The Argonauts Club was an Australian children's radio program, first broadcast in 1933 on ABC Radio in Melbourne. Its format was devised by Nina Murdoch who had run the station's Children's Hour (as "Pat") on 3LO and stayed on when that station was taken over by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1932. The show was discontinued in 1934 when Nina moved to Adelaide. The format was revived, broadcast on ABC radio stations nationally, on 7 January 1941 as a segment of the Children's Session, except to Western Australia where the distance and time difference of 2 hours made a local production more attractive. From 6 September 1954 it was called the Children's Hour, running from 5 to 6pm. It became one of the ABC's most popular programs, running six days a week for 28 years until October 1969, when it was broadcast only on Sundays and was finally discontinued in 1972.
The Children's Session
Following a decision of General Manager Charles Moses, the Children's Session was instituted as a national program by the ABC in 1939 by Frank D Clewlow who was then Controller of Productions (i.e. director of drama and light entertainment). His protegee Ida Elizabeth Osbourne was appointed as its first presenter, as "Elizabeth". When she married in 1952, and was forced to leave as was then Public Service policy, the position was taken by "Nan" (Margaret Dalton).
The Children's Session was co-hosted from 1940 by London-born Scot Atholl Fleming, as "Mac" or "Tavish McTavish". His most durable co-presenters were the painter Albert Collins ("Joe"), then after his death the actor John Ewart, called "Jimmy" or "Little Jimmy Hawkins". The fourth member of the 'on-air' team was always female, again having an 'on-air' pseudonym. Some, perhaps most, are listed below.
The Children's Session opened with the theme song by the Jim Davidson Dance Band, written by Elizabeth Osbourne with music by Wally Portingale:
Come, Old Mother Hubbard and Jack and Jill
And Tom the Piper's sonIt's time for the Session, it's time for the fun."
Leave your cupboard forget your spill
We're going to have some fun
The wireless says to hurry and run
To leave your games and toys;
The wireless says the time has come
For all the girls and boys.
So come with a hop, a skip and a run,
and the team would introduce themselves with some light-hearted banter in keeping with their 'on-air' personas, followed by entertainment arranged roughly in order of audience age.
The Muddle-Headed Wombat
The first segment for most of the show's history was a dramatised series by Ruth Park, originally The Wideawake Bunyip, with "Joe" Albert Collins in the title role. When he died, in 1951, Ruth changed the title to The Muddle-Headed Wombat, with Leonard Teale the first to play the part. When Leonard left, John Ewart "Jimmy" made it his for the next 20 years. The part of his friend "Mouse" in both incarnations was played by the current female co-presenter. When John Appleton was made Supervisor of Children's Programs and keen to be involved, a part "Tabby Cat" was created for him. The popularity of the series led Ruth Park to write her series of Muddle-Headed Wombat books in the 1960s.
The remainder of the 'session' was given over to a variety of entertainments depending on the day of the week: 'singos' (singalongs), stories or skits by the team in their studio personas, written by Atholl Fleming or G K Saunders involving perhaps a confrontation with the studio supervisor 'Stewed Soup' or discovery of a secret passage from the studio.
On Tuesdays, "Orpheus" (baritone Harold Williams) would sing a segment from opera, a ballad like The Golden Vanity or Up from Somerset or fun song such as "One Fish Ball" or "The Green-eyed Dragon with Thirteen Tails" Harold had perfect diction and wide range of expression, so children clearly heard what he was singing about.
The finale was a serialised book dramatisation, usually by an Australian author such as Ivan Southall. An early success was Budge's Gang with actors Ron Rousel (as "Budge"), Rodney Jacobs (as "Tubby"), David Stout (as "Snick"), Patti Crocker (as "Dolly") and Queenie Ashton (as Budge's mother). John Meillon was a later addition to the gang, and Morris Unicomb is also known to have taken part. The show, scripted by John MacLeod, was the basis of a series of illustrated books published by the ABC. G K Saunders' The Moonflower and The Nomads and Coral Lansbury's first published play The Red Mountain were written for the Children's Session.
The program ended with the closing theme (again composed by Elizabeth and Wally Portingale):
- A jolly good night to you and you and you and you and you
- The time has come to finish and the session now is through
- The thought is old, is old, is old but the wish tonight is new –
- A jolly good night to every one
- A jolly good night to every one
- A jolly good night to all especially you :And you and you and you ... and you.
