Leslie Seymour: The Everywhere Man — Have Camera Will Travel

“Who the hell is Leslie Seymour?”
That’s what journalist and broadcaster Ray Martin asks facetiously in his foreword to the autobiography of Les Seymour, his long-time mate, and it’s a fair question. Unless you’re a veteran journo or a media junkie, you may not have heard about cameraman extraordinaire, Les Seymour.
All he’s ever done as a camera operator and producer is work with journalists like Ray, Richard Palfreyman, Paul Murphy, Ian Macintosh, Allan Hogan, Mark Colvin, Paul Lyneham, Paul Lockyer, Tony Joyce and Richard Carleton, and film famous people like Dame Joan Sutherland, Sir Sidney Nolan, Shirley MacLaine, Paul McCartney, US President Jimmy Carter, Pope John Paul II, Charlton Heston, UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Bryce Courtenay and Gore Vidal, to name a few.
Les has also covered the world, shooting stories in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, the Middle East, Africa, Russia, China, Hong Kong, Latin America, again to name a few. He’s been everywhere, man. In fact, he is an everywhere man. Have camera, will travel. He’s also a great storyteller.
I better disclose early in this review of his book, My Best Shot: A Life Through the Lens, that Les Seymour is a mate, and I first met him on the Nine Network’s Sunday Program more than 25 years ago when I was a field producer.
Les begins with a prologue in the Middle East: His assignment as an ABC cameraman covering the Yom Kippur War in October 1973 in the Golan Heights. He and reporter Roger Allebone and sound recordist John Page were in their twenties and involved in their first full-scale war. As bad luck would have it, their car hit a boulder and Les had to go to a nearby kibbutz to get transport. Caught up in the Israeli bombing and Syrian mortar fire, Les and Israeli soldiers were taken from a bunker by Syrian fighters to a prison outside Damascus. The Syrians thought Les, who had left his camera behind, was a plain-clothes military man, and placed him in a small cell, eight feet long and six feet wide. During daily interrogations, he was punched and kicked by guards for what seemed like weeks and he could barely say his name. Fortunately, a Swiss Red Cross officer found Les’ passport and confirmed he was not a spy but an Australian cameraman. He was released and taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital. Les said he was still haunted by the experience but has learned to live with it. He never discovered the name of the Red Cross officer, but he writes: “He was truly a guardian angel who saved my life.”

(Cover Photo Above by Allan Hogan: “Les in Gaddafi’s Libya, 1972”)
From a near-death episode, Les remembers happier times, growing up in the inner-city suburb of Leichhardt, in a Catholic family with four brothers and a sister. They lived in a small house with a traditional Aussie outback toilet, but as Les puts it: “We lived in poverty but didn’t know we were poor.” By the time Les was born, his father had separated from his mother, who kept the family together with several full and part-time cleaning jobs, helped out by neighbours like the Cohens, bringing food when money was short.
Les was taught by nuns, the Order of St Joseph, and parish priests, the Order of Capuchin at the local Catholic school, but a revelation in his memoirs surprised me. Les had been sexually abused by Father Dominic, the main parish priest of St Fiacre’s, for over a year while he was a choirboy and decided to go to the seminary to escape this “disgraceful creature,” as he describes him later in the book. He finally added his story about Father Dominic’s abusive treatment to the Royal Commission into Sexual Child Abuse in 2017. Les was in the Capuchin seminary in Plumpton west of Sydney from age 12 to 16, and said he was “living on harrowed rather than hollowed grounds,” but made the right decision because he was never again sexually abused.
In 1965 Les Seymour started his 20-year career at the ABC as a film dispatcher, but it didn’t take long before he switched jobs and became a Commonwealth driver for then Deputy General Manager, Dr Clem Semmler. Clem took an interest in Les and gave him experience as an assistant cameraman with one of his first big jobs shooting the tragic Blue Mountains bushfires of 1968. Les called it his “professional baptism of fire” with his footage of the burning suburb of Warrimoo leading the 7pm ABC News. Clem also helped Les when he moved to London to improve his career as a cameraman, and gave him the number of a contact at BBC’s Ealing Studios. Voila, Les got the job as a camera assistant in the documentary unit. Several years, documentaries and programs like Panorama and Z Cars later, Les Seymour was appointed as a fully-fledged cameraman, the first in the ABC’s London Bureau in the West End.
During his first five years in London, Les had another dream job: he was regularly sent to the ABC’s New York Bureau to work with journalists, including some of the best, Ray Martin, Peter Barnett and Jeff McMullen. One of his first assignments was the 1972 presidential election campaign, and he and Ray and the crew covered the New Hampshire Democratic primary, featuring candidate George McGovern. When Ray discovered Hollywood celebrities like Shirley MacLaine and her brother Warren Beatty were fundraising for McGovern, he tried to get Shirley to talk about her role in the campaign the next morning at a local school, as well as chatting to George McGovern. After Ray had told Shirley that “Les” was pronounced “Lay” in Australia, and he was a Greek prince, Shirley responded by saying “Good night Prince Lay” to Seymour, and farewelling Martin: “And Sir, you can go fuck yourself.” The next day Les filmed the kids and George, but Shirley had no comment. Hollywood 1, ABC nil.
Four years later, Ray telexed Les in London asking if he could shoot a profile piece on the Democratic presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter, campaigning around America on a Boeing 737 codenamed “Peanut One.” Of course, Les said yes, but on three separate flights serving wonderful meals like lobster, roast turkey and warm pastrami sandwiches, he wound up with a small aluminium tray labelled “Strictly kosher.” Les complained he wasn’t Jewish and Ray told him to stop whingeing. Third time around, Les stood up in his seat and shouted: “I want sandwiches and salad just like everyone else.” The steward burst out laughing and all the passengers applauded. Everyone, including Ray, was in on the joke, except Les, and 30 seconds later, Jimmy Carter came to his seat, shook his hand and said: “I knew you Aussies had a good sense of humour but we didn’t think you’d last this long, Les.” The future president signed Les’ press pass and the steward brought him warm pastrami sandwiches. Just two of the funny episodes in the Seymour Saga.

(Photo Above of Mark Colvin and Les on an extinct volcano in Uganda)
One of the most poignant stories in My Best Shot also involved President Carter, who attempted to rescue American hostages being held by Revolutionary Guards in Tehran with a military raid called “Operation Eagle Claw” in April 1984. With two of the eight helicopters destroyed by mechanical defects and blinding sandstorms, the mission was called off and eight US servicemen lost their lives. ABC London Correspondent Mark Colvin and Les returned to Tehran just after the failed operation to cover the hostage crisis. Mark, who died in 2017 from the repercussions of the auto-immune disease he picked up covering the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s, wrote about the chilling aftermath of the Eagle crash in his brilliant autobiography, Light and Shadow: Memoirs of a Spy’s Son. (There’s also a lovely story about Les meeting Mark again in 2016 near the end of My Best Shot.) Les remembers Mark’s vivid description of their encounter with the Revolutionary Guards two days after the aborted rescue attempt as journalists were allowed into the US embassy to watch the desecration of the servicemen’s corpses by Ayatollah Khalkhali, known as the “Hanging Judge.” Mark writes: “One of his guards gave him what was either a bayonet or a large hunting knife and he started hacking at the charcoal surface. As he scraped away he revealed what was recognisably an aviator watch. This was a man’s arm he was holding, a man who had been alive a couple of days before. It was certainly the worst thing I’d seen to that point in my life, and to this day, along with that unforgettable stench, it remains in my memory, as indelible as a brand.”
Days later, Mark and Les covered a mass rally of half a million people including Hezbollah and groups loyal to the Revolutionary Guards and the Ayatollahs. Les began filming Hezbollah “hot-heads” and got permission to shoot the proceedings from the top of an OB truck. A large group of youths pointed at Les, shouting: “Down with America! America Out! Kill America!” He got off the truck and the youths, believing he was an American, starting punching, kicking and pummelling him. Mark managed to flag down a truck of Revolutionary Guards who came to his rescue. Les writes: “There was no doubt in my mind that these soldiers of Iran’s new regime had just saved my life.” Taken to the emergency department of a hospital overflowing with casualties, Les was x-rayed by radiologists who neglected to hide his private parts. His genitals came up on the hospital screen, much to the amusement of some children. Les was suffering from a fractured pelvis and acute embarrassment. But he survived.

(Photo above of Les filming in Ethiopia)
Another sad story for Les Seymour took place in 1973 when he and ABC London correspondent Paul Lyneham flew to Ethiopia to cover another African famine, worse than Biafra in the late 1960s, where more than a million people died. Paul was outside a tent in one of the refugee camps talking to aid workers and doctors, while Les was inside filming haunting images: “One young woman with a beautiful face was holding her dying daughter as she took her last gasping breaths and died in front of me. The young mother’s tears flowed down her cheeks as she hugged her dead little girl. It was the most harrowing sight I had ever witnessed. This single image would portray the horror of the Ethiopian famine.”
On a happier note out of Africa, Les was asked by British producer Brian Adams to shoot a one-hour documentary in 1977 on one of Australia’s greatest artists, Sidney Nolan. The main location was Nairobi where Les filmed Sidney with African wildlife, travelling extensively across Kenya and staying at well-known game reserves and hotels. The shoot went well, and Les asked Nolan to draw whatever he saw in front of him, using a sketch pad and crayon, a new medium for the famous artist. It turned out to be a sketch of Les filming Sidney with his camera on his tripod. Asked why he drew Les, Sidney replied: “Well, you were in front of me most of the bloody time!” That sketch (see below) was used throughout Les’ book to end various chapters. The doco, Nolan at Sixty, was well received as a record of the artist’s incredible life’s work. Four years later Sir Sidney was knighted by the Queen and was awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1988, the bicentennial year.

Nolan at Sixty was such a success, Brian Adams asked Australian opera singer Joan Sutherland and her husband Richard Bonynge if he could produce a program on the life of La Stupenda. Despite a great recommendation from her friend, Sidney Nolan, Joan Sutherland had reservations, wanting to keep her private and professional lives separate. Brian and Les drove up to their chalet on the shore of Lake Geneva to talk her into it. Seated a table with Joan and Richard, the director of the Sydney Opera House and opera singers and friends, Les was a bit worried about the conversation turning to opera. Joan asked Les what his favourite opera was. The table was silent, Brian Adams was aghast, and Les decided honesty was the best policy: “I must be honest with you. I’ve never been to an opera.” Joan replied: “Isn’t that great? I can mould you!” Adams smiled again, and Joan agreed to do the doco. Over the next six months, Les travelled with Joan and Richard (Photo of Les filming Joan and Richard below) to the great opera houses of Europe, and the film, Joan Sutherland: A Life on the Move, was broadcast in 1980 with terrific reviews. In 1979, Joan Sutherland was named by the Queen as a Dame of the British Empire and was awarded the Order of Australia. At the end of his memoirs, Les Seymour praised Dame Joan and Sir Sidney as two of the most wonderful people he had known: “They both inspired me with their timeless art forms.”

