Stan Bancroft – pioneering ABC technician

The ABC’s history is usually dominated by tales of management and on-air personalities, but nothing would happen without the national broadcaster’s extraordinary technical staff. Legendary among them is Stan Bancroft, who was tinkering with radios as a young boy in the 1920s and went on to become a PMG technician, where he jumped at the chance to work on a new radio station established by the fledgling Australian Broadcasting Commission. Stan worked at the ABC for some four decades until his retirement in 1974. This story, compiled by his daughter Dawn Bancroft Coleman, is based on precious tape recordings of her father’s eye-witness recollections of his time as a wireless/radio technician and supervisor. It gives a fascinating insight into how the ABC pioneered the coverage of some of our nation’s most memorable historical milestones. 

ADVENTURES OF A RADIO TECHNICIAN – Why My Dad Loved the ABC

By Dawn Bancroft Coleman, based on the tape-recorded memoirs of Stanley John Bancroft, Supervisor ABC Radio Operations NSW / 24 August 2022


In 1932, when the Australian Broadcasting Commission was established, Australia was in the midst of the Great Depression. Unemployment hit a record high of 32 percent. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened and Joseph Lyons from the United Australia Party was Prime Minister. It was into this environment that a metal box with knobs and a dial was becoming part of everyday furniture in many Australian households. Listening to what was then known as ‘the wireless’ was a relatively cheap diversion from the hard times of the era. There was a licence fee of sixpence a week (if you paid it) and you could hear concerts, plays and presenters reading from the daily newspapers. The ABC had an initial staff of 265 but its technical staff and transmitters were in the hands of the Postmaster-General’s Department (PMG).1 The number of wireless stations quickly grew around the country and young PMG technicians were responsible for getting them up and running. One of those technicians was my father, Stanley John Bancroft. Here are some transcribed excerpts from the tape-recorded memoirs of his life in audio.

Starting out in radio

Stan was born on 9 September 1909, just a decade after Guglielmo Marconi received a patent for his invention of a wireless telegraph system. The burgeoning new technology fascinated Stan from a very early age.

At the age of six I went to St Peters school in inner Sydney and was about eight when I started to learn piano and violin. I was learning off Professor Perbles at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and at eight and a half years I had a dance band on 2KY every Thursday night. At thirteen years of age, I was playing with a little band on the Hawkesbury River Showboat on Sundays, and I was the world's worst sailor. I used to sit in front of the piano on a little stool with a bucket between my legs! 

In 1922, I was thirteen years old and this was the crystal set age. The boys at school started making crystal sets. In fact, the boys seemed to know more about radio in those days than the teachers. At this time, I’d just finished primary school and went to high school where I got my Intermediate and Leaving certificates.
Sketch of an early crystal set – a very simple radio receiver that used the power of the radio signal to receive sound. It’s named for its most important component, a crystal detector, made from a piece of crystalline mineral, like galena. (This was superseded by semiconductor diodes in the 1960s.)
One day, the woman next door called out to my mother. “There’s something I’d like to tell you Mrs Bancroft. Will you come over to the side fence?” So, she went over and the neighbour told her that she had been a telephonist in the Postmaster-General’s Department (PMG) and she said: “Do you know that there are examinations that are held every September for admission to the PMG as a junior mechanic in training?”

Of course, Mum didn’t know and this woman said: “Why don’t you go up to the Post Office and get a form and get young Stanley to fill it in and he’ll get a good job.”

So, she did this and young Stanley filled the form in and we despatched it. Later, I received a card to go to Turner Hall at the Technical College in Harris Street, Sydney, to sit for an examination that I wasn’t particularly interested in. I passed and decided to take the job on, only on the advice of the local postman, who said there was no limit to the opportunities. I decided to pursue this ‘unlimited career’ and had to go to technical college for two afternoons and two nights for five years.

Moving to the ABC

The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) came into existence on 1 July 1932. Radio programs were nationally relayed to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. New ABC stations were progressively opened during the 1930s. In 1938, the ABC opened its first radio station in the national capital, Canberra. Its call sign was 2CY.2 Stan Bancroft, now a fully-fledged PMG technician, was sent to Canberra as Acting Supervising Technician to oversee the installation of the station’s transformer.

In 1938, there were advertisements for officers to go to Canberra for the installation of 2CY. I had been building receivers for a number of years, so I made an application for consideration for the installation staff and I finally went to Canberra in October 1938. I was there for six years.

