Rita Clarke interview, 27 January 2014 and 3 February 2014

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Rita Clarke interview, 27 January 2014 and 3 February 2014




Born Rita Cannon in Pembury, Kent in the UK in 1940. She worked in London and Paris.
Rita married John Clarke in 1964 and came to Australia as a £10 Pom. Her brother and sister-in-law, John and Sylvia Cannon were already living in Perth. They liked the weather and the laid-back life-style so they made their lives here. They spent one year (1969) living in Sydney where Rita studied at Macquarie University. They had three daughters, Philippa, Katie and Laura. Rita began studies at UWA in 1965. Both Philippa and Laura are UWA graduates, Katie graduated from Murdoch University.
A UWA arts graduate, Rita started work in a voluntary capacity for the campus radio station, 6UVSFM, having been invited to work on The Stupendous Stereo Stage Show produced at that time by Ann Tonks. She did arts reviews and interviews, and then also had her own morning program. In about 1985 she was asked by the Station Manager, Bill McGinnis to become full-time breakfast presenter and producer for the radio, whilst still fronting the Arts Show, for which she received a salary. She was also Talks Producer for the Radio.
Whilst working for 6UVSFM, she did free-lance programs for the ABC, began writing feature articles and reviews for The Australian Newspaper and later The Financial Review (both at the same time). She wrote in this capacity for The West Australian and Scoop and various other magazines. She also edited Coo-ee! The WA Country Arts monthly Newsletter.
Rita left the radio station when it closed down in 1990 and was elected to the Council of Convocation where she wrote Convocation’s pages in Uniview. She continued journalism and is on, or has been on, the judging panels for Theatre and Dance Awards. She now also teaches English as a Second Language.


Clarke, Rita


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia
If you wish to use information from this oral history recording in any public form, written or spoken, you must obtain permission from the person concerned (or their family). Please send your request to UWAHS.


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


Rita Clarke


Claremont, WA


Interview 1: 45 minutes, 46 seconds
Interview 2: 41 minutes, 45 seconds
Total : 1 hour, 27 minutes, 31 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis
00: 35

Track 2
00:00 Rita and her husband John came to Australia in 1964. Rita’s brother was already living in Floreat. House was designed by the architect Peter Overman. They loved the lifestyle.
01:34 Rita was told that she could sit for a matured aged exam for the University of Western Australia. Rita hadn’t taken A levels because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do but worked in France for a year. There was a general knowledge component, English plus an elected subject. Rita chose French. She passed and was accepted into a university degree.
02:08 Rita was working so she studied part-time. She took English, French, Philosophy and Music. The Music Department was headed by Professor Callaway and the department was located at Tuart House. Rita loved the course. Professor Callaway was trying to get all the graduates to come in and do at least one unit in music. He wanted the students to become music educators. Rita did music education.
02:57 Rita was going to major in music but had her first baby at the end of the third year. When she told Professor Callaway she was pregnant and would have to leave he said why and encouraged her to keep going. Rita gave birth to Philippa in September and David Tunley tutored her for what she had missed. Rita majored in English poetry and the novel.
04:00 It was a small university then. Rita was looked on as a matured aged student even though she was only 23. Most of the other students were 17 and hadn’t been out of Western Australia. They weren’t very worldly and enjoyed having the matured aged students in the tutorials.
04:29 Rita was living in Karrinyup by this stage so she didn’t spend much time on the campus. She finished her degree and had two more girls.
04:45 When her eldest daughter was about nine years old Rita decided to return to do a post graduate degree. A careers advisor at UWA suggested she try working for the campus radio. Rita had not realised that there was a radio station on campus.
05:05 In about 1984, Rita called into Radio 6UVS-FM and said she was interested in doing some radio work but was worried that she might be too old. However, the station manager at the time Pieta O’Shaughnessy was about the same age. They had just started an arts programme called “The Stupendous Stereo Stage Show”. Rita was asked to do some literary reviews and interviewing. Ann Tonks was running the programme with Barry Strickland. Barry Strickland has been on the Board of the Festival of Perth and is now on the Board of the Fringe Festival. Ann Tonks moved to the ABC and later managed the Melbourne Theatre Company.
05:59 Ann Tonks took over the management of Radio after Pieta O’Shaughnessy left.
06:05 Pieta was very encouraging. Rita did a few little things on morning programmes. Then she was given her own morning programme because she was fascinated with the science of radio broadcasting and wanted to learn how everything worked.
06:21 On her first breakfast programme somebody from the Centre of Water Research had invited a Professor from Cambridge to talk on the radio. Rita was given 5 minutes grace before she had to interview him. She discovered that what is interesting about a subject is the person doing the subject and how they became involved in the study.
07:15 Right from the start she had to think on her feet and she enjoyed doing this and found it very exciting.
07:27 Ann Tonks applied to manage Radio 6UVS-FM but was unsuccessful. The successful applicant was an American called Bill McGinnis.