On different days, experts would talk about their specialties, particularly in relation to Argonauts' contributions:
- Monday: Alan Colefax ("Tom the Naturalist") on nature and wildlife
- Tuesday: Albert Collins then Jeffrey Smart as "Phidias" on art and painting
- Wednesday: A. D. Hope ("Antony Inkwell") or Leslie Luscombe ("Argus") or John Gunn ("Icarus") on writing and literature
- Thursday: Lindley Evans ("Mr Melody Man"), introduced by a few bars of Anatoly Lyadov's The Music Box, played and spoke on music performance and composition.
- Guests on his segment included basso Alexander Kipnis, oboist Léon Goossens, singer Joan Hammond, Geoffrey Parsons, conductor Richard Bonynge, French horn virtuoso Barry Tuckwell, Patricia Tuckwell (violinist, model, sister of Barry) and conductor composer Malcolm Williamson. Several of these were Argonauts in their younger days.
- Friday was The Argosy, entirely devoted to members' contributions selected from the many thousands that might have arrived in the previous month, usually on a particular theme.
- Saturday featured Argonaut Charades when the three-syllable word and the skits leading to its solution were outlined by club members and played by professional actors
The Argonauts Club was open to Australian boys and girls aged from 7 to 17. It proved hugely popular with young Australians: by 1950 there were over 50,000 members, with 10,000 new members joining each year through the 1950s (national membership reached 43,000 in 1953). Applications for membership (and subsequent contributions) were made by post. An enamelled badge and handsome membership certificate with the Pledge (brought over from 1931):
- Before the sun and night and the blue sea, I vow
- To stand faithfully by all that is brave and beautiful;
- To seek adventure and having discovered aught of wonder, or delight, of merriment or loveliness,
- To share it freely with my comrades, the Band of Happy Rowers.
and the new member's allocated pseudonym (Ship name and number) were sent out to the new member. With no indication given of age, sex or origin, the only comparisons that could be made were between contributions; the members' only competitors were themselves.
A card system held the member's real name and address and Club name and number, together with a record of contributions and awards. The Club encouraged children's contributions of writing, music, poetry and art. Contributions from members were awarded Blue Certificates (worth 1 point) or Purple Certificates for particularly impressive work worth 3. Members reaching 6 points redeemed the tear-off ends for a book prize. Higher targets were acknowledged on air (by Ship Name and Number): The Order of the Dragons Tooth for 150 points and The Order of the Golden Fleece for 400 points. A further award Golden Fleece and Bar (for 600 points) was instituted later to cater for particularly talented and industrious Argonauts. The certificates were designed by "Joe". Reading of the 'Log of Progress' was an essential part of Club business.
Throughout the Argonauts Club segment, the studio team strictly adhered to the policy of only using Club names. So Atholl Fleming was 'Jason', Elizabeth Osbourne was Argo 1. Some others are given below.
- Fifty mighty Argonauts, bending to the oars,
- Today will go adventuring to yet uncharted shores.
- Fifty young adventurers today set forth and so
- We cry with Jason "Man the boats, and Row! Row! Row!"
- Row! Row! Merry oarsmen, Row!
- That dangers lie ahead we know, we know.
- But bend with all your might
- As you sail into the night
- And wrong will bow to right "Jason" cry,
- Adventure know,
- Argonauts Row! Row! Row!
A further touch was a call to sick members: "The Ship of Limping Men", as notified by parents. Whenever possible, Atholl Fleming would visit Argonauts who were seriously ill in hospital.
On Saturdays a major segment was the Argonauts Brains Trust
From December 1944, the ABC Weekly carried an Argonauts' Page devoted to selected contributions from members and relevant news items. A prominent contributor was one Ithome 32, now known as Barry Humphries, creator of "Edna Everage".
Annual 'live' productions of the Children's Session (and Argonauts Club) were a feature of Royal Shows in each State from 1947. The showground in each Capital City had its own purpose-built ABC studio, double-glazed on three sides.
Eight annuals were published:
- A.B.C. Children's Hour Annual #1 1956. The Educational Press Pty Ltd. (printed by Cumberland Newspapers, Parramatta)
- A.B.C. Children's Hour Annual #2 1957 The Educational Press Pty Ltd. (printed by Cumberland Newspapers, Parramatta)
- A.B.C. Children's Hour Annual #3 1958 The Educational Press Pty Ltd. (printed by Halstead Press, Sydney)
- A.B.C. Children's Hour Annual #4 1960 The Educational Press Pty Ltd. (printed by Halstead Press, Sydney)
- A.B.C. Children's Hour Annual #5 1961 The Educational Press Pty Ltd. (printed by Halstead Press, Sydney)
- The Australian Children's Annual # 6 - # 8 ed. T. S. Hepworth. 1963–1965. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
The Introduction to Annual # 6 (1963) advises readers that it contains contributions from 'your friends from the A.B.C. Children's Hour and The Australian Children's Newspaper '. The Introduction also states that 'There are over 70,000 children ... in the Argonaut's Club ...'
