1913 - 1976 | Victoria | journalist
Journalist, war correspondent and media manager, Colin Bednall reported for several Australian papers before joining AAP's London bureau in 1938.
As aviation correspondent for the Daily Mail from 1942-944, he contributed substantially to the public profile of the air war in Britain. Returning to Australia, he was managing editor of Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd and later The Argus.
When GTV-9 was formed in 1956, Bednall became its managing director and assured the station's ratings lead by promoting local content, fostering on-air personalities like Graham Kennedy and supporting independent news coverage.
In the Australian television industry Colin Bednall is best remembered as the first Managing Director of GTV-9 Melbourne, who in 1957 made one of the boldest and most successful programming decisions in the history of Australian television.
In defiance of his boardroom and key sponsors Bednall recruited a radio 3UZ presenter called Graham Kennedy to host the ground breaking evening program In Melbourne Tonight.
Kennedy had virtually no television experience, having appeared once very briefly as 3UZ’s representative on a GTV-9 Red Cross telethon. The station executives and the program’s first sponsor (Philips) wanted someone safer and more conventional. But Bednall and producer Norman Spencer had seen enough in that short appearance on the telethon to stand their ground.
It was a brave call in a less tolerant age, and the opposition to Kennedy intensified in 1960 after the station was bought by the ebullient Sir Frank Packer.
Packer made no secret of his objection to homosexuals and unlike the previous owner, interfered directly with the station’s activities and forcefully articulated his desire to have him removed from the IMT. Friends of Kennedy reported Packer “outright hated Graham”.
But despite his determination to nurture his new recruit Bednall could hardly have imagined that Kennedy would become so successful. He would forever be known as “The King” of Australian television.
And Kennedy wasn’t the only talent Bednall fostered. Journalists, producers, camera operators and managers all benefited from Bednall’s independence and ability to deliver profits.
But while Bednall was one of the true pioneers of this new industry, his contribution to television was just one part of his extraordinarily rich career in journalism.
Throughout his working life, from junior reporter on The Adelaide News to decorated war correspondent, senior newspaper executive, television royal commissioner, UNESCO representative in Paris and adviser to two prime ministers, Bednall never stopped learning or contributing.
Born on 13 January 1913 in Balaklava, South Australia, Bednall began his career at The Adelaide News where he was soon noticed by the proprietor (Sir) Keith Murdoch.
From 1932-37 he worked as a reporter on The Sun News Pictorial in Melbourne before being sent to Darwin where he reported Japanese fishing incursions and in 1937 exposed the border protection farce known as the “Larrakia Fiasco”.
The story was carried by The Straits Times of 16 June 1937:
Patrol Boat “releases” luggerA further touch of rich comedy was added to the Northern Australian poaching fiasco today when the government patrol boat Larrakia had to be cast adrift by the “captive” Japanese pearling lugger which was towing her to Darwin, 300 miles away. After capturing the lugger yesterday the Larrakia’s engines broke down and the Japanese took their captors in tow, announcing they were going to claim salvage. Towing difficulties were greater than expected and the Larrakia “was compelled to release” the lugger. A seaplane carrying an engineer is speeding to the scene of the capture …
In 1938, still under the nurturing eye of Murdoch, Bednall went to London where he worked for AAP and The Daily Mail.
As Aviation Reporter he flew on bombing raids, and his access to the highest level Royal Air Force briefings made him a pre-eminent reporter of the air war.
At the end of the war he served briefly with Lord Mountbatten in India and was appointed OBE for his services to the Allied cause.
Despite being appointed assistant editor of The Daily Mail, Bednall was persuaded by Murdoch to return to Australia to be Managing Editor of Queensland newspapers.
In 1954 he became Managing Editor of The Argus but was already on his way to a new career in television. A year earlier he had been appointed to the royal commission set up to oversee the introduction of television and it was almost inevitable that he would be recruited by one of the new stations.
Despite intense competition from The Herald and Weekly Times which owned HSV-7, Bednall’s astute promotion of Australian content and his fostering of talent like Kennedy quickly saw GTV-9 leading the ratings.
His management style may well have been the blueprint for future generations of Nine Network executives.
A man of strong views and self-confidence who believed he knew what viewers wanted, he backed his judgment and was prepared to spend big money promoting shows and talent.
He earned his independence by delivering profits but it was a money argument that saw him leave the station in 1965 and take a new professional, personal and political direction.
At GTV-9 Bednall had introduced Liberal Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies to the mysteries of television and coached him in its use in an election campaign.
But in 1966 Bednall’s political views changed dramatically when he began managing an English-Chinese television station in Hong Kong. In the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Patrick Morgan says the extremes of poverty he witnessed there affected Bednall profoundly and when he returned to Australia in 1969 he became active in Labor politics.
By the early 1970s (to the surprise of his Melbourne Club friends) Bednall stood unsuccessfully for Labor against Sir Phillip Lynch in his Liberal seat of Flinders in the 1972 election.
In 1972-73 he was a part-time media adviser for Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. He also managed a number of consultancies and wrote a media column for The Age. Colin Bednall died suddenly aged 63 at his Portsea home.
David Broadbent is a former Nine Network politics reporter and former Seven Network News Director. He worked in the Canberra Press Gallery for the Sun News Pictorial and The Age.
Courtesy of News Limited/Newspix.
'Colin Bednall', Patrick Morgan, Australian Dictionary of Biography.
'Patrol Boat ‘Releases’ Lugger….', Straits Times, 16 June,1937.