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Sunday, June 5, 2016


(Henry Diffenthal)

Respected radio drama producer, Henry Diffenthal, passed away in Durban on May 8, 2016.

Born on 13 September, 1925, in Standerton, in the former Transvaal, he was one of nine children born to his parents Friedrich and Carolina. His father worked as a Railway Station Master. As a boy, he loved Western movies - so much so that one of his first jobs was as a projectionist at the 20th Century Fox cinema in Johannesburg.

His talents were recognised by his friend Peter Merrill who, together with Dean Herrick started Herrick Merrill Studios. Henry was employed as a recording engineer and together they made shows for Springbok Radio like Address Unknown, Pick a Box and No Place to Hide. In 1954, he moved to Durban to open a Durban branch of Herrick Merrill. In 1966, Henry left Herrick Merrill and Olympia Recording Studios was opened in Albany Grove.

In the early 1970s, Henry needed a bigger studio. He moved to Broad Street and also added filmmaking to his bow. He was now the owner of Olympia Recording and Film Studios and his bread and butter was still making programmes for Springbok Radio. He supplied shows for Lux Radio Theatre and produced a morning soapie for housewives as well as his flagship programme High Adventure which ran from 1972 to 1985.

At his Broad Street studio, he recorded numerous albums for Ladysmith Black Mambazo and recorded the soundtrack to Meropa for Joan Brickhill and Louis Burke.

Springbok Radio closed in 1985 and Henry moved his studio to Glenashley where he continued to make radio commercials and record bands. He is survived by a daughter and four sons.

Close friend and colleague, actor Frank Graham recalls his memories of working with Henry Diffenthal:

“I first started working for Henry in the early 70s when Olympia was still based in Albany Grove. I remember the studio being quite poky but it had atmosphere.

Henry later moved to Baynes House in Broad Street where, mercifully, parking was not so hectic. The studio here was very spacious and I spent many a pleasant hour participating in hour-long plays and half-hour dramas. In those early days there was always a producer (who was really rather a director) besides Henry in the Control Room surrounded by his machines, but in later years Henry adopted this job as well. We didn’t have the luxury of raglights (lighting stands with red, amber and green cue lights) but cues were given by means of a waved finger, and we’d be away.

Before we ever entered the studio, Henry was prepared for us. He had to be. All his sound effects, lots of them complicated, were pre-recorded and were just fed in as required, along with the music.

With all this going on, Henry had to keep an eagle eye on the stopwatch. Springbok was a commercial station and if Johannesburg decreed that a half-hour drama should run out at 25 mins 15 seconds (the rest of the time given over to commercials) this had to be adhered to.

It must have been very hectic at times, but I don’t remember Henry ever getting flustered or losing his cool in any way.

I remember watching Henry edit tapes. He was a master at it! Cutting the tape, resplicing it, all over in seconds. These days, of course, tape isn’t used at all.

Those were the days. Beautifully professional productions with many works by really talented local writers, and I like to think we did them justice. RIP, Henry” – Frank Graham