In a letter to his wife, Billie, who was still living in Sydney, Stan wrote:

The mast has been finished now with the red light on the top and we have to put more lights at various intervals further down. There is a ladder up the centre of it now. It’s good policy to always look up when on the mast, as it seems still, but if you look down, it seems to sway everywhere. So, we always look up when we are climbing up or down. 
ABC Canberra station 2CY, with its towering mast, c.1953.
We were testing the cooling system today (the valves are kept cool by water being pumped around them) and a chap was standing next to the apparatus to see if there were any leaks and when the pumps were started up, he was drenched. One of the fellows opened each water cock, there were ten, and they squirt ten gallons per minute and he got the lot.

Well good night love…Tell Ben, he’d enjoy himself running up and down our mast. Good night darling.

Stanley John xxxxx

In January 1939, just a month after 2CY opened, Stan came in contact with a famous visitor attending the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS) conference.

2CY opened on 23rd December 1938. I met some remarkable people there because I think, no matter who you were, if a visitor came to Australia and if he was of any significance at all, he would finish up in Canberra. I remember while we were doing the installing, there was a scientific symposium on at the Albert Hall and scientists from all over the world attended. Quite a few of them came over to the transmitter to have a look at 2CY.

I remember showing a chap around the transmitter and installation of the mast. He asked innumerable technical questions which made me think this man seems to have some technical knowledge. So, at the conclusion, he said: “Oh by the way, my name is Wells.” I then discovered that his name was H.G. Wells, who wrote so many science fiction books in those days. I was rather surprised to find that he was not only a writer but he was also a scientist.

H.G. Wells’ speaking tour of Australia included radio talks, two of which have survived. 

Just seven months after Wells’ visit, the outbreak of World War II in August 1939 impacted Stan and his family’s life. Wartime rationing was introduced. With a wife and four children to feed, Dad – always a keen gardener – grew vegetables, in response to the Government’s suggestion to grow an ‘austerity garden’. He also started wearing a prickly khaki uniform and disappearing up Mt Ainslie to shoot rabbits, or at least that’s what he came back with. It was only during my research in writing his story that I discovered he had enlisted on 21 January 1942 and become a part-time member of the 2nd Australian Lines of Communication Signals (Citizen Forces) with his Mobilization Attestation form stamped EXMPT RCM. It also explained to me why he was ‘practising’ morse code.  

Sydney and the Forbes Street studios

Before the war ended, Stan returned to Sydney to work at the ABC’s Forbes Street headquarters.

The former ABC building on the corner of William and Forbes streets, displaying 2FC and 2BL signage, c.1945.
At the end of 1944, I returned to Sydney and to the studios built under rock in Forbes Street as a war-time security exercise in the event of Sydney being bombed. I suppose we had 100-121 feet of rock above us and when they started to build on top, they use to blast this rock. The whole system was, of course, very accurately and sensitively adjusted but when a charge went up, the whole place would shake and the contacts would break in the relays and all the circuits would drop out. We’d lose all our circuitry going interstate. Programs would disappear going north and south and all around Australia, so much so that in the finish, we had to just about forget about the relay circuitry and patch everything. It was going back to the bad old days when we use to be in Market Street, Sydney before the relay system came in and when we had to patch everything for interstate coverage.

Beginning Federal Parliamentary broadcasts

On 10 July 1946, the ABC began broadcasting Federal Parliament. The Government, with the support of the ABC Commission, believed that broadcasting would ‘raise the standard of debates, enhance the prestige of Parliament, and contribute to a better informed judgment throughout the community …’ 3

Stan Bancroft was responsible for the installation of equipment in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and supervised the first three years of broadcasts. In one of the early broadcasts, the equipment failed two minutes before airtime, but Stan and his staff managed to make a temporary repair within seconds. The ABC newsletter, Radio Active, described Stan as ‘nursing Parliament into broadcasting’.

I was working with the team doing the installation – the Reps and the Senate – and we had actually installed the equipment and we were rehearsing and operating the equipment before the Bill had passed the House. So, we were ready to go on air for 5-6 weeks before it did.

We observed certain things after we went on air as we were caught out by certain members interjecting and quite out of the blue someone would say something from one side of the House and you’d look over to see who it was and he’d have his mouth shut and we’d have no idea who it was.

