ASHBOLT, ALLAN CAMPBELL (1921–2005)
As a senior officer of the ABC, Allan Ashbolt was a radical voice in a conservative institution.
He served in the AIF from 1942, marrying journalist Jeanne Liddy in 1944. Following the war, he founded the Mercury Theatre in Sydney with Peter Finch and John Kay. In 1954, he became a producer with the ABC.
From that time until his departure from the national broadcaster in 1978, Ashbolt’s career was marked by furious controversies that spilled into federal parliament, newspaper cartoons and headlines, and management attempts to contain him. He became known as the most censored man in the ABC, later as the ABC’s conscience-in-residence and ultimately (in the words of journalist Graham Williams) as the ‘Lion of the ABC’. He survived by his talent for broadcasting and his moral courage. Six years as elected president of the Senior Officers’ Association (1964–70) testified to his standing among his peers.
Ashbolt judged the ABC to be an undemocratic institution that represented the values of the ruling class and the aspirations of the middle class. The ABC had been reduced to that state largely by pressures and interference from the long-serving Menzies Coalition government and the weakness of its own Commissioners. He also believed it was too close to political society and to key institutions in civil society—something illustrated in 1963 when, as executive producer of Four Corners, he angered leaders of the RSL. They complained to Menzies, and Ashbolt was removed from the program.
His very public stance as a protester against the Vietnam War in 1966 saw him relegated to a television backwater. After three years, he returned to radio, as head of special projects, to resume his aim of democratisation. Lateline, which he established in 1973, was openly radical. He was the author of two books: An American Experience (1966), based on his years as the ABC’s first US correspondent from 1958 to 1961, and Words from the Vietnam Years (1974).
K.S. Inglis’s This is the ABC (1983) rates Ashbolt as one of the ABC’s intellectuals of his day. His hopes included a collective responsibility for standards built up by the staff union; more power for producers; a global approach to politics; and fostering the growth of a national consciousness.
In 1976, recognising signs of political censorship, Ashbolt refused to hand over to a superior officer that year’s Boyer Lectures, prepared by Professor Manning Clark, a scathing critic of the Whitlam Labor government’s Dismissal. The Commissioners backed Ashbolt, decreeing that Clark’s lectures were not to be tampered with.
When Ashbolt retired in 1978, he left behind a band of young producers known as Ashbolt’s Kindergarten, guaranteed to make their mark.
REF: D. Bowman, ‘Radical giant of Australian broadcasting’, SMH, 15 June 2005.