Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Margaret Throsby: 55 years of broadcasting

by Tony Magee

Legendary Australian broadcaster Margaret Throsby is currently archiving files from "Mornings with Margaret Throsby" and "The Midday Interview", going back to 1995 for ABC archives and the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra.

Throsby is most noted for her long running regular weekday radio program on Classic FM "Mornings with Margaret Throsby" commencing on Monday April 4, 1994, initially running through to 2011. Much more was to come. Her first guest was then ABC chairman David Hill.

It all started in 1967, when something revolutionary and controversial occurred. Margaret Throsby scored a job as the first female radio presenter since WWII.

Margaret Throsby in 1967

Initially, Throsby was not allowed to present Parliamentary broadcasts, read news or present sports programs. Her first role was to present news on Royal tours (somewhat restricted to things like what the Queen wore), the occasional concert, using her reading skills to narrate other peoples' programs and not much more.

As well as initially working for the ABC, she spent two years concurrently presenting a weekly current affairs program, "Issues", on SBS, as well as being part of a panel on Network Ten's "Beauty and the Beast". And for 25 years she presented a "Best in the World" award-winning audio music and interview program for Qantas In-flight entertainment.

At the ABC, Throsby has had several different careers within the the one organisation. In the early days she presented her own Saturday morning jazz program on 2BL, plus a weekday pop music program, leading on to presenting 702 Mornings which was focussed on current affairs and news.

Then in December 1975, ABC FM commenced operations, initially broadcast from Adelaide.

Thousands of Canberra listeners, as well as around the country, tuned into the new station. It was the first FM radio station in Australia and broadcast in stereo.  

But back then, it was male presenters only - Malcolm Patterson, the late Bob Maynard, the late Martin Hibble and many others.

As the only woman working alongside 28 male announcers, her appointment in 1967 triggered a media sensation.

She had to contend with a Sydney Morning Herald headline: "Aunty gets a miniskirt".

In 1975 Throsby became the first woman (since the war) to read national radio news, and in 1978 the first woman to read TV news on the ABC. She made headlines.

Margaret Throsby in the Studio in 1999

Throsby is the sister of David Throsby, a cultural economist, and Adrienne Bennett, formerly executive director of the Australian Psycological Society.

She has been married and divorced three times. From her first marriage she had a son, Timothy Marc, who died in a motorbike accident in Thailand in 1996. From her second marriage, to John Buttsworth, a psychiatrist and art and furniture dealer, she is the mother of musician Holly Throsby. Her third marriage was to Graham McCarter, a Scottish photographer. She also has a stepdaughter, Caitlin.

From 2012 to 2016, her weekday interview changed to a noon time slot with the program being variously known as Midday and The Midday Interview.

Later, the program shifted to Saturday's only and her final guest was composer Nigel Westlake, broadcast on August 2, 2021.

Margaret Throsby with her final guest, composer Nigel Westlake, whom she interviewed in 2021

In 1989, her contribution to the craft was recognised with an Order of Australia Medal.

Throsby calculates she's done tens of thousands of interviews with some of the biggest names in the arts, sport and politics, including Yehudi Menuhin, Paul Keating, Oliver Sacks, Claire Bloom, Bruce Beresford, Yvonne Kenny, John le Carre, Spike Milligan, Steve Waugh, Jane Fonda, and Sir Peter Ustinov to name just a few.

Throsby interviewed John Cleese in 1983 and again in 2016 for "The Midday Interview", the latter date revealing something unexpected and deeply from the heart.

We all know John Cleese, what he's done, and heard him or seen him interviewed countless times but we've never heard what music he likes.

Margaret Throsby with John Cleese in 1983, whom she interviewed again in 2016

Throsby recalls: "there was one piece he chose called Easter Hymn, which is a very beautiful, soft gentle thing and as he listened to it he started to cry."

"He had tears, not just in his eyes, but coming down his cheeks so instead of trying to console him or quickly handing him a tissue and hoping he stopped crying by the end of the music, I wanted to let him be."

When it finished, she asked 'why does that affect you?' and he said, 'I don't know, Margaret', in a very wobbly voice and it produced a gentle soft side of John Cleese that has probably never been seen in public before.

In 2017 at the age of 76, Throsby stopped presenting her weekly Saturday Morning Program on ABC Classic FM but continues to host live music concerts and mentor younger broadcasters.

"For a while it's been buffeted by other ways of consuming information, but I think no one will ever be able to top the fact that radio is a one-to-one, companionable medium which is unbeatable as far as I'm concerned.

"It's been enormous but it's been so satisfying and now is the time to stop when it is going well and when I'm feeling fit and fabulous".