60 Years of QLD TV

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Friday, November 5, 2021

Vale: Bert Newton AM, MBE


"A icon has passed".

To understand how deeply the loss of Bert Newton will be felt by Australia, is to understand Australian television's heritage as a whole.

Bert was there when television pretty much began in Australia: and is the last of the three pillars in television variety forged in our industry's early years (the other two being the "King of Television" Graham Kennedy (who passed away in 2005) and American-born Morton Issacson: who performed under the stage name, Don Lane (who passed away in 2009) that shot to long-term popularity with Australian viewers to leave us.

It is fitting to look back at the Bert Newton life story as a tale of three mediums.


Bert Newton, was born in Fitzroy in Melbourne, on the 23rd of July 1938. By the time he'd reach his teens, he began to work a steady product at 3XY, as a junior announcer: but a new medium arrived in Melbourne, before he could make his mark, although: he'd juggle around radio gigs with his television work (at stations such as 3AK (once owned by Nine Melbourne), 3UZ and 3DB) until the late 1980's.

In the middle of 1957, Bert at the age of just 19, was hired to do a tonight-show style product for HSV-7 in Melbourne (a station not even a year old, of which very little imagery of HSV's "Late Show" has survived). Bert hung in there for two years, against stiff competition in Graham Kennedy, and IMT before making the switch in 1959, to GTV-9, and becoming the straight-man to Graham Kennedy.

The first partnership with Graham, simply began with a live advertisement for Raoul Merton shoes.

Early Bert/Graham Raoul Merton live advertisement (from kurvapicsa on Youtube)

But, it blossomed from there on. The 1960's were seen as the golden age of television: and none shone brighter than the Newton/Kennedy duo on In Melbourne Tonight, although the stress showed on Bert, leading to a brief break in 1964, culminating in one of the more notable IMT moments: with the surprise return, at the opening of a studio that Bert would undoubtedly make his own for nearly twenty years afterward.

That studio: was Studio 9, at GTV-9 in Richmond, Victoria.

The return of Bert Newton to IMT: first edition from Studio 9 at Richmond, Victoria: 1964 (from Simon Owens on Youtube)

But, all partnerships supposedly come to a end: with Graham Kennedy stepping back from IMT in December 1969, this move resulted in Bert being given his own night in 1970, alongside Ugly Dave Gray, Stuart Wagstaff and Jimmy Hannan. This interesting setup led to a final great memory of the era that was IMT: where the four compares of 1970 got together for a cracker of a musical number.

"I'm Monday, I'm Tuesday, I'm Wednesday, I'm Thursday" musical number from IMT in 1970: featuring Ugly Dave Gray (Monday), Stuart Wagstaff (Tuesday, who passed away in March 2015), Bert Newton (Wednesday) and Jimmy Hannan (Thursday, who passed away in January 2019), (From Phil Johnson on Youtube)

However, not long afterward: Graham Kennedy made his grand return to television, this time with his own eponymous show: The Graham Kennedy Show, which lasted from September 1972 to April 1975 (after two specials prior, in 1971 and early 1972), again with Bert by his side. The GK Show, spawned what many have said, is the most requested piece of footage of the black and white era of television in Nine's archive.

That piece of footage: a comedy sketch, where Graham Kennedy played King Henry the 8th, and Bert played "Carlton" the king's chief adviser.

Graham Kennedy's "King Henry the 8th" sketch (from Classic Australian TV on Youtube)

Bert, would also get married during this timespan, to the love of his life: Patti McGrath (a dancer and singer, who had performed alongside Bert many times in the 1960's and early 1970's) with the wedding in 1974 at St Dominic's Church in the Melbourne suburb of Camberwell, becoming the media event of it's era, where a mass crowd turned up to wish the couple good luck, along with press cameras everywhere.