At least three 'collaborative' children's books were published:
- Dangerous Secret (ABC, 1960) ed. John Gunn (Icarus)
- The Gold Smugglers (ABC, 1962) ed. John Gunn (Icarus)
- The Gravity Stealers (ABC, 1965) ed. John Gunn (Icarus)
These books were works of fiction, with an Australian theme and edited by Thomas Stanley Hepworth who also edited the The Australian Children's Newspaper – a short-lived publication of the NSW Department of Education. Argonauts contributed a chapter for each stage of the plot, and the best was selected by Icarus for the final book. The illustrations were selected by the same process, under the guidance of Phidias (Jeffrey Smart).
These publications seem to break the 'anonymity' rule of the Club: the names of the successful contributors are listed, instead of their ship number. In the case of The Gold Smugglers, a thumbnail photo and brief biography is included as well. This book (1962) states 'There are close on 100,000 members of the Argonaut's Club.'
Staff and presenters
- John E. C. Appleton "John" actor and producer
- Bill Bearup "Argo 12"
- Barry Brown philatelist
- Alice Burgess "Jane" co-presenter and actress 1949–51
- George Caiger "Auceps" took over poetry from A D Hope 1946
- Neville Cardus gave weekly talks on music while in Australia
- Alan Colefax "Tom the Naturalist"
- Albert Collins (1883–1951) "Joe" "Argo 1A" ran 'Joe's Art Gallery' for the Club
- Paddy Conroy producer 1962-
- Douglas Cribb became "Orpheus" from 1946–53 while Harold Williams was in Britain
- Gina Curtis "Gina" -1959
- Margaret Dalton "Nan" "Argo 10" record librarian and co-compere succeeded Elizabeth as OIC -52
- Talbot Duckmanton "Tal" a future ABC General Manager who hosted a weekly sports segment
- Lindley Evans "Mr Melody Man" "Argo 4" a noted pianist and accompanist
- John Ewart "Jimmy" "Argo 29" co-compere 1954–72
- Peter Finch guest presenter 
- Atholl Fleming "Mac" "Jason" compere 1939–72
- Cecil Fraser "Argo 9" composed club song
- Barbara Frawley "Barbara" 1957-
- Dame Mary Gilmore "Argo 8"
- John Gunn "Icarus" writing 1957–69
- Wally Hanley "Walter the sound effects man" (thereafter every sound effects man carried the same monniker)
- Frank Harvey "Nestor" (the storyteller)
- Marcia Hathaway played "Judy" in Punch and Judy segment; killed in shark attack
- Diana Heath
- A. D. Hope "Antony Inkwell" "Argo 3" poet
- Diana Horn "Diana"
- Diane Hosking "Robyn" 1959-
- Frank Hurley "Argo 7" gave weekly talks on photography and Antarctica
- Roy Kinghorn "Linnaeus" naturalist: 1962-1971
- Billie Lean office manager
- Faith Linton "Susan" "Argo 19" co-presenter 1951–57
- Dorothy Lober "Argo 13" sound effects officer and worker behind the scenes
- Patricia Lovell (then Patricia Parr) "Pat" co-compere and future "Mr Squiggle" host and film producer
- Leslie Luscombe "Argus" literature 1953-
- Garry Lyle "Archon" literature 1946–53
- Captain McCarthy (honorary) "Argo 14" commander of British battleship HMS Argonaut
- John McGrath "Walter" sound effects<rem name="smh2"/>
- Frank McNeil "Sandy the Naturalist" "Argo 11" took over from Jock Marshall during WWII
- Alan John "Jock" Marshall "Jock the Backyard Naturalist" "Argo 5"
- Guy Manton "Cheiron" spoke on Greek myths and legends
- Bruce Miller "Stephen" poetry and literature
- Sue Newton "Sue" 1963-
- Ida Elizabeth Osbourne "Elizabeth" "Argo 1" 1941–49
- Richard Parry "Richard" -67
- Enid Partridge piano accompanist when Lindley Evans not available
- Patricia Pearson "Anne" co-compere 1957-
- Bill Salmon "Apelles" succeeded Jeffrey Smart 1963-
- Mollie Shackleton "Argo 6"
- Jeffrey Smart "Phidias" commented on art from 1951
- Leonard Teale (then Leonard Thiele)"Chris" co-compere -54
