It’s been some time now since Robert Meillon passed away, June 3rd, 2012
and listening to The Brandenburg Concertos recently took me back to my
early years of television in the beginning of the 1960’s.
The name Meillon first came to my notice before I met Robert (Or Bob, as
he was known back then.) The television series ‘My Name’s McGooley,
What’s Yours?’ starred Gordon Chater, Judi Farr and John Meillon.
Of course I had no idea that the man playing the part of Wally Stiller
had a brother, and the brother was to have a great impact on my life
through some three decades.
In fact I didn’t make the connection even when the same name appeared on
our staging roster. I remember wondering exactly how the name was
pronounced: Meelon? Maylon? Miillon?
I first encountered Bob Meillon at the Fitzroy Tele-theatre one late
afternoon. I distinctly recall the dust motes swirling in the sunshine
that beamed through the back loading doors and Bob, in a white
open-necked shirt stepping over the ground-row. Even then he had the
modest beginning of a beer-belly. He was part of the relieving afternoon
shift. I said ‘Hi’, he said ‘G’day’, and that was it. (We were not to
know that 30 plus years later that brief salute was much the way our
relationship would end.)
It took a few weeks before we got talking. Bob was fresh from the U.K.
where he had spent time working as a barman/driving instructor with
another Sydney ex-pat Stuart Kinchin. Both had worked at a Sydney t.v.
channel (I can’t remember if it was TCN 9 or 7.)
Peter Hind advises ATN 7.
In any event, one memorable day, having finished our shift, the staging
crew adjourned to ‘The Baron’s (Alan Ruthven) Hotel’ across the street
from The Tele-theater. Over several beers, Bob and I got to talking and
realized that we had much in common, especially a love of classical
music, even if our youthful tastes differed. The fact that I had a
desire to write, based only on school magazine articles and a number of
short stories, and Bob had a voice and some basic training on how to use
it produced an hour audio documentary entitled ‘Bach, Beethoven and
Berlioz,’ complete with musical background. All done in one night at
Bob’s flat, with his record player, my tape recorder, many beers and
From that night on me and Bob were solid pals. He and a number of other
7 bods had a flat down in Brighton. Various people and transient nurses
frequented the place: Paul Dethridge, a fellow stage-hand and later
major influence on me, John Haddy, (Who would go on to be a valued film
cameraman.) Joe Wharton from Birkenhead U.K. (Rumoured to have jumped
merchant ship in Melbourne.) who was a cameraman at 7, and a bloke named
Stuart McKenzie, who also had come down south from television in Sydney.
Stu was some kind of mesmerizing con man/loose cannon/likable larrikin,
bumming his way around and bordering on the early drug fringe. He took a
few people for loans never repaid, and I would have been easy meat, but
he didn’t pick on me. Eventually he moved on. But he became the
beginning of a very strange invention from Bob and I.
Later, when Bob and I were travelling North, McKenzie transformed into a
character of our imagination. Bob and I used the travelling time to
create mind images that amused us and so we created a character based on
Stuart McKenzie. He was known just as ‘McKenzie’, smoked Camel
cigarettes, carried a small revolver (A bit like the Beatles ‘Maxwell’s
Silver Hammer) with which he killed people on whim, and was inclined to
recite his own version of poetry and song.
A lot of rough rhyme, a lot of swear words, a lot of very bad form.
There, a decade later, at the Burvale hotel in Nunawadding our work
mates would witness Bob and me ‘playing McKenzie.’ Ray Lindsay, Chris
Adshead, George Borse and many more will, or would bear witness to our
I think it was Christmas 1963 and then 64 when Bob and I, in his V.W.
motored up to Sydney and then on into Queensland. I met his mother Jill
and sat in her living room playing our ‘Three B’ tape and hoping for
approval. Jill Meillon was, by then, a retired radio script writer, (I
think, but not sure, for Grace Gibson Productions,) was of course
receptive and encouraging. Not sure what she made of me. Mate or Boy
Friend? I also met Bob’s adopted Sister Lyn (My Sister too is adopted)
and her then husband John Glassen. They all loved a drink. (Mister
Meillon senior, head of the Meillon family, was deceased by then. Bob
talked about his Father but most I have forgotten. I believe he was a
banker, the Meillon name has French connections (Yes, good name for a
movie.) and the only tenuous link to Banker Meillon that I have was his
favourite musical work: Cesar Franck’s towering ‘Symphony in D minor.’
