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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Molesworth, Bevil Hugh (1891–1971)

by Marion Consandine

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Bevil Hugh Molesworth (1891-1971), educationist and broadcaster, was born on 17 January 1891 at Thompson Estate, Brisbane, son of Hugh Thomas Molesworth, an Anglican clergyman from England, and his Queensland-born wife Alice Marian, née Deshon. Bevil was educated at state schools and (on scholarships) at Brisbane Grammar School and the University of Queensland (B.A., 1915; M.A., 1917). He graduated with first-class honours in history and economic science. A travelling scholarship took him to Balliol College, Oxford, where the university committee for workers' tutorial classes selected him to lecture in mining districts. He long remembered the miners' hunger for knowledge, their generosity and their warmth. Adult education, which he regarded as essential for democracy, became the dominant interest of his working life.

On 19 June 1918 at St Philip's Anglican Church, Thompson Estate, Molesworth married Maud Margaret ('Mall') Mutch; they had one son (d.1960). Mall was the Australasian women's singles tennis champion in 1922-23. Molesworth had taken a post in 1918 as lecturer in history at the University of Tasmania; he also conducted workers' tutorial classes. In 1920 the University of Sydney appointed him staff-tutor at Broken Hill where he taught Marxism and economic history. The surest tribute to his integrity and skill as a teacher was that the miners 'came back, week after week, for more'.

In 1921 Molesworth returned to the University of Queensland as director of tutorial classes for the Workers' Educational Association. He also lectured (from 1932) in economic history and geography. Seeing radio as a means of bringing adult education to rural districts, he broadcast on stations 4QG and 4BK, and joined the Queensland talks advisory committee of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. While travelling on a Carnegie Corporation grant in 1934, he visited the British Broadcasting Corporation and gathered useful ideas for programmes which he would later use at the A.B.C. Back home, he published Adult Education in America and England (Melbourne, 1935).

On the advice of Garnet Portus, the A.B.C. offered Molesworth in 1937 the post of federal controller (later director) of talks. 'Moley' moved to Sydney and began work at Broadcast House, with one typist. To make 'talks' more accessible and interesting, he replaced some of the commentary with interviews, discussions and dramatic interludes. He also introduced literary talks, and readings of poetry and short stories. For young people, he initiated programmes such as 'Young Ideas' and 'The Voice of Youth', and (from 1939) weekly discussion groups led by G. I. Smith. Molesworth found the women's sessions an 'aimless mixture of talk and light music', but seemed unable to improve them greatly. His responsibilities in the area of religion involved him in producing the broadcast of the requiem Mass for Joseph Lyons.

'Talks' were designed to inform, stimulate discussion, and offer a range of views on politics and foreign affairs. The main speakers—who usually came from universities—included William Macmahon Ball, Keith Duncan, William Dakin, Portus and (Sir) Walter Murdoch. 'News Review', 'News Commentary', 'Guest of Honour', 'Nation's Forum of the Air' and 'Popular Science' met with general approval. In World War II new and improved technology allowed listeners to hear the voices of men at the front and the sounds of battle.

The war placed a heavy strain on Molesworth who had to reconcile the public's demand for information with the Federal government's censorship and propaganda regulations. He strove to maintain balance and objectivity, but politicians (like Jack Beasley, Bert Evatt and Billy Hughes) accused the A.B.C. of bias and threatened to have its funding withdrawn. Molesworth also had to contend with those who were offended by the mention of subjects such as contraception and homosexuality. Although he tried to avoid giving offence, he welcomed debate and said that he was 'pleased that controversy had become so established a part of A.B.C. broadcasting'. Rivalry and competition for funds sometimes brought him into conflict with (Sir) Charles Moses, the A.B.C.'s general manager, and Keith Barry, the controller of programmes.

Molesworth was 'a frail, quiet man . . . humane, loyal to his staff and formidable as an advocate'. Following his retirement from the A.B.C. in 1955, he and his family formed a company which owned and operated squash courts. Survived by his wife, he died on 12 August 1971 at his Lindfield home and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Thomas, Broadcast and be Damned (Melb, 1980)
  • C. Semmler, The ABC—Aunt Sally and Sacred Cow (Melb, 1981)
  • K. S. Inglis, This is the ABC (Melb, 1983)
  • Australian Journal of Adult Education, vol 11, no 3, Nov 1971, p 151
  • ABC Document and Radio Archives, Sydney
  • private information.

Citation details

Marion Consandine, 'Molesworth, Bevil Hugh (1891–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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