My favourite story Les shot for the Sunday Program was one I produced: taking author Bryce Courtenay back to his South African homeland two months before the first multi-party democratic elections in the country’s history. Les filmed at Morris Isaacson High School, where the Soweto riots began in June 1976. Bryce was giving a moving speech to a senior class when police tried to stop students from chasing a suspect who allegedly raped a female student. Bryce and I were standing between two school buildings when a South African policeman pointed his AK-47 at me. Fortunately, Les was inside filming another class. And another place Les and I will never forget is Phalo Park, a shanty town on the outskirts of Johannesburg. While Bryce and I tried to get permission to film in this dangerous squatter camp, Les heard beautiful sounds coming from one of the shacks. It turned out to be a local choir singing about Nelson Mandela. Les showed us the song on his camera viewfinder and we were gobsmacked. Bryce was delighted and the next day he spoke to a class of sixth formers at King Edward VII Boys School in Johannesburg where he won a scholarship. It was partly set in his novel, The Power of One. Bryce told the students he had been in Phalo Park yesterday: “The sun was setting and as I wandered alone through the human desolation of this forsaken shanty town, I heard the sounds of a choir coming from deep within the metal shack.” Les nearly dropped his camera as Bryce appropriated the story. Les forgave him: “After all he was the storyteller, and my contribution was part of a team effort to produce a terrific Sunday cover story.”
Les Seymour writes eloquently about two of his close mates who died while on assignment for the ABC. Tony Joyce was London Bureau correspondent in 1979 when he and a freelance cameraman flew to the Zambian capital of Lusaka to cover a story about a bridge destroyed by commandos on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. On the way back to Lusaka, Zambian soldiers stopped their car, arrested them and put them in the back of a police car. A man dressed in black, thought to be a political officer with the militia, shot Tony in the head, but he was still alive. Taken to hospital in a coma, two doctors flew to Lusaka from London to operate on Tony and remove a bullet. Several days later he was flown to St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, but still in a deep coma. He remained that way for two months, and Les often visited Tony’s wife, Monica, who was at the hospital for nearly every moment of those ten long weeks. Tony’s good friend Paul Murphy flew from Sydney to deliver a moving eulogy to his mate. Les writes: “The day I helped carry his coffin out of that church in London was one of the hardest of my life. He is never far from my thoughts.”
His other mate, Paul Lockyer, was a special journalist. I was Paul’s producer in 1992 and part of 1993 and Les worked with us on the Sunday Program. We covered tourism and the Paul Keating election in 1993, to name just two, and Les was Paul Lockyer’s cameraman not only on Sunday, but Midday with Ray Martin, and shooting stories in Vietnam, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Europe and Moscow. By this time, Les had become a field producer as well as a cameraman for Midday and found out from Paul that Nine was planning a special Sports Sunday story to sponsor the first Asian bicycle race in Vietnam. Tongue in cheek, he asked Paul why management didn’t tell him first, as he was the producer. Paul replied: “Mate, I hate to tell you this, but you’re not a producer’s arsehole.” The friendly banter between Paul and Les was beautiful.
But Les lost his good mate, Paul Lockyer, and two of his ABC colleagues, helicopter pilot Gary Ticehurst and Brisbane cameraman, John Bean, when their chopper went down in South Australia on the night of August 18, 2011. Les hadn’t felt that much grief since the death of Tony Joyce. Paul was an award-winning journalist, and his memorial service at St Ignatius College in Sydney was packed with family, friends and colleagues from all the networks. Paul’s son Jamie said this of his father at the funeral: “I will miss Dad’s love and compassion, Australia will miss his stories, and the world will miss a man of greatness.”

(Photo above, l to r: Paul Murphy, Paul Lockyer, Richard Palfreyman, Maria Lockyer)
The last chapter of My Best Shot focuses on “New Beginnings,” after Les took a voluntary redundancy from Nine in 2006 and became a freelance producer and cameramen working with Ray on Nine’s A Current Affairs and the Fred Hollows Foundation. Ray first met Professor Hollows in 1980 when he did a 60 Minutes story on Fred, who restored eyesight for tens of thousands of people in Australia, Asia and Africa. It’s estimated more than 2.5 million people can see today because of Fred Hollows. Les met Fred in the early 1990s when he filmed his first lens production factory in Eritrea for the Sunday Program. After Fred’s death in 1993, Les filmed his first cataract removal and the insertion of flexible intraocular lenses developed by Dr Sanduk Ruit, who took over from Fred Hollows, in his Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Kathmandu. Since then, Les and Ray have been everywhere in Asia and beyond. It was in a tiny village on the Lao border with China that one of the Hollows team removed the cataracts of two seven-month-old Laotian boys, Samlan and Sintham, in a successful operation filmed by Les on A Current Affair. (Featured photo of the twin boys with their mother and Les at the top). Les received the annual “Fred’s Helping Hand Award” for 2016 for his special role in keeping Fred’s vision alive. No wonder Les is happy. His daughter Danielle, her husband, Iain, and two grandsons, Ethan and William, have a beautiful home on Sydney’s northern beaches and his daughter, Elisabeth, and her English husband Richard live in in a lovely terrace house in London with granddaughter, Amelie, and grandson Harry.
The last words of his memoirs should go to Les: “I’ve seen the best and worst experiences of human nature. I’ve heard the cries of starving children. I’ve smelt the stench of death. I’ve tasted the finest food and wine in the world. I’ve touched the lives of many people. I almost feel as though I have lived ten lives. I have been lucky to observe and capture so many of these aspects of life through the lens of my camera.”
That’s who Leslie Seymour is. His tales are worth reading.
My Best Shot: A Life Through the Lens, My Autobiography by Leslie Seymour, TimeWorks Media Ltd (Distributed in Australia by Woodslane P/L), 380 pages. RRP: $24.95

Strewth! A magnificent memoir of home truths

“What do you call a fart in the bathtub?”
It was a question I asked award-winning columnist of The Australian, author, snake lover and bagpipes player, James Jeffrey (Photo above The Australian), a decade or so ago.
The answer, of course, is “Gorp,” the sound of a fart in the bath. James liked it and we have been exchanging bon mots ever since. He did mention that the excellent actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, said his surname sounded like “a fart in the bath,” but it has too many syllables. James replied: “May Gorp be with you,” and we have used it and many variations ever since.
But this is not a piece about Gorps. It’s a belated review of James’s magnificent memoir, My Family and Other Animus, which was published four months ago. Better late than never. It’s a book mainly about a family of animated spirits, especially his mother, Eszter, a feisty Hungarian dedicated to smoking and several marriages. In his preface, James mentions a list of suggestions that will make for a better life and a happy family. My favourite and his: Make sure the kids see the love flow between their parents.
His family arrived in Australia on a ship from England in 1976, when James was four, with his mother and his siblings and his British father, Ian, heading for a coal-mining job in a country town a few hours up the road from Sydney. His mum found the town so boring, she waged a successful campaign to move the family back to the Big Smoke and the Sutherland Shire.
Four years later, the Big Fight, as it became known, erupted between his Mum and Dad, and his father’s mother and sister, visiting on Australia Day, which led to screaming, and the barricading of James and his sister, Olivia, in a bedroom. The Siege ensued, and eventually, when his father went off to work, the removalists arrived and the family left him behind. James writes: “… this was the moment in which my old world ended and a new, chaotic one rose in its place … life would take on a seismic instability so filled with madness and strain and vendetta and daftness and acts of love both beautiful and misguided that, decades later, I rarely go a week without thinking about it all.”
The split led to the Family Court and two years after the Big Fight, the divorce and custody arrangements were settled in 1983. James, who was eleven at the time, told the Family Court: “Yes, I love them both the same. But I’d rather live with Dad.” James and Olivia stayed with their Dad. (His mother had moved in with her third partner, Janos.)

But life goes on, and James tells tales of the birth of his first child, Daisy, who was born in a Sydney hospital in 2002, in a “labour-and-caesearean marathon.” His wife, Bel, had come back earlier from Moscow where James was working, and he arrived in time to be at the birth: “Daisy’s first act was to part her legs and pee on the doctor, confirming in quick succession that she was a girl, and that she was our girl.” He had the photo developed and scanned by a 2002 computer that downloaded line by line. The result prompted a colleague to email from Moscow: “It looks like a scene from Alien.” Three and a half years later, Leo was born, with James whispering: “He’s a boy,” to Bel, adding (he regrets to say): “He’s got a really big schlong.”
James Jeffrey loves his family, but journalism is also in his blood. Aside from his much-read and much-loved daily Strewth! column in The Australian, where I first “Gorped” with James, he writes the parliamentary Sketch, inherited from the late, great Matt Price, whose pieces in the Oz were priceless for their humour and insight. James also captures the joy and mayhem of Federal parliament in his Sketch, occasionally saying outrageous things about outrageous politicians.
He’s also not afraid to take on readers who abuse him via email or tweets, bravely stating: “All I ask is that they try to be original with their abuse.” And there are two things that make him ponder the value of the online comments section below his columns and vignettes and short Strewth! tales: “And this passes for journalism?” and “And your point is?” His response is razor-sharp: “I’m still in love with the idea of a newspaper being a banquet with plenty of courses. Hard news, breaking news, solid analysis – all of this is important. But they’re not the only reason readers turn up. So, for those of you poised to ask me what my point is – apart from vive la difference – it’s a straightforward one: this article passes for journalism.”

