60 Years of QLD TV

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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Vale: Frank Warrick OAM


"Have you seen Frank today?"
That line, was used by Nine at one point during the two years Frank Warrick spent there in the 1980s, as both a weeknight co-anchor for Don Seccombe, and a solo act at 6pm, once Don moved to weekends in early 1985.

Yet, it is poignant to say it, in the wake of Frank Warrick's passing on May 11, because a big slice of our visual memories here in Queensland of the late 1970's and 1980's is wrapped up in live crosses, news bulletins, major events, that somehow develop into a visual patchwork quilt: that is also Frank's life in front of the camera.

The beginning:

Photo (from Toowoomba, Remember When on Facebook)

Frank's media career began in radio in the 1960's, with a notable focus on his run in Toowoomba where he rose from young talent, to station management at 4GR (Queensland's oldest provincial station, today a SCA-owned station emulating Triple M: in the 60's, top 40 was 4GR's bread and butter), before coming to Brisbane, but one stunt that Frank did in his formative years at 4GR stands out as the greatest forerunner to his future. Frank did a impressive 4 days straight (nearly 100hrs consecutively) presenting radio in the mid 60's, setting a world record, long since broken.

Frank's Life in Television

The arrival of Frank Warrick to television news from radio, came just as simplified live crosses first came into vogue (thanks to the arrival of electronic news gathering) and what we watched as a news bulletin began to change (from newsreaders reading stories over film, to packaged reporting, while overseas and interstate stories were still being raced up Mt Coot-tha from the old Brisbane Airport), in 1976/77. Frank earned his reputation, in the late 70's as a live reporter: most significantly the Right to March demonstrations in Brisbane's heart in September 1977, before being given the anchors chair (with some reporting) alongside Mike Higgins as the eighties dawned.

(1980 promo for 7's 6-7:30 lineup, from SLQ microfiche)

Warrick and Higgins, the first time around, slowly built a following, as BTQ's news began it's ascent up the ratings ladder, after events such as the Moreton Bay rescue in May 1980 (that won national awards and overseas airing) and the arrival of Glenn Taylor from Nine's Today Tonight to start State Affair not long afterward, all culminating in a significant moment: where Seven's news overtook Nine's news (led by the late Don Seccombe) in Brisbane in 1982, which ultimately led to Queensland regional stations switching their national news relay to Seven from Nine, beginning with DDQ in Toowoomba (who had taken QTQ's news since it's establishment in 1962) in February 1983.

DDQ news switch promo, 1983 from SLQ microfiche.

However: in the gap between when Seven got DDQ and the rest of Queensland (which happened straight after the 1983 federal election in March), Frank Warrick was lured to Nine, and wouldn't debut with his new employer until May of that year.

The ad that signalled the start of the Warrick/Seccombe partnership at Nine in May 1983 from SLQ microfiche

1983 promo for Don/Frank (from Australian TV Fan on Youtube)

The Warrick/Seccombe era of news at QTQ may not have been getting ratings diaries changing in Brisbane homes but one significant event would spark Frank's love of a good doco (something he'd really invest in, come the 1990's). The 1984 QTQ-produced documentary, "A Flood of Memories", a hourlong special concerning the flood of 1974, with both Don and Frank, is a great reminder of a event just 10yrs distant in peoples minds, which also set a very high bar, for people in the future to duplicate.
My favorite line in that doco is one we unknowingly ignored: with Frank, at Wivenhoe Dam's (then) construction site.
"This is the Wivenhoe Dam, as it is today. Still unfinished, and still claimed by politicians to be the answer to our flood problems. The experts don't agree, we haven't learned to stop a disastrous flood."
Excerpt from A Flood of Memories, January 1984.

A Flood of Memories, 1984: from jmoulis on Youtube.

A new owner, for QTQ in 1985, one Alan Bond, led to very significant changes for the news product QTQ was putting out: most notably, splitting the Seccombe-Warrick duo, in favour of a solo weeknight product with Frank, and a solo weekend product with Don. Soon after, Today Tonight was pushed to late nights, and QTQ's news lead-out changed rapidly: first, it was Sale (moving to 6:30 from 7pm) and Daryl Somers's Blankety Blanks reboot, before ultimately moving Willesee to 6:30 in May prior to seeing Today Tonight end it's run in late June.

QTQ's newly rejigged 5:30-7pm lineup from pugsley2005 on Youtube

Various QTQ print advertisements:
"Face Value" early 1985,
"I like Nine" news/current affairs promotion, June 1985
from SLQ microfiche

Within weeks of TT's end however, Frank would be making news of his own.
On July 5, 1985: Frank handed in his notice to QTQ, and re-signed with BTQ (within hours of departing Nine: no gardening leave for Frank): now a emphatic #1 in Brisbane and Queensland, with the big reveal happening at a function at Brisbane's Sheraton above Central Station (now the Sofitel).

