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Bronner, Rudolph (Rudi) (1890–1960)

by Clement Semmler

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Rudolph (Rudi) Bronner (1890-1960), radio administrator, was born on 27 September 1890 at Lyndoch, South Australia, son of Charles Bronner, a schoolteacher from Switzerland, and his wife Marian, née Schmidhauser. Educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter and at the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1912; M.A., 1926), Rudi graduated with honours in philosophy. His application for a Rhodes scholarship was unsuccessful: legend has it that he was beaten by the toss of a coin. In 1914 he sailed on a free passage to England where he entered Balliol College, Oxford, and read philosophy and social sciences. One of his friends was Aldous Huxley.

On 7 April 1917 at St Botolph's parish church, Cambridge, Bronner married a fellow South Australian Pauline Berkeley Bartels. He was commissioned in the London Rifle Brigade on 26 April and served on the Western Front (where he was wounded) until World War I ended. Returning to Adelaide, he tutored for the Workers' Educational Association of Australia. In 1921 he moved to the University of Melbourne as assistant-director of tutorial classes and a member of the university's extension board; he was later a part-time lecturer in sociology. Between 1928 and 1934 he lectured in English at the University of Freiburg, Germany, achieving fluency in that country's language and developing an enduring love of its literature.

Back in South Australia, in September 1935 Bronner was appointed to the staff of the Australian Broadcasting Commission as assistant-controller of talks (federal controller from November) and shifted to Sydney. When a separate department of school broadcasts was established in 1937, he became its controller (director of youth education from 1945).

Bronner performed brilliantly in developing an educational and school-broadcasting system that was to be one of the brightest jewels in the A.B.C.'s crown. Slightly built, but wiry—as a young man he had played lacrosse and was lightweight boxing champion of his battalion—he was fair haired and handsome, with a perpetually quizzical expression. He was modest and unassuming, and, while intolerant of cant and humbug, had a rare understanding of human foibles. Precise in speech, with only a trace of an Oxford accent, he was witty and companionable, and inspired the devotion of his staff and the respect of his colleagues. Bronner recognized the difficulties he faced in persuading the educationally independent States to agree to a system of national radio broadcasts, but, by his charm of manner, tact and diplomacy, wooed their directors of education to join the federal advisory committee for school broadcasts, which planned annual programmes. The outcome was such internationally admired productions as 'Kindergarten of the Air' and the current-affairs series, 'The World We Live In'.

As one of the few intellectuals in the A.B.C.'s early hierarchy, Bronner had wide-ranging influence. His originality of mind and shrewd judgement helped to shape procedures and policies that were cardinal to the organization's emergence as a recognized and valued national institution. He retired in 1955. After suffering one stroke in August 1959, he died of another on 17 January 1960 at Weroona Private Hospital, Wahroonga, and was cremated; his wife survived him, as did their daughter Elizabeth, an early aviatrix. The A.B.C.'s general manager (Sir) Charles Moses wrote: 'We have had no one else like Rudi Bronner in the ABC. I don't think we ever will. He was a rare man'.

Select Bibliography

  • K. S. Inglis, This is the ABC (Melb, 1983)
  • C. Semmler, Pictures on the Margin (Brisb, 1991)
  • Radio Active, 14 Aug 1950, 14 Oct 1955, Feb 1960
  • ABC staff file, SP 413/1, item Rudolph Bronner (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Clement Semmler, 'Bronner, Rudolph (Rudi) (1890–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/bronner-rudolph-rudi-9589/text16901, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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