Speaking of journalism and journalists, Jeffrey has a chapter on one of the best, the late Mark Colvin of the ABC (photo above Mark and James, The Australian), described by James as a “broadcaster, writer, Twitter friend, outstanding human being and , in a twist of fate I still pinch myself over, dear friend.” Colvin would often comment on a piece or a single line or two and once he caught James “completely off guard” with a line about the last of his Home Truth columns in The Australian: “I hope Bel is suitably appreciative of what between the lines is one of the great love-letters of all time.”
Mark was dying of cancer and spent a lot of time in hospital, but, as often happens, James thought he had time to visit him the following day when he got the saddest of news from his mutual friend, the ABC’s Leigh Sales, and was whisked away to the office of another friend, Labor MP Terri Butler, where he went “wild with grief.” Despite his distress, he managed to write a poignant tribute to his dear friend for The Australian’s next edition. Here’s a brief excerpt – the piece began in Bunnings where the pair used to meet and chat: “Our conversations sometimes wandered the world or history, sometimes stayed very local. Sometimes we dug deep, sometimes skated happily across the surface. Then eventually, we’d say goodbye – and suddenly I’d realise I was still in Bunnings.”
The tribute continues: “He was brave, he was stoic. Injustice and hypocrisy made him angry … He was one of the finest people I’ve ever known, and becoming his friend has been one of the great joys of my life. He left one last tweet to be sent out once he was gone: ‘It’s all been bloody marvellous’.”
That chapter, and the ones piecing together the columns about the dementia and death of James’s father and his mother are worth the price of admission to this brilliant book. If you’re a sentimental old journo like me, you might shed a few tears, but that’s good for the soul.
Dementia. Not a good word. Not a good way to die. James finally confronted his father on a nostalgic trip to Lightning Ridge. In the car on the way back to the mining town, he talked to his Dad about the “d-word,” which prompted him to get out of the car and start walking along the road toward Lightning Ridge. “Come on Dad, we have to talk about what’s happening to you,” called James. His Dad’s reply: “Do you think I’m not aware?” The last sentence of that chapter is full of sorrow: “The sky was immense, but the world beneath it was suddenly smaller.”
The next column on his father begins with this ominous sentence: “It was a Sunday when Dad first forgot my name.” The descent into full-blown dementia was swift, and he asked his son: “What line of work are you in?” Within days, his Dad was moved into the dementia ward of a nursing home. James muses in the last paragraph what the future holds for his father: “He still has the company of his phantoms. Bit by bit, they grow more assertive as the flesh-and-blood people in his life slip out of focus, flicker and fade. Then one day, I’ll go out into that garden and sit among the flowers with a man who looks like my father.”
I teared up after reading that. The next paragraph is James’s turn: “That was the hardest column I had yet written. When I finished typing it, I stared at the last seven words for a very long time. As it turned out, we didn’t have long at all and I was soon writing the most bittersweet of follow-ups.” The next column on his Dad is certainly bittersweet and worth reading, but I’ll leave it to you.
Let’s end this review on a slightly less lugubrious last chapter: “Apres mum le deluge.” After selling her house on Gumtree, the online classified site, James’s Mum decided to move house again a few months later. It was only three minutes from Coles and she told James she was happy. Then she had a heart attack in the morning and a second one later that afternoon, and was flown by helicopter to Newcastle for surgery in a larger hospital 380 kilometres to the south. The entire family gathered around her as she spent 18 days battling as her life ebbed away. Finally the respirator was switched off, and she was gone.
The funeral was a celebration of his Mum’s life with a little ghetto-blaster in the back of the hearse taking the coffin to the cemetery switching from a “sad, yearning voice and a keening violin” to Fur Elise, “a trusty bit of Beethoven Mum had always loved playing on her piano.” Near the end, the celebrant asked the family and friends: “If anyone would like to share a memory of Eszter, please do.” Cue the thunderclap. So loud it felt like it had pounded the mourners’ eardrums deep into their skulls.
“Once we were confident no one had been hit by lightning, we all laughed. In that carnival of grief, it was even more than a moment of release – it was almost magical. More than anything, we understood that there couldn’t have been a more Mum way to say goodbye. Well, either that or a shower of cigarettes.”
James, Thank Gorp for such a wonderful read.
My Family and Other Animus, James Jeffrey, Melbourne University Press, 185 pages.
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Sam the Man: A tenacious titan of television generous to a fault

Sam Chisholm, sales director and former head of Channel Nine, Managing Director of BSkyB, and television executive extraordinaire, was also known as a legend in his own lunchtime.
But lunches were special to journalists and tv executives in those days. My best mate, Cliff Neville, who died in 2012, was the supervising producer of Nine’s 60 Minutes and he loved working lunches. It’s where he was at his best, bringing people together, healing wounds that would have festered if they weren’t brought out into the open.
Sam and my former boss, Ian Frykberg, then executive producer of the Nine Sunday Program and the editor of The Bulletin magazine, excelled in lunches like that. Okay, they drank, but they did deals and solved problems with journalists, media moguls, business directors and politicians, including prime ministers. And both liked loyalty. To keep loyal employees from leaving Nine, they would take them out to lunch. They stayed. Even if it was a long lunch that turned into dinner, the next day Sam and Frykers would remember every word from the night before.
My memories of Sam came during his funeral service last week at a packed St Swithun’s Church in Pymble on Sydney’s north shore where every time you turned around there was another media executive: former Nine boss, David Leckie, Seven’s Bruce McWilliam (who wrote an excellent two-part tribute to Sam in The Australian), former News Corp chairman, John Hartigan, Fairfax Media Chairman Nick Falloon (who engineered the deal delivering Fairfax into the clutches of Nine this week), Foxtel’s Executive Director of Television, Brian Walsh, Fox Sports Head of Television, Steve Crawley, and Ten consultant and former Nine and Ten news and current affairs director, Peter Meakin, to name just a few. Others included Brian Henderson, Jim Waley, Paul Fenn, Vickie Jones, Caroline Frykberg, Helen Biven and Kamahl, a varied group of friends and colleagues.
Sam’s friend and long-time maestro at Nine, Geoff Harvey, played the organ and piano, giving the congregation a lovely musical reflection after tributes by Sam’s daughter, Caroline Jumpertz, and his former business partner at BSkyB David Chance. The four score and three-year-old Harvey still knows how to tickle the ivories. Sam’s wife Sue and Caroline were inseparable at the service (Photo above Caroline and Sue. Picture: John Feder The Australian).
Caroline talked about her happy upbringing, with Geoff Harvey playing Christmas carols on the piano and Humphrey B. Bear coming to her birthday parties, and Dennis Lillee occasionally bowling in the backyard cricket matches. She has tried to live up to her father’s advice: “Never big note yourself” but don’t be a wallflower either. She said her father had the uncanny ability to read people, as any Nine or BSkyB employee would know, and she told the media they could use any adjective to describe him since “most of them would be accurate.” I can think of a few, but Caroline nailed it when she called her dad a “tenacious, complex, charismatic man” and “generous” long before he became rich.
I was a beneficiary of Sam’s generosity in 1987 when I was called to his office after Ian Frykberg had told him that I was going to have a double hip replacement in a month. “Tom,” he said, “I think you need to lose some weight before the operation. If you lose a stone this month, I will give you a flight to the US to see your mother.” With an offer like that, how could I say no? In fact, the flight also included my wife and two young daughters. When I came back I gave him the “key” to San Francisco, admitting I had purchased it in a pawn shop, probably pawned by a poverty-stricken politician, because what else could you give a man who had everything. Sam said: “Well, Tom, I’m glad you enjoyed the trip because you’ll never get another one like this.” He was right.

Everybody has a Sam story. Geoff Harvey got a trip around the world from Sam after he gave up smoking for six months. Tim Sheridan, a veteran sports journalist at Nine, and now senior sports correspondent at Fox Sports, told me at the wake about the time someone had borrowed his car at the station and parked Sam’s car in. Tim saw Sam at the door looking very angry and went up to apologise. Instead of bagging Tim, he said: “Is that your car? Isn’t it about time you got one you deserve?” A few days later, Tim got a new car.
The Reverend Craig Potter, rector of St Aldan’s in the Sydney suburb of Longueville, was Sam’s friend as well as his former minister, and therefore able to deliver a very good address about Sam, instead of the usual speech about eternal life (though it was mentioned). Rev Potter also talked about Sam’s “overwhelming generosity,” telling Craig to come down to his farm at Bundarbo, near Yass in New South Wales. His visits were frequent over the years, and he said the Chisholm hospitality was “generous to a fault.”
David Chance, Sam’s deputy at BSkyB in the late 1990s, paid a wonderful tribute to his friend, starting it off with his boss’ favourite insults to TV executives, describing them as “having a $20 haircut and a 10 cent brain,” “flapping their gums until they’d worked up a Force 10 gale,” and “offering him a penetrating glimpse of the obvious.”
Two of my favourites were his accusation of some executives as “being a person of cast-iron whims” and “never letting self-doubt cloud their judgment.” Sam was an expert in free character analysis. He was also not afraid of experimenting: even if it was a little on the funny side: at one point, proposing a “sheep channel” for BSkyB. (It’s a long story.)
David also talked about his generosity: Summer holidays with Sam and Sue in the south of France and how other friends would get to party with Miss October, on the back of a Harley Davidson.
In a poignant tribute, David Chance said Sam had “more tenacity and determination than anyone I ever knew.” He was in pain, but he never complained. Sam suffered from emphysema, an inherited illness which killed his father and brother. He eventually had a double lung transplant in 2003. “He was tough, but greatly admired, and respected by everyone that ever worked for him,” said David. And he spoke directly to Sue who was Sam’s rock: “You are a truly remarkable woman.” She was, of course, as she looked after Sam for decades, especially in those 15 years with his double lung transplant. David summed it up perfectly: “They don’t get any better than this.”
Sue Chisholm’s tribute was shorter; how she managed to do it, given her last few weeks, only demonstrated her bravery. “My darling Sam,” she began, remembering his warm smile, and how Sam “never complained – ever.” She also told the gathering that Sam had left her with the irreplaceable feeling of being “deeply understood and completely loved … Sam was my rock. He was my anchor … My darling Sam.” There was hardly a dry eye in the church at the end. Despite his illness, Sam didn’t go into hospital until Friday and he died on Monday night with his family around him. Sam Chisholm even knew how to die well.
At the wake afterwards in their lovely home on the north shore, there were more stories about Sam, his generosity, never being afraid to speak his mind, and his love of motorcycle riding. His daughter Caroline said Sam was definitely not a Trump supporter. She was in New York on election night, and Sam called hoping that he had lost. Unfortunately, he didn’t. I was happy to hear Sam never liked Donald Trump.
And my favourite anecdote at the wake came from Caroline. Before the renovations that transformed a weatherboard ranch-style house into an extended home at each end, building upwards with huge windows, Sam used to ride his motorbike from one end of the smaller abode to the other end in the bedroom. When Caroline and Sam’s first wife, Ronda, came home, they could smell a whiff of petrol in the air. “My father was crazy,” joked Caroline.
Sam might have been a bit crazy in those days (we all were), but he loved his family, he loved his job and he was one of a kind. We will not see his like again.
PS I would have loved to hear what Sam thought of this week’s merger of Nine with Fairfax. I can imagine him smiling now, standing next to a grumpy Kerry Packer saying: “It’s about bloody time.”

Dear Diary: Why hast thou forsaken me?

