Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joyce, Donovan Maxwell (1910–1980)

by Deirdre Morris

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

Donovan Maxwell Joyce (1910-1980), radio producer and writer, was born on 31 October 1910 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, fifth child of Edward James Joyce, clerk, and his wife Edith Elizabeth, née Conder, both Victorian born. Educated at Scotch College, Hawthorn, Donovan probably belonged to the school's wireless club before he left Scotch at the age of 15. He was employed by Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. Finding himself temperamentally unsuited to that work, he performed in amateur theatricals in Melbourne and was stage manager for several productions of the Little Theatre Company.

In 1932 Joyce entered commercial radio, working with stations at Broken Hill, New South Wales, Mildura, Victoria, and Adelaide. Returning to Victoria, he joined 3HS Horsham as manager and announcer. In 1934 he transferred to 3KZ in Melbourne, produced 'Spelling Bee' and 'Radio Cinema', then moved to 3AW in 1939. At All Saints Church, St Kilda, on 31 July 1937 he had married with Anglican rites Nance Lillian Collins, a milliner. Unable to enlist during World War II because a childhood injury had left the tendons in his right hand severely damaged, he served as an air-raid warden, and wrote a regular and sometimes controversial column in Radio Times under the pseudonym, 'Slapper'.

Following a court case over the terms of his employment, Joyce resigned as production manager at 3AW in 1944 and next year formed Donovan Joyce Productions. He wrote and commissioned dramas and documentaries, many of which he exported, particularly to South Africa, where he also advised on local radio production. At one stage his work was broadcast in sixteen countries. He formed a partnership with his elder brother Jim to bring leading actors, such as Lyndall Barbour and Dinah Shearing, from Sydney to perform in radio serials which included 'The Devil's Duchess' and 'The Lillian Dale Affair'. 'The Passing Parade', a half-hour documentary series, ran for over 150 episodes, many scripted by Joyce. One episode, 'The Old School Tie', received much publicity when four actors walked out of a recording session because they felt that the play was a slur on the English class system. His fifty-episode series, 'T-Men', about tax evasion, caught the attention of taxation officials who investigated a suspected 'leak' of inside information. From 1956 Joyce increasingly resented 'being cut off in my prime' by the 'monstrous television screen'; although he wrote the script for one of Crawford Productions' episodes of 'Homicide' in 1966, he never adapted to the new medium.

In 1964 Joyce had travelled to Israel to investigate a scroll allegedly written by Christ, but was thwarted in his efforts to visit archaeological digs at Masada. After a brief return to 3AW, he published The Jesus Scroll (Sydney, 1972; London, 1973), an unorthodox story of the life of Christ which became a best-seller and led to death threats and continuing controversy. Survived by his wife and son, he died of hypertensive heart disease on 16 October 1980 at Prahran and was cremated. Over six feet (183 cm) tall, he was a big, bearded man, with a fierce but controlled temper, whose demand for excellence and talent for inventiveness were central to his life.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Lane, The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama (Melb, 1994)
  • New Zealand Listener, 28 June 1957
  • Age (Melbourne), 18 May 1977
  • Joyce file (Performing Arts Museum, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

Deirdre Morris, 'Joyce, Donovan Maxwell (1910–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/joyce-donovan-maxwell-10650/text18629, 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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