Track 3
00:00 Before Pieta the radio station had been run on lines similar to the BBC. The focus was on current affairs and classical music.
00:34 Pieta tried to make it more popular and involve the students. There was a classical section. They promoted new bands and local talent. Then she started up the 4 hours evening arts programme which covered dance, concerts and so on.
01:03 Rita’s first interview was pre-recorded and was with Steven J Spears from the Rocky Horror Show. Rita had prepared a big list of questions and found this method stultified the interview and didn’t allow it to grow organically using interesting themes from his responses.
01:53 Interviewing one top Cambridge Don, his first answer opened up all sorts of options. After an initial feeling of panic, she decided to go with the last thread. She relished those moments because it made the job very exciting.
02:27 Other interviewees included Richard Harris, Harry Seycombe and Ronnie Corbett. The big stars wanted publicity when they were in Perth. Rita also interviewed Jane Campion at the beginning of her film career.
03:14 After Pieta left in about 1986, Ann Tonks applied for the job but they gave the job to an American called Bill McGinnis. Ann went off into other fields but came back later in 1997 to take over the reins.
03:36 Bill was more commercial and he decided that they should have sponsorship. He asked Rita if she would do the breakfast show. Rita had to get up at 4am as she had to drive in from Karrinyup. Her youngest daughter was 9 years old so the children were able to get themselves ready for school. Her husband was very supportive. As she became more familiar with the show she was able to leave later. This was made easier when they moved to 18 Everett Street in Crawley.
04:55 The radio station was located downstairs in some demountable buildings near the Faculty of Architecture. Rita would see some of the students leaving after working on projects for most of the night. Rita was alone in the building at 6am. When she had guests, they would ring the bell and she would put on some music while she went to collect them. One day the Vice Chancellor came on the radio and was unimpressed that she was working on her alone but nothing came of this.
06:27 Then it moved upstairs in the Sanders building in Myers Street. There was room to house the sponsorship worker, Dean. At one stage there was a waiting list for sponsors to get on the breakfast show. Many of car dealers wanted to be sponsors.
07:32 Olwyn Williams manage the classical music section. In the evenings lots of students came on and played their own type of music. Bill asked Rita to play rock n’ roll on the breakfast show. It was very popular.
08:39 Rita realised that guest speakers from the different Faculties at UWA provided a wealth of anecdotes and information. She suggested that the station produce a magazine but this idea was not taken up until the radio station was closed. Some of the academic wanted to have accreditation if they came on and did a series of programmes. Because this wasn’t accepted by the university, some of them declined to be interviewed.
10:25 Unfortunately the interviews weren’t saved and were taped over. There were big reel to reel tapes in those days. Rita has a few tapes and Dean took a lot when the station shut down.
10:46 Bill McGinnis started including promos. This was very new then. Bill left to take up a position with community television and Ann Tonks took over. Timothy West is appointed Director-in-Residence at UWA in 1982. He produced “Women beware women”. Ann Tonks played the main role. Rita was assistant stage manager. They got to know him and his wife Prunella Scales really well as they stayed here for a year.
13:23 Ann boosted the arts and the radio station would interview those taking part in the Festival of Perth. When she decided to leave in 1989. She joined the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as Station Manager of Radio National. Rita got in touch with the Australian newspaper and suggested that they do a piece on Ann. As they had no journalists to write the article, Rita wrote it and included one of her own photos (which she later realised was not the thing to do as they had sent an official photographer to do take the photo).
15:59 The station ran a competition for the best radio play and recorded it live at the Dolphin Theatre.
17:05 In those days everybody was doing everything themselves. Nobody had a producer. Towards the end of Rita’s time on the radio station she began to get producers – mainly from people who volunteered as they wanted to get into radio.
17:33 The breakfast programme was from 6am to 9am. Pieta did the breakfast programme for a while. When Pieta left, somebody else presented it for a while. After they left, Bill asked Rita to do it. Rita comments that you have to not mind being caught out when things go wrong.
18:22 Rita liked to ask different questions as she was well aware that celebrities had been asked the same questions by all the media. Rita asked Eric Bogle the folk singer if he was a breast fed baby. He later said that this was the best question he had been asked.
19:25 The West did an article about the breakfast show and asked Rita who she had interviewed. When the article was published, she was accused of being a name dropper.
19:53 Spike Milligan came for a pre-recorded interview in the evening. He said that he hated journalists as he considered them to be “full of themselves”. He said that Rita was all right but he supposed that nobody listened to this!
20:38 David Blenkinsop was Director of Perth International Arts Festival from 1975 to 1999. He was interviewed about the Festival and was annoyed that she did not attend the press conference. Rita had not been told about it. Luckily she was not taken aback by this and the interview went well.