But after a while we became used to some of the little habits that the Members had which would indicate to us that they were going to interject. When we noticed this, of course we’d open the microphone in the appropriate key and there might be a slight delay but at least we’d always catch them.
 Exterior of Old Parliament House.
I remember Ben Chifley who was the Prime Minister at the time.4 He would invariably adjust his shirt cuffs and tie and you’d notice he was doing that. I don’t know if he had an uncomfortable collar or what it was but he did this and whenever he did, he would say something across the Table of the House.

Archie Cameron5 was another one. He became the Speaker later in the Menzies Government. He used to fidget in the seat and gradually edge towards the front of the seat and by the time he was just about ready to slip off and fall on the floor, he would invariably make his interjection.

Eddie Ward6 used to sort of bounce up and down on the seat. He’d half rise and then sit down again and half rise and sit down. He might do this half a dozen times but when you first saw Eddie rise on the seat, you would open his microphone.

Pioneering stereo and sports outside broadcasts … and television arrives

Stan covering a golfing tournament in the 1950s, with a then young sports broadcaster Talbot Duckmanton (who would go on to become the ABC’s General Manager, 1965-1982).

In the late 1950s and 1960s Stan was involved in pioneering stereo broadcasting at the ABC in Sydney. Radio studio 210 was the home of plays, including the drama production, ‘The People Out There’, for which Stan was the technical director. Radio studio 228 was where music was performed and broadcast. Stan also was involved in setting up outside broadcast facilities for major sports including horse racing and golf. In Sydney, Stan worked with racing’s ‘gentleman broadcaster’, Lachie Melville. The Melbourne races were called by Jim Carroll and the legendary Joe Brown, who called the Melbourne Cup thirty-three times.

Around this time we had pop groups singing and I referred to it as the ‘yeah, yeah’ period. There was a singer out front and the two or three standing behind would be all going ‘yeah, yeah’. 

I went into one of our studios one day and just as I got there, they were playing back the tape to the producer – who I think was Joe Cramey – and they were listening to the tapes of Col Joye’s group (Col Joye and the Joy Boys). They were saying there wasn’t enough guts in the ‘yeah, yeah’. Somebody said, “We’ll just have to get a couple more from somewhere to give us a bit of body in the background.” Our technical operator, who was one of these cheeky blokes, said “Stan, why don’t you and your mate go in there and give a few ‘yeah, yeahs’ and we’ll listen to it and get some ideas” … so anything for a joke of course!

They did the number and of course we didn’t know when to ‘yeah, yeah’ but when they ‘yeah, yeah’, we’d ‘yeah, yeah’ too.

We came back to the studio later on and they played back the tape and Col Joye said, “That’s good. I don’t want anything better than that.” So, there you are, a star is born and I went on air as a ‘yeah, yeah’ singer ... just goes to show.

When I was aged 53 in 1962, there was a possibility that I might finish up working over at Gore Hill television. In those days, the PMG (which still covered the radio studios and technicians) would never accept the excuse that I couldn’t work in television because I knew nothing about it. They always maintained – you’re a technical man and you’re supposed to keep up with the times.

I had to return to technical college. I went to Gore Hill Technical College three times a week for three hours a night. I studied studio techniques, TV optics and transmission and OB (Outside Broadcast) techniques just in case I was shanghaied, to use the phrase, that I’d know my way about. Fortunately, it never transpired. Somebody else took over at a later stage and I was rather pleased to remain in the area in which I had worked for so long and was so happy.’

US President Lyndon Johnson’s Australian Tour

In October 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson became the first sitting US President to visit Australia. The visit was intended as a show of gratitude for Australia’s support in the Vietnam War and to further strengthen and consolidate relations between the two countries. The Australian Prime Minister was Harold Holt, who in Washington just months earlier had famously told President Johnson that he had a “staunch friend that will be all the way with LBJ” – picking up on the Democrats’ 1964 Presidential campaign slogan and causing controversy back home in Australia among those opposed to the Vietnam War.

The ABC covered the US President’s visit and Stan was asked to set up outside broadcast facilities to record the President’s arrival and speech at Sydney airport.

The official card authorising Stan to cover President Johnson’s visit
We set up our equipment the day before [the President’s arrival] and we had the Commonwealth Police guarding everything. The next morning, I went out there and I had a crowd of chaps with me. A fellow came up from the Johnson entourage and said, “We’d better check this equipment again,” so I said, “Alright.” 

