PEARL, CYRIL ALSTON (1906–87)
Cyril Pearl studied philosophy and the Russian language at the University of Melbourne, but did not take a degree. Instead, in 1931 he edited the student newspaper Farrago, where he championed ‘uninhibited thinking’—and his own editorials caused some, including the sporting editor, Alan Moorehead, to puzzle over what on earth they meant. That year, Pearl also established a short-lived literary magazine, Stream, with capital of £40. In 1933 he joined the Star, the Argus’s new challenger to the Melbourne Herald, and in 1935 organised a debate about censorship in the Melbourne Town Hall.
With the collapse of the Star in 1936, Pearl joined an exodus to Sydney to join the Daily Telegraph, re-launched by (Sir) Frank Packer’s Consolidated Press. Intellectually fearless, witty, cynical and iconoclastic, Pearl worked as leader writer then features editor. In 1939 he became inaugural editor of the Sunday Telegraph. Handwritten signatures and ‘Memos from the Editor’ were a feature of the newspaper, which was known for its liberalism; the paper also played a central role in the 1944 censorship dispute. From 1948, Pearl simultaneously edited a new monthly magazine, A.M.; he stopped editing the Sunday Telegraph in 1950 and resigned from Consolidated Press to write books in 1953. John Hetherington writes, somewhat too dismissively, of Pearl: ‘His period in journalism hardly matters, except as it deferred his emergence as a writer’.
Pearl sprang to prominence in 1958 with Wild Men of Sydney, which told the story of the Rabelaisian lives of publisher John Norton and his cohorts, William (Paddy) Crick and William Willis, all NSW parliamentarians. The work so incensed living descendants of the trio that they persuaded the NSW government to rush through legislation to allow defamation of the dead. Writing as ‘Melbourne Spy’ and ‘Tom Ugly’, Pearl also contributed to Nation (‘the most exciting event in publishing I have been associated with’) and Nation Review.
He wrote more than 20 books, including a biography of George Ernest Morrison (1967), and edited a selection of the works of cartoonist Lennie Lower (1963). Pearl had a brief, joyous return to Sydney journalism as editor (1960–61) of the Sunday Mirror, which bore the marks of Nation’s influence, before he was sacked by Rupert Murdoch.
Pearl’s first wife, Irma, died of cancer in 1962. In 1964, while appearing as a panellist on the television quiz show Any Questions?, he met Patricia Mary (Paddy) Donohue. She became his lover, helper, assistant, researcher, organiser, typist and, in 1965, his wife. They travelled extensively in Eastern Europe during the Cold War before returning to Sydney, where he became an influential literary figure, writing a column for the Sydney Morning Herald and appearing on the ABC Television game show Would You Believe? (1970–74).
REFs: J. Hetherington, Forty-Two Faces (1963); C. Pearl Papers (NLA).