Track 4
00:00 Ann was very strategic and a good manager. When the university decided to close down the radio station. Some of the university’s money had to spend on communication and community. Some of the money for the radio was also coming from Murdoch because they were training media students.
00:55 The pressure came about from the publication of the Dawkins Report in 1987 and universities were being rationalised. From this time, Rita felt that the university changed and people felt under pressure from cost cuts.
01:29 Ann suggested the eventual protest at the closing down of the radio station. They got a lot of publicity and saved the station.
02:19 Rita had been a volunteer for a long time. Pieta offered her a stipend of about $100 a month. When Bill arrived, he employed Rita as the breakfast announcer and producer and she got a regular wage.
02:50 After Ann left the job was advertised and it was offered to a charming young Englishman. He started a magazine up for the radio (not the whole campus). Alison Farmer was the editor. She did reviews for the West Australian.
04:33 He had the idea to get CD’s published of some of the music. He had good ideas but they did not have the resources to fulfil some of them.
04:52 The university were a little annoyed because they were trying to get money from outside sources at the same time as the radio station was seeking sponsorship. Other department were also trying to do this. Ultimately the university decided that all sponsorship had to go through the administration.
05:22 In 1990 they decided to close the radio station again. The new head of the radio was advised not to kick up a fuss and the station was closed down.
05:51 Some of people on the music side were especially keen to keep going. The university let them keep the area for a peppercorn rent but they had to change the name to 6RTR. It moved off the campus to Mount Lawley in January 2005. Rita was involved in the radio station from 1980 to 1990. It was a fantastic ten years. There was no leaving party for the station.
07:29 The last head of the radio station asked Rita would come off the breakfast show and do the afternoon arts show. A young girl came on the breakfast show and made it more music orientated.
08:36 Eoin Cameron was doing the breakfast show on the ABC. The ad for his show said “Have Breakfast with Eoin” and showed him in the shower with a shower cap on. Rita suggested that they should put out a rival ad saying “Wouldn’t you rather have breakfast with Rita”!
09:22 Like Eoin, Rita used to play a lot of comedy such as “Round the Horne” from BBC Radio 4 as well as snippets from “Fawlty Towers”. She also started reading “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾”. One day the book disappeared and she could not read the book on air. There were so many phone calls from disappointed listeners. The publishers had been selling out of the book due to the demand. The booked appealed to both young and old.
10:55 At the time, there was nobody who tried to work out their audience figures. The different arts disciplines used to listen because the interviews were really meaty. There were no time constraints to fit it into a small slot. Presumably, the sponsorship officer would have to have had some idea of audience numbers to attract willing sponsors?
12:01 Rita had 3 children and was very busy so she was in and out and probably didn’t realise everything that went on in the office.
12:23 Towards the end the station had about 4 full time office staff. In addition to this there were lots of presenters. Older people came in and presented the nostalgia music programmes on Sunday mornings and played 30s and 40s music which had a big following.
13:13 Anybody could come in and suggest a programme. If it sounded interesting enough you could do it. Bridget Ross covered the visual arts. She and Rita did a programme in the morning “But thinking makes it so” which took a theme and covered different aspects of it. The programme won the Australasian Hi Fi prize for the most creative use of the medium. This was included in the campus brochure. Others won prizes for their music programmes. Rita went over to Melbourne to collect the prize.
14:22 They would do community announcement for UWA – for example promote the free concerts. If people told them about events, they would promote them. The Medieval Society would come on and talk about what they did. One of the people in the Medieval Society did theatre reviews. Rita often used people from the English department to go and see shows and review them. John Rapsey did the film reviews on the breakfast programme. People also came on and did book reviews. There was also a West Australian book programme. Olwyn would play on air certain pieces that the Music Department were playing.