Sorry about the headline, but I wanted to get your attention. It comes from Psalm 22.1: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The psalm Christ recited on the cross.
My cross is much less of a burden. It’s just trying to decide if it’s worth going through more than 30 years of diaries to write a memoir on my career in television. Every time I turn to the literary pages of The Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Los Angeles Times, another memoir pops up. Among the most recent contributors are journalists or politicians: Mike Willesee, Peter Greste, Hugh Riminton, Mark Colvin, John Simpson, James Jeffrey, Janelle Wells, Sarah Ferguson, Chris Patten, Joe Biden to name a few.
Would my meagre memoir attract the attention of publishers who have already rejected my novel about television? My wife has always said my factual journalism is better than my fiction. Last year I wrote a post about a diary on the death of Princess Diana and posed a question to readers of this blog: “Would you prefer a novel or a memoir?” The majority said memoir (my wife is always right), but do I make it an autobiography or a diary a la David Sedaris, whose latest bestseller is Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002? It’s only Volume One so there’s a lot more to come. Sedaris, who was in Australia recently, writes in his author’s note: “If nothing else, a diary teaches you what you’re interested in … you keep the diary you feel you should be keeping … the point is to find out who you are and to be true to that person.”
“To thine own self be true,” as Shakespeare put it. Well, I’m making my final pitch to readers. When I moved from newspapers to television in 1983, urged on by a friend and journalistic colleague, Matt White, to keep writing, I chose a diary as my guardian wordsmith. Here’s an excerpt of the diary (photo above) which began nearly 35 years ago, when I became the foreign editor of the Seven Network in Sydney:
September 12, 1983
“Nervous to begin with, but the welcome by Cliff Neville (deputy news director) and Vincent Smith (news director) combined with the quiet professionalism of Paul Dougherty (producer) quickly got me over any nerves (all three are deceased). Learned about all the feeds and usual problems associated with Monday mornings. Paul makes the point: “Ninety-nine per cent of the time the words take care of the story.” It’s nice to know in an industry focusing on pictures, words still count. Friendly atmosphere at the news conference: I’m the “new boy.” The worst mistake you can make in an intro is to repeat what is said on tape: it makes the newsreader looks stupid. Ten to 20 seconds is best length for a normal intro. Most important news of the day appears to be NBC at 8.30am, when the LA bureau sends the feed. A quiet day and I’m home early (6.20pm).”
September 13, 1983
“Today is the day of Andrew Fowler’s (see photo below) interview with David Hackworth. (Andrew is a mate of mine from my days on The Australian, and the author of a new book on surveillance: Shooting the Messenger: Criminalising Journalism, and the late Colonel David Hackworth was the most decorated American soldier in the Vietnam War.) It runs 21 minutes and Andrew has put a lot of time and effort into it. Although he continues to battle for what he believes in, Andrew seems a lot happier and more fulfilled than at News Ltd. It’s a disease which I hope is catching. It’s a superb interview and there is instant reaction on the phones near the 11AM desk, including a call from a wife whose husband is a “war-mongering colonel in the Australian army.” I call Hackworth and he tells me he knows my friend Bill Dolon, a Villanova graduate and a paratrooper in the 101st US Army during the Vietnam war, and adds “the difference between a fairy tale and a war story. A fairy tale begins: ‘once upon a time,’ and a war story begins:’No shit, man. This really happened’.” I watch Paul Dougherty cut a grass car story — a funny from NBC — and learn what a jump cut is, a jump in the footage that’s noticeable: “Use cutaways to avoid jump cuts.” Other advice: write down the beginning of the news script and the end words, aka the outcue. I learned a great deal from Paul. Vincent Smith grabbed me before the news and gave me this brief: “A foreign budget for each one of the programs and I want new ideas and plenty of them.” Gordon Westcott, producer of 11AM, said the same thing, asking for up and coming authors for interviews. That night I attended the Australian/Vogel Award at Len Evans restaurant in the city and told the literati and the editor of The Australian, Les Hollings, and managing editor, Arnold Earnshaw, how happy I was.”

September 14, 1983
“Wednesday began with a hangover and Andrew and Paul filling me in on Vincent’s unhappiness with G. Westcott. It seems everybody but Vincent likes Gordy’s work, so it must be a personality problem (Gordon is alive and well and one of the best producers I worked with. The last time I saw him was at SBS in 2013 when he was the Weekend Chief of Staff. He’s still very helpful). Andrew shows me Vincent’s memo, saying the Viet execution scene was gratuitous and ruined an otherwise excellent report. Paul Lyneham rang from London to say congrats and fill me in on what was happening. It’s imperative to keep him happy. He wants Beirut to be his bailiwick, and I agree. He mentions memos going astray and I must keep an eye on that.”
September 15, 1983
“Today was the day I gave up my newspaper notebook for a legal pad and cut my first story. It was Lyneham’s story on Vice-Admiral David Leach shopping for carriers in Liverpool. Despite all warnings, the intro didn’t reach me until I had already written one for 11AM. There were no problems cutting it for 11AM, it was much harder for 6.30, a tighter program. I gave my first suggestions at conference today and people actually listened and followed up. Andrew Fowler, who has been agonising over whether to reply to Vincent’s memo, finally did so. He said memos go on your record — I must remember that — and he was very helpful. I call CNN and learn what a rundown is all about. It’s a good guide when a big story is running or an advisory on an exceptional press conference is coming. Late in the day and out of the blue, Reporter Laurie Brennan asks me over a can of Carlton Light: ‘Why does everybody like you so much? Is it because you’re likeable or because you’re such a good writer?’ A good question.” PS Thirty-five years later, I still can’t answer it.
Well, that’s a sample. Only about 10,000 more entries to look at and edit. What say you? As I mentioned in my post on Princess Diana last year, the late journalist and author and mate, Ian Moffit, used to say: “We are all living on borrowed time.”

Real war stories from the Fall of Singapore to El Alamein and the Kokoda Track

I have always loved books, and have been writing reviews for publication since 1966 when I was the editor of The Villanovan, the Villanova University newspaper in the US. I was also the literary editor of The Australian in the early 1980s for two years, and have reviewed books for decades. I am only mentioning this because the review below was written for the Returned and Services League (RSL) magazine, Reveille, edited by John Gatfield. I worked with John at Channel Nine and Sky News, and he asked me to review the book (it was pro bono). I did and he was happy with it. James Brown, the NSW President of the RSL (and son-in-law of the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull), ordered the review to be deleted. Why? John said: “He had no desire to do me any favours.” John Gatfield is no longer editor of Reveille. James Brown decided he didn’t want Reveille published by Acumen Publishing, which John and Richard Landels had been doing for nearly 20 years. It is an inspirational book, an excellent gift for veterans and their friends and families this Anzac Day.
The editor of this book of war stories says in his introduction: “My father never talked about his service or experiences in World War II.” Neither did my Dad, who was in the US Navy on supply ships off famous Pacific battlegrounds like Saipan and Iwo Jima. John Gatfield’s father served as a gunner in the Middle East with the NZ Army Field Artillery. Both had, I’m sure, marvellous stories to tell. They would love the 75 yarns written by ordinary Australians, many of whom performed extraordinary feats during the Second World War, from their courageous days as prisoners of war in Changi and the Burma Railway, to the battle of El Alamein (Featured photo above) which turned the tide for the Allies in 1942, to New Guinea and the Kokoda Track where the Diggers fought with dogged determination.
Take, for example, Trooper Bob Ebner’s tale about the “Heroic end of Captain Cobb.” The legendary Cobb led the attack on the Japanese position on Sananandana Road, and ran into machine gun fire. Using his revolver, bayonet, and rifle, Cobb accounted for at least 18 Japanese soldiers before he was killed. Colonel RS Garland commanded one of the units of the 2/3rd Independent Company which attacked and captured Ambush Knoll in New Guinea, a Japanese stronghold, in July 1943. In a bid to recapture the Knoll, the Japanese launched 20 assaults over 4 days. The result: Japanese casualties, 67 killed, Australians, three killed and seven wounded. Garland’s unit comprised “eight, tired, sick and hungry commandos,” but he was ordered by Major George Warfe to hang on to “this piece of ground.” After eight days of fierce fighting, they did. Garland writes: “Our meagre losses … indicate the high qualities of the Australian soldier when his back is to the wall.” Lt Col Bernard O’Dowd commanded the 17 Platoon, D Company of the 2/11th Battalion, known as a very good outfit with a highly developed spirit of mateship in its attack on Hill 710 in Wewak, New Guinea in May 1945. The successful battle was, according to O’Dowd, a “one-day show” that took 13 days and “cost us many good men, killed and wounded.’ He continues: “Nevertheless the D Company soldiers conducted themselves in the best tradition of the Digger, with determination, guts and aggression.” One Digger who showed all those qualities was Sgt Albert Hertzberg, who writes about the assault on Tobruk on January 20, 1941 in his “Diary of a Digger of Tobruk.” “We are working furiously,” says Hertzberg, “firing as fast as possible. We haven’t even time to duck some of the ‘Itie’ shells which land dangerously close.” The infantry breaks through: “Hurrah! It’s over.” Hertzberg praises the coordination of the navy, army and air force, and adds a lovely footnote: “Please excuse the roughness of this letter as I wrote it in the desert (where there are no tables and chairs).” A great piece by Corporal Alby Bannear, “El Alamein: Gate of the Road to Victory,” recalls the 1942 battle that forced Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, into retreat with his once proud Afrika Korps. Banner writes: “We remember the end of the battle that came about 5 pm when every aircraft under the command of the 8th Army went over to be in the kill and to harass the fleeing and confused enemy.”

All the stories are worth reading, but I can recommend a few more: Able Seaman Alf Orton’s “HMAS Yarra: A Survivor’s Story” — after the ship was hit by three Japanese cruisers and two destroyers, only 13 of the crew of 151 officers and men survived. Orton was one of them. Una Keast was a captain in the Australian Army Nursing Service when she and about 150 nurses were evacuated from Greece from fishing caiques to the HMAS Voyager. One of the sailors on board said to Una “Give me your hand, mate.” She said: “”I’m all right, I can manage.” To which he replied: “Strewth! Bloody Women!” He hadn’t realised it was a woman. Una had more poignant moments after the war when she went to New Guinea to look after the POWs. She said it was an “absolute nightmare. We’d go off and cry our hearts out when those fellows came back. It was terrible.”
“Escape After the Battle of Crete” is Signaller Stan Carroll’s amazing story. He bolted for the mountains when the island of Perivolia was about to capitulate to the Germans. He hid in the hills for eight days with some other troops who also escaped. He borrowed a boat and sailed an incredible 350 miles across the Mediterranean to Egypt in seven days. He was at least 10 miles off shore when the mast smashed a hole in the boat. Stan swam, floated and surfed, at the end crawling on his hands and knees to shore. An hour later, he came across an air force listening post with two Maltese officers. He was safe at last. And last but not least, Sister Berenice Twohill of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Convent who was one of about 350 priests, brothers and sisters interned on New Britain by the Japanese during the war. She told John Gatfield she didn’t hold a grudge against her jailers: “I look at it this way: every soldier fights for his country. War either makes or destroys a man. He either becomes a man or he’s an animal.”
These Australian World War II stories are personal and poignant. There is not a sniff of elitism: the Diggers are down to earth, the brave prisoners endure hell, and the men and women we read about care more for their mates than themselves. This is a book written by and for returned servicemen and women, for their families and friends and for all Australians. Lest we forget.
Great Australian World War II Stories: From the Annals of the RSL, Edited by John Gatfield, ABC Books, 351 pages

