Between 1946 and 1960, Hector Crawford Productions was a major independent producer of radio drama, and of innovative musical and educational programs. Headed by orchestra leader Hector Crawford (1913–91), his sister Dorothy (1911−88) and Dorothy’s son Ian (1933− ), Crawford Productions—or simply ‘Crawfords’—then became influential in developing an Australian identity and awareness in drama and music through its television productions.
Hector and Dorothy formed the company in 1945, and experienced rapid success with the serialised dramatisation The Melba Story. Hector’s protégée and future wife Glenda Raymond, who played Melba, became a popular soprano and later a Crawfords company director. Crawfords’ many musical productions included Opera for the People and Music for the People, which attracted large crowds in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Mobil Quest, won by (Dame) Joan Sutherland in 1950, provided opportunities for fledgling singers between 1949 and 1957.
Dorothy produced the musical offerings and majority of radio drama series and serials, including the popular Victoria Police-based D24 narrated by husband Roland Strong. Gifted at script editing, radio timing and predicting audience trends, she was an outstanding radio producer.
Crawfords prepared for television by establishing the Crawford Television Workshop in 1954, managed by Ian Crawford and David Lee, but low-cost American programs dominated Australian television’s first decade. Several human-interest and comedy programs proved minor successes, but it was Consider Your Verdict (1961−63), the first independently produced Australian drama series, that achieved sustained success. Dorothy and Ian, with writer Phillip Freedman, supervised the original creative processes, but as Crawfords grew, David Lee (director, associate producer and producer), Sonia Borg (actress, drama coach, casting director, writer, script editor and associate producer), Ian Jones (director, writer and producer), Terry Stapleton, Tom Hegarty and Cliff Green (senior writers) and relative Henry Crawford (casting, script editor and producer) became integral team members.
As early as 1956, Hector was critical of insufficient Australian dramatic content in Australian television. He promoted this issue by lobbying politicians, with media interviews and testifying before several government committees. His 1959 statistical publication Commercial Television in Australia demonstrated the lack of Australian drama content. Hector was influential in convening the 1963 Senate Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television (the Vincent Committee) and was active in the ‘TV Make it Australian’ campaign in the 1970s.
As new stations spread across Australia, program demand increased. With American imports becoming more scarce and expensive, stations began to look favourably upon independently produced local drama packaging. In 1964, Crawfords premiered the police series Homicide (1964−76) on HSV7. Viewers related to the Australian vernacular and real-life dramatic situations in familiar Melbourne locations, and Homicide was an immediate success. After Homicide, the espionage series Hunter ran for two years, followed by the police series Division 4 and Matlock Police. By 1971, Crawfords had a successful weekly police drama series running concurrently on all three commercial networks.
In 1975, Crawfords suffered when the networks cancelled talent quest Showcase and all three police shows. With only soap serial The Box in production, many staff were retrenched, including most of Hector’s 40 writers. Crawfords recovered in 1976 when Ian Jones created The Sullivans, a serial about a Melbourne family during World War II that resonated with viewers. With its well-researched period detail, The Sullivans was perhaps Crawfords’ greatest television triumph. Populist soap/drama serials such as Skyways and Carson’s Law followed, with Cop Shop a ratings winner. From 1983, several high-quality mini-series, such as All the Rivers Run, The Far County and The Flying Doctors, won wide acclaim prior to the company being sold in 1987.
In 1984, Hector Crawford was the inaugural inductee into the Logies Hall of Fame. His activism, entrepreneurial skills and musical direction have been acknowledged, but arguably Dorothy and Ian Crawford were the real force behind Crawfords. Ian, a technician, cameraman, studio director, producer, executive producer and senior executive, devoted his life to the company, and as Henry Crawford has acknowledged, Dorothy was ‘the absolute creative brain of the organisation’ during Australian television’s formative years.
The pioneering work of Crawfords’ extended family provided employment, training and career opportunities for successive generations of creative, technical and production staff, many of whom ultimately made significant contributions to the Australian television and film industry, and worked in Hollywood or formed production companies. Similarly, actors welcomed the rotating bit-part, guest and regular lead roles that made stars of so many, evidenced by the numerous Logies awarded to Crawford programs between 1962 and 1986.
REFs: P. Davey, ‘Crawford Creations: What Would We have Done Without Crawfords?’, PhD thesis (2014).