Last Wednesday I shared my my Mother’s autographs and wondered whether people had kept autographs that Mum had written to them because at the time she was famous? Today I thought I would explain why she was famous whilst still at school in the 1940s.
This was in the day before television had come to Australia, the second world war was raging, news coverage was sparse, celebrities few. How did my Mum become widely known as a 14 year old by the entire populous of Australia. It was because she was one of the original Quiz Kids – household names for many years to come.
The Quiz Kids was a half hour programme on 2GB and the Australia-wide Macquarie Radio Network commencing in April 1942. It followed along the lines of a successful programme of the same name in the U.S.A. A panel of five children were asked general knowledge questions by a quizmaster with a score being kept. When Mum joined the programme a few months later, she completed the permanent team that is now referred to as “the original Quiz Kids”. This team remained together for the next two and half years until she, as the oldest of the team, was sixteen years old and about to start university.
How was she selected for the programme? The producers approached the teacher of the Opportunity Class for bright children at Woollahra Primary School, asking her to recommend previous pupils now in third year High School. She gave four names, all were still classmates at Sydney Girls High School. They were asked in for individual testing and were judged on their ability to answer a range of questions, on the quality of their voices for radio, and on personality. Mum was the lucky one chosen.
The programmes were recorded each week in the Macquarie Radio Theatre before an audience of two to three hundred people. The five Kids, dressed in black academic gowns and mortar boards sat behind a table as in the picture with our names displayed in front The Quizmaster was John Dease, a radio announcer with a schoolmaster’s voice and manner. Questions sent in by listeners covered history, geography, current world figures, word origins, literature, science, music, sport, abbreviations etc. Mum told me of one question that had the kids stumped: “Driving in the country you would see a road sign TSR. What does it mean?” For five city children unable to get around the countryside in the war years, this was difficult and they did not know. Of course all adults knew it meant Travelling Stock Route! Her father, who demanded perfection, was angry at Mum for not knowing such a simple thing.
Listeners whose questions were selected received five shillings in war savings stamps which increased to a one pound War Savings Certificate if the Quiz Kids were unable to answer it.
People often asked Mum whether they were told any answers beforehand. They were never given any hints whatsoever about the questions and answers. They were all avid readers, and obviously had retentive memories. They were also high achievers academically, all attending selective high schools. They got through 20 to 25 questions each programme. The score was kept and announced several times in the course of the programme e.g. Quiz Kids 9, Listeners 1. She was told one year that their overall success rate was 88%.
The Quiz Kids was an immensely popular programme maintaining second position in the ratings for all programmes in Australia in 1943-44. Can’t you just see people huddling around the radio during war time having something fun to take their mind away from the fears of what was happening in Europe and the Pacific. After the original team became too old and had to depart, other children took their place, including an ex Prime Minister John Howard. The programme lasted many years, but did not survive long after the advent of television.
When I was a child I was well aware of my Mother’s fame. I know I was proud that many books on Australian History would have the photo above staring out at me from the pages. Despite living in a small country town everyone knew her. All the grown ups had listened to her. One of my teachers said to me on a regular basis. “You certainly don’t take after your mother!” I was expected by all to be just as bright as my mother had been and my older brother was. The expectations placed on me didn’t smother me, they just made me rebel, making me perhaps my own worst enemy. Never did I give a thought for what it must have been like for my mother.
Apparently, her father gave scant praise for the questions she answered correctly but boy did she cop it if she got one wrong. She set out to make a life for herself where she was never wrong or at worst rarely. Everybody’s expectations of her were high and she had to live up to them. She researched products in Choice magazine. Going on holiday with her was like having your own personal tourist guide as the route was planned, researched and all the facts and figures were there in her head to be passed on to her companion. I now know that it must have been tortuous for her travelling through Europe with Roger and I. We had no destination in mind just a compass direction of south, never knowing where we would end up.
At the end of her life she continued to struggle with her Quiz Kids Fame. As she lost her memory bit by bit she couldn’t reconcile the who she once was with who she now was and hated more than anything that often, not understanding things, she found herself being told that she was wrong in her thinking. This terrified her more than anything because having always been right, she believed she must be right still.
For all of us we have experiences that shape our lives, just as this one shaped my mothers and possibly my own. Can you think of an experience that shaped yours?