1886-88. Whenever I hear it now I am thrust back to a time when two
young teenage brothers, John and Robert, sported and swam in the surf
around Sydney whilst their parents pursued their individual careers; the
one in Radio of the 40’s and 50’s, and the other, the more conservative
world of finance, business and men’s clubs
I was also introduced to the well respected actress June Salter, John
Meillon’s first wife, and their young son, who I recall sitting on my
knees as Bob and I drove him back to his parent’s home after an outing.
Of the blustering, self-important John Meillon, I recall a long, dark
cape, a commanding presence, a voice designed for projection… and a
small dog, imperiously named ‘Mahatma!’
Bob had been a swift convert to Aussie Rules in Victoria and brought his
enthusiasm to N.S.W. via my old, very heavy, very large, leather
football. I gave it to him because… well, because.
Apart from Charades and a merry-go-round of drinking, which at my tender
age was perilous, I remember John Meillon leaping for a footy ‘Mark’
against John Glassen, in the back garden of Jill’s home and thumping
head-first into the rockery. Unperturbed, he rose and cracked another
can of some alien N.S.W. beer.
On the first of our two northern travels we ventured as far as Brisbane
where an ancient female relative of Robert lived. Can’t recall much
apart from an over-night stop of dead humidity in a Brisbane pub.
Yet we did discover a place of bliss!
The sign said Byron Bay.
It was 1963.
(Just earlier Bob celebrated his twenty-first birthday. Or rather, other
well wishers celebrated it. I wasn’t there, but Bob confided to me later
that work mates like Stu Kinchin thought it was his 21st and sprang a
surprise party on him. He was in fact twenty, yet accepted the whole
thing rather than tell the truth. Perhaps I might have done the same. In
fact, the following year, after he told me about it, he and I had a few
beers together in his flat listening to music and talking about the
little we knew of life. That was his real 21st. There was also one other
mute witness. It was a portrait I had copied from an early artist’s
impression of J.S.Bach. Where that now resides, or if it still exists I
don’t know. I last saw it sometime in the eighties, in fact I re-framed
it back then, when Bob and Gail were living in Park Orchards in
Byron Bay back then was a little hamlet of sleepy houses, a main street,
a Pub, a pristine white beach that stretched into the distance both ways
and a camping ground in the sand dunes. We both loved it. Up in the
morning, down to the water, counter lunch at the pub, he fished and I
painted in the afternoon. (Oils and sand make for interesting textures.)
Pub for dinner and up to the newly built motel for later drinks. Fall
into sleeping bags in our tent and do it all again on the morrow.
The next year we did do it again, but this time we checked in briefly
with Jill Meillon, (Bob was very agitated about a locked cabinet of his
mother’s, which he was certain contained alcohol. I found his concern
difficult to understand considering that every one else in the family
freely used it.) then headed straight for Byron. Byron Bay was our
little secret long before the likes of Paul Hogan and John Cornell.
Two weeks of fishing, painting, listening to Dougie Walters belting big
runs in the cricket and lots of grog.
And, I owe my life to Bob. On the way back South we camped at Nambucca
Heads or somewhere on the coast and decided to take a rowboat out on a
channel that led seaward. I had no idea about water, (I can’t swim. And
nearly came to grief in the ocean twice after that. Another story.) Bob
was rowing and when we went past a warning sign about a dangerous rip he
suddenly began to row furiously against it. I was simply useless. He did
it all; got us back out of the significant danger, pretty-well stuffed
at the end.
Then we went and had a few beers.
I never thought another thing about it. Until now.
I am an idiot.
The following year Robert was in a downward plunge. Too much indulgence,
borrowing from all and sundry, living beyond his means. His V.W. was
repossessed, he was in Mean Street.
When I heard that his mother had died I rang the Tele-theatre from South
Melbourne to be hushed up by another staging member, Graham MacNamara.
‘Not true. Said only to save his job.’
I was astounded. Bob Meillon had fabricated the story in order to avoid
the sack for not turning up to work.
And… he got away with it.
Because Bob and I were so close, (I often felt and said ‘Like
Brothers.’) and because Stu Kinchin was a more sobering and mature
influence, Stu and I suggested (No… we didn’t suggest. We railroaded
Bob into signing his wages over to us. We opened a bank account and his
earnings went into it. Then we began the process of paying back his
debts. We gave him a pittance to live on, knew he would borrow, followed
up his likely targets and squared him up. In the end, we got him back on
track, liberated his car, paid those he owed, sundry bills, dried him
out a bit and gave him another go.
He got his act together.
Not too long after, Bob was a cameraman working on shows like ‘Brian and
That was the beginning of our long, slow parting.
In the meantime, I plodded on.
