This year marks the 70th anniversary of Australia’s biggest Christmas carols event, Carols By Candlelight.

The idea for Carols By Candlelight was conceived by Melbourne radio identity Norman Banks, who in 1937 was strolling along a suburban street after a late-night on-air shift when he witnessed an elderly woman, her face lit only by candlelight, singing along to carols on the radio. This inspired Banks to approach his employer, radio station 3KZ, to put together the first Carols By Candlelight event on Christmas Eve the following year.

The first Carols By Candlelight was attended by 10,000 people at Melbourne’s Alexandra Gardens. The following year, 40,000 attended the event which began at 11.00pm and ended with a reproduction of the chimes of London’s Big Ben at midnight.

The first well-known identity to perform at Carols was Gladys Moncrieff in 1942 – hence beginning a Carols tradition of featuring famous performers.

From its earliest days, Carols By Candlelight operated as a fund-raiser for charitable causes. From 1949 the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (now Vision Australia) was selected as one of the main recipients of proceeds from the event. In 1965, RVIB became the sole beneficiary from the event.

The first telecast of Carols By Candlelight was presented by GTV9 as part of its pre-launch test transmissions in 1956, but it did not become an annual telecast until picked up by Melbourne’s ATV0 in 1969 — also the first year that RVIB took over the running of Carols from 3KZ. Three years later, the telecast was extended to other stations in the 0-10 Network, and in 1974 was televised for the first time in colour.

The Nine Network took over as the telecast partner of the event in 1979. GTV9 newsreader Brian Naylor took on the role of host for ten years before it was handed to national network identity Ray Martin.

Despite its early connections to radio station 3KZ, the radio broadcast partner for Carols By Candlelight has changed a number of times. In more recent times the event has been broadcast by Melbourne radio stations 3AW and Magic 1278, and relayed across Australia through its network of sister stations and also by Vision Australia’s own national radio network.

This year’s Carols By Candlelight will mark the 50th year the event has been held at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Performers this year will include former Australian Idol winner Anthony Callea (who is also the ambassador of this year’s event), The Choir Of Hard Knocks (from the ABC series of earlier this year), the Australian cast of the stage production Guys And Dolls, Kate Ceberano, Rachael Beck, Ian Stenlake and Carols regulars Hi-5, Denis Walter, Marina Prior and Silvie Paladino.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Vision Australia’s Carols By Candlelight. Christmas Eve, 24 December, 9.00pm, repeated at 1.30pm Christmas Day, on Nine*

Source: Vision Australia
Picture: TV Week, 26 December 1981
* Melbourne. Other areas check local guides

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