Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Howard, Frederick James (Fred) (1904–1984)

by David Dunstan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Frederick James (Fred) Howard (1904-1984), journalist and author, was born on 17 October 1904 at Wandsworth, London, son of George Octavius Howard, commercial clerk, and his wife Josephine, née Mitchell. Fred was educated at Alleyn’s School, Dulwich, until he migrated with his parents to Australia in 1920. He worked in a bank and, with ambitions to become a writer, contributed to publications including the Saturday Evening Post. When his novel The Emigrant (1928) was accepted, he took up writing full time. Praised by the Bulletin for recounting `with rare insight and sympathy’ the story of a young man’s progression from militant communism to a new life as `an individualist’ in Australia, the novel ran to a second edition. It was followed by Return Ticket (1929), also on Anglo-Australian themes, the publication of which coincided with his travelling in South and North America. Back in Australia he edited (1929-31) Stead’s Review.

On 6 June 1930 at St John’s Church of England, Toorak, Howard married Stella Victoria Gertrude Miller. In 1931 he joined the Melbourne Herald. Presentable looks and good manners, a positive international outlook and experiences, and a well-demonstrated commitment to his craft, brought him into favour with the newspaper magnate (Sir) Keith Murdoch. Encouraged by Murdoch, Howard visited Russia in 1935 and spent nine months roaming Europe and North America, finishing another Anglo-Australian family saga, Leave Us the Glory (1936), in London. A photograph from this time in the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd’s House News captured him with the Hollywood film stars Barbara Stanwyck and Herbert Mundin, typically at ease and charming.

On his return to Melbourne, Howard edited (1937-40) the Austral-Asiatic Bulletin for the Victorian division of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, wrote The Negroes Begin at Calais (1938), a satirical investigation of Europe’s myriad problems, and, succeeding C. J. Dennis, brought a new freshness and diversity as the Herald’s columnist `The Rouseabout’.

Commissioned in the Militia on 11 December 1939, Howard was appointed a captain in the Australian Imperial Force in June 1940 and posted to Corps headquarters as historical records officer. In 1940-42 he served in the Middle East, where he edited Active Service (1941) and was mentioned in despatches. He returned to Australia and in 1942-44, a public relations liaison officer with General Douglas MacArthur’s General Headquarters, South-West Pacific Area, he spent most of the time in Papua and New Guinea, and observed GHQ’s practice of issuing distorted news reports of operations. Having divorced his first wife, he married Margaret Laura De Visme Gipps, a poet, on 9 February 1943 at the Albert Street Methodist Church, Brisbane. On 28 September 1944 he transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

Howard returned to the Herald and remained with the paper for the rest of his working life. He served as president of the Melbourne PEN Club (1946-48, 1955) and of the Victorian AIIA (1957-59). Another novel, No Music for Generals, was published in 1951. In 1953-57 he reported on East Asia and afterwards became chief leader-writer, producing elegant if bland daily copy, conforming to the newspaper’s predictable stance on public issues and its anti-Labor bias. From 1963 he chaired Channel 7’s Sunday evening television program `Meet the Press’. In contrast to his predecessor Reg Leonard’s controversial `red-baiting’, Howard was unfailingly courteous to his celebrity guests. According to his fellow panellist John Fitzgerald, the presence of `assault troops’ on the panel enabled Howard to `sit back and, almost apologetically, close out the interview on a conciliatory note with a disarming smile and softly-spoken charm’.

Although friendly, Howard was not gregarious and did not frequent journalists’ watering holes. Well groomed and urbane, he could have been a diplomat, judged his colleague Harry Gordon; to his sub-editor Neil Newnham, he was `a gentleman journalist, experienced, knowledgeable, unflappable, and confident in his craft’. In 1969, following diagnosis of a tumour of the pelvis, he had a leg amputated. Remarkably resilient, he survived and returned to the Herald and to television, but lasted only a year. He retired in 1970 but continued writing, completing a biography of Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes in 1972 and, in 1978, the history of a family of New South Wales pioneers, The Moleskin Gentry. Childless and survived by his wife, Frederick Howard died on 20 August 1984 at Heidelberg West; he was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Zwar, In Search of Keith Murdoch (1980)
  • R. M. Younger, Keith Murdoch (2003)
  • Bulletin, 24 Sept 1930, p 5, 17 Oct 1951, p 23
  • private information.

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Howard, Frederick James (Fred) (1904–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/howard-frederick-james-fred-12658/text22811, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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