Denzil was born Denzil Edward Howson in Glenferrie on 3rd September, 1918, the only child to Ned and Kitty Howson. His father was an electrical engineer with the PMG and he was also an inventor who was extremely clever mechanically. He built all manner of things, from the family’s grandfather clock in the hall to a replica of Edison’s phonograph, which is now part of the collection at the Science Museum. The thing is, Ned passed on many skills to his son and young Denzil spent many hours building things with his dad.
Home was in Mont Albert and Denzil went to primary school at Mont Albert Central and, while he enjoyed using his creative brain there, sporting activities had no appeal. In fact, sport and Denzil were never a partnership. When he was 14 years old, his father retired from the PMG and moved the family back to the town of his childhood, Castlemaine. Denzil went to Castlemaine High School and started to really use the mechanical and engineering skills he had learnt from Ned. At the age of 16, he built a three wheeled car with a friend, and then dressed up complete with top hat at the car’s “launching”.
At 19, he came to Melbourne to study radio engineering at RMIT, and he boarded with a relative in Armadale. After finishing his studies, he went straight to work at Howard Radio, and it was there that he first met and befriended Reg Hazelden who, later, would become his brother-in-law. He wasn’t there for long before the Second World War broke out and Denzil enlisted in the Army. At first he worked with directional sound antennas but he then became very ill, so much so that he was admitted to the Heidelberg Military Hospital. During his convalescence and afterwards, he set up listening equipment throughout the hospital and then started arranging entertainment for the patients. Denzil met entertainers like Ron Blaskett during that period and he was involved at Heidelberg until late in the War.
In 1944, his friend Reg married Florence Bradshaw and it was at their wedding that Denzil first met Dorothy, the bride’s sister, known as Dot. His father also died in that year and, when Denzil went to work in country radio station 3YB in Warrnambool, his mother Kitty left Castlemaine and came to live with him. Now, country radio in those days had no network syndication and the presenters were allowed to use their initiative. Denzil thrived in those conditions and produced his own radio dramas. By 1948, however, with Kitty finding it too cold on the coast, they moved back to their original family home in Mont Albert.
Denzil found work immediately reading the Argus news from the newspaper’s headquarters. He was placed on a daily roster basis, reading news in the evening or the morning, and his broadcasts could be heard on several radio stations. He also started working at Home Cinemas which, in the 1950s, was the equivalent of today’s local video outlet. They had a library of films for enthusiasts, all in 9.5mm, the French film gauge. Fortunately, considering his news commitments, he was able to be flexible in his working hours. Denzil not only served the customers, he also used his engineering skills to repair clients’ projectors. He was much valued.
More importantly, in catching up again with his mate Reg, he renewed his acquaintance with Dot. He asked her out and they got on well together. They went on many outings, such as to the pictures, and Dot liked the fact that Denzil owned his own car. On the 15th February 1951, they married at the Camberwell Congregational Church and then drove to Bright for their honeymoon. It took Dot a little while to get used to her husband taking his camera everywhere they went. He was always filming things, including on their honeymoon.
They started married life together in a house they bought in Dandenong Road, Caulfield, but spent nine months of 1952 touring England and Europe in a Morris Minor. Two years later, they were delighted with the birth of their first child, son Paul. Wanting more space and less traffic, they moved to 50 Belgrave Road, East Malvern, in 1955, and that remains the family home to this day. Soon after moving in, Denzil built a large shed which he lovingly and meticulously converted into a state of the art home made theatre and studio, complete with mechanized curtains, dimmable lighting, and a recording facility, including being able to cut his own acetate discs.
1956 was a big year for Denzil. Apart from the joy of daughter Clare being born, it was when television started in Australia. GTV 9 opened ahead of schedule to televise the Olympics and Denzil was actively involved in the live telecasts as a director and cameraman.
He began as Assistant Program Manager at GTV 9 and those years at Nine, from 1956–1963, he considered the most interesting and productive years of his working life.
To continue looking at Denzil’s life, we will now hear from his son, Paul Howson.
Now, to add some personal recollections of their own, we welcome close friends Ron Blaskett and Susan-Gaye Anderson.
You have heard today some of the aspects of Denzil Howson’s life. There are many more, of course, and over the coming weeks you will remember personal things that will make his memory special for you.
There is no doubt that Denzil was a very hard worker whose life centred heavily on theatre, film, radio and television, and that he was single minded in his pursuits. But, throughout his long and productive life, he maintained a pleasant, easy going manner and he was always himself.
He and Dot were married for 54 years and she was his greatest supporter and constant back-up. She understood his strong need to use his skills and creativity, and she encouraged him all the way. And, according to her, they had “a fantastic life together”.
As his children grew, Paul and Clare said that their father was exciting to be around. He was always interesting, with a mind full of ideas, and he enjoyed discussing things with them — and they enjoyed his sense of humour.
Denzil Howson was a talented man, a loving husband and father, grandfather to David, Fiona and Oliver and a good friend to those who knew him.
He will be sadly missed.