Interview 2

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Rita studied English under Colin O’Brien. He was an expert on Shakespeare. She did Hamlet as her main study. Tom Gibbons tutored her in 3rd year and told her class that they couldn’t write essays.
03:16 The novels they had to study were the classics such as “Middlemarch” by George Elliott and James Joyce. The poets studied were Hardy, Keats and Yeats. Rita attended Yeats Summer School in Sligo after she left the radio. She wishes that she had been able to be on campus more.
15:15 Patrick Hutchings used to wear his gown to lectures. He later converted to Catholicism.
05:53 The French study was tough as you had to read and write in French. Rita studied Baudelaire and Rambaud.
06:24 Rita also studied music education.
06:32 The arts department was in its present location. The Fortune Theatre was pioneered by Colin O’Brien. The peacocks seem to watch and critique the plays.
07:45 At the time there was no drama section in the English department.
08:12 Rather than themes, the novels were studied for point of view and tone.
09:11 The music department had a similar method of contrast and compare composers for their essays. You had to work really hard to get good marks.

Track 3
00:00 At the radio station there were technicians who helped with pre-recorded interviews. They would help people who were interested in learning the ropes and how to edit. When she was on air with somebody she watched how they did it.
01:32 When you were presenting your own show you were left alone and had no help so you had to know what you were doing. Bill encouraged his staff to preserve the mystique of radio. At one time Rita edited something while she was on air. You were always able to get help and tuition if you needed it.
03:08 There were two tape machines and two turntables. The promos could be aired while you had a break.
03:39 Rita would get to the station at 6am or earlier when she was presenting the breakfast programme. She would play the news from London first up and snippets from Deutsche Welle. It was too early to do live interviews so she would play some comedy and music and perhaps a pre-recorded interview. There was no talk back. Rock n roll records were 2-3 minutes.
04:48 One morning she was quite ill as she had been out the night before and had had champagne and oysters. She had to play records while she ran to the bathroom! She had to call Olwyn to come and take over for the last half hour. She generally used to go back to the UK for Christmas or to Rottnest and Moira Martin would take over. Apart from holidays, she didn’t miss many (if any) radio shows.
05:58 The show would be planned in time segments but a lot of it was off the cuff as she didn’t have a producer. It wasn’t a commercial station so they didn’t have ads coming in. People came in to talk after 7am. News bulletins took about 10 minutes. Michael Bosworth came on to talk about Alexander the Great for example. There were some regulars one of whom as Colin who did “News from Nowhere”. Patrick O’Brien (Political Science) used to come on and was very lively and provocative.
08:21 The show always ended with a record so there was no chance that it would run into the next segment and it gave the presenters time for the change over.
09:07 The show had a good following and received a great deal of sponsorship. People liked being on university radio as it had integrity and reached a wide audience. The radio station had interesting guests and was very ethical. They considered themselves to be like the ABC. Radio is good for tapping into the imagination.