"Frank Likes, Um, 7" article Brisbane Daily Sun 6/7/1985
Seven promotional ads, Courier-Mail, July-August 1985
from SLQ microfiche.

The return of Frank to the news desk at Seven, would eventually guide Seven into a era without Mike Higgins, not before the first big story on his return, that proved that he had not lost a step working live.
July 26, 1985: Brisbane Airport. Frank's calm attitude towards a siege involving a hijacked Seaworld helicopter (hijacked over the Gold Coast by a father enraged over divorce proceedings, and somehow had his two children onboard, taken hostage), and a fuel truck (which if it had exploded would have had dramatic impacts on the old Brisbane Airport), that was in turn relayed to the nation, was gripping viewing, in a age where live crosses out of programming for such stories, let alone in daytime viewing hours and taken nationally were rare events. Ultimately, the hijacker gave himself up, literally as the 6pm news went to air.

1986-87 print promos for BTQ's news from SLQ microfiche.

Ultimately in 1987, Frank became the lead newsreader for BTQ's news, after the departure of Mike Higgins for a sojourn at TVQ in January of that year.

The launch night for BTQ's 1hr news: (from Australian TV Fan on Youtube)

The 1987-88 period, was a literal experiment period for 7 and Frank: first being 1hr news, with three at the desk (Frank alongside Nev Roberts and Donna Mekelejohn from April 1987), then back to 1/2hr in 1988 at 6:30pm alongside Simone Semmens (in the same newsroom that also gave a start in the news business to another SS initial, Sandra Sully)...

"The Complete Alternative" print promo, 18/1/1988 from SLQ microfiche.

First 6:30 news, 18/1/1988 (from Australian TV Fan on Youtube)

And, finally, back to 6pm before the end of Expo 88.

1988 Seven Nightly News, Brisbane commercial for 6pm change (from Vintage Ads and TV on Youtube)

However, none of these moves worked ratings wise, as Bruce Paige (brought to Nine when Frank left in 1985) finally led Nine back to the top in Brisbane television news, in 1987 and became a dominant #1 in 1988.

1989 however, dawned with a new hope. Kay McGrath, formerly of TVQ, had been at Seven for around twelve months: hosting a business news product alongside former QTQ TT host John Barton: TVAM, produced in Sydney. 1989 saw Kay come home, and sit in the weeknight chair alongside Frank Warrick.

That pairing, lasted throughout the 1990's, and into the 21st century, as innovations and milestones kept rolling on: beginning with Seven foregoing the weather presenter, and letting Frank present it himself (although some of the weather forecasts were written by some big names on their way up: Sarah Harris, Jillian Whiting just to name a few), the first live crosses out to Moreton Bay onboard new recruit Ken Brown's boat in 1989, Frank travelling overseas for major news (first occurring in 1986, with a trip to Lausanne, to cover Brisbane's 1992 Olympic bid decision), Kay McGrath's major milestone of 1992: returning after maternity leave.

While having a little fun at the same time:

(All three BTQ news promos 1992-96 from Dan Martin on Youtube)

Frank, in 1999 even got to ask some questions: as the host of the first season of 7's Million Dollar Chance of a Lifetime (in reality 7's response to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on Nine)
Episode of Million Dollar Chance of a Lifetime, 1999 (from For The Love Of Broadcast on Youtube)

(1999 BTQ news promo from Dan Martin on Youtube)

As the 20th century ended, Kay and Frank became the longest serving news presenting duo in Queensland: a beacon of stability in a decade where the competition changed presenters often, but all this was to come to a end, as the close of 2001 approached.

It all began with a piece in the Courier-Mail, in July 2001: which questioned Seven's news fortunes in SEQ, and posted a set of yearly news ratings percentages since 1996 (when Seven dropped Brisbane-produced Family Feud, and mucked around with Wheel of Fortune) which pointed to a major downward trend in weeknight news ratings for Frank and Kay: while local management made major attempts to correct it (the original BTQ Gold Coast news service, with Melissa Downes running from 1998-2000, a stripped out Great South East in summer 1999-2000, The "Follow The Flame" series, in June 2000 (which actually beat Extra for the two weeks it was on air) and ultimately, Local Edition: launched out of the Olympics but was gone by 2001's start): big news to common viewers in a era where widescale overnight ratings data wasn't made public as widely as today (e.g. no ratings data available for those outside the industry circle (i.e. television stations and television writers for publications like the Courier-Mail).

But before action happened, Frank and Kay, got to share one last big story together, in September 2001.

BTQ 9/11 coverage, 2001: from pugsley2005 on Youtube

Eventually, 7 acted on the Brisbane ratings issues: with Frank Warrick announcing his retirement at the very end of 2001 (amongst other wholesale changes to BTQ's news, inc. a new news director and Melissa Downes jumping ship to Nine, who is now (with Andrew Lofthouse) very close to eclipsing Frank and Kay's thirteen year weeknight partnership record.)