By the time I decided to leave H.S.V 7 and go to A.T.V 0 as a B Grade
cameraman in 1968, Bob had progressed. He had retrieved much ground and
though he and I would never be as close, never go North again, we had
made certain vows to each other. These we would later honour.
In 1970 I married Maria. I met her at Channel 7, and there is much to
tell of our journey to the alter.(At some other time.)
Robert was my Best Man.
A few weeks later he resigned from H.S.V 7 and joined ATV0. There he
quickly established himself as a competent A Grade cameraman while I
floundered along as a B Grade.
Several years later Robert married Gail Barling.
I was his Best Man.
(Thus fulfilling the early promises we made to each other.)
I was an inadequate Best Man.
Stuart Kinchin or Graham Arthur (Graham was assigned the pick-up, or
perhaps decanting, of John Meillon from the air-port. John was in
controlled-drinking mode, calculated to get him through the wedding and
reception and still be on his feet at the end.) would have been far
Yet Bob and I had locked each other in years before and so did the best
we could for the sake of our close friendship of old.
Bob always maintained that he had never changed in his friendship toward
me. I too had said as much early on, yet it didn’t take me too long to
realise that human beings are not static, that we constantly change and
grow, that our bodies and minds evolve. And that we cannot help but be
influenced, and the influences cause us to see the world, ourselves and
Besides, I was falling steadily behind in the television world. I didn’t
have the desire, the ambition to move upward. And, I had made the
decision to try to write a very large book.
The divide widened when Bob became Head Cameraman and later moved into
Programming. He was going forward. I was not achieving, still writing
and basing that, gambling that, against everything else. Now it was me
that was falling apart. Alcohol too was my downfall. It became a part of
my life. The world didn’t look right unless it was on a slant.
However, what befell me is minor to this memoir of Robert.
Bob, like his Mother and Brother, was motivated by a work ethic. And
they all had the great good fortune to find a chosen field that suited
their temperament: Jill in radio script writing, John in the theatre,
television and film and Robert as a television director. In their time,
each of them achieved success, bought hard and at much personal loss.
Alcoholic poisoning, over time, was the devastating price for their
triumphs. I know too well the truth of this last sentence. I saw men of
some respect reduced to attempting to hide their addiction in all kinds
of cunning (To them in their addled minds) ways that simply exposed them
for what they had or were becoming.
A doctor Crockett, of Crockett and Wong, once gave me some sage advice:
‘Try not to drink in the morning.’
That little pearl took me a lot of years to master. My wife Maria has a
great deal to do with me still being able to type these words.
Back with Robert.
He made the transition from Programming to Directing with relative ease.
(Or at least he made it look so.) I’m not sure if he Directed on
‘Matlock Police’ as did Graham Arthur, but he definitely did on ‘The
In time he directed a number of television series both in Victoria and
N.S.W. ‘Cop Shop,’ ‘Home and Away,’ ‘A Country Practice,’ ‘Neighbours’
and ‘Holiday Island’ among them.
When my Father died at home in the early 80’s at the age of sixty-five,
my Mother rang me early in the morning and I drove over as quickly as I
could. There, in that silent house I found Mum at the kitchen table. Dad
was in the bedroom. I went in and sat on the floor beside him. His gold
watch, a long-service retirement gift, was softly ticking off the
seconds on the side-table. I thought, ‘So this is how it ends, and this
is what it looks like. Dad has stopped and all of us just go on, even
his watch goes on. My Father; who read to me when I was little, who
worked all his adult life, who I read to in his last days. I really
never thought this time would come, and here it is.’
I stayed with him for… How long? Listening to that faint ticking and
knowing that this was the last of time that he and I would share
The Last Of All Time.
After having to identify him later that day, which was traumatic because
rigor mortis had set in, I made my way to the Burvale Hotel for a few
quiet drinks. I didn’t want to get drunk, I just wanted the company of
work-mates without the fuss, so I didn’t mention Dad’s passing. The talk
was the usual trivia, and eventually I went home to Maria. (Mum had been
taken to my Sister’s home.)
An hour or so after, there was a knock at the door and it was Robert.
He’d had a bit more to drink than I had, but he took the time to stop
by. He’d met Dad on several occasions through the sixties and they got
on well. I really didn’t want to talk much, but I’ve never forgotten
Bob’s kindness. Again, I believe he was trying to tell me that he had
never changed, that he was still the same loyal friend.
Yes, he believed he had never changed.
He couldn’t see it, but of course he had.
He was no longer the loose cannon, the ‘Rent a Bobby,’ party animal. He
had grown up and was becoming a responsible, dedicated, hard-working,
talented television Director.