Cricket Australia: The Tamper Crisis

During my years in the control room putting the Nine Sunday Program to air, inevitably there were mistakes: some more serious than others, usually, though, only the wrong caption name or a misspelling. But inevitably there was an angry outburst from the senior producer of the day that often had a director’s assistant or technical staff in tears.
After the producer had left or was otherwise occupied, I would say quietly to the tearful perpetrator: “Don’t worry. You didn’t kill anybody.”
I was reminded of this watching the media conferences of the three Australian ball-tampering cricketers and the coach who realised it was time for him and the team’s culture to go.
By now, you would know all about ball tampering and how Vice-Captain David Warner allegedly planned the scheme and sent young Cameron Bancroft to carry it out while Captain Steve Smith just let it happen. It didn’t work. It was a trio that couldn’t tamper straight.
When the cameras captured Bancroft putting something down his trousers that looked like sticky tape, the umpires questioned the 25-year-old and he admitted it, but lied about the tape. It turned about to be sandpaper, but that revelation came several days later.
The cricketing world and the Australian public were baying for the blood of the trio, although more were thought to be involved as Captain Smith mentioned the leadership group was involved. They also assumed Coach Darren Lehmann was in on the plot, so they wanted his blood, too.
Enter Cricket Australian CEO James Sutherland, the Prime Minister, former cricket captains and cricketers, columnists and a slew of social media commentators, to name more than a few. The anger and cries of “sack them all” continued to rise. In contrast, I was watching my alma mater, Villanova University, win the national basketball championship yesterday and after the game, Jay Wright, who’s been Nova coach for 17 years, talked about being “authentic” and how far it can carry you. ESPN Sports commentator Jay Bilas said the word “authentic” and “Attitude,” which is the title of Jay Wright’s book, summed up the Villanova culture. “They’re going to be about each other. They play hard, they play together, they play with a great level of toughness, and it’s about us, it’s not about any one individual.” Are you listening, Cricket Australia?
No wonder lovers of cricket began to worry about the future of the sport in Australia. The fourth day of the Third Test following the ball-tampering scandal was farcical. A partnership between Bancroft and Warner was ended when Bancroft was run out. After that, it was a complete collapse. The result for Australia: Ten wickets for 50 runs, a total of 107, and for South Australia, a 322-run victory. (It got worse. Australia lost the Fourth Test by 492 runs. The team couldn’t wait to get out of South Africa.)
Three days later, the tamper trio came back to Australia, with 12-month bans for Smith and Warner and nine months for Bancroft. Smith could try for leadership in two years, but Warner was banned forever. Update: All three cricketers accepted the sanctions imposed on them by Cricket Australia. The scene was set for apologies: Bancroft was first up at a press conference in Perth: “I want to say that I’m very sorry. I love the game of cricket and playing for my state and my country — there is no greater pride for me. Not a second has gone by when I wish I could turn back time. I’m very disappointed and I regret my actions. It is something I will regret for the rest of my life. All I can do is ask for forgiveness.” He broke down and cried.
Steve Smith came later, apologising and taking questions from the media at Sydney airport. “To all of my teammates, to fans of cricket all over the world and all Australians who are disappointed and angry, I’m sorry. Tonight I want to make clear that as captain of the Australian cricket team, I take full responsibility. I made a serious error of judgment and I now understand the consequences. It was a failure of leadership, on my leadership. I’ll do everything I can to make up for my mistake and the damage it’s caused. I’m sorry and I’m absolutely devastated.”
At this point, of course, he was no longer captain, but given the circumstances he was forgiven. His father was standing next to him, ready to offer help if he needed it (Steve Smith and his father at top of post. The Australian photo Jonathan Ng). Smith broke down when he mentioned his father, who put his hand on his son’s shoulder: “You’re affecting your parents and to see the way my old man’s been …. and my mum, it hurts.” Former England captain Mike Atherton wrote a poignant column about the father-son relationship in The Weekend Australian: “There was something deeply moving about Peter Smith, standing there at his son’s back. The father of the former Australian captain, Steve, wasn’t going to let his boy face the music alone after landing at Sydney airport.”
Those sincere, tearful apologies brought a chorus of support for Smith and Bancroft on Twitter. Another former English captain Michael Vaughan tweeted: “Good people make mistakes’ … I honestly think Steve Smith & Cam Bancroft are decent guys who had a moment of madness … they deserve a 2nd chance and hopefully get the right support around them now … Takes a lot guts to do what they did today …”
Darren Lehmann, who convinced investigators he had no knowledge of the ball-tampering plot, was not sacked, but decided to step down as coach after today’s Fourth Test. He watched Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith’s conferences and realised his family needed him more than the Australian cricket team did: “After seeing events in the media today with Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, the feeling is that Australian cricket needs to move forward, and this is the right thing to do. I really felt for Steve as I saw him crying in front of the media, and all the players are really hurting. As I stated before, I had no prior knowledge of the incident and don’t condone what happened at all. But good people can make mistakes. My family and I have copped a lot of abuse over the last week and it’s taken its toll on them.”

The alleged ringleader of the tampering trio suffered the most abuse from cricket fans. Vice-Captain David Warner (Above. AAP photo Ben Rushton) didn’t front the media until Saturday morning, a day and a half after Bancroft and Smith apologised. Like the others he broke down in tears: “To the fans and the lovers of the game, who have supported and inspired me on my journey as a cricketer, I want to sincerely apologise for betraying your trust in me. I have let you down badly. I hope in time I can find a way to repay for all you have given me and possibly earn your respect again.”
Unfortunately, he wasn’t granted the same respect of his cricketing colleagues. Many suggested he was insincere in his apology. The Sydney Morning Herald asked a body language expert, James Kelly, what he thought (yes, a body language expert … the mind boggles). He said Warner’s “hard face, pained eyes and outward breaths” indicated he was deeply remorseful: “You could see his body was unanimated; it was almost like he’d taken a punch. It shows this is taking a huge toll on him.”
Wait for it. “Mr Kelly came away from the conference with the sense that Warner was most concerned about himself and his future cricketing career.” It might have been selfish, but is that a crime?
Despite the slings and arrows of outrageous ball tampering, love was in the air this week. One of the world’s best cricket writers and author Gideon Haigh wrote in The Weekend Australian about the love for cricket: “The players and the coach in their mea culpas all used the word ‘love’ when they talked about their relationship to cricket … I’m aware of the passion engendered by other games, but I’m prepared here to make a claim for the uniqueness of the love of cricket.”
He then goes to talk about a litany of reasons why cricket is loved: “There’s the love of cricket’s complexity, the fascination exerted by the intricacy, variety and subtlety of its skills. There’s the love of its romance, of the elaborateness of its rituals, of its ineffability and mysteriousness to continuity in the national story. There’s the love its difficulty … There’s also the love of its spirit … “
A little over a week ago, Haigh had been a guest of the Nyora Cricket Club’s presentation night in the small town in Gippsland, and he had “a great time, with solid cricket people. There was, as they say, a lot of love in that room.” Afterwards he and the Nyora coach watched as the tampering scandal unfolded. Later he mused about what he had seen: “To watch Steve Smith in tears and Cameron Bancroft in anguish felt voyeuristic, predatory. The desire to isolate, concentrate and punish the guilty was in part about the absolution of others who turned a blind eye to a worsening culture and reputation.”
Haigh sums it up very well: “ … it’s self-indulgent in these circumstances to give way to anger and dismay, not if you truly love the game. Sadly, perhaps, cricket’s not always going to make you happy. Sometimes it will disappoint, dismay and depress you … But love finds a way to rise above that, and there’s lots of it out there. I can recommend a visit to Nyora, Steve. You’d get a real kick out of it.”
On that same page in The Weekend Australian, award-winning sports columnist Patrick Smith was less forgiving of the tamper trio: “Don’t cry for once-upon-a-time Test captain Steve Smith. He seems to have that under control for himself. Stick a hose on him and he is a fire truck. Don’t cry for Cameron Bancroft. … He is not without a quid yet is just a kid in the multi-million dollar kingdom of Australian cricket. Supporters of David Warner might be harder to find.”
His summation is damning: “Smith’s visible grief represented what he had lost in reputation and what he had put at risk, the devastation of his family. His Thursday night news conference would have meant something valid and inspiring if it bemoaned the lack of opportunity to begin the new Australia. His sobbing was misplaced.”

If I may digress slightly in this long-form piece, I should explain how I came to love cricket and why I am upset about the Tamper Crisis. My love for cricket was gradual. I decided as an American in Australia who was probably going to live here for the rest of his life, and become a citizen of this country, I had to learn more about two things: cricket and horseracing. The latter is another story, but my cricket start is simple. In 1975, I asked a friend and colleague at News Ltd, deputy sports editor, John Swords, if he could teach me a bit about the code that captured the nation. He took me and a slab of beer cans, three-quarters full, to the SCG on the first day of the Fourth Ashes Test between England and Australia in 1975 (you were allowed to bring beer in those days). We went to the lower Brewongle Stand next to the Hill, where there were plenty of seats, but also room to move between the stand and the famous ground next to it. John said I could ask any questions I liked, and I was able to sledge the then English bowler with the South African accent, Tony Greig. The first snippet of knowledge came from editor Swords who said if the opening batsmen get fifty runs without getting out, we’d be well on our way to victory. The openers were Ian Redpath and Rick McCosker who managed a partnership of 96 before Redpath was bowled (hit wicket) by Fred Titmus. The entire stand heard my Yankee accent, and they started shouting words of Wisden and wisdom. By the end of the day, we had finished most of the beer and I knew a lot more about LBWs, slips and wickets. My love affair with cricket had begun.
So where does cricket go from here? Will Cricket Australia be able to sell its rights to the highest TV bidder now that Nine has gone to tennis? Will the Tamper Crisis and its aftermath severely damage the sport? I don’t think so as long as the culture does change. There was one brief shining moment in the last week from the new Australian captain, Tim Paine (Pictured above, AP Photo Themba Hadebe), who didn’t have a Test contract at the beginning of the season. He got his players to shake hands with the South African team at the start of the Fourth Test as a gesture of good will – something that has been in short supply in the series. Paine said: “It’s not something we are going to do every Test match but I think it is not a bad way to start a Test series. I think it’s something that we will use going forward. I just think it’s a good show of sportsmanship and respect.”
Tim Paine’s a captain who wants to show sportsmanship and respect to the opposition: “A natural leader,” according to Australian all-rounder Mitch Marsh. Maybe Paine is the unlikely messiah who can lead Australia out of the cultural wilderness.
Cricket lovers live in hope.

It’s time for the Eagles to fly

Next week’s Super Bowl brought back memories of an Eagles’ championship a long time ago.
Monday, December 26, 1960, was a cool 9 degree Celsius day, but perfect weather for sitting on the steps of a West Philly row house, listening to the broadcast of the NFL Championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers. The match was blacked out in the Philly area as it was being played on Franklin Field, the home of the University of Pennsylvania. Due to the lack of lights on the ground, the match was moved up to Noon US EDT, in case of a sudden death overtime. Ticket prices were ten and eight dollars US for a capacity crowd of 67,325.
I remember screaming with joy when the grizzled veteran from western Pennsylvania, Chuck Bednarik, who played 60 minutes every match, tackled Jim Taylor and stayed on top of him until the clock ticked down to zero: “You can get up now, Taylor. This damn game’s over.” The Eagles, underdogs then and now, beat the Packers 17-13, and it was the only playoff game coach Vince Lombardi ever lost.
Fifty-eight years later, the winning team will receive the Vince Lombardi Trophy, named after the Packers legend, who guided Green Bay to five NFL championships and victory in the first two Super Bowls in 1967 and 1968. The 2018 Super Bowl will not be blacked out anywhere, with an estimated viewing audience of more than one billion people. In 1960, gross receipts for the game were $748,000 US; each Eagle pocketed $5,116 US, while each Packer earned $3,105 US. Things have changed. Last year the Patriots received $107,000 each, the Falcons $53, 000. This year, the Patriots and the Eagles will be getting similar prize money, depending on who wins and who loses.
The NFL doesn’t want the championship to be just about money, they want it to be about honour and passion. Lombardi once said: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” The CEO and Chairman of the Eagles, Jeffrey Lurie, praised the Eagles’ fanatical supporters: “These fans are the most passionate fans in sport.” He’s right, of course, although Philly fans have had a chequered career when it comes to barracking for the home team. They threw snowballs at Santa Claus in 1968, after the scheduled Kris Kringle didn’t show (he was stuck in the snow). So management hired 19-year-old Frank Olivo, who was wearing a Santa suit at the stadium. The Philly spectators didn’t like a skinny Santa whose bag contained damp towels, instead of presents, so they pelted him with snow. The Washington Redskins, a team under fire by Native Americans for not changing their last name, had an unofficial mascot called Chief Zee, Zema Williams, who wore an Indian headdress. He made the mistake of going to a Philly home game in 1983 and taunting the fans when the Eagles lost by 10 points. He was attacked in the stands, and then the parking lot, suffering a broken leg for his taunts. And my favourite Eagles fan banner was in an exhibition game in 2009. Michael Vick, who spent 23 months in prison for running a dogfighting operation, had just been signed as quarterback. He was not greeted with applause. The banner read: “Don’t bring your Beagle, Michael Vick’s an Eagle.” The current coach of the Eagles, Doug Pederson, was a former quarterback with the Birds, and in 1999 he admitted the supporters were throwing batteries at him: “Those big ones. Those ‘D’ ones. I was spit at. Beer (thrown at him). But hey, listen, whatever.” You can’t imagine fans throwing batteries at Coach Pederson now. Like Jeff Lurie, Pederson applauded their passion: “I don’t think they sat down the whole game.” And the noise the 69,000 fans made at Lincoln Financial Field was akin to a jumbo jet plane overhead.

