Fans of classic Australian radio drama can rejoice because a wealth of titles from the Grace Gibson archives are now available on CD, and they are being brought to you using the world’s finest audio restoration gear.

Grace Gibson Productions have been in the radio business for over 70 years and are still going strong. Poster: copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions.

Over the years a range of recording and distribution methods were used by Grace Gibson Productions including Bakelite 16” and 10” transcription discs, vinyl LPs and reel-to-reel tapes.

All of these formats, and a number of others, are being processed using British technology from CEDAR Cambridge which removes clicks, pops and surface noise from the original recordings to bring you crystal clear sound. The results are incredible and the audio remains perfectly intact.

I am particularly pleased that all 104 episodes of the 1961 serial, The Scarlet Diary, have been released. My old friend Thelma Scott tops the bill as Jan Fraser, the confidential secretary to publishing magnate Raymond Parker, he is in love with Jan and wants her to marry him but she has feelings for another.

Things turn decidedly ugly when Raymond purchases the diary of a once notorious socialite named Lilian Scarlet. He has every intention of publishing these sordid and explosive memoirs despite the scandal and legal action which will result. Unfortunately for Raymond there are wealthy and powerful people who don’t want their connections with Lilian Scarlet made public, he is found dead shortly afterwards in suspicious circumstances and the diary appears to have disappeared.

Jan is now in a very precarious situation, she never wanted anything to do with the wretched diary believing it to be utter trash but there are those who believe that she now has it in her possession. Shady unknown figures will stop at nothing to acquire it and she will find her life and career on the line.

The Grace Gibson back catalogue, much of it unheard for over 60 years is now being released for your listening pleasure. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions.

Thelma Scott is fondly remembered by television viewers for her roles in programmes such as Number 96, The Young Doctors, Glenview High and Richmond Hill, in The Scarlet Diary she gives an exhilarating performance which her fans won’t want to miss. The serial was beautifully written by Coral Lansbury (the mother of the current Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull), and others in the cast include Neva Carr Glynn, Max Meldrum, Frank Waters, Barry Brown, Neil Fitzpatrick, Allan Trevor and Wynne Nelson.

Thelma’s fans will also be interested to know that she can be seen in the 1933 movie Diggers in Blighty which has just been added to the Ozflix streaming service. www.ozflix.tv This comedy involves two dinkum diggers who are manipulated by the British Intelligence Service into giving false battle plans to a German spy. They are rewarded with some leave in dear old Mother England, and when they encounter some well to do Poms the hilarity really begins.

Although Diggers in Blighty revolves around the Great War, it has been largely forgotten that during the Second World War, Thelma Scott made her own contribution to the war effort. She appeared regularly on radio during 1941 to read a series of simply worded Department of Information talks which were designed to keep Australians abreast of the latest developments with the conflict. Like many other radio stars Thelma also entertained the troops at the Sydney branch of The Stage Door Canteen, and appeared in specially staged radio plays to help raise funds for both the Fourth Victory Loan Campaign, and the Theatre & Radio Food for Britain Fund.

Inset top left: The Scarlet Diary is now available on CD. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions. Inset front right: Thelma Scott tops the bill as Jan Fraser in The Scarlet Diary; her fans can also hear her in The Bishop’s Mantle which is available from the Grace Gibson website. Photo by John Lee, courtesy of the National Film & Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA).

If this has got you in the mood for an enthralling tale from the Second World War then I would highly recommend Grace Gibson’s acclaimed 1955 serial White Coolies. This is the true life story of a group of Australian army nursing sisters who were serving in Malaya when they were captured by the Japanese and sent to an internment camp. We learn of the almost inhuman mental and physical torture these brave women suffered at the hands of the brutal Nipponese. The nurses were deprived of food, water and cigarettes, and were made to eat food infested with weevils. They were housed in filthy disease ridden hovels and endured sexual abuse, outbreaks of typhoid, tropical ulcers, malaria and of course they were eaten alive by mosquitoes. Despite being weak with hunger and only having rags to wear the women had no choice but to do hard labour, the punishment for disobedience was death.

During her three and a half year stretch as a prisoner of war, Sister Betty Jeffrey kept a secret diary of her ordeal; after the war ended she used these notes to write her best-selling book White Coolies. Gwen Friend sensitively adapted the story for radio, with input from the author herself, and producer Yvonne ‘Fifi’ Banvard succeeded in capturing the horror and abuse the nurses suffered without reverting to sensationalism.

Ruth Cracknell (from Mother & Son) shines as Sister Jeffrey, and other members of the impressive cast include June Salter (from The Restless Years), Margo Lee, Queenie Ashton, Diana Perryman, Wynne Nelson, Pat Crocker, Coralie Neville, Muriel Steinbeck, Madge Ryan, Gordon Chater and Margaret Christensen.

White Coolies takes us behind the scenes of a brutal Japanese internment camp. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions. Inset photo: Ruth Cracknell gives an outstanding performance as Sister Betty Jeffrey in White Coolies.