I could plainly see that, because I had changed, and understood.
Still, I thanked him for his kind remembrance of Dad.
Bob was there, quietly in the background at the funeral.
I knew, if he could manage it, that he would be. I sensed him there.
He slipped away before I could speak with him.
The years around that particular time were difficult for both Bob and
Gail and Maria and I. Two children were involved, and of those events I
shall pass over without comment. They are private. Suffice to say they
had traumatic consequences on all of us.
In the eighties, as the seventies, there were still dinners and
get-togethers, the last at Park Orchards, with Godfrey Philipp. Bob’s
Sister Lyn had come down from N.S.W and that was the final time we met
before she died. (By then of course, Jill Meillon had indeed passed on.)
I made a total fool of myself, (Though not quite as physically as Bob,
who memorably managed to crash though our Engagement presents back in
1968 before staggering off into the night.)
The following day (Which was my day off.) I returned to the scene of the
near disaster. Robert and his young Son James were there. Bob wanted me
to come over, and against my grain I had agreed. (I begrudged losing
writing time on my book.) It was our final, personal time together. Bob
was surprised at how I had altered, who he thought I had chosen as
friends, why he didn’t think they were good for me and what I should
Our time as fast friends was well up.
I drank white wine. My choice of poison. Bob drank Scotch. I checked on
James, who was fast asleep, before I departed at sunup. I left a note
scribbled on a sheet: ‘It was great fun. But it was just one of those
That was the final written comment between us.
On our wall today is a framed replica of the Able Tasman map of
‘Australis Incognito.’ It is one of a limited edition, and on the back
is the hand-written credo: ‘Thanks for twenty very funny years. Here’s
to twenty more. Robert Meillon.’
I couldn’t manage four-score. Our close, deep, warm, abiding friendship,
our blood-brother brief had ebbed away.
It was my fault.
The hand that was held aloft in the sea couldn’t be clasped. I let it
slip away. I watched as it flowed into the waves. I turned my face into
The little dog ‘Mahatma,’ June Salter and the wizened figure of John
Meillon all became a part of the passing parade as the years
relentlessly moved on.
Meantime, I was struggling with my own problems. The drink was part of
it, but there were other pressures that here are not needed to recount.
Let’s just say that I fell, and fell. Got up and fell again, only to be
bowled over, whacked, rattled and whacked again. And amongst all that I
managed to hurt a lot of people who trusted me.
I was fortunate. The important people stayed with me.
My last face to face encounter with him was on ‘Prisoner’. I was working
freelance and Peter Hind got me in one day without telling me Bob was
Directing. We hadn’t seen each other for quite some time, but I remember
him coming into the studio beaming. ‘Hello! Fellow quinquagenarian!’
Robert was inclined to such grand statements at times, and there was the
echo of his brother’s sometimes pompous pontification. It wasn’t a warm
reunion. My fault entirely. I had simply moved on in my life in an
entirely different direction away from television. I was attempting to
work in small business, trying to stay sober, (Trying.) Still writing
and painting. And wanting to get away from the culture of T.V. and all
the drinking buddies who were destroying themselves.
That day at lunch break I stayed in the studio reading or researching
and Robert spent some time with several of the cast, running them
through their lines. He reminded me of Bud Tingwell. Very gentle but
firm in what he had in mind and what he expected from the players. His
thinking in regard to the various motivations for each character was
logical, steering the actors thoughts and defining their situations
against the others was well conceived and made complete sense to them.
At the end of that day, Bob and I met in the corridor outside Studio B.
for the last time.
I felt that he wanted to spend a while, say something, but I simply
couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t attempt the words, the redress of a
friendship, a strong friendship, that I felt was no longer valid on my
behalf. I just couldn’t pretend.
I tried to be off-handed. ‘Hoo-roo!’
That was the final farewell. I marched down the corridor, turning my
back on someone who had been a dearly loved friend, my Best Man, a long
ago soul mate, a bloke I met when I was 19, spent many times with him
over 30 plus years, and shed because I knew we were both aimed in
Robert was to go on with a successful Directing career for some years,
dogged by alcohol, the curse of many, including his family.
I was to survive, dogged by alcohol, aided by my dear wife and close
friends. I’m now almost older than Bob. Come December 2013 I will pass
I have already passed many of the people I worked with during the 60’s,
70’s, 80’s, 90’s.
You will all have seen people play ‘The Air Guitar,’ ‘The Air Drums,’
‘The Air Sax.’
But there is only one man I know who could play ‘The Air Organ,’ pedals,
keyboard and all.
And he, at sometime through space and years, was once my friend.