Of course, as a lifelong supporter of the Eagles, I’ve had to put up with criticism of Birds’ fans, even Down Under. When the Eagles lost their last Super Bowl to the Patriots in 2005, I was watching the match in a Sydney pub, one of many Super Bowl parties organised by a Nova Scotian mate, Iain Macintosh, and I told him if Brian Westbrook, a Villanova graduate, scored a touchdown for the Eagles, I would stand on a chair and sing the university fight song “V for Villanova.” It happened and I did, but there were some Patriot fans giving me dirty looks until Mac said: “Don’t worry. He’s okay. He’s from Philly.” There was a Patriot supporter I did like, a lawyer, who was detained briefly when he accidentally took a wrong turn into the front of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and told me: “The Patriot Act. What’s happening to Bush’s America?” I wonder what he would say about Trump’s America. I guess he’d still support the Patriots. Donald Trump has been friends with Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady for a number of years, though Kraft criticised the President for attacking players who protested during the national anthem against police brutality and racial injustice. It will be interesting to see whether Donald will continue to stand by the Patriots known as Team Trump because of Kraft’s one million dollar donation to the president’s inauguration committee.
Any true Eagles aficionado would know that Patriot and New York Giants fans would hate the Philly team. The feeling is mutual. This is what one New York Post reporter, Mike Vaccaro, wrote after the NFC match: “Put it this way: Giants fans loathe the Eagles so much, it has caused many of them to lose their minds and already declare the unfathomable: They will root for the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. ‘Like they’re America’s Team,’ one vowed to me Sunday night.” The cover (above) of the New York Post the morning after the Eagles victory over the Vikings last week says it all.
Okay, I am putting my neck on the line and predicting the Eagles will defeat the Patriots and win their first Super Bowl next Monday morning Australian time. Why? It’s the law of averages. The past few years have been the underdogs’ finest hour: The Chicago Cubs won the baseball World Series in 2016, their first since 1908; Leicester City took out their first ever English Premier League title in 2015-2016 after being 5000-1 outsiders at the start of the season; the Western Bulldogs defeated the favoured Sydney Swans in 2016 to snatch their first AFL premiership since 1954; and the Richmond Tigers clawed the Adelaide Crows in 2017 to achieve their first premiership since 1980.
Further back in the past, I firmly believed the Swans would defeat the West Coast Eagles in 2005, their first premiership since 1923. I was right. And, of course, it wasn’t sport but I did predict that Donald Trump would become president of the United States in a previous blog post. I wish I was wrong.

This is the Year of the Underdog. The Eagles were underdogs in both playoff games and finished on top, despite injuries and a back-up quarterback, Nick Foles (his photo at the top by Bill Streicher, USATODAY Sports), who took over the reins from Carson Wentz, out for the season with a knee injury, and is doing a splendid job. In spite of a long time in the wilderness, the fans believe in their team, and they and the players have started wearing dog masks (see photo above) mocking those pundits and Las Vegas bookies who called them underdogs. The Patriots, who have won five Super Bowls and lost two since 2002, are favoured by 5 points against the Eagles, who lost their two Super Bowl matches, the last against the Patriots in 2005 by 3 points.
It’s a week until the showdown between the upper-class New England Patriots and the down-to-earth Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s time for the Eagles to fly.

Comic duo Laurel and Hardy’s moments to remember: Tales of Hollywood stranger than fiction

Laurel and Hardy were two of my favourite comedians. Every year on Thanksgiving, a US TV network played one of their old films. We laughed at their jokes and slapstick, with perfect timing and the sheepish face of Stan Laurel and the exasperated reactions of Oliver Hardy providing moments to remember.
What brought back that memory? A brilliant new novel by John Connolly, a former Irish journalist who’s written 15 books about a fictional American detective, Charlie Parker, a crime series that started with a plane crash in the state of Maine and has branched out into an epic story about Hollow Men, the Brotherhood, a Monstrous Mother and a criminal empire. I’ve read most of them and noticed on Connolly’s website that he was publishing a novel reimagining the life of Stan Laurel, one of the great screen comics, with his jolly, overweight partner, Oliver Hardy. He is a work of fiction, but it’s based on an enormous amount of research, outlined in the Author’s Note, including four seminal Laurel and Hardy biographers and the letters of Stan Laurel, a prodigious correspondent whose missives can be found in Stan’s Correspondence Archive Project, along with a brief biography. Connolly loved Laurel and Hardy because they were part of his childhood. My childhood.
The novel begins in the Oceana Apartments by the sea in Santa Monica, California where Stan “chases butterfly memories” in the last days of his life. He remembers Oliver (Babe) Hardy: “Babe is always with him … But now Babe is gone, and he is alone.” We get to read more of Stan’s memories throughout the book (and this post). It’s a short first section, like the 202 remaining chapters, but it encompasses the life of the comic duo from Stan’s childhood in northern England where his father, Arthur Jefferson, aka AJ, managed theatres and was also an actor and director to Babe’s upbringing in Georgia carrying a sandwich board advertising specials at the Baldwin Hotel run by his mother. Along the way, Connolly tells tales of Hollywood and its stars (imagining what Stan would say): Chaplin for one, who has sex with 15-year-old girls; who takes actress Paulette Goddard to bed, believing she is 17, and ‘is disappointed when she reveals that she is twenty-two;” who is the greatest comedian Laurel has ever seen; and, last but not least, according to Stan, “Chaplin is a monster.” Harvey Weinstein comes to mind.
Stan Laurel had a Chaplin complex. He was Chaplin’s understudy at Fred Karno’s comedy company when he was only 19. Stan travelled with Karno to the US in 1910 and 1912. The company split when Charlie moved on to become a star in motion pictures in Hollywood. When Stan’s common-law wife, Mae Dahlberg, told him he was as good as Chaplin, he replied Charlie was the best that has ever been. Babe Hardy was working with movie producer Larry Semon, who wanted to make pictures like Chaplin’s and didn’t care who the Little Tramp was screwing. Babe believed Chaplin should be in jail. But Chaplin is Chaplin (often repeated in the novel). Semon had no vision and his company collapsed. It led Babe to sign a contract with Hal Roach, one of Hollywood’s most famous and successful movie magnates, and the partnership of a lifetime with Stan Laurel that began in 1926.

While Stan and Babe had a great partnership, it didn’t mean they always chose the right partners in marriage – not to mention their affairs. When Mae returned to Melbourne, Stan married Lois Neilsen in 1926. They had two children, a daughter Lois, and a son who died tragically nine days after his birth. They were divorced eight years later and Stan married Ruth Rogers. But Stan continued to pine for Lois, who refused to remarry. The marriage to Ruth lasted three years, who told Stan: “You’re just a child. You have no idea what you really want at all.” His next partner was a mad Russian actress and singer, Vera Ivanova Shuvalova, accompanied by Countess Sonia, and Roy Randolph, the Dancing Master. Stan and Vera had three wedding ceremonies. Connolly writes: “He (Stan) will spend most of 1938 drinking, for reasons not unconnected to their marriage.” Years later at the Oceana Apartments, Stan remembers Vera: “He remembers that Vera was a drunk. He remembers that Vera couldn’t sing … He remembers that Countess Sonia’s perfume smelled like cat piss … He remembers driving the wrong way down Reseda Boulevard, intoxicated and crying and only (his lawyer) Ben Shipman’s bamboozling of the jury keeping him out of jail.” There’s more. He remarries Ruth in 1941. That lasted until the end of the war, when he met and fell in love with Ida Kitaeva Raphael. When Ben Shipman read about their wedding in a newspaper on May 6, 1946, he screamed: “Jesus Christ, he’s married another Russian.” But this marriage endured until death did them part nearly 20 years later.
Babe Hardy had a similar chequered marital record, starting with Madelyn Saloshin, who played the piano at a theatre where he was singing in a quartet. They had a dog and a monkey. Babe said it wasn’t a marriage. It was a zoo. It was short, followed by a longer, but not much happier union, as his second wife, Myrtle Reeves, was a drunk. He had a lover, Viola Morse, but he continued to look after Myrtle, who did things like escaping from a sanitarium, sneaking out of her sister’s house and trying to drink herself to oblivion in a hotel. A policewoman talked her out of jumping out the hotel window, and Myrtle was arrested. Every newspaper in the country had the story. Still Babe found it hard to leave her, although he spent a lot of time at the races in Santa Anita. He sought comfort from Myrtle with other women, but eventually got a divorce and paid hefty alimony bills. Although he’d been with Viola Morse longer than Myrtle, Babe finally met his true love, Lucille Jones. Despite Viola’s pain, Babe and Lucille married … and she cared for her husband until he died in 1957.
Somehow Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy managed brilliant careers in spite of their marital problems and family tragedies. They made short films for Hal Roach, released through MGM, during the silent era in the late 1920s and took to audio like ducks to water. Their first sound movie was a success: Unaccustomed As We Are in 1929. With their traditional bowler hats, suits and ties, mixing sight and sound gags (mostly written by Stan), the Pom from Ulverstone and the Yank from Georgia enthralled American audiences during the Great Depression. Laurel and Hardy won the first Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Comedy, in 1932 for The Music Box, a revision of their silent film, Hats Off.

