Tuesday, December 3, 2019

DRIVEN PERSONALITIES - JULES FELDMAN by John Crawford

Father of new car scoop photo spreads, staffer at WHEELS and co-founder of MODERN MOTOR magazine and, with Evan Green, the man who drove an Austin Freeway around Australia in just nine days.


Jules Feldman was one of my heroes, and I had tremendous respect, admiration and affection for the quietly-spoken White Russian who was the Publisher of MODERN MOTOR when I joined the magazine in 1972. Within a short time I had been promoted to Editor by Jules, who said I was the first non-journalist who had ever produced the magazine on time, on budget and slowed its precipitous slide in circulation.


Such a serious young editor

Jules Feldman was born in Siberia in 1919, and he escaped to Australia in 1938, just before WW2 changed life for everyone.

He was just 35 when he and a brash Sydney yachtie named Colin Ryrie started MODERN MOTOR in 1954. Between them they had produced the first 11 issues of WHEELS magazine (Australia’s first car magazine), but decided to branch out on their own. They conceived MODERN MOTOR primarily as a news magazine, because it enjoyed shorter deadlines than WHEELS, and the pair had hit on the popularity of ‘scooping’ new models before they were launched.

Scoop photos boosted the magazine’s circulation to over 90,000 copies on one occasion, after Jules had sneaked into the GM-Holden plant at Pagewood in Sydney and photographed the new models before they were ready to roll out of the factory.

The magazine developed a reputation as a pacesetter in automotive news, and boasted a strong band of correspondents in Australia and in Europe.

With his highly-tuned news sense, Jules was always ready for new adventures.

In 1962, as BMC Australia was about to launch the Austin Freeway, with the ‘Blue Streak Six’ engine, Jules and fellow journalist Evan Green approached BMC with a plan to basically ‘race’ around Australia in nine days, and beat the existing record.

The Freeway was pretty much a standard car straight off the production line, with stronger shock absorbers.



Jules challenged the staid BMC executives, telling them it could be done, for very little budget, and both he and Evan Green reckoned the car was strong and durable enough to take the hammering that the 8,100 mile (13,000km) run would inflict on the Australian-developed challenger to the popular Holden, Ford and Chrysler six-cylinder family cars.

They did in fact beat the record, by 5½ days, finishing the run with no major breakdowns.


At the end the tough old British bulldog had succumbed to no major injuries, and proved an outstanding launching pad for BMC’s tilt at the traditional Australian-built six-cylinder family cars at the time, which of course were all American-designed. The advertising catch-phrase was 'Make way for the Austin Freeway'.

Jules Feldman was a man of outstanding honesty, integrity, determination and humility. He was a gem to work for. His only demand was that you do your job well. Once you achieved that in his eyes, you were provided with as much encouragement as you needed. His strong support launched me into mainstream journalism with incredible confidence and optimism.

He was thrilled when he realised I had a ‘nose for news’ and that I would hunt down the smallest detail, to give a scoop story the credibility it needed to sell magazines.

Jules died at 94, on September 18, 2013, survived by his wonderful wife Sandra, and two children.

John Crawford

NOTE: Please see the comment from former editor of WHEELS, Peter Robinson, which presents facts about Jules' involvement with WHEELS, which I did not report correctly.

2 comments:

  1. The origins of Wheels are well known to regular readers: founded by Norman Hudson, edited by Athol Yeomans, with the first - May 1953 - edition a sell-out. Understandably, when a recent obituary published in The Sydney Morning Herald (February 21, 2014) and The Age (February 3, 2014) bluntly claimed, “Ryrie and Feldman produced the first 11 issues of Wheels magazine before starting out on their own” questions were asked. Understandably Yeomans, in particular, was disappointed by the re-writing of history by Sandra Feldman, Feldman’s widow (they were married in 1975) and author of the obituary.
    Since 1953 Wheels has celebrated many anniversaries, most significantly the 25th, 40th, 50th and 60th birthdays. In none of the stories written by those people responsible for creating the magazine and its early months is Feldman credited with a direct involvement in “producing” Wheels. The first masthead reveals: Publisher Norman Hudson, News and Feature editor Athol Yeomans; Sporting editor and photographer Barrie Louden, Managing editor Jules Feldman, Advertising Manager Colin Ryrie.
    In a long article on the beginnings of Wheels for the May 2003 issue, Yeomans writes of the many people directly involved. Only well into the story does he, graciously it must be said, mention Feldman. “Norman Hudson had a rare gift of knowing a magazine opportunity from a hole in the ground. He was also fortunate to have as his managing editor Jules Feldman, who did much to turn Norman’s ideas into reality.”
    That’s it. In their writings and in many early-Wheels conversations after I joined the magazine in early 1971 with Jeff Carter, Peter Burden, Athol Yeomans and Pedr Davis, the name Feldman was never mentioned. Nor did Feldman ever raise the issue with Wheels following the stories of Yeoman’s first-hand involvement in creating the magazine. Indeed, during my 16 years as editor of this esteemed title I occasionally meet Feldman and talked magazines, but the subject of Wheels origins never arose. What was recognised by all was that on seeing the instant success of Wheels, Feldman and Ryrie left Hudson Publishing in early 1954 and, with financial support from Sir Frank Packer, started Modern Motor (later Motor) magazine.
    After almost six decades of silence, the claims were first aired when Feldman was made an officer of the Order of Australia in the 2013 New Year honours’ list. Interviewed by Fairfax Media - for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers – Feldman told reporter Matt Campbell that he foundered Australia’s first motoring magazine Wheels in 1953. Wrong on two counts. The Australian Monthly Motor Manual magazine (later Car Australia, before a merger with Motor), appeared shortly after the WW2 and there were other motoring titles in the 1920s and 1930s. Last year, and after the obituary, I wrote to the SMH correcting the error, but neither letter was published.
    Why Feldman felt the need to inflate his reputation is hard to understand, especially given the success of Modern Magazines and his role in Australia’s greatest motoring scoop, the Modern Motor’s 1956 FE Holden scoop cover and story that took sales to record heights.
    Sandra Feldman’s loyalty to her husband is understandable, but in this regard she is reshaping history to suit the family legend. First as News and Feature editor and, from March 1954 as editor, Athol Yeomans planned and produced every Wheels until he resigned in 1956.

    Peter Robinson editor Wheels 1971-1986

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  2. Thank you for another exceptional article John and icing on the cake is a comment from none other than Peter Robinson! Resulting in a rare authority and fitting tribute to Jules Feldman.

    I've asked this in the past and will ask again . . . . a simple guy like myself who lives in Sydney and grew up on a diet of Wheels and MM magazines and admiring the work of talented wordsmiths like yourself and Peter Robinson . . . wouldn't it be great to have an informal gathering to meet and thank you in person for sharing your talents while shouting you a meal? I'm sure I wouldn't be alone in wanting to do so, but the practicality of organising it and of course respecting your privacy probably means it is unlikely. But at least you know the sentiment is there. Cheers.

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