- Wilfrid Thomas gave talks accompanied by recordings
- Alex Walker "Alex the Birdman"
- Harold Williams "Orpheus"
Some prominent members
- Marian Arnold (broadcaster) (Achilles 31)
- Thea Astley (writer)
- John Bannon (Premier of South Australia) (Golden Fleece Charops 37)
- Richard Bonynge (conductor)
- Mike Carlton (broadcaster)
- Dennis Condon (broadcaster) (Bucephalus 8)
- Robert Dessaix (writer) (Illyria 42)
- Michael Dransfield (poet) (Eumolpus 24)
- David Ellyard (science journalist) (Golden Fleece & Bar Erato 42)
- Nick Enright (playwright) (Alastor 35)
- Winsome Evans (director, Renaissance Players) (Golden Fleece & Bar Taras 3)
- Tim Fischer (politician)
- Kate Fitzpatrick (actress, cricket commentator)
- William Fraser (editor, Australian Financial Review) (Acheaus 5)
- Di Gribble (deputy chair of ABC )
- Rolf Harris (painter, entertainer) (Echo 32, Perth Club)
- Allan Humphries (weather presenter) (Ampelus 38)
- Barry Humphries (actor, writer) (Ithome 32)
- Jacqueline Kent (writer) (Dragon's Tooth Cadena 3)
- Christopher Koch (writer) (Gaza 16)
- Coral Lansbury (writer and academic)
- Donald McDonald (ABC chairperson)
- Sir Charles Mackerras (conductor)
- Arthur McIntyre (artist and art critic) (Atropos 30)
- Hilary McPhee (chair, Australia Council ) (Leander 39)
- Humphrey McQueen (critic and author)
- Joanna Mendelssohn (art critic) (Roxana 38)
- Tony Morphett (scriptwriter) (Antiphon 39)
- Margot Oliver (film maker) (Herodotus 31)
- Marion Ord (writer) (Harmonia 1)
- John Pickup (painter) (Maresa 37)
- Clive Robertson (journalist)
- Peter Sculthorpe (composer) (Jason 50)
- Thomas Shapcott (writer) (Psyche 28)
- Wendy Simpson (transport CEO) (Erymanthus 30)
- Anne Summers (author, editor) (Dragon's Tooth Pytheus 41)
- Dame Joan Sutherland (soprano)
- Margaret Throsby (broadcaster) (Androcles 26)
- Imants Tillers (artist) (Acropolis 14)
- Mike Walsh (TV personality, businessman) (Pontos 7)
- Malcolm Williamson (composer) (Demodocus 23)
- Fay Zwicky (poet, academic) (Hesperides 29)
- The Golden Age of the Argonauts" by Rob Johnson pub. Hodder & Stoughton 1997 ISBN 978-0-7336-0528-4
- Sydney Morning Herald 2 September 1954
- "RADIO.". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) (ACT: National Library of Australia). 6 October 1969. p. 11. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
- The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama (p.90, 100) Richard Lane, Melbourne University Press 1994 ISBN 978-0-522-84556-3
- Whatever Became of Calon 1 by Bruce Gillespie
- Good Rowing Ida Elizabeth Jenkins, Australian Broadcasting Commission 1982 ISBN 978-0-642-97255-2
- A sample of the program may be heard 33 minutes into the audio link
- *Melbourne Argus radio schedule Tuesday 20 November 1945
- The Muddle-Headed Wombat Ruth Park, Angus and Robertson ISBN 978-0-207-16733-1
- Radio Days Patti Crocker, Simon & Schuster 1989
- Sydney Morning Herald 6 November 1952
- Hello Mr Melody Man Lindley Evans, Angus and Robertson 1983 ISBN 978-0-207-14837-8
- Sydney Morning Herald 19 November 1953
- Out of the Bakelite Box Jacqueline Kent, Angus & Robertson 1983 ISBN 978-0-207-14486-8
- The Argonaut's Song Fraser - Harold Williams, voc; ABC Radio Orch. ABC Audio ISBN 978-0-642-17766-7
- A sample program may be heard here
- John Arnold, John A. & Hay, Sally Batten, ed. (2001). The Bibliography Of Australian Literature: F - J, To 2000. University of Queensland Press. p. 416. ISBN 978-0-7022-3500-9.
- Encyclopedia of Australian Art ed. Alan McCulloch pu. Hutchinson 1968
- Wendy Lewis (2007). See Australia and Die. New Holland. ISBN 978-1-74110-583-4.
- Interview with Margaret Throsby, broadcast Radio National 11 May 2014