GYNGELL, BRUCE (1929-2000)
Bruce Gyngell was a towering figure among Australia’s television pioneers. As manager of TCN9, he won instant fame on 16 September 1956 as presenter of the nation’s first live telecast, launching the Sydney station with the words ‘Good evening and welcome to television’. He was a showman, setting high creative standards for the fledgling industry with his innovative programming and promotional techniques.
The press proprietors who controlled commercial television generally regarded it as secondary to their newspaper interests. With chief executive Ken G. Hall, Gyngell set out to win the resources and independence needed for the development of the new medium. Gyngell’s battles with Sir Frank Packer, owner of TCN9 and GTV9 Melbourne, were legendary. In 1969, he quit after Packer insisted on dictating the music to be played on the popular Sound of Music. As managing director of the rival Seven Network, Gyngell went on a buying spree and masterminded an aggressive publicity campaign that catapulted it to ratings supremacy. Gaining international recognition, he would spend much of the 1970s and 1980s moving between the United Kingdom and the United States in senior management and consultancy roles.
In 1977, the Fraser Coalition government persuaded him to become the first chairman of the newly formed Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, where his controversial reforms included the introduction of public licence-renewal hearings.
In 1980, he agreed to oversee the start of SBS Television, where he resisted political pressure to devote the new channel almost entirely to foreign-language programs catering to the various ethnic communities, and decreed that the evening news bulletins must always be in English. He also made sure that foreign-language programs were subtitled. However, his policy was for programs to be presented by people from non-Anglo backgrounds.
From 1984, Gyngell was managing directorof Yorkshire Television after Kerry Packer bought into the company. He returned to Australia in 1993 as executive chairman of the Nine Network. That year, he delivered the inaugural Henry Mayer Lecture in Sydney.
Many Australians know Gyngell only as the first face on television. He appeared that night by sheer chance when a technical glitch disrupted plans for transmission from another location. What purports to be a recording of the historic moment is really a recreation filmed a year later. It was the least significant of his many contributions to television.
Gyngell’s son, David, was CEO of the Nine Network in 2004–05, returning to the role in
REFs: D. Ritch, interview with B. Gyngell, 1983 (NLA); G. Stone, Compulsive Viewing (2001).