Bud Tingwell’s great career in Radio

radioinfo thanks Jason Ford for this contribution: The great Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell was laid to rest in a beautiful and dignified State Funeral. Much has been written about his film and television career that featured performances in Homicide, Breaker Morant, The Castle and The Late Show. However, if you visit Bud’s website there are a quite a few pages dedicated to what was a magnificent radio career.

Radio would play an important role in Bud’s life, way before he became an established film and television star. Some of Bud’s earliest radio memories are of the famous cricket broadcasts where the tap of the pencil signaled the sound of the bat hitting the ball. The Australian serial Dad and Dave was a favourite as was many other radio serials. He’d listen to announcers like Charles Cousins and John Dease of 2GB trying to emulate their voices.

It would be through his love of acting that would see him get his first big break in radio, winning a competition that lead to a major part in one of Jack Davey’s radio shows, which he recorded after school.

In his autobiography, Bud – A Life, Tingwell recalls that the serial was based on the English school stories about Billy Bunter of Greyfairs. “Jack Davey played Billy Bunter and I was Bob Cherry, the’ leader of Upper Fifth’. I don’t remember getting to know Jack Davey that well but I was impressed by his uninhibited colourful language away from the microphone.”

Having worked with Jack Davey, Bud could now say that he had worked as an actor in radio when going for other positions, however in a interview with Australian Biography back in 2003, Tingwell said that the process was a tough one.

“In those days Macquarie which ran 2GB had a very good drama production company and I never seemed to give a reasonable reading until my airline pilot brother gave me this tip by obeying punctuation and to create light and shade and change of pace and different thought processes.”

At the age of 17 Bud Tingwell beat 300 candidates to land a role as panel operator/cadet announcer at Sydney radio station 2CH. One of the stipulations was that he had to give up his acting as he wasn’t allowed employment outside the radio station.

Duties included putting on the records and flick the microphone switch, and to introduce the big star announcer. Sometimes he would be the fill-in breakfast announcer, and often on the same day he would do the news and close the station before midnight. After a few months he was chosen by the Commercial Federation of Stations in Australia to do an outside broadcast describing the handing over of a ship called the Oranje by the Dutch government to the Australian government.

In an interview with the Australian Biography program, Tingwell recalled a frank assessment of his panel work by a taxi driver who had listened to the broadcast that night.

“I asked him what he listened to, the ABC or commercial radio and he said, “I listened to the commercial for a while then went to the ABC.” I asked him what that was like and he replied, “Oh the commercial bloke was crook”, so he finished listening to the ABC. It was a bit of a blow to the ego, but good experience.”

In the space of two years Bud had worked with two of the most influential radio personalities of the era: Jack Davey and Bob Dyer. Dyer invited Tingwell to join Pick-A-Box as assistant compere after a recommendation from an actor he helped out. Bud would introduce Bob Dyer and would do the commercials. This was a tremendous break as it was a national program.

Tingwell found Dyer to be a wonderful showman with a corny sense of humour that he developed through his Last of the Hillbillies shows. “Occasionally he would hand me a gag and I know when were sponsored by Atlantic Union Oil he used to pat me on the head sometimes before we went to air and he’d go, “ooh, I’ve struck oil”, and look at his fingers”, said Tingwell.

Bud’s burgeoning career was put on hold when he joined the war effort, but made up for lost time after the war, becoming part of a group of hard-working radio actors.

For radio drama, the 1940’s and 1950’s was a boom time. Newspaper print became expensive so advertisers were looking for other avenues to spend their money. At the same time importing overseas radio programs became prohibitive so, there was a need to produce local programs and at the same time there was plenty of money being poured into these ventures.

Production companies like the Colgate Palmolive Unit, and Grace Gibson Productions were established, and advertisers could get their brands across through programs like The Lux Theatre, The Caltex Theatre, The Ford Show, The Dulux Show, and The Cadbury show. For the radio actor this was a time of steady employment. Radio serials like Blue Hills went 27 years and 5795 episodes. Others like Martin’s Corner ran 15 years.

During this period Bud Tingwell was a busy man. He didn’t want to get tied down to one particular radio production as he wanted to branch out into films. He performed in many of the Lux Radio Theatre productions, which was a one-hour program on a Sunday night that adapted a famous play or film for radio.

More and more serials were being created to depict the Australian way of life. One such production Bud starred in 1951 was called Hart of the Territory. Tingwell played Gil Hart an artist from Sydney who inherits and outback cattle station in the Northern Territory, who learns to love it and its people.

For Tingwell this was a period of constant work, starring in serials such as Blue Hills, Hagen’s Circus, A Dog’s Life, Dr. Paul, The Dam Busters, Blind Justice, When a Girl Marries and I hate Crime, and many radio dramas.

One of Bud’s fondest memories was appearing with Smoky and Dot Dawson in the radio serial Jindawarrabell, which ran between 1952 and 1955, before it became the half-hour Adventures of Smoky Dawson.

He first met Smoky back in 1949 when he was on location for the movie Bitter Springs starring Tommy Trinder and Chips Rafferty. Smoky’s circus came through town and they were extremely impressed with it. Dawson met them after the show and the quartet talked showbiz all night. No doubt Smoky passed on a few tips to Tingwell on how to ride a horse and crack a stockwhip, which would have come in handy on the movie set.

Three years later Bud would come into contact with Smoky again playing the part of Sergeant Bob Keane, who had a romantic interest in Janet, the governess of Jindawarrabell played by Smoky’s wife Dot. It was an interesting set-up given that both Smoky and particularly Jingles lusted after Janet.

Tingwell remembers that Smoky was an easy person to work with. “Smoky was great to work with, and like a lot of people who aren’t used to radio they are very humble, as was Dot Dawson.”

I was privileged to produce a documentary for ABC Radio National in 2002, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Adventures of Smoky Dawson first going to air, a program that Bud Tingwell kindly narrated.

Bud has said that the experience from acting in radio serials put him in good stead for the film and television work that was to follow. Australian’s were always in high demand both in the United States and England, two countries Tingwell conquered in his illustrious career. His fellow radio actors like Peter Finch, Rod Taylor, Chips Rafferty, Gordon Chater and others all had very successful radio careers, on top of film and television.

While Tingwell’s work has been preserved on screen, not much of his radio exists. Below are couple of excerpts from Hart of the Territory and Jindawarrabell; a small illustration of a talented actor and human being.