Blue Hills (radio serial)
Blue Hills, written by Gwen Meredith, was an Australian radio serial about the lives of families in a typical Australian country town called Tanimbla. The title "Blue Hills" itself derives from the residence of the town's doctor.
Blue Hills was broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for 27 years, from 28 February 1949 to 30 September 1976. It ran for a total of 5,795 episodes, and was at one time the world's longest-running radio serial. Each episode lasted 15 minutes. It succeeded another Gwen Meredith serial The Lawsons with many of the same themes and characters, and which ran for 1,299 episodes.
The Lawsons was the brainchild of play editor Leslie Rees and Frank Clewlow of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (then Commission), which had been approached by Government in 1943 to publicise the need for farmers to grow more soya beans as part of the war effort. They reasoned that a popular radio programme would be more effective than ordinary propaganda, and approached Gwen Meredith to write a radio drama. She was an unlikely choice as she lived in Melbourne and production was to be in Sydney, and she was a city girl with little knowledge of primary production. But she accepted the contract from the ABC's Rural Department and spent some weeks on a sheep station in Gunnedah to gather background. The show went to air on 21 February 1944 and slowly achieved a loyal country audience. The story revolved around the farmer John Lawson (Vivian Edwards), his wife Ellen (Ailsa Grahame), and their nineteen-year-old daughter Sue, played by Jane Holland. The original remit was extended to enable modern farming methods and seasonal information to be passed on to farmers, as well as the usual fare of soap operas. As the war ended, Grahame and Holland left for England, and were replaced by Ethel Lang and Joan Lord. Under producer Charles Wheeler, who insisted of actors that they use a natural conversation style rather than stage voices, the show lasted five years before it was terminated, at Meredith's request, to make way for a similar program of greater scope. The last episode of The Lawsons was aired on 25 February 1949, a Friday, and Blue Hills commenced the following Monday, 28 February 1949.
Blue Hills was broadcast from the ABC's capital city stations 2FC, 3AR, 4QG, 5CL, 7ZL and their regional networks at 1pm AET and repeated, for city listeners, at 6:45pm, Monday to Friday, though the Friday episode was dropped in 1954. Due to limitations imposed by the telecommunications of the time (and no doubt also the two-hour time difference), it was initially broadcast only in the Eastern States and South Australia. 5DR Darwin (later 8DR) began broadcasting the program in September 1952, and 6WF Perth and Western Australian regional stations began in January 1955, using transcription discs and, later, magnetic tape sourced from Sydney. The duration of each episode was 15 minutes. The first words spoken in the first episode were by Queenie Ashton as Mrs Gordon, and as Granny Bishop the last words ("good bye") in the final episode some twenty seven years later.
Actors who played in Blue Hills include:
- Queenie Ashton
- Grant Bailey
- Philippa Baker
- Ray Barrett
- Lola Brooks
- Barbara Brunton
- Keith Buckley
- Alma Butterfield
- Neva Carr Glyn
- Amber Mae Cecil
- Rupert Chance
- Peg Christensen
- Marie Clarice
- Reg Collins
- Don Crosby
- Marshall Crosby
- Therese Desmond
- Myrna Dodd
- Maiva Drummond
- Tom Farley
- Winifred Green
- Gordon Grimsdale
- Anne Haddy
- Marcia Hathaway 
- John Nugent Hayward
- Nellie Lamport
- Ethel Lang
- Joan Lord
- Nigel Lovell
- Charles McCallum
- John McCallum
- John Meillon
- Ida Newton
- John Norman
- Janice Norris (later Janice Gaffey)
- Max Osbiston
- Gwen Plumb
- Callum Ross
- Madge Ryan
- June Salter
- Sheila Sewell
- Nancye Stewart
- Zachary Sykes
- Rod Taylor
- Ngaire Thompson
- Lou Vernon
- Peter Whitford
- Victoria White
- Frank Harvey
- Robert Montgomery
- Eric John, to whom Gwen Meredith credited much of the show's success.
