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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Crawford, Dorothy Muriel (1911–1988)

by Mimi Colligan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Dorothy Muriel Turner Crawford (1911-1988), radio and television producer, was born on 21 March 1911 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, daughter of Victorian-born parents William Henry Crawford, commercial traveller, and his wife Charlotte, née Turner, a contralto and organist. Dorothy attended schools at Fitzroy and East St Kilda. She later claimed that at age 16 she had been the youngest elocution licentiate in Victoria, and that at the same age she had begun teaching the subject at home. The Congregational and Australian churches influenced her early musical and dramatic activities. She sang contralto in their choirs and ran their amateur drama groups.

After winning a scholarship to the Albert Street Conservatorium, East Melbourne, Crawford graduated in voice and piano, but chose a career in speech rather than music. On 19 December 1931 at the Congregational Church, East St Kilda, she married Maxwell James Balderson, a salesman and church organist; they had one child, Ian, who lived with his maternal grandparents while Dorothy pursued her career. She acted in radio dramas and in 1939 had the title role in a popular live comedy series on radio 3UZ, `Little Audrey’, in which, at age 28, she played the naughty child `who laughed and laughed’. In March 1942 she became one of the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s first three female announcers in Victoria and by August was talks presentation officer. As the ABC’s policy was not to employ married women, she kept her marriage and child secret.

Divorced in 1944, Crawford left the ABC and joined her brother Hector in the radio-production firm Broadcast Exchange of Australia Pty Ltd. In 1945 the siblings founded Hector Crawford (later Crawford) Productions Pty Ltd. While her brother managed musical, administrative and sales matters, Dorothy worked on production: chiefly script-editing and casting. She produced many successful radio series, beginning with Hector’s outdoor concerts, `Music for the People’, broadcast by 3DB.

In 1946 the Crawfords developed `Opera for the People’, which was broadcast on 3DB and interstate networks. Local singers performed the principal arias from each work and actors presented the story linking the songs. `Melba’, a dramatisation of the life of Dame Nellie Melba, was broadcast from early 1946. Similarly combining music and speech, with the soprano Glenda Raymond and the actress Patricia Kennedy sharing the title role, it captured a large audience. More musical biographies followed, including `The Blue Danube’ (on the Strauss family) and `The Amazing Oscar Hammerstein’. Interstate and overseas sales boosted the company’s profits. Dorothy also produced serials, plays and crime series, such as `D24’ and `Consider Your Verdict’, the second of which was later adapted for television (1961-64).

Two years before the introduction of television into Australia in 1956, she initiated the Crawford TV Workshop, a school for young people interested in careers in the medium; it was to run until 1966. In mid-1956 she went abroad to study television. She and her brother made the transition to production for the small screen, starting with the ubiquitous quiz and game shows. By 1964 their persistence with drama had been rewarded with the success of the ground-breaking `Homicide’ (1964-75). They produced other popular police dramas such as `Division 4’ (1969-75) and `Matlock Police’ (1971-76); then a number of serials, including `The Box’ (1974-77), `Cop Shop’ (197780) and `The Sullivans’ (1976-83). Eventually the company benefited from Commonwealth government tax incentives that financed miniseries, among them `All the Rivers Run’ (1983), and `The Far Country’ (1987), both of which sold well domestically and internationally.

Although Dorothy Crawford’s marriage to Donald Ingram Smith had been announced by the press in 1945, the couple had not married but had enjoyed a close relationship since 1942. On 23 December 1948 at the Collins Street Independent Church, Crawford married with Congregational forms Roland Denniston Strong, a fellow radio producer; they were childless and were divorced in 1968.

Known as `D. C.’ by her staff, she was at the centre of the Crawford family business, able to predict trends in popular culture and supply entertainments that appealed to listeners and viewers. Of boundless energy and erudition, both literary and musical, and with a brilliant technical flair, she was described by former colleagues as `a woman ahead of her time’. Scriptwriters later recalled her creative advice on writing `soap operas’. Crawford developed Parkinson’s disease in the 1960s. People remember her as a tiny, lively woman who, even when confined to a wheelchair, was still a sparkling dinner-party companion. Honoured in 1973 by the Australian Writers’ Guild with a special award for encouraging Australian writers, she continued working until 1978. She died on 2 September 1988 at Camberwell and was cremated. Her son, who had changed his name to Crawford when he joined the family firm in the 1960s, survived her. The AWG commemorated her with the annual Dorothy Crawford award for outstanding contribution to the profession.

Select Bibliography

  • K. S. Inglis, This Is The ABC (1983)
  • Commonweal, 1 Apr 1931, p 7, 1 Jan 1936, p 14, 2 Jan 1939, p 13, 1 June 1940, p 3
  • Victorian Independent and Journal of the Congregational Churches, 1 Sept 1931, p 176, 1 Aug 1934, p 159, 1 June 1935, p 119
  • ABC Weekly, 23 June 1945, p 9, 26 July 1947, p 2, 12 Nov 1949, p 37
  • Listener In, 16-22 Sept 1939, p 1, 2-8 Feb 1946, p 11
  • Herald (Melbourne), 22 May 1954, p 22, 7 July 1973, p 18
  • Melba Conservatorium of Music Archives
  • University of Melbourne Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

Mimi Colligan, 'Crawford, Dorothy Muriel (1911–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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