12:00 The ABC didn’t consider them as a rival radio station even though they often contributed to Radio National. In hindsight it is a wonder that the ABC didn’t have a stronger collaboration with Radio 6UVS-FM. Many of the Festival performers would be interviewed by both stations. Spike Milligan’s interview was quite long because he talked about a lot of interesting things such as growing up in India. Radio 6UVS-FM was able to play long interviews if they wanted to and weren’t confined by programming issues.
14:29 Many of the presenters from 6UVS-FM would later be picked up the ABC such as Jane Figgis. Rita was asked to do an interview with the ABC when they had a vacancy but at the time she was very happy where she was. Martin Marshall also went to the ABC. He was very excited when he had to interview the Pointer Sisters. He now runs the Good Store in Victoria Park. He married Olwyn Williams. Barry Strickland went to the ABC for quite a while and is now on the board of the Fringe Festival.
18:03 The radio station attracted very talented people. It was a very creative atmosphere at the station.

Track 4 Discussion of interview tapes
00:00 Stephen Daldry, Director from the Royal National Theatre, came over for the Perth Festival in 1995 with “An Inspector calls”.
00:34 Jerzy Sikorski, bone specialist, 1995 talks about hospitals being the new cathedrals
00:55 Sam Pickering, American essayist, 1993
01:15 Did a series of interviews for Radio National on Yeats Summer School in Sligo on a scholarship from the Irish Australian Society.
02:01 Sam Wannamaker c1990 talking about the need to save the Globe Theatre in London.
02:47 Jonah Jones, Moet & Chandon, 1992. He was here to give an art prize at the Art Gallery of WA.
03:14 Tim Winton (writer), Robert Juniper (artist) and photographer Richard Woldendorp, 1999.
03:57 Brian Bosworth talks on Alexander the Great in 1993.
04:15 Rita did a series of interviews on beach culture for the Australian Relationships including the Snake Pit at Scarborough in March 1989.
05:04 Off-air breakfast recording and an interview on Sex and Relationships.
06:02 Beach culture from neck to knee to nude. The world in a grain of sand.
06:24 Fiona Shaw (who played Harry Potter’s aunt Petunia) came over to Perth with director Deborah Warner for the Angel Project.
06:56 Science Bookshop was put on by other presenters at the radio station.
07:09 Anthony Lawrence poet.
07:31 English actor Martin Shaw 1983. Professor Callaway, May 1993
07:48 The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Clerkenwell, London, 1991.
08:05 Off air breakfast interviews with Graham Blundell, Spike Milligan, Professor Basil Sansom and Graham Rapsey (film reviewer).

Track 5
00:00 Rita was very grateful that she went to the radio station as it brought together her interests and expertise. She learned to be a radio journalist, producer, presenter, feature writer and critic. She wrote articles for the Australian and the Financial Review. She also wrote articles for the West Australian.
02:52 She is grateful to the university and the radio station. It was an exciting vibrant time.



Clarke, Rita, “Rita Clarke interview, 27 January 2014 and 3 February 2014,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024, https://oralhistories.arts.uwa.edu.au/items/show/75.