JAMES McCARTHY (25/10/1939 – 13/01/2021)

AMOHG received the sad news this morning that James McCarthy – a long-term member of AMOHG, and its predecessor, FBIOHG – passed away yesterday afternoon after a long battle with cancer. 

James McCarthy on his 80th birthday

Born in Tamworth in 1939 as James Tom Miles McCarthy, he started as a production assistant at the Commonwealth Film Unit (later Film Australia) in 1959. He would soon become the Unit’s Music Officer, then Director of Music between 1964 and 1986. At Film Australia he produced some 200 documentary film scores. For the next ten years he was Manager of the Sydney Office of the National Film and Sound Archive. During the last 18 months in that role, he was commissioned to accession the Film Australia film music collection to the NFSA and National Archives in the Film Australia Music Heritage Project.

James was president of the International Association of Sound and AV Archives (IASA) 1993-96, continuing on the board until 1999. He was on the committee for IASA’s international Sydney conference in 2008 and on the committee of the Australasian Sound Recordings Association since its inception. He was a long-standing member of AMOHG.

In its early days in the mid-70s he was a programmer/presenter for Sydney’s classical music station 2MBS-FM. Later he contributed to: Soundscapes, the International Record Guide, the 2MBS-FM guide, Limelight (the ABC’s magazine) and to Opera-Opera. He was the musical director for various Sydney and Canberra opera and musical societies.

James conducted a series of NFSA-commissioned oral histories with film composers, filmmakers, and one with Stanley Hawes. NFSA also holds no less than four oral histories and/or interviews with James himself. In 2013, he was interviewed for an Oral History by Graham Shirley. Details of this interview are here.

James McCarthy recalls his work as a Film Australia production assistant (1959-1964), followed by his time as the organisation’s Music Officer (1964-1986), and as manager of the NFSA’s Sydney Office (1986-1996). In the Film Australia context, he describes the premises in Burwood and the move to Lindfield, personnel that he worked with, and the choice of composers, musicians, conductors and music styles. His memories of NFSA include the organisation’s first four Sydney offices, the dynamics of its Canberra/Sydney relationship and the Film Australia Music Heritage Project (1995-1996). James also describes his involvement in the sound recording organisations, IASA and ASRA.

Other members of AMOHG have been quick to add their memories:

Graham Shirley writes:

“I first met James at Film Australia in the late 1970s. I always found him lively and interesting, and we shared many a good laugh.  James was, for many years, Film Australia’s Music Officer, matching composers with the music needs of FA’s documentaries. He was also NFSA’s first Sydney office manager. “

Rod Freedman writes:

“I have warm memories of James when I was a young and very green production assistant at FA. His music library there was full of LP records! He was welcoming, friendly, funny and informative. He ran the social club’s lunchtime screenings. Farewell to a generous and creative man.”

Malcolm Smith writes:

“I remember him fondly and with respect from the CFU days.  Apart from his positive and helpful musical support for filmmakers he was always a great enthusiast – especially with regards to Gilbert and Sullivan. May he Rest In Peace.”

Catherine Shirley writes:

So sorry to hear this about James, who was thought of highly as a Manager of the NFSA’s Sydney office.

Storry Walton writes::

“Very sad. He was wonderfully supportive of new music along with his fine skills as a manager. We shared some good times.”

One thought on “Vale James McCarthy

  1. Very sad by this news, but hardly surprised, given James’s declining health in recent years. We first met in February 1970 when he walked us through preparations for HORIZONS, the Australian pavilion at Expo 70 in Osaka. He was a charming and vivacious man, a genuine bon vivant, who enjoyed good company and (sometimes salacious) gossip. An opera buff and and leading light with Young Opera in the early 1970s, he yielded a mean baton and knew his G&S inside out (and outside in). His many friends across the music industry will miss his infectious cheer and generous spirit. Let’s hope that his attempts to document the early years of film music in this country can be continued in some academic context.


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