They had brought a podium out from America for the President to speak, but we weren’t to go near this podium because they may have been afraid that we’d leave a bomb behind. We connected everything for testing and we were getting nothing from the microphone. So, there was great consternation. We checked our equipment, the microphone on the input of our equipment and it’s all right. So, the fault was apparently in their podium.

I thought it was just about going to take an act of Congress from the United States for us to get in there but, finally, they allowed us to go in and we found the fault. Their amplifier hadn’t been switched on. While they had brought this podium out from America, it was quite a complex thing and they didn’t bring any technical men out with them. So, we had to fix it up.

I then made the acquaintance of the chap in charge of security – a colonel somebody – who introduced himself: “I’m in charge of security here.” I said: “I suppose that’s a very responsible job?” and he said, “Yes.” Then, he turned around and he outlined the entire system of security. He had a little walkie-talkie with him and he said, “I’ll show you what we’re doing,” and he called in Number 1. Number 1 was on top of one of the hangars somewhere and as he called him in, this fellow gave a wave from the top of the hangar and he said: “He’s up there, he’s got a machine-gun and he’s watching everything. I’ve got another man over on top of that hangar over there.”

He must have had about 50 men out there and he had them scattered all around the airport and then he had a couple in a speedboat on Botany Bay. He had another couple of fellows in a speedboat on the Cooks River and another couple in a boat in Shades Creek which runs into Botany Bay.

I thought it a strange thing. This is the man in charge of security and he’s telling me all about the entire system. I said to him, “Well then, if somebody’s going to shoot the President, you can’t stop them,” 
and he said, “Oh yes, we can. We’ve lost one President and we’re not going to lose another one.”

I said: “Well, I’m going to take some photos of the President when he comes this morning. I have a camera here with a zoom lens 80:200, which sticks out in front of the camera for about 6-8 inches. How do you know that I haven’t equipped that with a revolver and I simply point the camera at President Johnson when he comes along and shoot him?”

He got most upset about this and he had fellows going all around the crowd there, looking at people with zoom and telescopic lenses, to keep an eye on them, just in case they had a loaded camera.

His departing shot to me was: “You tell all of your men, not to make a quick movement. If they jump on a fence or climb up quickly, they’re likely to get shot.”

Left: US President Lyndon Johnson with Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt during the 1966 presidential visit. Right: Despite warnings of security snipers, Stan managed to use an 80:200 zoom lens to get this photo of a distant PM Harold Holt, his wife Zara and US President Lyndon Johnson on arrival in Sydney in 1966.

As the first sitting US President to visit Australia, Lyndon Johnson attracted large crowds of both supporters and those opposed to Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

US Space Program, and the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon Landing 

The ABC had a curious but crucial role in the American space programs of the 1960s. In May 1961 the Mercury 3 capsule, known as Freedom 7 and carrying the first American astronaut, Alan Shepard, was about to pass over Australia. Australia’s Overseas Telecommunication Commission (OTC), responsible for submarine cables coming in and out of Australia, was going to be used to transmit data from the capsule to NASA. However, OTC cancelled the undersea link booking when they suddenly discovered that, under their charter, they were not permitted to rent their lines to a third party who intended to make a ‘secondary profit’. Only hours before the launch, NASA was advised that they were in jeopardy of losing transmission with Freedom 7 as it passed over Australia.

NASA contacted US President, John Kennedy, who telephoned Australian Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, who contacted Charles Moses, the General Manager of the ABC, to ask if it could assist. Stan Bancroft was then asked if he could help. 

Stan asked what frequency the Americans would be transmitting on and when the capsule was due to pass over Australia. He sent a junior technician on a rescue mission to the nearby PMG depot at Rushcutters Bay to pick up a piece of galvanised iron water pipe, a length of wire and a few ceramic insulators. These were hauled up the side of ABC’s Broadcast House on Forbes Street in Sydney, onto the roof and transformed into an antenna. This was secured to a stink pipe with duct tape. The wire was thrown over the side and through a window where it was pulled across the studio floor and plugged into a large reel-to-reel recorder. 

The recorder was switched on and the telemetry data transmitted to Earth by Freedom 7 was captured and relayed onwards to Honeysuckle Creek and Parkes. Once this happened, the tape was packaged and taken to Kingsford Smith Airport and despatched as a matter of urgency to the US space centre at Cape Canaveral, Florida, via Qantas. 

