RADIO AND TV IDENTITY
2-2-1915 - 1-11-2012
By SHARON TERRY
BINNY Lum, pioneer broadcaster and television personality, has died at the age of 97.
Rowena Bernice Lum started life as a musician, poet and actor, but found her feet in radio, becoming a popular and familiar presence whose shows had male and female, city and country listeners. She also hosted the first daytime television program on Channel Nine.
Binny, who was born in Adelaide, was the daughter of a well-known and respected doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, Lum Yow, and his Australian-born wife, Eleanora Laker. The family lived on North Terrace in a property that stands today.
Binny loved music, so her father bought her a violin. At the age of three, though, she could not hold the instrument properly. Interviewing Yehudi Menuhin years later, she told him she had wanted to learn the violin at three. "Funny," he said, "so did I!"
Binny attended Nora Stewart's dance classes, teaming up with another pupil, Girlie Powell, to sing and dance at parties and venues such as Thebarton Town Hall. One of Stewart's other pupils was a slim, long-haired young man called Bobby, later famous as Sir Robert Helpmann.
When Binny turned six, it was time to think about school. All the colleges in Adelaide rejected her because she was half-Chinese, but she was finally accepted by Presbyterian Ladies College in Melbourne, which had no problem with her ancestry. Binny flourished at school, winning prizes for music and poetry. In 1932, she published a slim volume of poems that was favourably reviewed.
Upon graduation, Binny wanted to take up a scholarship at the Conservatorium of Music that she had won on the strength of her composition. However, her father's death plunged the family into difficulties. Binny's brother and sister were still at school and her mother was ill, so she put her career aspirations aside to find work.
After acting with the Brighton Repertory, Binny was offered a part in a radio drama called K.7, which was to air on 3XY. This successful series was followed by the popular One Man's Family and later by Coronets of England, Coronets of France and Lone Hand. For the next few years, Binny broadcast as an actor, accompanist, scriptwriter and compere of fashion shows.
In 1943, she married Jim Terry, a red-headed comedian. Jim had made the stage role of Ginger Meggs so much his own that he was known as "Ginger" thereafter. The marriage did not last, but in 1946 Binny presented Jim with a daughter, Sharon, on his birthday. Binny published some short stories before returning to radio with a new venture, Under the Dryer, on 3AW, which she wrote and presented along with several personalities of the day.
In 1951, Binny took over from Florence Cheers as co-host of the 3KZ Children's Session with Norman Swain ("Billy Bouncer"). Florence (wife of Smoky Dawson) had been known as "Aunty June", but Binny - who at that stage still spelt her name "Binnie" - thought "Cousin Binnie" sounded friendlier. Thus began one of the most successful partnerships in Melbourne radio. Billy Bouncer called the girls his "Noshy Nishes" and the boys became Binnie's "Huskies". For years, men would introduce themselves to her saying, "I was one of your Huskies!"
In 1953, Binny hosted 3DB's morning session, becoming a firm favourite. She left in 1957 to host the first daytime TV program, called Thursday at One with Binnie Lum, on Channel Nine. Later she had a half-hour program, Binnie Time.
Binny presented Binnie Lum's Radio Diary to country listeners on the Victorian Broadcasting Network. Her first country program was opened by Sir Robert Menzies - possibly the only radio show to be opened by a serving prime minister.
She also began an afternoon program on 3XY, with a magazine format featuring recipes and hints from US home economist Vo Bacon. She interviewed many entertainers and concert artists who visited Melbourne. People as diverse as Charlton Heston, Anna Russell, Artur Rubinstein, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, as well as jazz groups the Oscar Peterson Trio and the Dave Brubeck Quartet, graced her show. Although it was a "women's session", many of her listeners were men. Frank Thring said he listened to her in the bath.
Binny went overseas in 1964 to gather more interviews, accompanied by someone who had become indispensable to her - radio man Geoff Charter, who was to be a founding executive at 3MP in 1976.
Overseas, Binny interviewed Lionel Bart, Mary Quant, Paul Gallico, and Australians Russell Braddon, Dick Bentley, The Seekers, Brett Whiteley and Joan Sutherland. But her most notable interview was with the Beatles.
Binny had long been a friend of Alan Freeman, a former 3KZ announcer who by then was famous on the BBC. Even for Alan, who knew everyone there was to know in the pop scene, setting up an interview with the Beatles was tough. Binny finally met and interviewed the Beatles' shy manager, Brian Epstein. He promised to have the boys ready with a tape-recorder that evening and Binny recorded the offbeat encounter, which was full of the crazy humour that only the Beatles could produce.
The interview received national airplay in Australia. Radio, however, was changing and the days of the magazine-style show that Binny excelled at were ending. This was before "talkback", and music was growing ever more important in creating an audience to support sponsors. Unwilling to become simply a voice delivering commercials between music breaks, Binny left 3XY.
She kept up her country broadcasts though, and became a regular compere of lunchtime fashion parades at Menzies Hotel. She also returned to TV, this time on Channel Seven's morning show, Woman's World, with Belle Nicholson and John Eden. Later she worked with Jon Sidney, Vi Greenhalf, Terry O'Neill and Charles Skase.
In 1975 there appeared a book called Favourite Recipes of Famous Men, which Binny produced to raise money for the Rheumatism and Arthritis Association of Victoria. Each page featured a prominent man, with a brief biographical sketch, his picture and a recipe. Don Dunstan, Gough Whitlam, Graham Kennedy, Don Bradman, Dr Christiaan Barnard and Angus Ogilvy all contributed. While compiling the book, Binny often told the family: "Listen for the phone while I'm out - it could be Rock Hudson or Roger Moore."
In 1977, Binny finally married Geoff Charter at their home in Camberwell, among family and friends. In semi-retirement, in a final career flourish, Binny did restaurant reviews for Leader newspapers. In her last years she was cared for by her husband and daughter. She died peacefully, after a short illness.