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Gordon Gow (1919–2000)

by Patricia Clarke

This article was published online in 2022

Gordon Gow (1919–2000), radio broadcaster, journalist, and actor, was born on 20 December 1919 at Windsor, New South Wales, only child of Arthur Gow, dairy farmer, and his wife Kathleen Gordon, née Hall, both descended from pioneer families in the district. Gordon spent much of his youth at Glenroy, South Windsor, home of his maternal grandfather Brinsley Hall, the former State Legislative Assembly member for Hawkesbury (1901–17). He showed no interest in farming, skipping sports classes at Parramatta High School to see the latest films at the Roxy Theatre. At seventeen he enrolled in arts at the University of Sydney and joined the university dramatic society. Praised as a ‘brilliant Windsor boy’ (Miller 1937, 3), he addressed the Henry George League of New South Wales on Shakespeare, displaying both his knowledge of the plays and his talent as an actor.

Impatient to start a career, Gow left university after one year to work at radio station 2UE and the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). He also performed at the Minerva Theatre and Theatre Royal. His modulated, mellifluous voice, honed on stage and radio, emulated the cultured tones common to the ABC in that period. In 1941 he moved to Brisbane, joining 4BC as an announcer and actor. On 6 October 1942 at St Andrew’s Anglican Church, South Brisbane, he married Sydney-born Joyce Millward Rigby, a ledger keeper; they would have one child. Exempted from military service during World War II owing to a blood clotting disorder, he worked as a censor for the Department of Information. In 1946 he moved to Melbourne where he became an ABC announcer and acted in radio plays and theatrical productions.

Three years later the Gows left for Europe on what was planned as a six-month working holiday. Gordon was initially employed as an English language presenter on the international news service Radio Nederland. In London by 1950, he worked as a freelance writer and a radio presenter for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and its World Service, becoming known for his interviews with theatre, ballet, opera, and film stars. Despite the uncertainty of his salary, Gow made it a priority to maintain his son at a well-regarded private school and encouraged him to train for a profession.

When the Australian Postmaster-General’s Department decided to introduce a ‘talking clock’ telephone service in New South Wales and Victoria, the BBC suggested Gow. After a successful audition, he was engaged to make the recordings in 1952. He was paid one hundred pounds, but as his son remarked ruefully, no royalties. For more than three decades he was the voice of ‘George’ the talking clock. Each day thousands of callers heard ‘At the third stroke it will be …’ followed by the hour, minute, and second. The peak time for calls was just before ‘knock-off,’ at 5.00 p.m. The recordings were made on three discs spliced together by revolutionary technology. In 1958, when the service was extended to other states, a fresh recording was made in Munich. Gow was paid one hundred guineas, plus expenses.

Over his career Gow interviewed numerous stars of stage and screen including Laurence Olivier, Humphrey Bogart, Margot Fonteyn, and Alfred Hitchcock. He wrote two books: Suspense in the Cinema (1968) and Hollywood in the Fifties (1971). For nearly two decades he was a regular on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour, and an arts reviewer for BBC television. After recovering from a cerebral haemorrhage in 1980, he worked as the London arts and theatre correspondent for the ABC’s program The Showman. Reflecting on his job, he remarked that he found viewing plays and films ‘most congenial (except when I see something dreary)’ (NLA MS 9611). His success in maintaining a good income as a freelance journalist showed his rare ability and his steadfast, independent character. During the 1990s he and Joyce returned to Australia. They retired to Armidale, New South Wales, to be near their son. The couple maintained an interest in the arts, enjoying trips to the theatre and opera in Sydney. He died at Armidale on 16 August 2000 and was survived by his wife and son.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Gow, Stephen. From Distress to Deliverance: The Life and Times of William Gow, Convict, Schoolmaster, Farmer. Sydney: Inscope Books, [2020]
  • Gow, Stephen. Personal communication
  • Hughes, Tim. ‘Voice of Talking Clock.’ Australian, 18 September 2000, 32
  • Miller, Rev. Dr. ‘A Brilliant Windsor Boy.’ Windsor and Richmond Gazette (NSW), 20 August 1937, 3
  • National Archives of Australia. B4747, GOW/GORDON
  • National Library of Australia. MS 9611, Papers of Gordon Gow, 1939, 1950–1979

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Citation details

Patricia Clarke, 'Gow, Gordon (1919–2000)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2022, accessed online 13 July 2024.

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