Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Crawford, Hector William (1913–1991)

by Rozzi Bazzani

This article was published online in 2014

Hector William Crawford (1913-1991), television producer, media lobbyist and musician, was born on 14 August 1913 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, younger of two children of William Henry Crawford, salesman, and his wife Charlotte, née Turner. His mother was a skilled musician and she instilled into Hector and his sister, Dorothy, a lifelong love of music. In 1924 Hector successfully auditioned for the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral; he then worked as a full-time chorister in return for education at the choir’s school. Musicologist and broadcaster, Alfred Ernest Floyd, who was the organist and choirmaster, influenced Crawford’s philosophy on life, notably his commitment to making music available to everyone.

Crawford’s music-centred education ended suddenly when his voice broke in 1928. He found himself looking for work just as the Depression began to affect Australia. He became a highly proficient tennis player and acted in plays and performances presented by a drama group formed by his sister at their local church. In 1932 he eventually found full-time employment as a junior clerk with the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SEC). In his spare time, he established and conducted choirs, managed his sister’s drama group, gave singing lessons, and took conducting classes with Fritz Hart at the Albert Street Conservatorium, East Melbourne.

In 1938 Crawford formed the Melbourne Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra, comprising students from the Albert Street Conservatorium and a number of musicians who had fled Europe ahead of the looming war. A year later, inspired by Dame Nellie Melba’s ‘Concerts for the People,’ he staged and conducted the first free ‘Music for the People’ concert in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. The success of the concert helped Crawford secure commercial sponsors for a regular series of concerts, which continued for more than forty years. Each concert featured Australian singers and musicians and raised money from audience donations for charitable causes including the Australian Red Cross Society and, in World War II, the Australian Comforts Fund. Audience numbers grew rapidly to over one hundred thousand. Crawford persuaded commercial radio to broadcast the live performances and in 1941 the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd became a major sponsor.

‘Music for the People’ had made Crawford a public figure, but he was still a junior clerk at the SEC by day. Another opportunity appeared when the owner of the struggling Broadcast Exchange of Australia Pty Ltd invited Crawford to take over management of its studio. Crawford created and produced music programs then sold them to radio stations desperate for local content due to wartime restrictions on foreign material. His success with Broadcast Exchange enabled him to leave the SEC. On 19 December 1942 at All Saints’ Church of England, St Kilda, he married Edna Marie Stock, a violinist and the leader of his orchestra.

By 1945 Crawford had expanded Broadcast Exchange from music programs into drama production. He invited Dorothy to join the company, which became Hector Crawford (later Crawford) Productions Pty Ltd. In 1946 they produced The Melba Story, a landmark radio drama series based on Melba’s life, which attracted both Australian and international sales. The program also launched the career of Crawford’s future wife, the soprano Glenda Raymond, who sang the title role. During the next decade the company flourished, with programs ranging from the singing competition Mobil Quest to the innovative D24, a drama series sponsored by Victoria Police. By 1950 it was producing, selling, and exporting forty-four hours of radio drama every week. Following the failure of his first marriage, Crawford married Raymond on 10 November that year at the Collins Street Independent Church, Melbourne.

In the 1950s Crawford and his sister began to prepare for the transition from radio to television, only to find that the new broadcast licensees were intending to produce programs internally, and purchase foreign programs to fill their schedules. Crawford began to lobby the Federal government, emphasising the importance of Australian content. He presented himself as an advocate for Australian artists and image making, a position he vigorously maintained for the rest of his life. He also lobbied the management of Melbourne’s HSV-7 (owned by the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd), which finally agreed to feature the live-to-air program Wedding Day during its first week of transmission in November 1956.

Over the next four years the company scaled back its large radio production force, but survival in television was tough. Broadcasters took control of advertising and sponsorship, departing from the common radio-industry practice of purchasing programs with sponsors attached. Crawfords produced countless variety and game shows, but it was innovation that saw the next major step when Consider Your Verdict (previously produced for radio 3DB) appeared on HSV-7 in 1961. The interactive courtroom drama, featuring a mixture of actors and real-life barristers, led directly to the creation of the police drama Homicide (1964-77). Crawford had finally broken through with an Australian television drama series.

By 1972 Homicide was attracting 2.5 million viewers each week–40 percent of the Australian audience. The program’s success prompted the other commercial networks to commission ‘cop’ shows from Crawford, including Division 4 (1969-75) and Matlock Police (1971-75). Crawford also produced a successful film for television, The Hands of Cormack Joyce (1972), which became the first Australian-produced film to be screened on network television in the United States of America. Crawford Productions had become Australia’s largest independent television production company, training and employing generations of actors, writers, technicians, and producers.

All three of Crawfords’ police programs were cancelled in 1974. Despite being forced to lay off most of his workforce, Crawford responded with the wartime drama The Sullivans (1976-83) and Cop Shop (1977-84). In the 1980s the company produced several successful miniseries, notably All the Rivers Run (1983) and The Flying Doctors (1985). Other successful programs included Carson’s Law (1982-84), The Henderson Kids (1985-86), and Crawford’s last personal commission, Acropolis Now (1989-92). Crawford Productions exported Australian drama to more than seventy countries.

With patrician features and a mane of white hair, Crawford was recognisable throughout Australia due to both his orchestral conducting and his judging on Showcase (1965-70) and other programs. His significance as a lobbyist and producer in forcing Australian stories on to television screens is considerable. He was a council member (1972-76) of the Australian Film and Television School and sat on the interim board of the Australian Film Commission in 1974. The winner of four TV Week Logie awards, in 1984 he was the inaugural inductee into the Australian Television Hall of Fame.

Crawford was appointed OBE in 1968, CBE in 1980, and AO in 1986. In 1987 he sold Crawford Productions but remained as chairman. Survived by his wife and the two children of his second marriage, he died at Kew, Melbourne, on 11 March 1991 and was cremated. The Screen Producers Association of Australia created the annual Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture in his honour.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Battye, Don. Interview by Albert Moran, 12 February 1979. 269200, National Film and Sound Archive
  • Combe, Diana R. ‘The Radio Serial Industry in Australia.’ PhD thesis, Macquarie University, Sydney, 1992
  • Crawford, Hector. Interview by Albert Moran, 5 July 1979. 269138, National Film and Sound Archive
  • Crawford, Hector. Commercial Television Programmes in Australia. Melbourne: [s.n.], 1959
  • Ferrier, Noel. There Goes Whatsisname: The Memoirs of Noel Ferrier. South Melbourne: Macmillan, 1985
  • Gilmour, K. R. ‘An Historical Perspective of the Development of the Melba Conservatorium of Music.’ MEd thesis, RMIT University, Melbourne, 2000
  • Griffen-Foley, Bridget. Sir Frank Packer: The Young Master. Pymble, NSW: HarperCollins, 2000.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Rozzi Bazzani, 'Crawford, Hector William (1913–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crawford-hector-william-14950/text26139, published online 2014, accessed online 25 June 2017.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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