Just weeks before, his final bulletin, Frank hosted the Brisbane Lord Mayor's Christmas Carols at the River Stage. After a thank you, from then Lord Mayor, Jim Soorley, a unprecedented standing ovation followed suit from the 10,000 people in attendance that left many (including Warrick himself) speechless.

So, it was the 28th of December, 2001, Frank Warrick made the ultimate sendoff: off to retirement or so it seemed at the end.

(Frank Warrick BTQ farewell 28/12/2001 from Dan Martin on Youtube)

It took nearly a year, of travelling by Frank before we got a shock summer fill-in on Nine, which lasted a couple of years, but somehow left his number with the folks at QTQ.

(Frank's QTQ return, 21/12/2002 from Dan Martin on Youtube)

But, it was when QTQ's news was at it's lowest ratings ebb in 20 years (thanks to a now successful BTQ news with Kay McGrath and Rod Young, overtaking Nine for the first time since the eighties) in 2008, Nine thought it'd be novel to bring Frank Warrick back, albeit to do a weather presenting role, which sadly didn't even last twelve months: with the permanent replacement for Frank (after trials with Sami Lukis, even a summer Doug Murray comeback) Garry Youngberry still presenting the weather, until this day.

Frank then eased his way into retirement, before facing a five year dementia battle (a hard fight, for someone who had made his name as a communicator to the public: one he fought valiantly, privately until the very end) before passing away in the early hours of May 11, 2021.

For the love of a good doco.

Frank Warrick, in the 1990s took the Saturday night documentary series The World Around Us, (with a little help from BTQ's doco maestro, journalist Chris Adams) and turned it from a series that was just a wraparound for overseas documentary product, to one with several great local specials, every year. Seven hoped to keep this format going, once Frank left the newsdesk. It sadly, didn't happen.

Here's some of the best. This first one, is on the Gold Coast's history.

"Shadows on The Beach" 1992 (from ThingsNerdy on Youtube)

Brisbane: The Hidden City, was one of the rare specials that got rerun, due to it's popularity.
Frank actually joked in the intro to this rerun, that letters often came in asking for reruns: the response was usually... "no chance in the short term". 

"Brisbane: The Hidden City" 1992 (from TDXAV on Youtube)

Marking the 25th anniversary of the flood of 1974, Seven put together this great story, which culminated in the discovery of some 35mm colour film, thought lost, of Brisbane during the flood. The Gaehler films (shot by Eric Gaehler, who passed away in September 2015) are now important cultural properties of Queensland, and are stored at the Queensland State Library.
The V/O for this, isn't Frank (his intro from Suncorp pre-redevelopment is still stirring, nearly a quarter of a century on): but a young Ross Dagan prior to his stints running 10's news in Brisbane, Seven's news in Brisbane and ultimately 10's news nationally.

The impact The River's Rage had to Seven in Brisbane, is so noteworthy, that the pace of the intro for the 1999 doco, was utilized in the intro for next big Brisbane River flood doco Seven aired... right after the flood of January 2011.

"The River's Rage" 1999 (from FLEMISHDOG at archive.org)

Frank's community impact
You can't start talking about Frank Warrick's community impact without looking at Operation Eagle: a concept dreamed up, not by Frank: but by the late Gary Linaker, BTQ promo king of the 1980's. Quite simply, for over twenty years, Seven used their helicopter to deliver media education en-masse to thousands of Queensland students, through the idea that simply, "capture the minds of children, and you'll have the adults forever": that is, if the child recalled the news service who visited, the parent would in turn watch their news service.

The most famous example, was shown in Frank's farewell: where in 1999 (Operation Eagle's 20th birthday), Seven visited a Brisbane school that was visited in the early days of Operation Eagle. The school sprung a surprise: and brought together some former students who'd taken part when they were kids in 1979 with the class of 1999 and proceeded to cut a cake celebrating the milestone.

In addition, Frank was awarded a OAM in the 1994 Queens Birthday honours list, for service to the media, conservation and to the community, while post retirement for Seven, he became a spokesperson for Kratzmann Caravans at Burpengary, occasionally appearing in their commercials for half a decade.

A life, well lived, a career in both journalism and as a communicator that many could be proud of.

A career, where he gave back, to the next generation coming through in his later years, and watched them forge their own careers in retirement.

Francis "Frank" Michael Warrick, may your journey to the next life now be free of of pain, and suffering: the last five years may have been a struggle, but you are now in a better place.

Frank Warrick, may you rest in peace.

Thanks to Peter Doherty at Seven for the following concerning the funeral plans for Frank Warrick: as he's been in contact with the Warrick family (through Frank's son, Scott) during this time.  

"Frank’s desire was for a family only send off.
His family will honour those wishes with a private ceremony."

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