It was also at this time, Bert hit his stride, as the MC for the TV Week Logie Awards. The Logies in the 1970's is shaped by one image: Bert being the compare, given his chance to shine. Whether it was Michael Cole coming up to recieve a award: only to swear on live TV at the 1973 Logies, the quips Bert had with David Cassidy about the Southern Cross Ballroom being a great place for a wedding reception at the 1974 Logies (which Bert actually fulfilled in late 1974), introducing John Wayne at the Logies of 1975, Burt Lancaster in 1977, quipping about the lack of a cricket pitch at the Southern Cross Hotel (only to cross to a shot of Kerry Packer) in 1978 or even the most famous of all: Muhammad Ali, at the 1979 Logies, where Bert quipped a line from a KFC commercial (where Bert was playing Colonel Sanders, exclaiming "I like the boy") only to get a reaction from Ali followed by a quick apology before a significant milestone occured: where for the first time Bert finally won the biggest prize in Australian television: the TV Week Gold Logie.

But, the piece we are looking back at here, is a monologue from the 1977 Logies.
We all know how the '77 Logies ended: Don Lane, winning his sole Gold Logie, despite being up against Bert Newton, simply saying to Bert: "Six months in your house, and six months in mine".

This however is how that event opened.

1977 Logies opening monologue: (from Mike Strika on Youtube)

1975, and colour arrived, to change our lives. However, the on-air partnership of Newton and Kennedy ended (after Nine let Graham Kennedy go, after the infamous "crowcall" on the very first colour Graham Kennedy Show, led to the program being pre-recorded, ultimately leading to a controversial (for it's day) attack on a politician), which led the way to another great partnership: this time, with Don Lane.

However, as a stopgap until Don started, this clip shows a post GK product, with Bert in the lead, and his wife Patti being the second banana.

"The Bert and Patti Newton Show", 1975 (note, one of the major prizes on the wheel: a home microwave oven, about to become ubiquitous (a $325 outlay: just over two weeks wages for a average Australian in 1975 and worth just over $2,500 today with inflation): (From Phil Johnson on Youtube)

With Don's arrival, the format that was pretty much the IMT of twenty years earlier was changed. Technological change, particularly refreshed the format: where Don's satellite interviews were legendary. Bert's work with the Wheel (whether impersonating Demis Roussos, to the point the actual Demis Roussos turned up on set, turning into the Hulk, after beginning a wheel segment, arriving for a wheel segment with a giant spider: only to knock Don over, and of course taking the mickey out of a Don Lane record in 1980 just to name a few) also became appointment television.

Don and Bert's work was also getting noticed in the most unusual places.
Nine at one point got a syndication deal, in America (at the same time US viewers first got a glimpse of another Australian import: Prisoner) for the Don Lane Show.

These next couple of clips, show how Don and Bert were sold to curious American television station schedulers (wanting fresh syndicated content), and to even more curious American television viewers.

Don Lane Special for US Networks: (aka a sales reel for US syndication), (From Phil Johnson on Youtube)

WPIX 11 promo for syndicated Don Lane Show, 1980 (from Hugo Faces on Youtube)

By the beginning of the 1980's, you couldn't have a big event on Nine, without Bert hosting. Royal gala performances, charity performances, and one opening in 1983 that famously fought the 10 Commandments and won: The building that Bert literally opened (alongside Mike Walsh), is now apartments, but let us look back in wonder at "Australia's Entertainment Spectacular" that was none other than the opening of the Sydney Entertainment Centre in May, 1983.

QTQ-9 advertisement for "Australia's Entertainment Spectacular": the opening of the Sydney Entertainment Centre, May 1, 1983. (from SLQ microfiche)

The official opening, of the Sydney Entertainment Centre (in full!): May 1, 1983 (from Shadow Archive on Youtube)

As 1983 ended, so did the Don Lane Show, and although: Bert was still busy with other programs (notably: longrunning talent quest New Faces that he'd hosted since the mid-1970's), eventually was placed into a tonight-show style product in 1984, which lasted eight months, before finishing up entirely with Nine in 1985: on what would end up being the final episode of New Faces's original 22yr run.

The final episode of the first incarnation of New Faces: and Bert's farewell from Nine, 1985: (from steve rutherford on Youtube)

Bert spent three years away from television, after New Faces ended: working on radio in Melbourne pretty much full-time: spearheading a shortlived incarnation of 3DB famously branded "The New Beginning" (serving not just as the flagship announcer, but also the station's general manager), before getting the call in 1988 to join the Logies Hall of Fame as it's fifth inductee. The speech that came from Bert that night, is regarded as probably the best speech ever done for the Hall of Fame, but also opened another door.