Later that year, Laurel and Hardy decided to take a vacation and made a deal with MGM: ten days of publicity, the rest of the time to themselves. They travelled by train to New York via Chicago and took what they thought would be a leisurely cruise on the RMS Aquitania to Southampton. Stan and Ollie were amazed by the thousands of people who waited for them in Chicago, just wanting to touch them, shake their hands. It was worse, and scarier, in New York when the Broadway multitudes did not let them pass. They had to hide in Minsky’s Music Hall and were smuggled aboard the Aquitania. Much to their surprise, Stan and Babe had become two of the most famous men in the world. In Britain, thousands greeted them from London to Leeds and Birmingham, to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Stan spent time with his father, AJ, who wondered why his son changed his last name from (Arthur Stanley) Jefferson to Laurel. Stan had no satisfactory explanation; it was Mae Dahlberg’s suggestion.
Laurel and Hardy made 105 films between 1926 and 1951, when they retired from movies. Laurel met Charlie Chaplin at his house in Beverly Hills, and they reminisced. Chaplin said: “Who else like us is left”? Stan “cannot help but admire Chaplin, even as he wishes him more capable of truth, and more worthy of affection.” He never saw or spoke with Chaplin again. For Babe, his moment in the sun was taking part in a John Ford touring production of What Price Glory, a fundraiser for the Order of the Purple Heart. Among the cast were John Wayne, Ward Bond, Harry Carey, Jr and Jimmy Cagney, who told Babe he was so good that if someone hadn’t held him upright, he would have fallen on the floor laughing. Hardy sat in the club car of the train on the way to San Francisco, regaling the famous actors with tales of old Hollywood, with Duke Wayne’s eyes and ears wide open. Connolly writes: “They were listening to me, Babe says. Can you believe that? All those great men were listening. To me.”
Stan and Ollie toured England in the early 1950s, to dwindling audiences, until May 18, 1954 when Babe had a heart attack. The tour was cancelled, and they returned to the US where Stan worked on scripts for television. In 1955, he had a stroke, from which he recovered, but Babe had another heart attack and a stroke, was paralysed and lost his voice. He died on August 7, 1957. At the Oceana Apartments, Stan pays tribute to his partner: “Babe is with him and of him … he knows that he loved this man, and this man loved him, and that is enough, and more than enough.”
Stan continued to write jokes and sketches for fellow comedians, and was recognised with a special Oscar for his creative pioneering work in cinema comedy in 1961 (Photo above from LettersFromStan.com). The actor Alec Guinness wrote Stan a letter which had a prominent place on his desk, congratulating him on his Academy Award: “For me you have always been and will always be one of the greats.”
In his Author’s Note, John Connolly says Stan Laurel “kept his telephone number in the Malibu directory because he enjoyed being visited and had no fear of those who might make their way to his door.” Among those visitors were Dick Cavett, Jerry Lewis and Dick Van Dyke. Stan Laurel died on February 23, 1965 and Dick Van Dyke gave the eulogy at the funeral: “The halls of heaven must be ringing with divine laughter.”
John Connolly admits his novel and his depiction of Stan Laurel might not meet with unanimous approval: “All I can say is this: by the end of the writing of this book, I loved Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy more than ever, with all their flaws, in all their humanity, and my admiration for their artistry had only increased.”
As a reader, I felt the same way.
He, John Connolly, Hodder & Stoughton, 453 pages
PS: If you’re interested in watching some of the old clips of Laurel & Hardy films, you can find them on their official website: http://www.laurel-and-hardy.com/ The BBC has produced a biopic of Laurel and Hardy’s final tour of the UK in 1953, titled Stan and Ollie, starring John C. Reilly as Ollie and Steve Coogan as Stan. No release date has yet been announced, but fans of the famous comedy duo won’t want to miss it. A preview by indiewire.com and photos of the film have been released on Twitter.

A journalist’s memoirs: From minefields to Mandela

“Welcome to the world of BLEEP.” That was a former executive producer calling to congratulate me on being appointed supervising producer of the Channel Nine Sunday Program in the mid-90s.
Yes, the missing word is rude and banned from most conversations, even frowned upon by social media outlets. But the congratulatory call was also close to the truth. Once you became a member of management in television you were expected to be a bastard. I was never good at treating staff badly, and I wondered: Should I include it in my memoirs? On second thought, should I write my memoirs?
Those thoughts occurred to me after reading a cracker of a book, Minefields, the recollections of a friend and former colleague, Hugh Riminton (Photo above: by John Appleyard), one of Australia’s best journalists and a Walkley-Award winner, who spent nearly three decades as a foreign correspondent with 3AW, Channel Nine and CNN, and is now a newsreader on the Ten Network. It is an honest, eloquent, at times poetic, account of what it was like to be a reporter in the days before the Age of Disruption.
Hugh begins with an author’s note praising some of the wonderful memoirs by the best reporters: Anthony Lloyd, Fergal Keane, Edward Behr, Philip Knightly, to name a few, and he describes the late Mark Colvin’s Light and Shadow as a “gentle masterpiece.” He also said he’d like to see Australian reporters publish their memoirs: Among them, Michael Ware, Sally Sara, Peter Cave, Steve Levitt, Robert Penfold, Matt Brown, and Sophie McNeill. Hmm, how about a producer or two?
Born in Sri Lanka to an Irish nurse in the RAF and a tea planter from Jersey, Jackie and John, who are still married 60 years later, Hugh wasn’t quite as lucky. He’s been married three times. He writes: “Helen Garner reckoned every time she wrote a book she lost a husband. It seemed every time I got a foreign posting I lost a wife.” And he had a plethora of postings from Fiji to PNG, London, Moscow, South Africa, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, Israel, Iraq, the Western Front, Albania, Sarajevo and Afghanistan.
Back to the Riminton family. Hugh, two of his three brothers (the third would be born in Christchurch), and his parents moved to New Zealand where he fell in love with reading and rugby and became a student at Christchurch High School in 1974. Soon afterwards, he started drinking, suffered depression and tried to take his own life at the age of 15. Incredibly, his parents never knew about it.
After a job cleaning rats’ poo out of cages at a teaching hospital that did experiments on animals, Hugh was ready for anything. A 4-week radio course led him to a regional station where the news director called him in and asked why he wanted to be a journalist. He was planning on law school, didn’t really want to be a journo but he said the first thing he could think of: “Because it would be fun.”
Hugh became a cadet reporter at Radio Avon, aged 17. He was learning how to report and read the news. In fact, reading a bulletin while under the influence of marijuana may have saved his life. The grass interfered with his presentation and the sentences made no sense to him. He vowed never to do that again, reduced his alcoholic intake, and stopped getting sick from drinking. He writes: “Plenty of journalists have been alcoholics, including some of the best. I am a rare case. I was saved from alcoholism by journalism.”
His first big scoop was a year later in Auckland when he received a telegram at 9.30pm on a Wednesday night to ring work urgently. An Air New Zealand DC-10 carrying 257 passengers on a tourist flight over Antarctica had lost contact. At the search and rescue headquarters, Hugh kept his eye on the telex machine. Up came the message: WRECKAGE SIGHTED. MOUNT EREBUS. NO SIGN SURVIVORS. He filed reports and updates throughout the night, and in the morning was one of two radio journalists sent on an Air Force transport plane to the crash site. Hugh Riminton was now a full-fledged reporter at the age of 18.

(Photo above of Hugh in Moscow in 1993 after rebels tried to take over the Kremlin.)
There are many stories in the 415 pages of Minefields, but a few stand out. The title, by the way, refers to a piece to camera Hugh did in a grain field in central Somalia that turned out to be a minefield: quite a good story. In 1993 when Hugh was the London correspondent for Nine, he covered the return of 14 Australian veterans of WWI to the Western Front. Their average age was 95, and the crew only expected to do a few stories at the start, but the diggers’ spirt and courage won the nation’s hearts. Soon-to-be PM John Howard was on the tour to pay homage to his father and grandfather, but it was the surviving veterans who shone. Howard Pope, a digger aged nearly 100, visited the grave of his older brother for the first time, “remembering a youth who had not grown old.” Hugh sums up the veterans with eloquence and emotion: “There is the courage of youth and the courage of age. They had known them both. I have wept only twice while writing a script. Once was at Port Arthur. But the first time was there, feeling the precious, fading fragile link between these men and the times they had known.”
Three years later, Hugh was back in Australia having just accepted a Logie Award for “Outstanding Achievement in News” for Nine for its coverage of the French Nuclear Tests in the Pacific, sparking violent protests in Tahiti. A few months afterwards, Hugh confronted “the worst story I have ever covered in Australia,” the massacre at Port Arthur in Tasmania. He and Rob Hopkins, who had just won a Walkley for camera coverage in Tahiti, and sound recordist, Ilankovan Frank, headed to Tassie to report on two harrowing days of slaughter by a lone crazed gunman. Martin Bryant shot dead 35 people and wounded 23 in the deadliest mass shooting in Australian history in April 1996.
Nine reporters Charles Slade and John Vause had covered the survivors and the relatives and Bryant’s background, but Riminton had to tell the main story, with the deadline approaching. Everyone was asking “Why this happened,” and all Hugh could think of was Bryant shooting six-year-old Allanah Mikac, after he killed her mother and three-year-old sister. Hugh wrote these last three paragraphs: “There is no why. There are no reasons. There are no words.” Not surprisingly, he had difficulty doing the voiceover, choked up by emotion. Later he felt guilty that he had let emotions get to him. Then News and Current Affairs director Peter Meakin told him: “You said what all Australia was thinking.”
The massacre led to gun law reforms driven by the new Prime Minister John Howard, which have so far prevented a repeat of mass murders in Australia for 21 years, but no one was able to answer “why,” least of all Martin Bryant, still in prison never to be released.
Riminton had more questions after covering a story about genocide in Rwanda. Former PM Malcolm Fraser, then head of CARE International, Hugh and cameraman Richard Malone were in Tanzania when they came across a crowd of refugees crossing the border into Rwanda. Hugh noticed they were not as desperate as those he had seen on a previous mission to Somalia. A Red Cross worker explained: “These people are not starving. Don’t feel too much sympathy for them – these are the Hutus. These are the ones who have been carrying out the genocide.”
But Riminton spotted bands of young men with machetes at the fringes of the crowd. One looked at him as he passed by, as if to say: “I’ve got you if I want you. You are nothing to me.” Then they crossed the bridge from Rwanda to Tanzania over the Kagera River, the water thick with corpses. “An endless, piteous soup of lost humanity,” Hugh writes, “Malcolm Fraser and I stood a little distance apart, saying nothing, trying to absorb what we were witnessing.” The UN calculated five million people died in the war between the Tutsis and the Hutus.

