THE HISTORY OF Crawfords Productions

Crawford Productions was founded in November 1945, as a partnership by Hector Crawford and his sister, Dorothy, under the name Hector Crawford Productions to produce radio programmes. Subsequently, in 1954, it became Crawford Productions Pty Ltd.

The Company started life in small premises located in Little Collins Street, Melbourne, moved to the Olderfleet Building, Collins Street, Melbourne, the to Southampton Crescent, Abbotsford (1972), and eventually to its present location, 259 Middleborough Road, Box Hill, in 1982. Both Hector and Dorothy had a long history of involvement with music, so the first production sold by the fledgling company was “Melba”, a dramatisation with music of the life story of Dame Nellie Melba.

The Company was the first to make extensive use in its music/drama programmes of the technique of using established actors for the speaking parts and trained singers for the singing roles, ensuring high standard performances in both areas. A number of such programmes were produced, including “The Amazing Oscar Hammerstein” (the biography of the great American entrepreneur) and “The Blue Danube”, the saga of the Strauss family.

In 1949, the Company devised and produced the Australia-wide contest for singers “Mobil Quest”, in which hundreds of young singers, accompanied by a symphony orchestra conducted by Hector Crawford, competed for big cash prizes and were thus given unparalleled opportunities to further their careers. Among the notable winners of “Mobil Quest” were Joan Sutherland, Donald Smith, June Bronhill and Ronal Jackson.

   

Between 1945 and 1956, the Company produced many thousands of episodes of self-contained dramatic radio programmes and popular serials. High on the list of their success was the police drama “D24”, based on true stories from the Victoria Police files and sponsored, as an aid to recruiting and better police/public relations by the Victoria Police Force - one of the few times that a semi-government department has sponsored a series of commercial radio programmes. With massive ratings, “D24” became a household word throughout Victoria and was almost certainly the most dominant and influential radio programme in Australian history.

The Company also produced a number of programmes of social and educational importance, among them “Problem People” and “The University Of The Air”. A major contributor to “Problem People” was the then Dean of the Faculty Of Law in the University Of Melbourne (and later, Governor-General Of Australia), Sir Zelman Cowan. The programme dramatised, discussed and debated a wide range of topics - some of them regarded too contentious for the prime-time radio of the day. Nevertheless, it provided an important and much appreciated service to the people of Australia. “The University of the Air”, narrated by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Sir John Medley, brought many subjects of academic interest to the man in the street.

The Company was the first radio producer to export its product in a large way. Before the advent of television, some 20,000 programme episodes were exported to The Bahamas, Barbados, Penang, Rhodesia, Singapore, South Africa, Tonga, Trinidad, Western Samoa, Bermuda, British Guiana, Canada, Ceylon, Fiji, Ghana, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Jamaica, Lenrenco Marques, Malaysia & Malta. The Company also established a School Of Broadcasting which, in a few years, trained hundreds of actors, actresses and announcers. Crawford Productions anticipated television in Australia by setting up in a church hall in West Melbourne, a closed-circuit TV workshop. Both Hector and Dorothy Crawford made trips to the USA to study the new medium. In offices in the Olderfleet Building, the company had closed-circuit TV, rehearsal room and a radio studio.

When television began in Australia in 1956, Crawfords Productions became the first independent producer to screen a programme: “Wedding Day” premiered on HSV-7 on 10 November 1956 at 9:30pm and ran for 39 weeks. It was a games/quiz show mix, in which newly-married couples came into the studio - and normally interrupted their wedding reception to do so - in the hope of winning prizes. Other early television programmes included the game show “Video Village” (HSV-7) and the children’s programme, “Peters Club” (GTV-9).

   

The big break came for Crawfords in 1961 when Channel 7 asked them to do their first television drama show: “Consider Your Verdict”. This inexpensive series, set entirely in a courtroom, won a Logie Award and ran for 160 episodes. It was Australia’s first one-hour drama series. A major production in 1960 was the TV adaptation of the stage play, “Seagulls Over Sorrento” - the first full length drama to be produced for television by an independent production company. Then came the programme that was to become a phenomenon: “Homicide”. The squad investigated its first murder on Channel 7 in Melbourne in late 1964. Within months it was among the ten most popular programmes in Melbourne and Sydney. For eight years (1966-1974), it was the most popular show on Australian television, and established Crawfords Productions as the largest Australian Television Drama Production House. At the same time, the company was busy with many other series, including the successful “Division 4” for the Nine Network and “Matlock Police” for the (then) 0/10 Network.

