Journalist, TV producer 1922-2003

Born 1922, Beaudesert, Qld
Died 26 Septmeber 2003, Sydney, NSW

Bob Raymond made hundreds of notable television programs, often in difficult locations, harsh conditions and on prickly subjects. Yet in a volatile, ego-charged industry, there will be few among the many who worked with him who can recall him ever losing his temper, raising his voice in anger or behaving with anything but reasoned calm.

"He carried people along with his unrelenting zest for life and infectious enthusiasms," says John Oakley, a member of Raymond's production crew for almost 43 years. "He never shouted or got angry; it's unimaginable and just wasn't his style".

Now he has died at age 81, leaving behind a surprisingly large body of achievements in a diverse range of enterprises and passionately held interests. He had such a full life that it needed three 300-page volumes of memoirs to account for it. While such an output might suggest an authorial ego trip, the books are free of vanity. Indeed, his modesty was such that not until seven years after publication of the first volume of autobiography did he write about his pioneering contributions to the Australian television industry, work for which he is most widely remembered.

He co-founded - with presenter Michael Charlton - and for two years produced Four Corners on the ABC, Australia's first authoritative current affairs program. He also produced a number of memorable weekly documentaries for the Nine Network, followed by a large number of compelling programs for Channel Seven on Australia's natural and social history. There are at least half a dozen Logie awards in his home, among several other acknowledgements of his work.

Born in Beaudesert, Queensland, he was the youngest of five children (one brother, three sisters). His father, Joe, was a necessarily itinerant country schoolteacher "who had idiosyncratic ideas about schooling" and an obsessive interest in bee-keeping.

Joe died after a bout of pneumonia at the age of 60. The brother and sisters had long since left home. Two of them were living in England where, in late 1934, Bob's mother Ethel took her son for a "few months". In the event it would be 20 years before they returned to Australia.

Despite a somewhat fractured passage through the school systems of Queensland and England, Raymond achieved a good matriculation pass in 1938.

He was determined to follow his brother, Moore, into journalism, but Fleet Street was impenetrable until he was accepted as an editorial trainee on the Daily Sketch.

The job turned out to be that of copy boy. He tired of running copy from the editorial floor to the composing room and was not especially keen on dodging shrapnel from exploding German bombs while doing errands.

He applied for a job in the London office of the Sydney Daily Mirror, of which the legendary Eric Baume was the bureau chief. Baume had set himself up royally in two adjoining suites in the Savoy and the farthest he ever seemed to travel in his pursuit of war news was to the downstairs American Bar and the Savoy Grill.

But he hired Raymond at five guineas a week, double what he'd been earning at the Sketch. He was 18. A year later he was offered more money to work elsewhere. Baume was amused, and annoyed. "Good God! Who'd pay you more than a fiver," he yelled. "The Australian Broadcasting Commission," replied Raymond.

Hugo Jackson, the single employee at the ABC office, was desperate for assistance so Raymond agreed to work the night shift for five, and sometimes six, days a week. However, Raymond found it to be a ramshackle operation and Jackson to be increasingly irascible. After about 18 months he went back to work for Baume and the Mirror - although no longer encamped at the Savoy; proprietor Ezra Norton had insisted on more frugal accommodation.

Raymond's one distinction during his second term at the Mirror office was to be assigned, as the youngest accredited war correspondent in Europe, to cover part of the D-Day landing in France from the bridge of a converted ferry carrying Canadian infantrymen.

By the time peace was declared Raymond had married, his wife Marion was pregnant and he was out of a job. He launched himself as a freelance journalist, contributing to a sheaf of magazines, journals and newspapers. He was especially proud of a weekly column, "So They Say ...", he initiated and wrote between 1948 and 1952 in the New Statesman which he had boldly proposed to the editor, Kingsley Amis.

About the same time, Raymond began a biography of Stirling Moss, the British racing-car driver. Eventually he authored or co-authored a total of 17 books, mostly dealing with his eclectic interests such as science, the environment and contemporary art.

In 1953 he took Marion, son Robert and six-year-old daughter, Candy, to Africa where he'd accepted a post as press officer for the Volta River hydro-electric project to smelt aluminium in the then colony of Gold Coast (now the Republic of Ghana).

He returned to Australia determined to work in television. In Ghana he'd directed a 35mm colour documentary on the Volta project and had written scripts for brief films on health matters. Also, on the way home, he had a crash-course in television production in the studios of CBS in New York. That did not amount to a set of very impressive credentials but proved sufficient to secure him a job as a "talks assistant" at the ABC.

The languid environment that then existed in Talks was not Raymond's style and he set a different pace, suggesting, and making, short films on a variety of basic topics. But he became impatient with the narrow horizons he was allowed and secured a career breakthrough when he teamed with Charlton and proposed the production of Four Corners to a dubious ABC general manager, Sir Charles Moses.

The first edition went to air in August 1961 when it was seen only by a Sydney audience. Viewers in other states had to wait until the single telerecording reached their capital. But the response all over was most supportive. "I am very pleased," wrote Moses to his director of programs. Forty-two years later Four Corners is still on air, having set the high standard for current affairs programming in Australia.

Charlton and Raymond left after two years. They were tired and frustrated by the relentless pressure and the frustration of their small production crew: the program had been going to air with only one cameraman, one sound engineer and two editors. Charlton moved to the BBC and Raymond accepted an offer from Clyde Packer and Bruce Gyngell to set up a special projects division at Channel Nine.

Before he had a chance to start his Project series, he was asked to produce a program covering the 1963 election night count, using the recently laid coaxial cable to link Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Newcastle and Wollongong in the first live network broadcast. It was dazzlingly comprehensive with reporters and cameras feeding in contributions from all the major locations and, overall, was a benchmark in election night coverage.

Project '64 went to air the following February on a budget of $200,000 a year, including staff salaries. Raymond was then handed the position as executive producer of Today, Nine's first foray into breakfast television. During its somewhat fraught 13-week "trial", Channel 10 programmed two hours of cartoons against it and captured the bulk of the early morning audience.

When Sir Frank Packer closed the Special Projects division as an "economy measure" there was nothing left at Channel Nine for Raymond.

Gyngell had also left Nine and was at Channel Seven, heavily promoting the Seven Revolution. Raymond joined him after establishing his own company and produced a stunning series of 13 programs dealing with a comprehensive natural history of Australia. Extending over four years under the title of Shell's Australia, the series was enabled by $300,000 worth of sponsorship from the oil company. Other productions during Raymond's time at Channel Seven included a nine-episode series, Discover Australia's National Parks and Pelican's Progress, an aerial exploration of the entire rim of Australia. By the mid-1990s a lavishly illustrated book of the series, Australia: The Greatest Island, had sold more than 150,000 copies.

Raymond's last years were blighted by ill health but he could look back on his good fortune to have had the love of a strong mother and that of his two marriage partners. He and Marion were divorced after 25 years; his subsequent marriage in 1978 to Angela, the former wife of Clyde Packer, had been his great strength since they became partners in 1973.

In 1993, the Hawke government appointed Mr Raymond to the board of the ABC. As an author he published 14 books on a wide range of subjects and three volumes of autobiography.He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1998 for services to the media and television industry.

Robert Raymond is survived by Angela and Candy, Marion and Robert, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Dennis O'Brien
Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 21 October 2003


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