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HomeBook extractsA Life in Journalism and PR: 4

A Life in Journalism and PR: 4

In his book A Life in Journalism and PR, PRIA Life Fellow Geoff Holden recounts his career from copy boy to owner of his own PR firm, at the same time charting the evolution of the print media, lobbying and PR industries in South Australia. In this fourth extract: a phone call from the Premier, and “Breakfast in Bed with Miss World.”


Sir Thomas Playford, Premier of SA
When I started I found that EWA had recently taken over a competitor and that I was to handle those accounts under the John Hallock Pty. Ltd. banner. One of those clients was Prudential, an English life assurance company and I was required to plan and organise the official opening of its new office on North terrace (now a UniSA student accommodation centre).

I thought everything was under control until early afternoon on the day before the opening when I took a phone call from Sir Thomas Playford, the Premier of South Australia, and whom I had interviewed on several occasions while working as a journalist. He asked where his speech was! That was the first I knew of it.

“In those days, there were no Press Secretaries
and the Premier’s door was open to journalists
at regular intervals during the working day”

I had no experience in this area but I wrote a speech, which he read word for word at the official opening. It was nearly two years later that I was to join Adelaide Rostrum Club 3, of which I am still a member and which has given me some skills in preparing and delivering speeches as well as in meeting procedure.

In those days, there were no Press Secretaries, and the Premier’s door was open to journalists at regular intervals during the working day. His office at the time opened directly on to a corridor in the old Treasury Building (now a hotel) at the corner of King William and Flinders streets, Adelaide.

The speech was a great success.

Sir Thomas remembered, and on several occasions, especially after he became Leader of the Opposition, recommended me for jobs, as did several other Members of Parliament from both major parties. The jobs mostly involved legislative issues.

Australian Wool Board and Miss World
I was EWA’s designated consultant to the Australian Wool Board in SA and was responsible for promoting a “floor price” scheme for wool sales which worked well for several years. Under this scheme, all wool had to be sold at auction but only if it achieved a higher amount than was set by the Wool Board and similar organisations which were members of the International Wool Secretariat. Adelaide businessman and wool grower, Sir Ewan Waterman, was chairman. It was during this time that I was to meet Erica Cox, who was then his Secretary, and was later to be associated with me in various charitable activities.

Perhaps the highlight of that account was the occasion when Ann Sidney, Miss World, was brought to Australia to promote wool. I was responsible for her public activities in Adelaide.

There was a gala dinner at the former John Martin’s department store, and my job was to chaperone her and to protect her from the attentions of one very well-known State politician, who was known for his lecherous ways in public. With the assistance of several Adelaide identities, we kept her safe from his attentions.

Earlier that day, I had organised a media conference at the South Australian Hotel, which was the social hub of Adelaide at that time.

I had sent out 17 invitations to “Breakfast in Bed with Miss World.”

Thirty five journalists, photographers, TV crewmen and a few hangers on turned up.

Imagine their disappointment when Ann Sidney came down the famous cedar stair case in the main foyer of the hotel, demurely dressed in a smart suit, and wearing a pill box hat (very fashionable in those days), high heels and long gloves!

The conference was extremely successful and is remembered to this day by those who were present (and still alive), including my friend and former competitor, Derik Ward, who was among those who gained entry on flimsy pretexts.

In the next extract: the introduction of decimal currency and “the beginning of lobbying”.