Several weeks later, Stan received a very cordial letter from NASA thanking him for his assistance and offering him a job at Cape Canaveral, which he declined with thanks.

The Apollo Moon Landing

The 1969 Apollo moon landing was a huge event and ABC radio and television provided extensive coverage of the historic landing. Stan Bancroft and his technical team played a key role in ensuring that the audio feeds between the astronauts and NASA’s Houston headquarters were heard all around Australia. Stan worked closely with the creator and head of the ABC Radio Science unit, Dr Peter Pockley: 

We had to set up microphones in Studio 210. I think from memory, they were M100s which meant we had half a dozen different experts sitting along the table with Pockley at the microphone. We also had TV coverage from Gore Hill and we had lines from various parts of Australia – Brindabella and Parkes, I remember.

There were also lines coming in from the United States with talk back facilities to various experts to speakers from outside. There were eleven of these and I supervised all of them. I practically lived in Studio 210 day and night for a week.

Dr Peter Pockley later wrote:

The technical arrangements for the ‘live’ broadcasts of all the Apollo missions were demanding for everyone concerned and especially for the technical staff. I recall numerous consultations with Stan Bancroft over what was possible and impossible, with me pressing always for more feeds and complexity in the studio presentation. Together, we achieved two significant breakthroughs with the broadcasts.

First, was persuading NASA to provide us with continuous feed of their ‘Voice of Apollo’ from Mission Control in Houston, Texas. This came to us live throughout the mission via, I think, the OTC satellite station at Honeysuckle Creek in the ACT and PMG landlines. I had Stan link this as an option in the audio circuit which we had in our office monitors along with the two radio channels.

At the flick of a switch we tuned in to everything Mission Control was saying to the astronauts and the return conversations. Selected crosses to the Voice of Apollo formed the centrepiece of the broadcasts. For me as presenter, Stan had this coming in one ear of my headphones so we could switch in and out of it on air.

Stan also arranged for a selection of other feeds to be available for me to select ‘on the fly’ in the studio. For example, we had the Voice of America as a standby.

But the second, most significant breakthrough was our persuasion, against great resistance from the PMG people, of putting telephone conversations ‘live’ to air. This was in the days well before talk-back radio began to use telephoned material on air.

We needed this for live broadcasts so that we were right up to the second with commentary as the action unfolded in space. Thus, I could interview experts for interpretation from all over the place and blend their contributions into the flowing live broadcasts.

Stan was instrumental in making this happen and taking it further on my urging so that we were not constrained by having the statutory six-second delay (I think) built into the system before a telephone interview got through to air. This was a device to enable the studio producer to cut off a caller if they uttered a profanity or something potentially libellous. We could not tolerate a second’s delay in conveying our live story to the audience and we won the battle with the PMG.

Stan also set up a bank of tape recorders in the corridor outside the network studio which we were operating from (for listeners, we named it the ‘ABC Apollo Studio’) which recorded continuously the Voice of Apollo circuit and other inputs. This was our safeguard against anything important happening while we were off air; e.g. during news or weather bulletins, after which grabs of the actuality could be inserted into the renewed broadcast. These recorders were manned by Science Unit producers, aided by Stan and his men (there were no female technicians in those days).

It was a great tribute to Stan’s experienced skill and swift but calm manner that everything went smoothly from a technical point of view. My production team and I had great confidence in them.

And at the conclusion of the project, Dr Pockley sent a glowing inter-office memo to the ABC Director of Operations (Radio), F.M. Shepherd: 

Memo from Dr P. Pockley, 30th July 1969.

Dr Peter Pockley c.1967

I would like to record our appreciation of the excellent services provided during the Apollo 11 Mission by members of the Technical Services Division. As you know, this was an exceptionally complex series of extended broadcasts which required elaborate and flexible facilities. Furthermore, the operation and maintenance of the equipment at a high standard throughout the broadcasts was essential to the smooth presentation of the broadcast material. I am happy to report that the radio officers of your division met and executed all these requirements, and, furthermore, it was a great pleasure to work closely with them. I am sure you will pass on our thanks and congratulations to all those who worked on this broadcast under the leadership of Mr Stan Bancroft.

