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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Doyle, Stuart Frank (1887–1945)

by Graham Shirley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Stuart Frank Doyle (1887-1945), film and radio entrepreneur, was born on 1 December 1887 at Leichhardt, Sydney, second son of English parents Frank Doyle, draper's assistant, and his wife Jane Grinsell, née Robinson. Brought up and educated at Blackheath, he became assistant librarian at the Law Institute of New South Wales in 1903 and next year joined Norton Smith & Co. At 19, as 'Frank Stuart', he toured the State as a one-man entertainer and from 1909 worked for the (Greater) J. D. Williams Amusement Co. Ltd in Queensland then Sydney. It amalgamated in 1913 with four companies into Union Theatres Ltd (exhibition) and Australasian Films Ltd (distribution). Doyle's progress became rapid: business manager, a joint managing director, and by 1929 managing director of Australasian Films and a director of at least eight associated companies. On 4 May 1912 at Petersham he had married Louise Marie Wilhelmina Fredericke Reinke, daughter of a grazier.

Becoming the most powerful and flamboyant of early Australian film men, Doyle exercised his talent for publicity wherever possible. In 1929 he contributed to the fall of the Bruce-Page government by prompting a massive campaign against the Federal amusement tax.

In 1921 Doyle had launched Union Theatres on large-scale modernization of old cinemas, pioneering new standards of comfort. In 1927 he opened Australia's first 'atmospheric' theatre in Sydney, the Capitol, based on an American design, and in 1929 the elaborate State Theatre, followed by the 3000-seat State Theatre, Melbourne. His ambition was partly fired by a desire to outclass his rival Francis Thring.

With Frank Albert and Sir Benjamin Fuller, in 1929 Doyle founded the Australian Broadcasting Co. to provide a national wireless service. When it was taken over by the Federal government in 1932 and converted into the Australian Broadcasting Commission, they set up the Commonwealth Broadcasting Corporation Ltd (with Doyle as chairman), which acquired station 2UW, Sydney, and rapidly expanded. The financial failure of the new picture palaces in the Depression forced the liquidation of Union Theatres in 1931. Doyle set up a new company, Greater Union Theatres Ltd, to buy its assets for some £400,000, the amount of its overdraft. The new overdraft lasted until 1942.

Nevertheless Doyle went ahead in 1932 and became managing director of a new company, Cinesound Productions Ltd, which began a film-making programme with On our Selection (1932) starring Bert Bailey. Sound news-reels and the success of sixteen more features justified Doyle's gamble. Under immense pressure by the Greater Union's board and the English, Scottish and Australian Bank, Doyle travelled overseas in 1936, seeking capital. By his return in September, (Sir) Norman Rydge had become chairman. In June 1937 Doyle was persuaded to resign from all the associated companies, partly solaced by the gift of Greater Union's interest in the Commonwealth Broadcasting Co.

While announcing elaborate plans, Doyle was shaken by his abrupt severance from film business. He became chairman and managing director of the Aircraft Development Co. and during World War II was contracted to make aircraft self-sealing petrol tanks. A lover of boating, he was a member of the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and commodore of the Royal Motor Yacht Club of New South Wales: his luxurious motor yacht Miramar was taken over by the Royal Australian Navy during the war.

Doyle died suddenly with cardio-vascular disease at his home at Wahroonga on 20 October 1945 and was buried in the Anglican section of South Head cemetery. Survived by his wife and daughter, he left an estate valued for probate at £69,002 Doyle was a visionary innovator and gambler; at first, his qualities combined with, but later outweighed, his business ability. He became an international figure through his dominance in Australia of film exhibition, distribution and production.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Wildavsky and D. Carboch, Studies in Australian Politics (Melb, 1958)
  • K. G. Hall, Directed by Ken G. Hall (Melb, 1977)
  • Australasian Picture Magazine, 1 July 1920
  • Everyone's, 17 Mar, 19 May, 2, 30 June 1937
  • Film Weekly, 25 Oct 1945
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 2 July 1925, 4 Dec 1926
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Oct 1945
  • A. F. Pike, The History of an Australian Film Production Company: Cinesound, 1932-1970 (M.A. thesis, Australian National University, 1972).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Graham Shirley, 'Doyle, Stuart Frank (1887–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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