The famous opening signature tune was taken from a short orchestral piece called Pastorale by the British composer Ronald Hanmer. Until Hanmer moved to Australia in 1975, he had no idea that his work had been used by the ABC and had become so famous in Australia (although few Australians could have identified its composer). He later re-worked this short piece into a longer orchestral work titled Blue Hills Rhapsody, which he recorded with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
Several books based on the show were written by Gwen Meredith:
- The Lawsons (1948)
- Blue Hills Angus and Robertson (1950)
- Beyond Blue Hills (1953)
- Into the Sun (1961)
In preparing the radio serial Blue Hills for publication I have not been set such a formidable task as faced me with The Lawsons, since up to the present date Blue Hills has been presented by the Australian Broadcasting Commission for little more than a year. This means a mere half million words to contend with! But since the publisher sets a defensive maximum of eighty thousand words, intending readers should be warned—and perhaps heartened by the warning—that in that editing, a great deal has perforce been discarded. However, I think the main elements and characters have survived the massacre and the book brings the story to the point reached on air at the time of writing. GWEN MEREDITH. (Author's note, Blue Hills (1950))
- The Archers — the present 'world's longest running radio soap opera' (it has broadcast over 18,000 episodes up to 2016).
- "There's Gold In Those... "Blue Hills"". The Sun-Herald. Sydney. 1 August 1954. p. 46. Retrieved 6 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "End In Sight For "Lawsons"". The Sydney Morning Herald. 11 January 1949. p. 3. Retrieved 7 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- Lane, Richard The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama 1994 Melbourne University Press ISBN 0 522 84556 8
- "Gwen Meredith Says Goodbye to "Blue Hills"". The Australian Women's Weekly. 19 May 1976. p. 9. Retrieved 7 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Queenie Ashton". Kilmore Free Press. Kilmore, Vic. 28 April 1949. p. 8. Retrieved 7 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Twenty years with the good folk of "Blue Hills"". The Australian Women's Weekly. 24 June 1964. p. 4. Retrieved 6 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- Wilde, William H., Hooton, Joy and Andrews, Barry The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature 2nd edition, Oxford University Press ISBN 0 19 553381 X
- "Radio Star's Energetic Existence". The Sydney Morning Herald. 3 June 1954. p. 5 Section: Women's Section. Retrieved 7 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Stars of the Air". Kilmore Free Press. Kilmore, Vic. 23 February 1950. p. 6. Retrieved 6 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Marie Clarice". The Charleville Times. Brisbane. 5 February 1953. p. 15. Retrieved 7 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Death of Marshall Crosby". South Coast Times And Wollongong Argus. LIV, (7). New South Wales, Australia. 25 January 1954. p. 4 (Women's Magazine). Retrieved 18 March 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
- "500 Pay Tribute to Shark Victim". The Canberra Times. 1 February 1963. p. 3. Retrieved 21 March 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
- "John Nugent Hayward". Wodonga and Towong Sentinel. Vic. 11 March 1949. p. 4. Retrieved 7 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "New Personality in "Blue Hills".". Centralian Advocate. Alice Springs, NT. 2 September 1949. p. 14. Retrieved 6 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Sydney Actress Gwen Plumb". Centralian Advocate. Alice Springs, NT. 30 November 1951. p. 3. Retrieved 7 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "June Salter". Gippsland Times. Vic. 7 May 1953. p. 5. Retrieved 7 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Ngaire Thompson". Gippsland Times. Vic. 4 January 1954. p. 3. Retrieved 7 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Young Tasmanian Producer of "Blue Hills".". Centralian Advocate. Alice Springs, NT. 17 June 1949. p. 10. Retrieved 6 May 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
-  National Film and Sound Archive
- Listen to the theme from Blue Hills on australianscreen online
- The theme from Blue Hills was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry in 2008.
- Visit the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia's Women in Early Radio collection for more information about the history of women in radio in Australia, including Queenie Ashton, Ethel Lang, Amber Mae Cecil and Grace Gibson.