney from 1937. Having trained with the Sydney University Regiment, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 March 1940 and was allocated to the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion in the 6th Division. He served in the United Kingdom (1940) and the Middle East (1940–41) and took part in the Greek campaign of April 1941. Separated from his unit in the rushed evacuation, and betrayed to the Germans by a Greek national, he was captured on 22 April and interned in three successive camps in Germany; during this time he worked as a medical orderly. Following his release and repatriation in 1945, he was awarded a commander-in-chief’s card for ‘meritorious services’ from 1941 to 1944 (NAA B883). He was discharged from the AIF on 29 August in Sydney.

Chapman’s first book, Details Enclosed (1958), framed as a novel, gave an accurate and moving account of his experiences as a prisoner of war. He described his protagonist as a ‘medical student who had failed in every examination he sat for’ (Chapman 1958, 18), and who had served for thirteen months before captivity. He wrote about the importance of news in the lives of the prisoners and his main character became the camp ‘newsman’ (Chapman 1958, 186).

Almost certainly it was this experience that convinced Chapman to become a journalist on liberation from captivity. He gained employment in 1947 with the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) as a cadet journalist, just as the organisation was establishing its first independent news service. He served the ABC first in Newcastle and then, with ‘vague but nagging ideas about Television’ (Radio-Active 1957, 7), he joined the ABC’s London office, where he worked as a sub-editor.

Moving to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1952, Chapman was part of a small team involved with the first broadcast of BBC television news. He wrote of the ‘gloomy corridors and warrens of London’s Alexandra Palace’ where ‘journalists and film editors … blend their skills to turn out the B.B.C. Television News and Newsreel’ (Chapman 1958, 233). On 12 September 1953 he married Moira Helen Menzies, a stenographer, at the Oxendon Presbyterian Church, Hampstead, London. He resigned from the BBC in 1956 to take up an ABC offer to assist in the creation of its television news. He had invented a method of enabling spoken word commentary, live to air, to link with film footage, which was difficult to achieve with the state of early television technology.

Returning to Australia, Chapman trained ‘literally hundreds of journalists and cadets’ (McDonald 1994, 13) in the techniques he had developed at the BBC. For nine years he produced the popular ABC-TV Weekend Magazine that went to air each Sunday after the seven o’clock evening news broadcast. He was also, briefly, executive producer of Four Corners, the ABC’s flagship program.

In 1967 Chapman was awarded an Australian War Memorial research grant and took leave from the ABC to research and write a biography of Lieutenant General Sir Iven Mackay. As Mackay’s service in both world wars was wide-ranging, Chapman was required to master extensive military records and to understand numerous campaigns, from Gallipoli to New Guinea. Mackay had commanded the 6th Division in Greece. Iven G. Mackay: Citizen and Soldier (1975) was well received by military historians and general readers alike. The Sydney writer, publisher, and former army officer A. W. Sheppard described Chapman’s work as ‘by far the best military biography I have read during the past 20 years … the writing is vivid. Images leap from the page’ (1976, 18).

Resigning in 1976 from the ABC, Chapman dedicated himself to writing full time. He produced two further books. Private Eddie Leonski: The Brownout Strangler (1982) concerned the case of an American serviceman charged with the murder of three Melbourne women in 1942, while Tokyo Calling: The Charles Cousens Case (1990) dealt with complex issues arising from allegations that the radio broadcaster, soldier, and prisoner of war Charles Cousens should be tried for treason on his return to Australia.

Described as ‘a delightful companion with his shy smile, dancing eyes and deliberately outrageous puns’ (McDonald 1994, 13), and as ‘quiet and courteous’ (Hale, pers. comm.), Chapman did not push himself forward for recognition or celebration. His role as a pioneer of television news broadcasting in Britain and Australia quickly passed from view. Survived by his wife and three daughters, he died on 3 July 1994 at Katoomba, and was cremated.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Chapman, Ivan. Details Enclosed. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1958
  • Hale, Sylvia. Personal communication
  • McDonald, Neil. ‘Writer Set Standard For TV News.’ Australian, 14 July 1994, 13
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, NX11358
  • Radio-Active. ‘The Men Behind the News on Channel 2.’ 11, no. 3 (15 April 1957): 6–7
  • Sheppard, A. W. Review of Iven G. Mackay: Citizen and Soldier, by Ivan Chapman. Sydney Morning Herald, 7 February 1976, 18

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Michael McKernan, 'Chapman, Ivan Douglas (1919–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chapman-ivan-douglas-27635/text35083, published online 2018, accessed online 27 June 2019.

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