Left: Dr Peter Pockley in the radio studio during the 1960s. Right: Key ABC ‘Apollo Moon Landing’ staff in the Science Unit’s control room, L-R: Science Unit executive producer Dr John Challis; producer Kim Corcoran; head of technical Stan Bancroft and technical operator Matthew Van-Gessel. 

Stan (adjusting dials) and Matthew Van-Gessel (seated) in master control.

Radio Active (August 1969 Series 2, Vol 5, No 19) reported on the ABC’s role in the Moon Broadcasts: 

The ABC’s programme and engineering staff played a major role in the historic Apollo 11 telecasts last month. A number of ABC staff members worked all night on several occasions to make possible the instantaneous transmission of all material received. The greatest concentration of communication facilities ever assembled was used to provide the essential NASA circuits used for world-wide press, radio and TV coverage.

The ABC in Sydney was the co-ordinating point for the flow of information from NASA television pool control, Houston, the OTC and the Australian Post Office to all Australian television stations. Every event of importance during the moon mission was covered live on ABC radio, which remained open all night on three occasions and very late on another. Quick action by the staff of master control Sydney in switching the Australian network from Parkes back to Houston resulted in Australia seeing the American pictures of President Nixon talking to the astronauts on the moon, with moon and earth on the one screen. The time when this event would take place was not known in advance.

Sydney Opera House

In 1966 the Jorn Utzon-designed Sydney Opera House was the scene of several major crises. The building was a long way from being finished. Utzon resigned over conflicts with his NSW government political masters, and the ABC found out that the planned hall for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was too small and the acoustics inadequate for concerts. The result was the large Main Hall would be altered to become a Concert Hall, suitable for orchestral concerts but not for opera or ballet, which were moved to the smaller Opera Theatre amidst considerable public outcry.

Solving acoustic issues in the Concert Hall would continue to be a problem. Stanley Bancroft was Supervising Technician in charge of the ABC team that had to oversee all the technical requirements for recording and broadcasting symphony concerts (previously performed at the Sydney Town Hall).

Getting around to frustrations, the Opera House was the greatest frustration technically, that the ABC Technical section had to put up with. After the Opera House got going, we thought it was about time we let somebody know what our requirements would be. So, in collaboration with Dean Barnett (who had been the technical operator for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for so many years, that some people thought he was a member of the orchestra), we drew up a list of what our requirements would be for broadcasting and recording. Nothing had been done at the time and we wanted to make sure that all the proper facilities were installed.

So that we could lower and raise the microphones, we recommended that a device, similar to the one that had been used in the Sydney Town Hall (we thought if it worked in the Town Hall, it should work in the Opera House), be put in place. It could either raise or lower the microphones, move them backwards or forwards, left or right. However, instead of having one contractor to do all the wiring to enable us to do this, we had four or five contractors, separate from each other. So, these contractors only did a bit of work and would stop, and the next contractor would do a little bit and stop. The control room had to be wired to the stage and from the stage to the hanging equipment. Press buttons which were operated on stage also had to be wired into the same equipment. When the wiring had been completed and connected, we found that nothing worked at all!

At that stage, I had to go and find out who was doing what. I checked all the circuits and found that where one circuit finished, it didn’t correctly start the next circuit and so on, so all the circuitry had to be altered. None of the contractors corrected these faults and our installation staff had to go there and remedy these problems. I’m sure if we hadn’t done it ourselves, it would not have been finished by the time the Opera House was opened.

Max Bancroft, Stanley’s son, recalls his father talking about carrying out microphone shot tests

Being an acknowledged expert in the field, Dad was called upon to perform shot tests at the Opera House to assess the suitability or otherwise of sound in live performances. This involved setting up several microphones on the stage and connecting them to amplifiers, frequency analysers, pen recorders etc. Then a starting pistol was fired. The sound of the gun exploding reverberated around the inside of the Opera House shell bouncing off timber facades, furnishings, fixtures, seating and an audience specially brought in to provide ‘real conditions’. The reflections eventually returned to the stage and were again picked up by the microphones. They were recorded on pen recorders and frequency measuring equipment to give details of how the original sound had been altered, which unfortunately turned out to be undesirable.

The acoustic problems were eventually improved, in 1972, under the direction of Danish acoustician Dr Vilhelm Jordan, by installing 21 acrylic rings or ‘acoustic clouds’ suspended from the ceiling, with the aim of reflecting sound back to the stage. They were fondly called ‘doughnuts’ by the workers who installed them. In 2022, the doughnuts were removed as part of the $200 million refurbishment of the Sydney Opera House.