You might also be interested to know that Grace Gibson Productions have just released the 1954 serial Tudor Princess, along with its sequel Tudor Queen on CD. During the early 1950s the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II had inspired a raft of theatrical entertainments based on the life of Elizabeth I. A young Australian actor and writer called Michael Plant had been playing ‘a page’ in The Young Elizabeth at the Criterion Theatre in London; this prompted him to research the subject further and to approach Grace Gibson with the idea of a radio serial for Australia.

What Michael came up with was no dull exercise in schoolroom history; he filled his creation with political intrigue, treachery, infidelity, romance, and bloodthirsty adventure. He went into great detail, even down to the fact that the Queen had a weeping leg ulcer for her final 20 years! Dinah Shearing (from The Sullivans) was cast in the title role and was given the mammoth task of starting off as a 16 year old girl who would inherit the throne, before ageing into a 70 year old domineering monarch.

This serial will transport you back to the colourful days of Tudor England, it was hugely successful when it was first transmitted, and also stars Lyndall Barbour, Sheila Sewell, Guy Doleman, Gordon Chater, Moira Redmond, Fifi Banvard, Walter Sullivan, Amber Mae Cecil, and David Nettheim.

Another brand new release is the 1960s drama Lust for Life which was adapted from the biographical novel penned by Irving Stone. This is the story of painter Vincent van Gogh, a man who was often at odds with the world around him as he struggled to make his mark as an artist in late 19th century Europe. He was a flawed man but a man who had the talent to change the way many people viewed art. The cast includes John Unicomb in the title role, Coralie Neville, John Alden and you’ll hear British born Queenie Ashton as Madame Loyer. Queenie of course was a television veteran who appeared in popular programmes such as A Country Practice, Certain Women, The Love Boat and The Restless Years.

Inset main: Tudor Princess and Tudor Queen are now on CD, if only school history lessons were this entertaining! Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions. Inset photo: Dinah Shearing stars as Elizabeth I in Tudor Princess and Tudor Queen. Inset text: Listeners of 2GN in Goulburn and Bowral were hooked when Tudor Princess hit the air.

If you are in the mood for some pioneering outback drama all 208 episodes of the 1961 serial Cattleman are now available; this enthralling tale spans three generations and two World Wars.

Cattleman was adapted for the wireless by Ross Napier from the novel by R.S. Porteous. The book had won its author the Courier Mail’s £1000 Centenary Novel Contest and was a bestseller when it was released in the UK. Richard Sydney ‘Skip’ Porteous specialised in writing about Australia and Australians because he believed that you should write about the things, people and places that you know. Cattleman truly captures the essence of the ‘fair dinkum’ spirit.

In the opening episode we meet Ben McReady, an old man who is on his deathbed. When well-wishers come calling he begins to reminisce about his remarkable life. What develops is a fast moving story about a young cattle duffer who is fighting for his very survival in Queensland’s tough outback; this is a man who is trying to stay one step ahead of the law.

Ben has to deal with the creeping menace of the prickly pear, he battles flood, fire, and falls for the charms of an Aboriginal girl called Biddy (Lyndall Barbour). Yes he has had a hard but successful life, he has accumulated great riches and his family will be divided by greed.

Inset top: Lust for Life, the epic story of Vincent van Gogh is now on CD for the first time. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions. Inset bottom: Queenie Ashton can be heard in Lust for Life and White Coolies, her fans can also see her on Ozflix (www.ozflix.tv) in the 1949 movie Always Another Dawn which follows the brave boys of the Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War.

Ben McReady was initially played by Frank Waters and then later by Nigel Lovell. Other cast members include Margo Lee (who also played Louise Fielding in The Young Doctors), Wendy Playfair (of Prisoner: Cell Block H and Return to Eden fame), Lynne Murphy, Ken Fraser, Muriel Steinbeck, Tom Farley, and Diana Perryman.

You might be in need of some light relief after all of that high drama, in which case you could try getting your laughing gear around The Boys from Benalla. This laugh a minute comedy is loosely based on historical fact as we follow the unreal adventures of Australia’s most notorious outlaw, Ned Kelly himself. We actually learn quite a lot about the life of Kelly and his infamous gang through the humour. This is a cleverly crafted piece of work from the pens of Jim Burnett and Grahame Bond. Grahame shot to fame playing the title role in the iconic ABC comedy The Aunty Jack Show of course, and Jim adapted the original BBC scripts for the Australian version of the hit sitcom Are You Being Served?

Listeners worldwide can order The Scarlet Diary, White Coolies, Tudor Princess/Tudor Queen, Lust for Life, Cattleman, The Boys from Benalla and a wealth of other Australian radio classics exclusively from the Grace Gibson Productions website.


Inset left: Frank Waters plays the hard bitten cattle duffer Ben McReady in Cattleman. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions. Inset back right: The Boys from Benalla will have you laughing like a drain. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions.
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