He has lived <»u
Wilfrid Thomas - from choir boy to broadcaster-at-large
. In the Northern Territory, on the Barkly Stock Route there's an artesian waterhole known as the Wilfrid Thomas
Bore, named after Australia's veteran broadcaster-at-large
WILF says it's the most
he has ever had.
He got his name on the map after he'd spent an evening in the Territory "ear-bashing" the official responsible for naming the artesian bores lin- ing the stock routes.
The best-known Australian
broadcaster to trot the globe was boning up on his adopted country before going abroad
to tell the world about Aus- tralia.
Wilfrid Thomas tells this and a thousand other stories of a broadcaster's life in a
book he has just written, "Liv- ing On Air," one of the wit-
tiest show-business stories to hit the stalls yet.
It establishes one thing. Off the air, too, Wilfrid is no bore.
Best known in Australia for his Wilfrid Thomas Show-a regular feature in broadcast- ing since 1941-the Welsh born, Australian-adopted Wil- frid Thomas has been a broad- caster ever since Farmer's De-
partment Store opened 2FC,
Australia's first radio station, on its roof in 1923.
. Thomas, a stripling of 18, but owning a surprising bass voice, walked in and asked for a job.
He got more than he bar- gained for.
In first serial
Starting as a filler-in with the station pianist at a guinea and-a-half a night, he was lumbered for speaking parts, "feeding" lines to the comic, playing characters in sketches.
Gradually he turned into a radio actor, imitating English film stars and acquiring some grotesque accents.
Wilfrid acted in the first
radio serial, plays by Shake- speare, made up record pro- grammes from discs on the shelf, read off items from the newspapers which he thought would interest his friends and hurriedly switched on the automatic piano-player when
CHRISTMAS DAY BROADCAST om m worldwide hook-up from the Pestalozzi Inter-
national Children's Village in Switzerland where Thoma» interviewed the children.
BILL STRUTTON, of our London staff
ever girls called to share his solitude in the primitive broadcasting studio.
Thomas got his first taste of travel when he joined an Eton-suited band of youthful choir singers called the West- minster Glee Singers to tour
Starting with Asia and Africa, led by an impoverished but genteel ex-tenor from Westminster Abbey, he ended up in London.
There, between singing at businessmen's banquets and acting-singing in musical comedy, he took up radio work again.
He also became a television pioneer. "In a tiny subter- ranean studio in Broadcasting House," recalls Wilfrid, "I sang in Baird's experimental television programmes.
"We painted our- faces white, and the eyelids, lips,
and sides of the nose blue.
"Behind a glass panel Mr. Baird and his fellow-conspira- tors operated a revolving drum of mirrors, from which a blinding beam of light was directed on to us."
When Wilfrid Thomas re- turned to Australia before World War II he settled down
to producing "Out of the Bag," a weekly light enter-
tainment which starred Dick
Bentley and had Joy Nichols, Kitty Bluett, Bettina Dickson, and several other radio stars, who have since found fame
abroad, making regular ap-
It was this show that allowed Dick Bentley, till then a fiddler, singer, mimic, and disc jockey, to develop his comedy talent.
He and Thomas occupied neighboring flats in Sydney and Wilfrid now confesses dis- armingly:
"At night we listened on
short-wave to the big Ameri- can and British comedians and in the morning, we sun- baked by our swimming-pool and adapted their best lines
for our audience.
"The task of originating
first-class comedy script week after week was beyond our capacity, and beyond that of any writers we knew.
"The programme ran f * years."
Big job reject«
The AU.C. appointed V frid its first Federal Dir« of Light Entertainment d ing the war.
Working in liaison with the
American Forces in the South Pacific, he handled many US stars, including Jack Benny, Carole Landis, Larry Adler,
Bob Hope, Jerry Colonna, Nick Bolger, John Wayne, and Artie
But he was one of the first radio personalities who did not
dream of the security of be-
coming a radio boss rather than remain a performer.
"Promotion carries you far- ther and farther from the studio," he says, and that's where his heart lay.
On the tenth birthday of the Wilfrid Thomas Show, in 1951, the A.B.C. decided to
let Wilfrid make future produc- tions of the show in countries overseas, and he made London don his headquarters.
Of his radio work then Thomas says: Travel broadens yon - yon eat so much and walk so little.
"Yet on a tour of the un-
distinguished restaurants in France I actually lost weight which convinced me that the great chefs are chemists, too.
"In Denmark, Norway, and
Holland I recorded inspiring stories of self-sacrifice and
courage by heroes of the re-
"I travelled to Elba to re-
cord a village barber who cherishes a boomerang he
On the air for 35 years
AFTER A GREEK EARTHQUAKE Wilfrid Thoma», Australia's best-known broad caster-at-large, interviews two children who lost their parents in the disaster.
lied in Central Australia, and to Lourdes to record a piIgrimage of cripples.
"In Switzerland I hauled re- cording gear up the Matter- horn to interview a guide, and made a programme at the Pestalozzi International Chil dren's Village with Jeanette ??itweg, who had rejected a lucrative career in order to work there for the children. "In Spain I recorded fla menco music at the Seville ??ria . . .
Greatest crusade "In London Burl Ives stayed at my house. We let the re- corder run and roared our lungs into the Mayfair night and the homegoing waiters in
the street joined in."
Wilfrid Thomas plays host at his top-floor Mayfair flat
as wide a selection of show business celebrities as you can
read in a theatre "Who's Who".
Sir Richard Boyer, chair
man of the Australian Broad- | casting Commission, set Wil
frid Thomas on what has been his greatest crusade as a broadcaster - to report on the tragedy of the Displaced Persons in Europe in a series of radio programmes.
It was the most heart-rend
ing job he'd ever done,
On two successive Christ- mases he took part in the world hook-up, preceding the Queen's speech, from refugee
camps in Germany.
The most moving moment of his life came on one of these broadcasts.
He was standing by with his
microphone at the bedside of a Ukrainian refugee widow who had condemned herself to a life of utter loneliness and ??ness in a D.P. camp when ?? gave her assent to her two
boys - all she had left in the world - migrating to foster parents in America.
Wilfrid had arranged for the widowed mother, Mrs. Bojko, to exchange a Christmas mes- sage with her two boys on the
other side of the world.
"As our cue approached we all sat tense and silent," he
"Then John Gielgud, who was linking the various items in the studio in London, spoke the words I was waiting for, and I began my piece.
"In Baltimore Stanley Max- ted picked up the story and introduced Mrs. Bojko's sons, Victor and Paul, and at last they spoke, sending a message of love to their mother.
"But they had forgotten their mother's language-they spoke in English.
"She couldn't understand their words, but the moment
WILFRID THOMAS rehearsing a radio show with Betty
Hutton at the Palladium in London.
she heard their voices she sat
bolt upright, her mouth twisted, her hands turned icy
"When I gave her the signal to speak she could make no sound. I tried to encourage her - 'Come along, darling, speak to your boys' - and at last she greeted them.
"Her simple message was translated into English: 'God bless yon, my sons. I am happy to hear you. Goodbye, my darlings.'
"I learned afterwards that
John Gielgud was moved to tears and could not carry on immediately with the narra-
If I know Wilfrid Thomas, John Gielgud was not alone
in his tears.
. "LIVING ON AIR" - By Wilfrid Thomas, published by Frederick Muller Ltd. in Lon- don.