Promo for the "Bert Newton Show": 1989 (from TapeSalvage on Youtube)

The 1989 run for Bert on Seven, was short. Despite hosting the first ever Logies to screen on the network, and being given a almost impossible challenge, trying to outrate Ray Martin at midday (in one of the rare occasions of Seven abandoning their midday movie tradition) Bert was gone from the network at years end (just as the Qintex mirage started to fade). Another two years away from the box followed, before yet another comeback story.

"This is It!", the 1992 launch promo that proudly announced three signings for Network Ten in one two minute slot: that is: Derryn Hinch, Bert Newton and Jacki McDonald. (From Anthony Langford on Youtube)

The 1992 Bert Newton comeback story, is one far different than the comeback of 1989. Ten, between 1989 and 1991 had struggled to gain a presence in the morning, after the end of three local morning products in Sydney (Good Morning Sydney), Brisbane (Living) and Melbourne (Good Morning Melbourne), in favour of a national 'Til Ten. The Bert Newton venture: originally entitled "The Morning Show", however took many cues from morning radio, and succeeded (even after a move from 10's home for nearly 30yrs in Melbourne: Nunawading to the Como Centre in South Yarra in mid-1992), unlike the retool of Good Morning Australia (toward a format that tried too many new ideas (music videos, even Tim Bailey being a 1992 version of Sunrise's Cashcow), which eventually ended at the end of 1992. But 10, didn't want the name to just disappear.

1993 "It's on Ten" launch: (from Dan Martin on Youtube)

"The Morning Show" became Good Morning Australia in 1993, and with Bert hosting the last ever Logies to air on Network Ten, his career with the network simply thrived. GMA with Bert, became literally, a profit machine for the network (thanks to advertorials, within the program, with one presenter becoming famous in her own right, thanks to Bert's introduction: "Here's Moira") as much as a promotion machine: something neither 7 or 9 were game to touch for ten years afterward. The first real challenge Bert had with GMA, was with Nine's "Mornings With Kerri-Anne", in 2003, a product that had perfected both the promotion and the advertorials to the point it was making inroads. However, in late 2005: GMA ended, and Bert made a decision afterward that would ultimately be a decision that would culminate a career.

The final moments of Bert Newton's Good Morning Australia, December 2005 (from Peter Jolly on Youtube)

Bert's return to Nine, in 2006, after twenty years away from the network was akin to the return of a prodigal son.
This rare alternate cut of Nine's final "Still The One" promo from 2006 sets the scene.

"Still The One" (the visual cut that would have been used had 10's legal challenge to prevent Jessica Rowe leaving their network until mid 2006 been successful)... with a little more swing: 2006 (from UltraMegaMan on Youtube)

The use Nine would have for Bert initially, would be to prop up ailing ratings at 5:30 weeknights. The Bert's Family Feud gameshow would last just under two years, after it couldn't make inroads into Seven's then dominance at 5:30 let alone, improve news ratings in the markets that counted for Nine at the time.

It also proved for the second time that a big budget gameshow reboot with Bert at the front didn't have longevity. Viewers in 2006-07, likely had seen very little of Nine's attempt in 1981, to recapture the magic that was Bob Dyer's Pick A Box, as Ford Superquiz. The Bob/Dolly Dyer partnership was even duplicated with Bert (in the Bob Dyer role as quizmaster), and Patti Newton (in the Dolly Dyer role, as a hostess).

Pick a Box lasted from 1957, to 1971 (after 10 years previously on radio) becoming the premiere product of it's day, due to it's presence as a weekly product. Ford Superquiz (a weekly product much like it's predecessor), lasted just two years, into a gameshow environment that had made Sale of The Century a 5 night a week ritual for many viewers, and those same viewers saw the idea of a once a week big budget hourlong game show as old fashioned at the time (something that 10 would learn the hard way in 1989 (including their own Superquiz revival with Mike Walsh and Deborah Hutton),  while Australian viewers opinion on the hourlong primetime game show would not really change until the arrival of Who Want's to Be a Millionaire in Australia in 1999).

