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Crawford, Hector William (1913–1991)

by Terry Stapleton

Woody Allen once said that he didn't want to achieve immortality through his work; he wanted to achieve it by not dying.

Until yesterday, Hector Crawford's countless friends, colleagues and admirers had been hoping that maybe he, too, had found some kind of loophole.

After all, during the last decade he had confronted cancer, heart attack, stroke, glaucoma, angina, and a few other such trifling difficulties.

He had survived them all and emerged with his prodigious energy and vitality seemingly unimpaired, and still possessed of his vision splendid for his company, Crawford Productions, and for the industry which he graced for so many years.

His death yesterday, at 77, deprives the Australian entertainment industry of one of its most legendary and enduring figures, whose contributions to the drama and the music of our popular culture, in both variety and scope, have been virtually unequalled.

He was a charismatic dynamo whose many-sided and fascinating personality has dominated and in many ways shaped the industry for nearly 60 years.

In the 1940s, first as manager of the production company Broadcast Exchange, then as managing director of the newly founded Hector Crawford Productions, Hector, with the inestimable assistance and support of his adored sister Dorothy, began to produce the first of the electronic-based entertainments which were to continue for the next 40 or 50 years. They were destined to make him one of the best-known and most respected names in the history of Australian entertainment.

Synonymous with class, taste, care, expertise, skill, understanding, entertainment, value, quality, warmth, sincerity, and all-round showbiz nous and style in the grand tradition, were those three words that most of us grew up hearing on the wireless and still hear today on television. Three words at once nostalgic, reassuring and imposing: "A Crawford Production."

The very titles of those early programs reach out to us from across the decades and reclaim us, and rich associations rush back at us from out of the past.

Hector never seemed happy unless he had a whole range of enterprises going at the same time—forever building, driving, pushing, expanding. In 1938, he created Music For The People. It began modestly enough in the Botanical Gardens, but like most of Hector's schemes it quickly grew in both concept and dimension, reaching perhaps its own special climax in 1967 when, featuring The Seekers as guest stars, it attracted a crowd of 200,000 to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

There was always a great sense of occasion about a Music For The People concert—large, appreciative crowds, family groups, lovers, older people—a great cross-section of the Melbourne public; what Hector used to call, with great affection, "My Mob".

Perhaps Hector Crawford's most memorable achievement in radio was his production of The Melba Story.

With his showman's instinct, and his unerring ear, eye and nose for drama, he had long sensed that the Melba story could deliver more than just the voice and the songs. That there was a great human tale to be told, a saga of international scope, tracing the often tempestuous career of the Melbourne-born girl—Helen Porter Mitchell—through her rise and fall and rise, as she graced the stages and studios of the world.

It promised everything that Hector always sought for a Crawford production: music, drama, romance, conflict, scandal. And, above all, it was Australian.

The series was an instant success in Australia and was sold all over the world. The role of Nellie Melba was played by an unknown but clearly gifted young coloratura soprano who was also destined to become the biggest and most enduring star in Hector's private life, his beloved wife, Glenda Raymond Crawford.

The year 1956. Exit radio drama, supplanted almost overnight by the wonderful, irresistible monster, television.

With a contented public eagerly and happily glued to programs such as Dragnet, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Perry Mason, Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, etc, the local networks seemed understandably reluctant to commit to Australian drama until, characteristically, Hector wore them down and out.

It took him 18 months of working without any personal salary, but at length, typically, he achieved his aim. He sold a program to HSV-7. A modest little cop show called Homicide.

To the amazement of practically everyone, Homicide proved to be a great success and within a year was winning its timeslot against American shows with infinitely greater budgets and resoruces.

Once again, Hector was on his way, shaping and developing a local industry which, in the case of Crawford Productions, led to such successful programs as Division 4, Matlock Police, The Sullivans, Skyways, Cop Shop, Carson's Law, The Flying Doctors, All the Rivers Run, Whose Baby? Alice to Nowhere, The Last of the Australians, The Box, My Brother Tom.

Leading, guiding, driving, stimulating, challenging, questing, there was always Hector: literally tireless, frequently inspirational, invariably good-humored, imprinting forever his giant footsteps on the Australian industry.

Humanly, Hector loved the triumphs, and literally glowed under the accumulating awards, honours and distinctions.

More interesting, meaningful, instructive and admirable, though, was his handling of the setbacks—some professional, many related to his health.

He never, to my knowledge, complained. Through it all he maintained his courage, his inimitable class.

For such singular people as Hector Crawford, death, at whatever age, seems premature.

But we must be grateful that, by ordinary standards, his life was long, and that there was time enough for many things.

Even, mercifully, for his beloved Collingwood to win another Grand Final.

He is survived by his widow Glenda and two children, Joanne and Tim.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 March 1991, p 6

Additional Resources

Citation details

Terry Stapleton, 'Crawford, Hector William (1913–1991)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/crawford-hector-william-14950/text26281, accessed 25 March 2017.

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