On Saturday, 19 August 1961, Michael Charlton presented the first edition of what would become a current affairs flagship, Four Corners – a program inspired by the successful BBC series Panorama.
At a time when the term ‘current affairs’ was yet to be coined, TV Week described Four Corners as a “television newspaper”:
“Interviewer-compere, Michael Charlton, gives a round-up of the “world this week” using film, live interviews and phone calls from the news centres of the world. Four Corners is divided into three main segments: ‘The World at Large’, ‘Arts and Entertainment’ and ‘The Local Scene’. It’s this final segment which will use the American-styled ‘open end’ type of interview which could, in theory, on a ‘hot’ topic, run all night.”
That first edition, produced by Bob Raymond with a staff of six and a budget of £480, featured an interview with American astronaut Scott Carpenter. This was followed by a report on the anniversary of the Japanese surrender in 1945, Charlton’s report on the recent federal Budget and an interview with swimmer John Konrads. The program also included an interview with American harmonica player Larry Adler, who presented a live performance.
(You can view excerpts from the first edition of Four Corners via the Australian Screen archive.)
Just a few weeks after its debut, Four Corners presented an extended report on the deplorable conditions faced by those living at the Aboriginal reserve at Box Ridge, near the NSW town of Casino. It was a report that presented to many in mainstream Australia their first real insight into the treatment of Aboriginal people, and caused a public furore. It certainly would not be the last time that a Four Corners report would trigger widespread reaction. Earlier this year, a Four Corners report on the treatment of Australian cattle exported to Indonesian abattoirs caused public outrage and sparked both national and international response.
Despite its modest beginnings back in 1961 it did not take long for Four Corners to clock up its first accolades. In 1962 the show won a TV Week Logie for Best News Feature Program, and in 1963 host Charlton (pictured) won the Gold Logie for the Most Popular Television Personality in Australia. He is one of only three ABC personalities to have ever won the popular-voted award.
In the years and decades to follow, Four Corners would continue to receive awards for excellence in television journalism – with many Walkley Awards to its credit and a number of industry-voted TV Week Logies.
In 1992, Four Corners became the first television program to be inducted into the TV Week Logie Awards’ Hall of Fame. Since then, only two other programs have had the same recognition – Neighbours (2005) and Play School (2006).
Some of Australia’s most well known and respected journalists have worked at Four Corners over its 50 years history – including Gerald Lyons, Mike Willesee (pictured), Caroline Jones, Robert Moore, Peter Couchman, Paul Lyneham, Andrew Olle, Neil Mercer, Richard Carleton, Chris Masters, Peter Luck, Ray Martin, Jeff McMullen, Mary Delahunty, Stuart Littlemore, Charles Wooley, Jenny Brockie, David Marr, Kerry O’Brien, Paul Barry, Ross Coulthart and Liz Jackson.
To celebrate the occasion of its 50th anniversary, Four Corners will present a special edition next Monday with Kerry O’Brien (pictured), a reporter on the program back in the 1970s who this year returned to the program as host.
50 Years Four Corners: Your Stories, Our History will trace the five common themes that have been found to have been the backbone of the program over the last half century – crime and corruption, social change, Indigenous affairs, war and conflict, immigration and politics.
The screening of 50 Years Four Corners coincides with the launch of a public exhibition at ABC’s Ultimo headquarters in Sydney, tracking the history of one of the most significant programs on Australian television.
The special and exhibition will also be backed by a website – http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/50years.
Then over the next five Sundays starting 28 August at 10.10pm (AEST), ABC News 24 will broadcast a selection of reports and episodes of Four Corners from each decade that the program has been on air – including two reports surrounding the controversial 1975 Federal Election, one featuring reporter Kerry O’Brien; the 1987 report from Chris Masters that triggered the Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption in Queensland; David Marr’s profile of Stuart Challender, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra conductor who was battling AIDS; and Sally Neighbour’s 2003 report into the Bali bombings
50 Years Four Corners: Your Stories, Our History. Monday 22 August, 8.30pm, ABC1. Repeated Tuesday, 23 August, 11.35pm on ABC1 and Saturday, 27 August, 8.00pm (AEST) on ABC News 24.
Source: ABC Publicity. 50 Years – Aunty’s Jubilee, Tim Bowden and Wendy Borchers, 2006. TV Week, 19 August 1961. Australian Screen.