DUCKMANTON, SIR TALBOT SYDNEY (1921–95)
From 1965 to 1982, T.S. Duckmanton was the general manager of the ABC. He expanded its range of programs and services, had frequent conflicts with governments, and steered the ABC through many editorial disputes arising from new kinds of programs introduced while social standards were changing.
Joining the ABC in 1939 as an announcer and sports commentator, Duckmanton was one of the first broadcasters to speak in an educated Australian rather than a BBC accent. After war service with the RAAF, he was chosen as one of three Commonwealth broadcasters in the BBC’s commentary team for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. But while still young he was discovered to have a talent for cool and thoughtful administration, and by 1956 he was masterminding the introduction of the ABC’s television service.
Major expansion in current affairs programs in radio and television increased tensions with federal and state governments as ministers found that broadcasting’s new seriousness about creating an informed democracy made the job of governing much harder. Rapidly changing social attitudes and the divisive effects of the Vietnam War meant ABC staff, Commissioners and politicians had widely different views about broadcasting.
Although Duckmanton had started as the enabler of program innovation, the growing clamour of interest groups increasingly forced him into the role of mediator and defender. He understood the ‘fragility’ of the very existence of the ABC, created by an Act of Parliament and funded by taxpayers, and was reminded of it by various parliamentary inquiries. He took the ABC through the disturbances of the 1960s and 1970s by seeing earlier than others where the middle ground had moved to.
In Australia, Duckmanton was rather a lone voice in urging consideration of the importance of strategic planning, and in understanding public service broadcasting’s relationship with national aims, and the role and nature of statutory corporations like the ABC. He was president of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union from 1973 to 1977, and of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association from 1975 to 1982, known internationally for his concern with practical and philosophical assistance to smaller broadcasters. Duckmanton was appointed CBE in 1971 and Knight Bachelor in 1980.
REF: K.S. Inglis, This is the ABC (1983).