F. J. Thwaites

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Frederick Joseph Thwaites (23 May 1908 – 13 August 1979) was an Australian novelist whose books sold over four million copies. He was best known for his first work The Broken Melody, which was adapted into a 1938 film.[1]


Born in the inner Sydney suburb of Balmain, Thwaites left school at the age of 13 and originally worked in the clothing industry. He wrote The Broken Melody when he was 19; it was originally self-published but eventually became a best seller, selling 55,000 copies in Australia and 25,000 in England.[2]

In February 1933 Thwaites left for England to write screen scenarios for Elstree Studios.[3] He spent several months there, and several months in Hollywood, attempting to sell his work to movie producers. Thwaites said on his return:

I spent four months in Hollywood but had bad luck with my novels because of copyright laws. It is absolutely essential that after publication of a book in Australia and before three months has passed it has been copyrighted in Washington. I failed to do that, and I have no doubt it cost me the loss of the three pictures, for the picture folk only make pictures of stories that have been out twelve months on the American market and are protected, whereas my stories were open for any American publisher to copy without paying a cent.[4]

He later estimated this cost him £15,000.[5]

On his return to Australia in late 1933, Thwaites then toured the country looking for manuscripts to publish.[6] In 1936 he founded his own publishing firm. F. J. Thwaites.[7]

In May 1937 Thwaites joined Adelaide radio station 5KA as production manager. During this time he met Jessica Harcourt, who became his wife.[8]

In 1938, Thwaites and his wife left for England via the Pacific Islands and Panama Canal, researching material for novels. They ended to stay in England for three years but World War II saw them return to Australia after by the end of 1939.[9]

Thwaites was one of the most popular Australian authors of the 1940s and 1950s, with many of his works being adapted for radio.

In late 1954 Thwaites set up a company in England, Harcourt Press, to publish his books there.[10]

Thwaites was married to actor Jessica Harcourt from 1938 until his death and together they had two sons.[11]

Much of his work was set in the Riverina region. His great-grandfather was Frederick Jenkins, who started Buckinbong Station.[2]

In the late 1960s Thwaites was financing and managing housing projects.[12]


Thwaites was no fan of the Australian film industry. According to a 1933 interview:

He deplored the presentation abroad of such films as On Our Selection, Harmony Row, The Sentimental Bloke, and The Squatter's Daughter, in all of which there was at least one imbecile or half-wit. People abroad viewing these pictures could not be blamed for coming to the conclusion that about one person in every four or five in Australia was sub normal. The Efftee Studios in Australia were deserving of praise for their pioneering work, but surely it was possible to portray humour on the screen without associating it with lunacy.[5]

The Broken Melody was turned into an Australian film in 1938, directed by Ken G. Hall, who had made On Our Selection and The Squatter's Daughter.

In 1935 it was announced that Broken Wings and Flames of Convention were to be filmed in England but this did not appear to happen.[13] In 1937 The Defender was going to be adapted by but this did not happen either.[14]

Critical appraisal[]

According to Ron Blaber (in the Australian Dictionary of Biography) although Thwaites was: "seen by critics as romantic and sentimental, his thirty-one adventure novels—characterized by themes of struggle and redemption—were immensely popular, particularly with lending libraries, and sold more than four million copies. Written in 'tempestuous prose', they were crammed with incident and swung between Australian and exotic settings."[11]



  1. ^ 'BOY'S AMBITION REALISED How 'Broken Melody' Was Written', The Courier-Mail (Brisbane), Tuesday 5 July 1938 p 10
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b "NOVELIST AT 19". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 11 September 1935. p. 17. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  3. ^ "NOVELS FOR SCREEN". The Land. Sydney: National Library of Australia. 3 March 1933. p. 3. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  4. ^ "Travellers in the Strathaird". The Daily News. Perth: National Library of Australia. 5 December 1933. p. 5 Edition: LATE CITY. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  5. ^ Jump up to: a b "AN AUSTRALIAN NOVELIST". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 6 December 1933. p. 7. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  6. ^ "AUSTRALIAN NOVELIST". Narromine News and Trangie Advocate. NSW: National Library of Australia. 26 January 1934. p. 4. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  7. ^ "COMPANY NEWS". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 21 May 1937. p. 13. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  8. ^ "ACTRESS AND AUTHOR WED QUIETLY". The News. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 1 March 1938. p. 1. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  9. ^ "MRS. THWAITES BRINGS FASHION NEWS". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 19 September 1939. p. 4. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  10. ^ "Thwaites To Publish In London". Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate. National Library of Australia. 23 December 1954. p. 7. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  11. ^ Jump up to: a b Blaber, Ron, 'Thwaites, Frederick Joseph (1908–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University accessed 5 March 2012
  12. ^ "UNBROKEN MELODY OF SUCCESS". The Canberra Times. National Library of Australia. 10 September 1968. p. 3. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  13. ^ "Australian Novels To Be Filmed". The Land. Sydney: National Library of Australia. 1 February 1935. p. 16. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  14. ^ "AUTHOR PUBLISHES OWN BOOKS". The News. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 13 February 1937. p. 3. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
  15. ^ "BOOKS AND MAGAZINES". The Northern Standard. Darwin, NT: National Library of Australia. 11 December 1934. p. 7. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  16. ^ "Plenty of Action". The Queenslander. National Library of Australia. 2 January 1936. p. 10. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  17. ^ "BOOK TALK". The Morning Bulletin. Rockhampton, Qld.: National Library of Australia. 24 October 1936. p. 6. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  18. ^ "CONTRACT BRIDGE KERNELS". The Mail. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 30 January 1937. p. 5 Section: MAGAZINE. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  19. ^ "State Emergency Services". . Vic.: National Library of Australia. 22 November 1941. p. 2. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  20. ^ "BOOK REVIEWS Idriess Points To W.A.'s Future". Sunday Times. Perth: National Library of Australia. 25 March 1945. p. 6 Section: The Sunday Times COMICS. Retrieved 5 March 2012.

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