The 1940s - Censorship

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When the NTL was barred from performing in the Domain in 1940, speakers at a protest meeting included Rupert Lockwood who compared censorship in Australia with Nazi book burning.

A clampdown on the Press came to a head on 17 April 1944 when Sydney papers were confiscated after publishing details of the previous day’s Sunday Telegraph which substituted blank spaces for material censored by the chief publicity officer.

Highly-paid wartime jobs went to political appointees. I’d Rather be Left included a song delivered in moribund Peter Dawson style by John Reed:

My Aunty Rose was a friend God knows to every MLC

But a bit of a slip, by the government whip

Left my aunt with a family.

Now my uncle’s the Lord of the Passionfruit Board

So Menzies said to me

“There’s a limit to what your aunt has got, so a Censor you must be”.

Oh, years ago I gave some dough to the funds of the UAP

But I suffered defeat in a certain seat

So Menzies said to me,

“You haven’t the nous of a mouse or a louse

Or the brains of a chimpanzee,

You weren’t even meant for Parliament, so a Censor you can be”.

NTL member Reed was one of the authors of I’d Rather be Left whose fellow writers/performers came from university revue: law graduate Alan Crawford and poet Jim McAuley, the show’s pianist.

Ironically, the New itself was guilty of self-censorship when it turned down Sumner Locke Elliott’s offer of Rusty Bugles because of its use of “the great Australian adjective”. The subsequent Independent Theatre production was a smash hit after it was banned by the Chief Secretary, and the New then found itself opposing the ban in company with others including the Public Librarian who said the word was not an oath from “by Our Lady” but a Dutch word meaning “very” and used for emphasis. It was not until 1979 that the New staged Rusty Bugles, long after the furore had died down.

The 1949 election revue Pot of Message played to packed houses. It contained Pat Bullen’s “I Could Write a Book” with two soldiers in a jungle camp:

1: Where’s my blue pencil belt?

2: Oh, go to blue pencil!

1: What the blue pencil have you done with it?

2: I ain’t seen the blue pencil thing.

1: I got something special in the pocket. Some blue pencils all the way from a blue pencil Sydney chemist…

After reviewing the 1948 production of Sean O’Casey’s The Star Turns Red as “magnificent theatre” the Sydney Morning Herald boycotted NT plays and refused to accept paid advertising, an act described by Mona Brand as “the first icy blast of the cold war”. The ban lasted until 1960.

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