30 September, 2022
The old guard is thinning out and I don’t like it. Joan Long, John Dingwall, Ted Roberts, and Sonia Borg. Eleanor Witcombe, Tony Morphett, Cliff Green and now Peter Yeldham. Give me a break.
I am sick and tired of the passing parade and I’m over writing the obits. They should find someone else or give the task to the young guns who think mortality is limited to their characters. As the rest of us know, it’s the other way round.
Peter Yeldham was a writer’s writer. A towering figure in radio, stage, film and television, he began writing 2GB radio scripts while still in his teens and completed his thirteenth novel at the age of 88. He should have gone on forever.
Softly spoken and elfin, he was a stalwart of the Guild, proving battles are not only won at the barricades but likewise with impeccable manners. Lower the volume and they may very well hear you more clearly.
Preferring the velvet glove to the cosh, Peter was the perfect foil to Dingwall and me as we forced through those early industrial agreements. Stop-works against Crawford’s, Channel 10 and the ABC and marches in the street for Australian content quotas on television – the 70’s and 80’s were formative times for Australian writing and formative times for the Guild.
That’s all but dimming memory now: what always endures is the work.
With plenty of radio experience under his belt, Peter and his wife Marge travelled to England in 1956. His enormously successful UK career included the films The Comedy Man, The Liquidator, Twenty Four Hours to Kill, Ten Little Indians, and The Age of Consent, along with television plays and episodes and works for the stage. His most successful stage play, Birds on the Wing, a huge hit in Berlin and Paris, was the top-grossing play in Europe in 1972.
Peter returned to Australia in 1976, where he became the master of the mini-series, writing twenty-two of them in little more than twenty-five years. He adapted many classics of Australian literature, including Kylie Tennant’s Ride on Stranger, Eleanor Dark’s The Timeless Land, Nancy Cato’s All the Rivers Run and Bryce Courtenay’s Jessica. He also wrote original works of his own, such as Captain James Cook, 1915, Naked Under Capricorn and Run from the Morning. And then in 1988 he began writing novels.
Peter and Marge loved a party (Marge was a terrific cook and a consummate hostess) and they threw many. Once they hosted a very elegant affair at their Balmoral home for the visiting delegates to the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds. The delegates were duly impressed with the views of the ocean, perhaps coming away with certain misconceptions about the wealth of Australian writers.
Peter lost his beloved Marge in 2006, but was sustained by his children Lyn and Perry, and their loving families. Until his hearing got the better of him, Peter frequently lunched with the ‘old gang’ – which included Tom Hegarty, Laura Jones, Angela Wales, Geoffrey Atherden and me. But one always sensed, like any compulsive, he was really dining out with his characters. Maybe deafness was his excuse to get back to the keyboard and a world where he heard every word.
We will be enjoying his creations for a long time yet.
Peter Yeldham, OAM, was 95.
with Angela Wales and Geoffrey Atherden.