Leaving the ABC 

By 1972 Stan was Supervisor, Radio Operations–Technical in NSW. He had worked in radio for nearly 50 years, the last 36 of those years at the ABC, and retirement was on his mind.

ABC Executive Luncheon, c.1971. Stan Bancroft is second from the left, with  
Talbot Duckmanton (General Manager 1965-1982) and Charles Moses (General Manager 1935-1965) to the right. Others unidentified. 

I think at this stage, just to finish up – from 1925 to 1938 I was in the Postmaster-General’s department in the Telecom section. From 1938 to 1963 I was at the ABC but still under the control of the Postmaster-General’s Department which had control of the studios and the technicians. From 1964 to 1974, the ABC had taken over and I was an ABC officer – so close to 50 years spent in radio broadcasting. Since leaving, many people have asked me if I was awarded the Queen’s Medal for long service, which is generally awarded after 20 years.

Unfortunately, no. I have a letter from Talbot Duckmanton, the ABC’s General Manager, saying he would have welcomed the opportunity of recommending me for this medal but with the election of Mr Whitlam, royal awards were substituted with Australian awards. Unfortunately, there was no substitute made for the Queen’s Medal. Disappointing? Yes. But as we say these days, just one of those things.

But I’d say I had great satisfaction working in a job that I liked. I worked with nice people – one or two I didn’t like very much! Since retirement, I’m quite happy to settle down and travel of course. I have a nice home, good income and a good wife who’s a great cook and travelling companion. I have four kids and ten grandchildren

Stan retired two years later, in 1974.


At the time of Stan’s retirement. L-R: Stan’s wife Billie, ABC GM Talbot Duckmanton and Stan Bancroft.

In closing, I’ve been asked what it was like growing up with Dad and what I knew about his work as a child, and I have to say ‘not much’. He was on shift work all his working life and we children had to develop subdued habits so we didn’t disturb his daytime sleeps. I think we took a lot for granted, he just went to work on his motorbike and came home, and didn’t tell us what he’d been doing. I got to know so much about him and his career through transcribing his oral tape and researching what I didn’t understand. 

I hope you all like Dad’s story.


Dawn Bancroft Coleman with her father Stan, during his ABC years.

Editorial Postscript:

Stan Bancroft passed away on 11 May 1982 from mesothelioma. His daughter Dawn remembers him building a fibro house in his free time: “Learnt how to do it out of a book, I suppose. He cut the fibro with a handheld saw and wore no mask. It wasn’t known in those days how dangerous asbestos was. Mum was affected too, breathed the asbestos in while washing his clothes, the doctor said.” Asbestos had also been spraypainted on the ceilings of announcers’ booths at the ABC, as a sound dampening medium. It’s not known whether this contributed to Stan’s mesothelioma.


Dawn Bancroft Coleman is an Associate of ABC Alumni. She says: “I’m a right-brained Piscean, 90-year-‘old’ writer, video-maker and great grandma of four young boys and a young lady, and I love the ABC.”


Footnotes:

1 In the early days of the ABC, all technicians and technical operations were provided and operated by the Postmaster-General’s (PMG) department. In 1956 the ABC was given control of its own technical services in television. Only the transmitters remained in PMG hands. Studio technical services for radio were handed over by the PMG to the ABC in 1964. (p.195 This is the ABC 1932-1983 by K.S. Inglis, 1983)

2 2CY, or Radio National as it’s now known, began broadcasting in Canberra in December 1938.The second ABC station in Canberra, 2CN, now known as 666 ABC Canberra, began broadcasting in January 1953.

3 p.128 This is the ABC 1932-1983 by K.S. Inglis, 1983.   

4 Ben Chifley, ALP, served as Prime Minister from 1945 to 1949. He was the member for Macquarie NSW (1928-1931), returning to the Parliament in 1941 and holding several ministries under the Scullin and Curtin governments prior to his elevation to PM. 

5 Archie Cameron, Country Party member for Barker SA, served in the federal parliament from 1934 to 1956 and held several ministries in the Lyons, Page and Menzies governments, finishing his career as Speaker of the House of Representatives. 

6 Eddie Ward, ALP federal member for East Sydney NSW from 1931 to 1963, held several ministries in the Curtin, Forde and Chifley governments (1941-1949).

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