A Creative Life
By Tom Hegarty
When you met Ian, the first thing to strike you would be his boundless energy and enthusiasm for whatever project he was working on at the moment. The second would be his obsession with Ned Kelly. Or maybe that should be the other way round. Kelly first. Like it or not, working with Ian, you got to hear a whole heap of stuff about Ned and his suit of iron. Some days I half-expected Ian to turn up wearing the darned thing.
Back in the day (1960s) when you joined Crawfords as a staff writer, you were issued with what I dubbed a 1938 Royal desk model typewriter. 'No, old son,' Ian patiently corrected me over the years. 'It's a 1944 Royal.' It was probably a dozen or so years younger but that was the machine on which Ian pounded out his entire oeuvre of scripts, books, plays and so on. And I do mean pounded. He was a former journalist who never lost the habit of hammering typewriter keys. He'd have no truck with word processors or computers or their like. Too flimsy. Not to be trusted with his precious words. They could disappear forever...
Ian didn't do too badly with his 1944 Royal.
Hunter, Division 4, Matlock Police, The Box, Bluey, The Sullivans: these were some of the shows he co-created at Crawfords. Hector always teamed him up with another writer because he was too savvy to let Ian run loose on his own—mainly because he (Ian) had scant regard for budgets. To be brutally honest, he ignored them. The co-writer's job was to keep Ian on song, not let him blow the budget from Episode 1. Yeah, right. Fat chance. If Ian had a vision of what he thought the new show should be, he could be very persuasive. Besides, he was not only your fellow-writer, he was a director of the company. So not your everyday run-of-the-mill writing partner. Though I can't recall him ever once pulling rank on me.
The first question Hector would ask when Ian came up with the idea for a new show was: 'How much will it cost, Uncle?' (For reasons unknown to me, Hec always called Ian 'Uncle'.) Ian would usually pluck a figure out of the air. Hec could play that game. He'd pluck his own figure out of the air. Friendly, or, more often, vigorous debate would follow, until some sort of accord was reached. Or discussion could grind to a stalemate. In which case the concept was consigned to Ian's bottom drawer for safekeeping.
Those ideas were never lost — because they didn't have to be disgorged (or not) from a computer, right? When the company ran into trouble — the networks had cancelled all three police shows within a few months of each other — Ian retrieved something called The Dream Makers from his bottom drawer. The Dream Makers had originally been designed for daytime viewing. We redressed it — or undressed it — as a raunchy tale of life in a television station. The Box was for adults-only viewing. It shook skeletons all over the industry but enabled the company to go on to make such memorable family fare as The Sullivans (co-created with Jock Blair) now regarded as a classic of Aussie television.
When I drove between Sydney and Melbourne I'd stay overnight at Ian's house at Beechworth — crowded with Kelly and 4th Light Horse memorabilia. We'd reminisce deep into the night about Crawfords. Howard Griffiths, another Crawford alumnus, called them the golden years. They certainly were, with Ian leading the charge.
His body of work wasn't limited to Crawfords. He and Bronwyn Binns set up shop and made the miniseries Against the Wind and The Last Outlaw, the feature film The Lighthorsemen.
He married three times, to: Joan, Bronwyn and Nancy — who devoted herself to his care in the aftermath of a stroke. He's survived by his four children: Darren, Angus, Caitlyn and Elizabeth. Add four grandchildren to the score.
Ian was a creative dynamo: writer, director, producer, biographer, historian.
Now the dynamo is still. Old '44 retired, tucked in a saddle bag as Ian rides the night skies with the Kelly gang.
It was a privilege to have known you, Uncle.
By Roger Simpson
In the end he did what he could and left it to others to judge. Ian knew awards didn’t matter despite all the fuss on the night. They only gather dust and tarnish and end up as landfill; it’s reputations that endure.
Ian was a pioneer with two abiding passions, Ned Kelly and the 4th Light Horse – although it would take a long self-taught apprenticeship before he could bring them to the screen. He started his film career at Crawford’s as a writer, director and producer on Hunter and Homicide where the unit had two cars to transport the cast and crew and carry the equipment. On location, the magnetic signage would come out to transform one into a police car while the other carried the camera when it wasn’t jammed in the cop-car’s passenger seat. It takes two cars to film a car chase. Trial and error, seat-of-the-pants film making: and the audience loved it. Soon all three commercial networks were showing Crawford Cop shows in prime time, and Ian had a hand in them all. Division 4 and Matlock Police joined the stable and Crawford’s became a legitimate studio with Hector as inspirational showman and Dorothy, his sister, a veteran from radio, as creative head. But it was the young Ian Jones, a former journalist, who drove development, co-creating The Box and The Sullivans and many other shows. Ian wanted to branch into miniseries, but Hec had ‘the Crawford family’ to support, with few free-lancers beyond the actors and everyone else on staff. So Ian parted ways and set up his own production company and made our first commercial miniseries, Against The Wind. It changed the landscape overnight and ensured Ian’s reputation.
This was further enhanced by the feature, Ned Kelly, starring Mick Jagger, which Ian co-wrote with director Tony Richardson and his own feature, The Lighthorsemen, which he wrote and produced. Ian’s Ned Kelly miniseries, The Last Outlaw, was another of Ian’s independent productions which he wrote and made with his second wife and co-collaborator, Bronwyn Binns, but despite the sparkling success – and yes, the awards – it was the Crawford’s days Ian would remember. He loved Hec and Hec loved him: they were like father and son and neither could have done what they did without the other.
In his later life, Ian turned to books, most memorably Ned Kelly: A Short Life and The Fatal Friendship: Ned Kelly, Aaron Sherritt and Joe Byrne.
He retired to Beechworth in the Kelly Country (where else) and left it to others to place him in the firmament of Australian film and television. Ken Hall, Charles Chauvel, Raymond Longford, Lottie Lyell, Ian Jones. Well, the AFI thought so in 2006 when it gave Ian the Longford Lyell Award in recognition of his enduring contribution to Australian screen culture.
Ian Jones, pioneer. He was 86.