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Pearce, Sir Eric Herbert (1905–1997)

by Derham Groves

This article was published online in 2021

Eric Pearce, early 1960s

Eric Pearce, early 1960s

Channel 9

Sir Eric Herbert Pearce (1905—1997), radio announcer, television presenter, and newsreader, was born on 5 March 1905 at Alverstoke, Hampshire, England, eldest son of Herbert Clement Pearce, shipwright, and his wife Louisa Annie, née Dominy. Educated at Ryde College, Isle of Wight, and Raynes Commercial School, Southampton, Eric worked for Barclay’s Bank and an advertising agency. In 1928 he migrated to Canada, where he settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and became an insurance assessor. He played the violin and acted in amateur plays in his spare time. On 26 June 1929 in Winnipeg he married a Scottish-born saleswoman, Isabella (Ella) May Irvine, and they had a son in 1933. The marriage was an unhappy one. The family moved to Britain in 1934 but Isabella later returned to Canada with their son, who was to have little further contact with his father.

After singing baritone on an English radio talent show, Pearce was hired by the British Broadcasting Corporation as a casual bit player. He worked his way to Australia in 1938, as a steward, performer, and concert compère on board the RMS Orion. In Sydney he became an announcer on radio station 2CH, playing ‘Dr Leslie Foster’ in the serial Those We Love, and hosting the music and chat show Please Yourself and the quiz show Pots O’ Gold. On 14 October 1939 at St Mark’s Anglican Church, Darling Point, he married Victorian-born Jean Mary Macartney, a dressmaker. He had apparently not divorced his first wife.

In 1940 Pearce moved to Melbourne and a more senior job with radio station 3XY as the host of Sing-Song and Sport, Your Choice and Mine, and Theme Pots of Gold. In August 1941 his first wife contacted the Australian High Commission in Ottawa concerning her husband’s whereabouts, having not heard from him since 1939. Pearce told Australian authorities that he ‘would communicate with her at an early date’ (NAA A981). On 17 January 1942 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force for service in World War II. He performed welfare duties at headquarters in Darwin (March–July) and Melbourne (from November), with periods of non-effective service and sick leave between the postings. A second letter from Isabella Pearce, seeking a dependents’ allowance, had been forwarded to the Department of Air on 12 June. On 29 December 1942 Pearce relinquished his RAAF commission in the rank of flying officer. He remained married to Isabella Pearce until her death in 1961.

Pearce joined 3DB in 1943 as the radio station’s chief announcer, compèring the popular programs State Quiz Championship, Opera for the People, Music for the People, and the singing competition Mobil Quest. He also hosted the annual Good Friday Appeal for the Children’s Hospital. In 1947 he travelled to England and America to study television and radio techniques for 3DB.

In 1950 Pearce moved to Adelaide and became the general manager of radio station 5KA. Ending his career on air for the time being, he said, ‘I feel at my age that I should be beyond the stage of speaking the product of another man’s thoughts’ (Listener In 1950, 9). In 1954 he moved to Sydney after he was appointed director of programs for the Major radio network, which had stations in all State capital cities. His second wife died in January 1956, and on 31 July that year he married Betty Constance Patterson, née Ham, at the Collins Street Independent Church, Melbourne.

Moving to Melbourne, Pearce became a television presenter on the newly formed HSV-7. One of his first tasks was to host the channel’s opening ceremony on 4 November 1956: ‘We dedicate this station to the full service of the community,’ he solemnly declared (Groves 2004, 20). He read news bulletins and hosted several HSV-7 shows including Be My Guest, Stairway to the Stars, and I’ve Got a Secret. Exhausted, he left the channel in 1957, believing his duties as a quizmaster were harming his credibility as a newsreader.

After a brief stint with an advertising agency, Pearce joined GTV-9 in 1957 as senior newsreader. He read the evening news as though he were, in his words, ‘coming into your home and sitting down next to you. I sit down and pick up the paper and begin to read it and say “By jove, listen to this”’ (Lawrence 1990, 8). He also reassuringly signed off by saying ‘God bless you … and you’ (Lawrence 1990, 1); the second ‘you’ was meant for his wife. A recipient of both a Logie (1965) and a Penguin (1970) award, he retired in 1971, but was lured back in 1976 to help boost ratings. In 1978, after the HSV-7 chief newsreader Brian Naylor was hired to replace him, he was made GTV-9’s director of community affairs.

Pearce was appointed OBE in 1970 and knighted in 1979. In 1988 his colleague Bert Newton presented him with the Television Society of Australia’s lifetime achievement award. He contributed to charities, including the Victorian Deafblind Association, the Prison Fellowship of Australia, and the aged care hostel Sir Eric Pearce House. A devout Anglican, he was ‘generous of spirit, [and] religious in a natural and unaffected way’ (Murray 1997, 14). Predeceased by his third wife (d. 1987), Sir Eric died in a nursing home at Malvern on 12 April 1997 and was cremated after a funeral at St John’s Anglican Church, Toorak. Many Melburnians remembered him as the bushy-browed newsreader with the posh voice.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • ABC Weekly (Sydney). ‘Eric Pearce Once Meant to Become a Banker.’ 22 March 1947, 2
  • Groves, Derham. TeeVee at Sixty: Celebrating Sixty Years of Melbourne Television, 1956-2016. Melbourne: University of Melbourne Library, 2016
  • Groves, Derham. TV Houses: Television’s Influence on the Australian Home. Carlton North, Vic.: Black Jack Press, 2004
  • Lawrence, Mark. ‘Sir Eric: Reflections at 85.’ Age (Melbourne), 1 March 1990, Good Weekend 1, 8
  • Listener In (Melbourne). ‘Eric Pearce to Leave Air for Manager’s Post.’ 25 February–3 March 1950, 9
  • Listener In (Melbourne). ‘Eric is Returning to be Your Host on TV.’ 9–15 June 1956, 7
  • Murray, James. ‘Natural Courtesy and Warmth.’ Australian, 16 April 1997, 14
  • National Archives of Australia. A981, PERS 314
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, PEARCE E H
  • Williams, Sue. ‘News Broadcaster Set Standard.’ Australian, 16 April 1997, 14
  • Wireless Weekly (Sydney). ‘Brand New Announcer on 2CH.’ 2 December 1938, 9

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Derham Groves, 'Pearce, Sir Eric Herbert (1905–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pearce-sir-eric-herbert-31610/text39084, published online 2021, accessed online 6 December 2022.

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