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Max Afford Max Afford i(A32752 works by) (a.k.a. Malcolm Afford)
Born: Established: 8 Apr 1906 Parkside, Unley area, Adelaide - South / South East, Adelaide, South Australia, ; Died: Ceased: 2 Nov 1954 Mosman, Cremorne - Mosman - Northbridge area, Sydney Northeastern Suburbs, Sydney, New South Wales,
Gender: Male
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Max Afford was born in Adelaide in 1906. He began his career as a journalist, but in the following decades he would go on to write some of the most popular radio and stage plays in Australia. Full of clever schemes and witty dialogue, Afford’s detective stories were extremely popular. He also wrote dramas with political overtones, which ranged from examinations of Australian life after the Second World War to the founding of his home town, Adelaide. In 1938 he married teacher, actor, and costume designer, Thelma Thomas, who later designed costumes for some of his stage plays.

Max Afford worked as a reporter and feature writer at the Adelaide News and Mail from 1929-1934. In 1935 he joined Radio 5DN as a producer and continuity manager. In the early days of his radio career, when Afford was writing thrillers for Adelaide broadcaster 5CL at the rate of at least two a month (c.1934), his works were sometimes only listed in radio guides as 'a radio thriller by Max Afford', with no title or other distinguishing information.

In 1936 his play William Light - the Founder won the South Australian Centenary Drama Competition. The same year saw him move to Sydney (leaving Adelaide on 27 September 1936, according to the Adelaide News of 18 September 1936), where he worked for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for five years before becoming a freelance and prolific writer of fiction and radio plays, gaining enormous popularity as a serial writer. Hagen's Circus (1941), for example, ran for 800 episodes.

In 1939 the Canberra Times reported that Afford was ‘probably the only Australian radio playwright to have sold a serial to the B.B.C.’ His plays sold to the B.B.C. were reported to include Fly By Night, Labours of Hercules, Oh, Whistle When You're Happy, The Four Specialists, and For Fear of Little Men. The same article claims that in South Africa Afford reportedly sold Mr. Allchurch Comes to Stay (this title has not been traced anywhere outside this article), Merry-Go-Round, and Two Hundred Thousand Witnesses. Cairo also reportedly bought some of these plays, and Polskie Radio, in Poland, is said to have asked for The Four Specialists, which was also sold to Canada, where he sold For Fear of Little Men ('Australian Radio Plays: Success of A.B.C. Playwrights Abroad', Canberra Times, 14 August 1939, p.2.).

None of these productions have been traced so far, though his Queer Affair at Kettering was produced twice by the BBC in the 1940s. Afford's stage play Lady in Danger, was the first Australian play produced on Broadway (1945), although it was not well received there.

Afford’s success as a radio play writer has been attributed to his mastery of radio drama techniques as well as to his exciting plots and realistic characterisation. As well as the plays he also published six detective novels. Their central character, the detective Jeffery Blackburn, also featured in a number of his radio plays.

A chain smoker, Afford died of cancer at the age of 48.


"AUSTRALIAN RADIO PLAYS" The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) 14 August 1939: 2. Web. 30 Jan 2018 <>.

"PERSONAL PARAGRAPHS" News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954) 18 September 1936: 5. Web. 30 Jan 2018 <>.

Additional Sources:

Max Afford's Playwright's Award

Australian Dictionary of Biography - Max Afford

Project Gutenberg - The Vanishing Trick (contains a brief biography)



Most Referenced Works


  • Two interviews with Thelma Afford, wife of Max, are held at NLA. She speaks about his writing and career in Australian theatre.

  • A number of secondary sources (including an earlier version of this AustLit entry) have claimed that Afford's Flail of God was the first 'play' by an Australian to be produced for Australian radio, citing the date of broadcast as 19 July 1932. While it may have been the first 'drama' broadcast, Flail of God was by no means the first locally written work to be heard by the country's radio audience. The previous year Evan Senior's On the Air, became the first musical comedy to be specially written for radio. It was broadcast by South Australian station 5CL on 5 August 1931. A few weeks later Fred Whaite's musical, The Tin Soldier, also specially written for the medium, was broadcast by the ABC's Sydney station, 2BL (26 August).

  • Additional Works:

    Between 1929 and 1954 Afford wrote more than sixty radio and stage plays and radio serials. Most of these remain unpublished, but some of his plays are included in the posthumous selection Mischief in the Air (1974). His film scripts include Smithy (1944), about the aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. In 1940, Afford claimed to be working on a script The Case of the Talking Fingers, which was 'a complete hour play depicting a murder seen by a deaf man and heard by a blind man' ('Write Tough–but Aren't', Lockhart Review and Oaklands Advertiser, 23 January 1940, p.2). However, the original play from which it was adapted has not yet been traced.

    Afford also adapted The Mulberry Bush, a play by E.M. Delafield, which aired on 30 May 1937. But since Delafield's was originally written in 1933 as a radio play, the extent to which this has been adapted by Afford is unclear, as is whether he was working from the radio play or the stage play, which was produced two years later. A Hundred Years Ago was advertised as an adaptation of a play by Spanish playwrights the Quintero Brothers (Los hermanos Quintero). It was broadcast on radio on 7 March 1937, but the original play from which it was adapted has not yet been traced.

Awards for Works

y separately published work icon William Light - The Founder Light - The Man; Colonel Light - The Founder; Awake My Love 1936 (Manuscript version)x401141 Z509619 1936 single work drama

This play is based on the life of Colonel William Light, the first surveyor-General of South Australia. When the action takes place, Light has arrived in South Australia to find that his surveying equipment and staff are not up to the huge task before him. Tempers rise in the colony when immigrants arrive to find that the land they purchased has not yet been surveyed. Light’s antagonist, John Hindmarsh, is determined to compromise Light’s career. Amongst the jealousy and anger, Light finds comfort in a young woman named Linda Manners. Awake My Love depicts the struggle of an honest, admirable man against the unrelenting torments of rivals, heartbreak, illness, and misfortune.

















1936 winner The Adelaide Advertiser Centenary Play Competition

Known archival holdings

Adelaide University Barr Smith Library (SA)
Last amended 30 Jan 2018 10:10:17
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