When he got back to London, one of his questions was: “How could so many people … be slaughtered in a matter of weeks and so little be known about it?” Hugh’s answer: the champagne cocktail theory – a drink with 22 per cent alcohol, slight sweet and effervescent. A cocktail perfect for a foreign correspondent trying to get people to watch distressing news: “You can’t write the full horror. People recoil as it were poison. You lose them … You must concoct your own champagne cocktail – strong enough to leave no doubt what is going on, light enough to give the viewer permission to keep watching.” As I write this, I fear readers may be reaching for a champagne cocktail.
My favourite story from Minefields: A trip to South Africa to cover the 1994 elections: the first interracial ballot in a country once ruled by apartheid. (I was there producing a feature story for Sunday with Jim Waley and a Nine crew, including the excellent editor Mike Fleming and cameraman Ben Herbertson. A bomb exploded in Johannesburg’s CBD on our way from the airport to the Carlton hotel, killing 9 people. A shaken Jim Waley did a piece to camera. We expected a week of violence.) Hugh was there with Richard Malone and editor Mark Douglas, reporting for Nightline, when a second bomb exploded in the racially mixed suburb of Germiston. Ten people died that day in more than a dozen bombings.
During the election campaign, Hugh got to see Nelson Mandela in action. He and Malone and NZ colleague Cameron Bennett watched as Mandela calmed a crowd in Soweto football stadium after gunfire erupted. He lectured those who fired the guns, saying the new South Africa had no place for such failings. But he did not try to rouse the crowd, as Hugh puts it: “He wanted not triumphalism but empathy.”
The tension disappeared on April 27 as millions of black Africans were allowed to vote for the first time. The Star newspaper in Johannesburg had this splash headline: “Vote, the beloved country,” with the first sentence: “Apartheid died today.” Mandy, our terrific South African fixer (she helped both Sunday and Nightline), managed to get Hugh and his crew passes for the African National Congress (ANC) victory party in the Carlton hotel. On the night victory was declared, Nelson Mandela came to the hotel to announce the result. The ANC had won with more than 62% of the vote. Mandela concluded his remarks: “Now we know the true meaning of the words: ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last.” The closing words of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
Mandela disappeared from hotel, while the crowd outside had grown to hundreds of thousands. Hugh and Richard were surrounded by the dancing, exuberant crowd. Richard filmed a white guy driving out of the basement car park, looking a bit frightened, but he stuck his arm out of the car, and yelled “Amandla” – a cry of black solidarity. He had no trouble getting out of the huge celebrations. Hugh said it was the biggest story he ever covered, although he admits he’s not sure what the biggest story even means. This is what he wrote: “This was a night radiant with freedom and joy, a night of biblical promise, when the yoke of an enslaved people was finally throw down. In life – in history – there are few moments of such power.”
Hugh Riminton sets the scene with potted profiles of the places he’s reporting from: London in winter is “The Old Grey Lady, dark and shrouded in mists until 8.30am, the darkness falling again by mid-afternoon”; Soweto, “a dark triumph of apartheid’s social engineering”; Albania, “a sad old place”; Christmas Island, “A dot of rock resembling a stretching cat, it was best known for its profusion of land crabs”; and Jerusalem: “To walk among ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus had walked before his betrayal and crucifixion, was powerful indeed.”
He also fights the good fight against employers when he thinks they’ve made the wrong decision. After Channel Nine ordered him and his crew to leave Baghdad as invasion day approached in 2003, Riminton went ballistic: “It was the worst journalistic decision I ever saw at Nine. They were gutless. They had lost their nerve.” When he got back to Sydney, the boss told him: “No story is worth dying for.” Hugh replied: “No story is worth the certainty of dying for. We are not suicide bombers. But any story that big is worth taking a risk for.”
And he loved working for CNN, anchoring the news from Hong Kong and covering big stories in Asia, from the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, to the huge snowstorm in China in January 2008, and four months later, the gigantic earthquake in Sichuan Province which killed 90 thousand people, and left five million homeless. CNN also sent him back to Baghdad during the Bush administration’s surge, a counter-insurgency plan that didn’t work. A US Staff Sergeant, Matt St Pierre, who led a convoy Riminton joined, told him: “This is our generation’s Vietnam. I don’t think this can be won. We’re caught in the middle of a civil war.” (Photo below of Hugh — lower left — in pre-invasion Baghdad. Photo: Richard Moran)

Riminton says to be part of the CNN Baghdad operation was the greatest privilege of his reporting life, but he finally left the network because of its culture, which was relentless work. His friend and colleague at CNN, Stan Grant, wrote about his mental breakdown in his book Talking to my Country, after working insane hours at the Beijing bureau. Grant is now with the ABC. And Hugh writes CNN “ran their star reporter Michael Ware, until his mental health utterly collapsed.” Riminton says: “All in all, CNN were wonderful people to work with, terrible people to work for.”
Hugh moved back to Australia as bureau chief of the Ten Network in Canberra in 2009, with his third wife Mary Lloyd, who he met while in Hong Kong as a producer with CNN. It’s a love story for the ages. Hugh now has four children, two with Mary, Jacob and Holly, and Caitlin with his first wife, Sue, and Coco with his second wife, Kumi Taguchi. In 2014, he moved back to Sydney to take on a newsreading job at Ten and spend more time with his children and support Mary’s career: “I became, at last, a proper family man.”
What does Hugh Riminton think about the future of journalism? He says journalism is in a state of financial collapse, but this is his last word from Minefields: “Sound information will always be in demand. It seems shonky information will be in even greater demand. But whatever shape the future takes, the old model of the journalist as the well-paid reporter and interpreter of the times is gone. For better or worse. I hope I have done my bit to do my calling justice. It has been a hell of a ride.”
Minefields: A life in the news game, Hugh Riminton, Hachette Australia.

The Buttons: Speechless but never at a loss for words

It’s taken me a while to read Speechless, a lovely book about speechwriting by James Button, Walkley Award-winning journalist and author and son of John, a senator and a former minister in the Labor Governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. It’s not only a story about speeches but a father and son relationship, the public service and former prime minister Kevin Rudd. (SMH photo above, Left: James, John and Nick, at Geelong match.)
James Button worked as a speechwriter for Kevin Rudd when he was PM in 2009 and later with the Strategy and Delivery Division (SDD), part of the Australian Public Service (APS), where acronyms abound. The reason it took me so long to read Speechless was simple: I enjoyed it so much I wanted to savour every word. (The late Bob Ellis called it “a quiet masterpiece, to be savoured.) It’s also about words and even has a chapter devoted to clear writing in the public service called The Dejargonator, a blog Button’s boss asked him to set up so that people could post examples of “grisly official prose and have a crack at writing clear alternatives.” Button learned from the Great Dejargonator, Don Watson, and his books on jargon “lacerating bad language” that “we are all dejargonators now.” But he also discovered why jargon persists: for the government, it’s about managing risk. He writes: “a vast effort is expended to make sure nothing bad happens, which creates another form of risk: that nothing happens at all.”
As a speechwriter for Kevin Rudd, Button realised the PM rarely gave good speeches: “He could or would not find the connection with his audience. Yet, it’s strange, for he gave one great speech. It had people in it.” In his Apology speech in 2008, Rudd described Nungala Fejo, an Aboriginal woman taken from her family by welfare worker who never saw her mother again, as “an elegant, eloquent and wonderful women in her eighties, full of life, full of funny stories, despite what has happened in her life’s journey.” He spoke of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report on the removal of Indigenous children: “There is something terribly primal about these firsthand accounts. The pain is searing; it screams from the pages … These stories cry out to be heard. They cry out for an apology.”
But as James Button points out in his Acknowledgements in Speechless, it’s his father’s story as much as his. They had difficulty talking about the death of James’ younger brother, Dave, from a heroin overdose. They came close when James showed his Dad a draft of a long piece he had written about Australia’s future for Time Magazine in 1992. John replied: “It’s very long. It’s pretty bleak. And I don’t think you’ve quite caught the spirit of innovation in the economy.” That, of course, angered James who wrote a letter to John saying he had read the piece as a politician, not as a father. A few days later, John told James after a meal at a restaurant: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” a famous line from the English poet Philip Larkin. The anger disappeared. But ten years later, he helped his father write a Quarterly Essay on the Labor Party, both working hard for a week. His Dad spoke at the launch of the essay, thanking his son only in passing. His anger returned but he never told his father what he felt: “I should have said something to him! … I had robbed him of the chance to explain why he didn’t mention it … And we would have grown closer.” James then writes one of the key paragraphs of the book: “We were two articulate men, friends, who loved words and talking together about words. Yet in these respects, we were speechless.”
James still had questions about his father’s memoir, As It Happened, and his mother pointed him to a profile of his Dad in a book of interviews he did with a Melbourne University political scientist, Alan Davies. The psychological profile of the 26-year-old John Button paints him as “tense, troubled, self-absorbed,” a snapshot James recognises: “He seems to be saying, ‘I am a plain man, there is no bloody nonsense about me.’” Later James reads As It Happened again and goes to the last page where his father is musing on his life in politics: “He has regrets, but no complaints: rather the curiosity of wondering what life would be like if he had done something different. And that thought – what if he had done something different? – makes him think of his father: “From my father, I acquired the instinct of taking what comes in life and learning to cop it without complaining. As a child I learnt this the hard way. In later life I was grateful. I’m sure I helped to keep me sane.” James writes: “There it is, hiding in plain view, like the letter on the mantelpiece in a Sherlock Holmes novel. His father is the last person in his book. He has written the book he had to write. He won’t write another but it doesn’t matter. He has made peace with his father.”

I’m only sad because I didn’t have a chance to go to a footy match with John Button, a lifelong supporter of the Geelong football club. James describes walking beside his father at a Geelong match with his brother Nick: “I would hear a constant hum: ‘That’s John Button’.” In his obituary of his father published in the May 2008 edition of The Monthly, James talked about his Dad’s love of Geelong: “He was seriously, battily, obsessed by football, and by the Geelong Football Club. More than once, in the Geelong changing rooms, I caught Dad staring a little too intently at Gary Ablett’s thighs. Week after week, year on year, he would draw an oval on a sheet of paper and compile his team in his crimped handwriting, which a secretary of his once compared to the scratchings of a chook. Sometimes he would mail them to the coach; always he would mail them to Nick and me. I think football was a great release from politics. More than that, though, it gave him a chance to be with his two sons, and I know that his love of football was also a love of us.”
I was fortunate enough to produce John Button for a cover story he was reporting for the Channel Nine Sunday program (later moved to Business Sunday) in 1993, and wrote about it on my blog in April. He was a gracious, humble man who loved his footy and was loved by all the CEOs he talked to about the future of Australian business. He got along well with the workers as well, this “plain man” with “no bloody nonsense” about him. He even talked the then Prime Minister Paul Keating into doing an interview with him for the program, and it was a privilege for me to sit in Kirribilli House and listen to these two Labor veterans talk intelligently about politics and industry, and produce a few headlines for Channel Nine.
If he were still alive, I’d send him an email or a text, saying may the best team win in tonight’s finals match between Geelong and Sydney. But, of course, my team, the Swans will emerge victorious. I only know James as a fellow journalist, but he has written a wonderful book about the Geelong Football Club called Comeback: The Rise and Fall of Geelong, a profile of the Cats’ three premierships in five seasons from 2007 to 2011.
Author and cricket expert extraordinare, Gideon Haigh, reviewed Button’s book in The Weekend Australian last September, saying Comeback is “notably free of needless grandiosity. There are no special claims, for instance, about the bond of club and city: rather, Geelong is an ‘ordinary club in an ordinary town that has done extraordinary things.’ In what Button says he is never other than thoughtful; in what he excludes, the surfeit of repetitive, rigidly chronological detail that retards so many sports books, he may be even more effective.”
James, your father would be proud of you. May the best team win tonight.
Update: Unfortunately, from a Swans supporter’s point of view, the best team was Geelong, who beat Sydney by 59 points last night in a sudden-death final, and go on to play Adelaide in a preliminary final next weekend. The season is over for the Swans. The Button family will be happy.