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Hooke, Sir Lionel George Alfred (1895–1974)

by L. W. Davies

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Sir Lionel George Alfred Hooke (1895-1974), broadcasting pioneer, radio engineer and businessman, was born on 31 December 1895 at St Kilda, Melbourne, fourth child of Frank William Hooke, a tea merchant from England, and his Victorian-born wife Ethel Margaret, née Kelly. Educated at Brighton Grammar School, where he was a sergeant in the cadets and 'an ardent student of wireless telegraphy', Lionel joined the Marconi company as a marine wireless operator in 1913. In the following year Marconi merged its Australasian interests with those of the Telefunken company to form a new organization, Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd.

On Christmas Day 1914 Hooke sailed from Hobart as wireless operator on board the Aurora which carried the support party for Sir Ernest Shackleton's proposed crossing of the Antarctic continent. In March 1915 the ship was moored in McMurdo Sound for the winter. An ice-field formed around her. On 6 May it began to move, severing her mooring lines and carrying her northwards. She was trapped in the drifting floes until the ice melted in February 1916. After enduring appalling conditions and attempting to operate inadequate equipment for more than ten months, in March Hooke established contact with the outside world.

Under tow, Aurora reached New Zealand in April. There, he received news that his elder brother Frank had been killed at Gallipoli. Lionel sailed for England and was commissioned in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 15 December. He served in anti-submarine vessels, commanded armed tugs and later qualified as a pilot. A wartime photograph shows him as an authoritative and confident figure, posed characteristically with one hand in his jacket pocket and sporting the white ribbon of the Polar medal. In 1918 he transferred to the Royal Air Force.

Soon after his return to A.W.A. in 1919, Hooke was promoted Melbourne manager of the Sydney-based company. Recognizing the potential of wireless telephony, in 1920 he helped A.W.A.'s general manager (Sir) Ernest Fisk to arrange a direct transmission of musical items from Hooke's home at Middle Brighton to Federal Parliament House in the city. The technical achievements of the demonstration were the result of Hooke's drive and initiative, as were the more sophisticated transmissions in 1921-22 which preceded A.W.A.'s announcement that it intended to begin commercial broadcasting.

Under the 1922 Wireless Agreement between the Federal government and A.W.A., the Commonwealth assumed a controlling interest in the firm. In return, the government provided additional capital, promoted A.W.A.'s concept of direct wireless telegraphy between Australia and Britain, and transferred Australia's coastal radio stations to the company. Hooke was in his element with the coastal radio operation, reorganizing and re-equipping the stations. He loved the sea, and travelled abroad by ship whenever possible; on land, he was a motoring enthusiast. His automatic distress transmitter (patented in 1929) improved safety at sea by enabling emergency wireless messages to be sent from ships that did not carry an operator.

In 1925 he was transferred to Sydney as deputy general manager and assisted with the inauguration in 1927 of the profitable beam-wireless telegraph service. He and Fisk formed a close professional relationship, with Hooke gradually assuming a larger executive role. During their partnership A.W.A. acquired an international reputation. At St Andrew's Anglican Church, Brighton, Melbourne, on 15 February 1930 Hooke married Eilleen Clarice Sparks, an actress and a divorcee who had reverted to her maiden name.

He guided A.W.A.'s entry into the manufacture and marketing of the 'Radiola' wireless broadcast receiver. With David Sarnoff, of the Radio Corporation of America, Hooke negotiated a joint venture between A.W.A. and R.C.A. to manufacture radio valves at the Ashfield works of Amalgamated Wireless Valve Co. Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of A.W.A. In World War II the valve company produced defence matériel, including klystrons and magnetrons for radar equipment.

When Fisk retired in 1944, Hooke took over as managing director and faced the difficult task of reorganizing the company whose peacetime staff of 3000 had more than doubled. Unpopular decisions—contrary to A.W.A.'s tradition of continuity of employment—had to be made if it were to remain profitable. He gained the best possible financial outcome for A.W.A. in the negotiations that followed the Commonwealth Telecommunications Conference (1945) which obligated the Australian government to take over the beam wireless service.

Hooke was knighted in 1957 and became chairman of A.W.A. in 1962. He presided over the company's decisions to manufacture television transmitters, television receivers and micro-electronics equipment, and to expand its research into solid-state electronics and optical-fibre communications. Within the company he was held in such regard that it sometimes verged on awe and reverence. Admired for his loyalty to A.W.A. and for the concern he showed for its staff, he appreciated the importance of being visible to all. His visits to the company's factories, his attendance at Christmas parties and his presence at annual balls reinforced the image of a kindly, unfailingly polite and considerate man who was able to inspire his employees.

A senior member (1943) and life senior member (1965) of the Institute of Radio Engineers (later Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.), New York, Hooke wrote several papers and supported the A.W.A. Technical Review which published articles by his research staff. He was a director of other public companies, including Kandos Cement Co. Ltd, a fellow (1959-69) of the senate of the University of Sydney, chairman of the electronics and telecommunications industry advisory committee and vice-president (1954-58) of the Chamber of Manufactures of New South Wales. Hooke died on 17 February 1974 at St Leonards and was cremated; he was survived by his wife and son John who succeeded him as chairman of A.W.A. At a memorial service for Sir Lionel at St James's Anglican Church, Sydney, his friend of forty years Monsignor James Delaney delivered the address.

Select Bibliography

  • AWA Ltd, In Memoriam (Syd, 1974) and Address by the Chairman of the Board, 36th Ordinary General Meeting (Syd, 1944) and Managing Director's Review, Annual General Meeting (Syd, 1945)
  • L. Bickel, Shackelton's Forgotten Argonauts (Melb, 1982)
  • E. Harcourt, Taming the Tyrant (Syd, 1987)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19, 23 Feb 1974
  • Brighton Grammar School (Melbourne) Archives.

Citation details

L. W. Davies, 'Hooke, Sir Lionel George Alfred (1895–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hooke-sir-lionel-george-alfred-10536/text18707, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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