[News] Composer and ABC producer gave voice to drama and features

Italy was partly wrecked by wartime bombs, and the students saw many signs of the people’s suffering. They met Pope Pius XII in his summer palace. At Propaganda Fide College, studies commenced under expert lecturers, with students from 26 different countries. Once again Connolly took advantage of the opportunity to learn about music, notably plainsong and Renaissance polyphony.

During 1949 he began to feel doubts about his vocation to the priesthood, and the following year, only months before ordination, he told the college rector that he believed himself unsuited for it. The rector was ‘kindness itself’, he says, and he flew home shortly afterwards, feeling deep sadness when saying goodbye to many friends. One he saw many times was John Molony, who became Professor of History at the ANU and remained a friend for 67 years.

Out in ‘the world’, Connolly got a job as proofreader for The Catholic Weekly, and saw the wisdom of advice that he should study for an arts degree at Sydney University. Thus, from 1952, he was working by day and studying by night.

In 1955, he was introduced to the poet James McAuley by Father Ted Kennedy of Ryde parish, where both men lived. They became firm friends, and collaborated in writing hymns, published as Hymns for the Year of Grace. Later Connolly wrote ‘It seemed to me that most of the tunes I made in that collection were strangely not mine – so nearly did the words seem to clothe themselves in music’.

In the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral, in 1961, he played the title role in The Play of Daniel, a morality play sung in Latin, with a large cast. It was a huge success, televised by the ABC, and often recalled by Connolly and others who took part.

Richard Connolly in The Play Of Daniel in 1961.

Richard Connolly in The Play Of Daniel in 1961.Credit:Fairfax

He joined the ABC in 1956, going first into religious broadcasts, then education, and in 1967 was appointed to radio drama and features, becoming features editor soon afterwards. I joined the department in 1971, slightly after the woman who became a virtual deputy for Connolly, Julie-Anne Ford.

Connolly was appointed director in 1973. Network director Arthur Wyndham found, on a visit to France, that in the arts area of Radio France, the idea of programs fitting into fixed slots had been abandoned in favour of a whole evening of cultural radio. He persuaded Connolly and his small production staff – Ford and me – to undertake a similar thing here.

Thus was born Sunday Night Radio Two, the site for a large range of programs about literature, history, music and art. For years the show ran from 7.30pm to 11pm. We attracted many splendid writers and musicians to contribute to this long evening, where just about anything of sufficient quality could be placed.

Connolly was in his element. For the first program in March 1973 he wrote and produced The Wild Irish Harper, broadcast with a talk about violence in Northern Ireland, and music from the Chieftains and John Field.


Later he produced a program on the old English epic poem Beowulf, read by Wynn Roberts, arranged and narrated by scholar Michael Alexander of Stirling, Scotland, who became a great friend of Connolly’s. Then there was a series on Virgil’s Aeneid, running for several weeks, introduced by a leading Virgil scholar.

Connolly was by nature a cultural conservative, but his time as director of radio drama and features is remarkable for the number of producers he brought in who did not fit that mould at all.

At Connolly’s requiem in St Mary’s Cathedral, a eulogy from his eldest son Christopher, writing from France, rejoiced in his father combining the rugby-mad Magpie fan with the erudite musician.

I remember Connolly saying ‘children keep you young’ – and the ancient Romans did not make him seem old. Our colleague Julie-Anne said after a lunch with him, “It’s so good to be with a truly educated person.”

“Truly educated”: Richard Connolly.

“Truly educated”: Richard Connolly.

As director, naturally, he wrote numerous memos. Some of those going to radio management in Broadcast House almost emitted steam – he was locked in a battle for funds, facilities, air time and staff. Colleague Ron Blair quotes him as saying “The difference between ABC and BBC managements is that they have a higher form of nong.”


Front and centre of Connolly’s mind was his large family. With his first wife Jennifer, he had eight children: Christopher, Helen, Jeremy, Antony, Katie, Camilla, Polly and Suzy, and one son, Hugh, with his second wife Cynthia.

There could not be a better epitaph for Richard Connolly than the first two lines of his oft-sung hymn: “Where there is charity and love, there the love of God abides”.

Rodney Wetherell

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