Ford Superquiz promo, 1981 (from frankmat on Youtube)

Bert's role at Nine, outside that Family Feud reboot: would be varied, including programs such as clip-show 20 to 1 (launched by Nine in 2005: with Bud Tingwell as the compare), a final Logies hosting, in 2010 and most notably: the host of a event that bade farewell in November 2010, to Nine's iconic home of variety: Television City at 22 Bendigo St in Richmond before it's conversion to apartments.
"Lights, Camera, Party" literally kicked off straight out of the final episode of the 2010 Hey Hey reboot, and celebrated the moments made in that building.

The end of a Hey Hey reboot, and the beginning of a celebration of a station: November 27, 2010: (from Glenn Matters on Youtube)

Bert's run with Nine ended in the middle of the 2010's, but the lighter schedule he had adopted since starting to do morning television in the early 1990's, freed up his nights to become a theatrical star.

The Theatre:

Bert's move into theatre was a slow process, really kicking up steam in the 1990's with a stint as the Wizard in "The Wizard of Oz" (reprising the role in 2001), followed by Cogsworth, in the mid-90's Australian version of Disney's Beauty and The Beast musical, Franz Leibkind in the Australian version of Mel Brooks's "The Producers" (which was famously plugged by Bert at the 2004 Logies), Max in the 1999 Australian revival of the Sound of Music, and the most noteworthy: not just because of the longevity, but for how it happened: The Wizard, in the Australian version of Wicked, after the original Wizard in the Australian Wicked cast, Rob Guest passed away suddenly in 2008. Bert spent three years in the role as the Wizard, travelling the country with Wicked.

Bert's life outside television:
Bert Newton's life, was greatly enriched not just by Patti being by his side until the very end, but with his family, with Bert being not just a father to two: but a grandfather to five.
In addition, he recieved a MBE honour in 1978, a AM honour in 2006, the 1978 King of Moomba (first Melbourne-born person to do so), one of 2014's Moomba Monarchs (alongside Lucy Durack), and the 2008 Victorian of the Year.
 Health issues began to face Bert in the early part of the 2010's (including heart surgery), which ultimately built to the events that led to his passing on October 30, 2021.

But, before we close.

There are simply too many memories of Bert to fit them all into this post. We simply recommend though, to watch just one Bert Logies speech (that occurred in 1998: 10 years after he brought the house down at the Hyatt on Collins when he was inducted into the Logies Hall of Fame).
Bert got a standing ovation right off the bat that night.
That speech wasn't to build to a Gold Logie winner.
That speech wasn't a hosting monologue.
That speech at Crown, made the moment that Graham Kennedy was welcomed to the Logies Hall of Fame (despite GK's absence) even sweeter.

To quote a verse of a song from a Broadway musical, that most wouldn't remember: "
It's Not Where You Start" from 1973's Seesaw, that would pretty much sum up Bert Newton's life and career in in a few words.

It's not where you start, it's where you finish.
It's not where you go, it's how you land.
A hundred to one shot, they call him a klutz.
Can out-run the favorite, all he needs is the guts.
Your final return will not diminish.
And you can be the cream of the crop.
It's not where you start, it's where you finish.
And, you're gonna finish on top.

That final line, was proven by the overwhelming reaction by Australians of many backgrounds, to Bert's passing on October 30.

We close now with one more clip of Bert's legacy. The final moments of Tonight with Bert Newton, in 1984... which performed that very track.

The final moments of "Tonight with Bert Newton", 1984. (from AustVHS80s on Youtube)

The state funeral for Bert Newton, will be held at St Patrick's Cathedral, in East Melbourne on Friday November 12, at 10am AEDT (9am QLD time).

A live stream will be available at 
https://www.vic.gov.au/state-memorial-service-bert-newton-am-mbe, on the day (especially important, as at this time a television broadcast has not been confirmed).

The link I have just mentioned, also gives details on donations (to O'Neill House in Prahran: remember when you make your donation, to mention that the donation is in Bert's honour) in lieu of flowers, and also hosts a condolence form.

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