Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Saunders, Ambrose George Thomas (1895–1953)

by Jan Brazier

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Ambrose George Thomas Saunders (1895-1953), radio broadcaster, was born on 16 May 1895 at Bourke, New South Wales, son of John Benjamin Saunders, saddler, and his wife, Barbara Stephenson, née Driver. Educated at Narrabri, he went to the United States of America when 17 and later worked in vaudeville in Vancouver, Canada. He returned to Sydney in 1914 and in August enlisted in the 1st Battalion, Australian Imperial Force. Wounded on 25 April 1915 at Gallipoli, he lost the sight of one eye, restored by an operation in 1936. He was discharged in Sydney in December 1915, then joined the recruiting staff and gained fluency speaking at their Martin Place rallies. After the war he began visiting children in hospital to whom he was the 'Story Man'. In November 1923 when the first licensed radio station in Australia, 2BL Broadcasters (Sydney) Ltd, went to air, Saunders became Australia's first professional radio announcer; a baritone, he also sang in the opening concert.

From radio's beginning, children were catered for as a special audience and Saunders quickly became their popular 'Uncle George', his persona for the rest of his career. Early sessions were devoted simply to telling bedtime stories but soon Saunders was joined by a team and the programme was extended to birthday calls, greetings to listeners, songs, things to make and do and drama serials. Story-telling remained Saunders' staple role. In 1926 he was joined by his foil Arthur Hahn, 'Bimbo'. Even physically, the round-faced, chubby Uncle George was counterpointed by the thin, moustached Bimbo.

At the end of 1927 they moved to 2GB, which started in 1926 as one of the earliest of the B class (later known as commercial) stations, and ran its children's session for eleven years. Between Jack Lumsdaine's opening theme-song and his signature call-off of 'Good night, Bunky-doo', Saunders entertained his family of radio nephews and nieces. A 'thick-set man of medium height', with tortoiseshell spectacles and genial face, for his listeners he was his voice, 'alive and vivid, always merry and bright'. The sessions with Bimbo were impromptu, yet they trod carefully a fine line, avoiding anything seen as unsuitable for the young. Listeners could meet Uncle George at events such as Saturday mornings at Anthony Hordern's store, or hear his stories as a studio audience.

Shortly after 2GB was incorporated into Macquarie Broadcasting Services in 1938, Saunders and Hahn moved to 2KY, to run the children's programme and conduct other sessions, including community singing. Saunders left radio in September 1940. During World War II he helped to organize recruiting and war-loan rallies and devoted much energy to the Red Cross Hospital Fund. In 1944 he married Ena Gladys Hayes. He became extension officer (radio) in the New South Wales Department of Agriculture in 1951, but left next year because of recurrent illness.

Saunders died on 19 July 1953 at Concord Repatriation Hospital of heart failure and was cremated. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Wireless Weekly, 6 Nov 1931, 27 Jan 1940
  • Australian Radio News, 16 June 1933
  • On the Air, 14 Oct 1933
  • Radio Pictorial of Australia, 1 Dec 1935
  • ABC Weekly, 8 Aug 1953
  • Daily Guardian (Sydney), 23 Nov 1923.

Citation details

Jan Brazier, 'Saunders, Ambrose George Thomas (1895–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/saunders-ambrose-george-thomas-8344/text14643, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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