The Company departed from the drama format in 1965 with its production of the talent quest “Showcase”. This programme, given far superior production values than similar radio and TV programmes, ran for several seasons on the 0/10 Network before crossing to the Nine Network for a further successful period. Crawford Productions first ventured into television ‘soap operas’ with “The Box” (1973-1977). A feature film based on the series was subsequently produced. 1976 and 1977 were years of the greatest significance, with the production of “The Sullivans” and “Cop Shop”. These two programmes dominated the ratings for some years. “The Sullivans” enabled the company to enter the export market for the first time on a substantial scale. “The Sullivans” (a serial about a suburban family in war-time Melbourne) ran for six years and was exported to more than 70 countries. “Cop Shop” broke new ground for ‘police’ dramas with its unusual blend of self-contained crime stories with on-going serial elements concerning the private lives of the principal characters.

In 1981, the Federal Government introduced a tax incentive scheme to encourage private investment in Australian film. It became known as the ‘10BA’ tax concession scheme and it was to cause a burgeoning in the Australian film and television industry. Crawfords Productions moved to the forefront of this new growth in 1983 with its first production under the 10BA scheme. It was an eight-hour mini-series called “All The Rivers Run”, adapted from the best selling novel of the same name by Nancy Cato, which focussed on life on and around the River Murray before the turn of the century and attracted wide interest both here and abroad. For the first time, Crawfords pre-sold a project to the giant American cable network, Home Box Office. “Carson’s Law” (1983) set production standards for serial drama never before equalled in Australia. This was followed in 1984 by another police drama “Special Squad”. With its emphasis on outdoor action and excitement, it was a major step forward in Australian TV drama production. The success of “All The Rivers Run” led to the production of a number of mini-series, including a successful sequel (“All The Rivers Run II”) and a six-hour mini-series based on the exploits of The Royal Flying Doctor Service in “The Flying Doctors”. As a result of this mini-series, the Nine Network commissioned the series, “The Flying Doctors” which ran for ten seasons and has been sold to over fifty countries worldwide.

Crawfords Productions also produced the children’s series, “The Henderson Kids”, a 12 part mini-series set in a Victorian country town, “Zoo Family”, a series in half-hour episodes set in the Melbourne Zoo, and “Halfway Across The Galaxy And Turn Left”, based on the award winning novel of the same name by Robin Klein. In March 1985, the Company began work on the feature film “Fortress”, starring Rachel Ward. Like “All The Rivers Run”, this film was pre-sold to the Home Box Office cable network.

   

During 1986, Crawfords Productions was one of the first Australian companies to produce films under sub-contract for American production companies. A tele-feature “A Place To Call Home”, starring American actress Linda Lavin, and a special episode of the hugely successful American series “Facts Of Life”, were made on location in Australia. In response to the success of the mini-series “The Flying Doctors”, Crawfords went on to produce ten seasons of this popular all-film, high production series that has proved successful through the world. During this time, Crawfords also broke new ground with the multi-cultural sitcom, “Acropolis Now”.

In 1987, Hector Crawford sold the Company and a little over two years later, Bruce Gordon’s Oberon Broadcasters purchased the Company. Oberon is the parent company of WIN Television that was, at the time, the Nine Network affiliate in southern New South Wales. Since then, WIN has grown to the largest regional affiliate in Australia carrying the Nine Network signal to regional Queensland, southern New South Wales, regional Victoria, Tasmania, most of Western Australia and parts of South Australia. It now has an audience reach of 4,720,000.

Under the ownership of WIN, Crawfords’ Box Hill headquarters has benefited by an expansion to include four sound stages on the site as well as complete ancillary series and a totally modern post-production facility featuring digital editing suites for both sound and picture and a Dolby Surround sound capability it its mixing theatre - the first independent production company to install it.

   

In 1991, Crawfords re-entered the light entertainment field in a joint venture with Action Time UK to produce the interactive “Cluedo” for the Nine Network. From 1993 to 1995, Crawfords has produced ten telemovies for the Nine Network based on the exploits of the Australian Federal police, “The Feds” and in conjunction with the Nine Network, the lifestyle programme, “Weddings”.

The Company marked two auspicious events with specials in 1995/96: “The Homicide Special” to mark its thirtieth anniversary and “The Crawfords Story” to celebrate 50 years of radio and television production. It saw completion of a new venture-the editing and dubbing of an animated children’s cartoon series “Seven Little Mice” for the English-speaking market.

During 1996, Crawfords produced for the Ten Network a two hour telemovie and thirteen one hour episodes of a new all-film series, entitled “State Coroner” starring Wendy Hughes in the lead role. In November of that same year, shooting commenced on a telemovie for the Nine Network, “The Last Of The Ryans”, about Ronald Ryan, the last man hanged in Australia. The next two years saw the return of the mini-series: in 1997, the French/Australian mini-series, “The Violent Earth”, completed principal photography locations in and around Port Douglas, Melbourne and New Caledonia, while 1998 ended with “Tribe”, a US\Australian mini-series completing location shooting in Queensland.

For more than fifty years, Crawfords Productions has been an integral part of the Australian entertainment industry. Those standards of energy and excellence are set to continue into the new millennium.

   


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