Gonzo Meets the Press #21 August 23, 2011
As all of Australia knows, veteran ABC reporter Paul Lockyer, chopper pilot
Gary Ticehurst and cameraman John Bean were killed in a helicopter crash last
week. Tom Krause remembers the Paul Lockyer he knew as a producer at Channel
Paul Lockyer, the best and nicest reporter I ever worked with, also had a great sense of humour.
There have been so many tributes to Lockers in the past few days (two of the best from a former
colleague of mine on the Sunday program, Graham Davis http://www.grubsheet.com.au/?p=955,
and a colleague from The Australian, Errol Simper http://bit.ly/qW2nY7), I’ve decided to say
goodbye with something a bit different – the Lockyer predilection for practical
When I was his producer at the Channel Nine Sunday Program,
we were doing a yarn on the 50th anniversary of El Alamein in 1992. In his usual
methodical way – one of Lockyer’s frequent sayings was: “Time spent in recce
(reconnaissance) is time well spent” – he had done recce on the Old Diggers he
would interview before going over to Egypt for the anniversary.
He was a great interviewer because of his empathy with the talent, and these Diggers were
the stuff of which Australia was made. You couldn’t help but like them, and they
couldn’t help but like Lockers and they poured their hearts out to him.
But, as usual in television, the visas were late in coming, it was hard getting the
material together, and like any normal producer, I started whingeing. It was the
best job in the world to be a producer on Sunday, which gave the much
feted, well staffed and well regarded Four Corners a run for its money
– of which they had more as well! – but I whinged anyway.
My constant complaining and threats to resign got Lockers thinking. So one morning a couple
of days before we were to fly off to Egypt, he came in with a piece of paper
(I’m still trying to find it – it’s in one of those boxes in the garage I won’t
let my wife throw out) on which he had
To Whom It May Concern
I’ve had enough of this place. I can’t take any more.
I am resigning, and you can all go eat a bag of sh-t.
Paul handed it to me, and said: “Okay, I made it easy for you. Just sign that and give it to Mooney (Neil
Mooney, the Executive Producer).”
It was a masterstroke on Lockers’ part, as every time I whinged, he said: “Well, you can always hand in that resignation
I made up for you.” As I said, I kept it, and every time I looked at it, I had
to laugh. Just thinking about it makes me laugh again. That was another one of
his gifts, the ability to calm people down, especially angry producers. He did
it again on the dock of Port Douglas when I screamed an expletive at a noisy
motorboat skipper as Lockers was doing an interview with a CEO.
And on El Alamein, Lockers decided to stay behind and let me go on my own to Egypt to top
and tail the piece he had already put together in Sydney. The story – his story
— worked a treat!
Fast forward two years, and it’s now 1994 and Paul is
working as a reporter for A Current Affair, and we’re both in South
Africa covering the first all-race elections in the country’s history. I was
still working for Sunday, so two Nine shows are competing against each
other – a strange practice encouraged by then News and Current Affairs Director
Peter Meakin which foreign networks, especially American, could never
So just before midnight on the day of the election results, we
had to send our links via satellite to Channel Nine in Sydney to get them on the
program on Sunday morning in Australia. It also happened to be my 50th birthday
and we were sending the Jim Waley links from the roof of the Carlton Hotel in
Johannesburg. So we repaired to the bar at 1am, and I was ready to have a drink
or two, but one by one, Jim, then the cameraman Ben Herbertson, then the editor
Mike Fleming, all were too tired to stay up, so I had to go to my room.
It was just as well since we were leaving later that day, and I had been falling
asleep for the past two days as a result of having no sleep. I was out like a
A few hours later, about 4am, the phone rang. It was Lockers: “Happy
birthday, Tom. I just called to wish you a happy 50th and tell you that since
the results aren’t official yet, A Current Affair will beat Sunday on
the story on Monday with the latest results.” I had to laugh. I did pay him back
by calling him when he was in Zimbabwe a few months later at 4am, but he got in
first. Lockers was like that.
Paul also played many tricks on his long-suffering cameraman at the ABC and Channel Nine, Les Seymour. What happens
on the road, stays on the road, so I will let Les tell his own stories. But I
hope Les writes his own tribute, and in particular, tells the fascinating tale
about the September 6 affair!
I could go on, but I’m sure every journo who has worked with Paul would have stories like those above. He had learned the art
of practical joking from a master – Geoff Harvey, the former musical director of
the Nine Network and long-time maestro at the Midday Show with Ray
Martin as the host, and Paul Lockyer as a roving reporter. Lockers did short
foreign stories aimed at the Midday audience. He would then do longer
versions for the Sunday Program. For example, he was the last
journalist to interview Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi before her
release in November from house detention by the military regime.
When I was his producer, Paul would never let me write any of his scripts. He’d let me read
them and make suggestions, but I couldn’t start writing anything for him on my
typewriter. They were scripts fashioned by experience and honed by rigorous
research. He kept it simple and wrote to the pictures. Whenever I tried adding
an adjective he’d make me justify it, and even when I thought I had, he’d reject
Well, Lockers, it’s my turn now, and you can’t change this script: you
were one of a kind; a journalist who was a credit to the profession; a master in
empathy, who loved the bush and its people, who loved him back; a family man who
always called his wife Maria and his two boys, Nick and Jamie, when he was on
the road; a mentor to young journos, a reliable friend in need; a bloke generous
with his time and his money; proud of his West Australian background, the
Corrigin Kid, who also seemed to know every nook and cranny in Perth and the
residents thereof. He was also a West Coast Eagles supporter – so he wasn’t
perfect. Sorry, Lockers, you can’t take that out!
I’ll end with the last exchange of text messages I had with Lockers after his wonderful Grantham flood
stories in Queensland. In January I had left a voicemail as he was busy
reporting, but I just had to tell him his body of work was of Walkley
Award-winning calibre, and I hope he remembered to submit his material. Three
weeks ago, he returned to Grantham to see how the locals were faring six months
after the flood.
His opening paragraph for the 7.30 Report was
vintage Lockyer: “The coal trains again rattle over the bridge spanning the
Sandy Creek in Grantham. In the surrounding paddocks on the rich floodplains,
lettuce is being picked for market. And on a hill above the town, well removed
from any future flood threat, a housing area is being marked out to build the
new Grantham. But still dotted through the old town site are the haunting
reminders of that fateful January afternoon when a flood of unimaginable size
and force this community apart.” After a flashback to that fateful day, Paul
interviewed the survivors, eliciting the mental scars the flood had left, as
only he could.
I sent another text message to Paul the day after the report:
“Great stuff on 7.30 last night. Timely with the Walkleys coming up. My
money’s on you to win! Please submit! Cheers.” He replied: “Thanks for the
message, Tom, much appreciated. As you know, the Walkleys are like the Brownlow
— depends on who the umpires are! Cheers, Lockers.”
I’m sure he’ll win a Walkley now, but I wish he could still be here to explain why he lost it if for
some crazy reason he did. And he’d say in his humble way: “I didn’t deserve to
win it. There were so many other good reporters up there covering the floods. I
was just happy to be nominated.” And nothing is surer than that – he will be
Goodbye Lockers. We will never see your like again. My thoughts and prayers
to Maria, Nick and Jamie, and the families of Gary Ticehurst and John Bean, who
were with you in those final moments.
And it’s nice to imagine, as your son Nick has said, that you are probably up
there doing a crossword with your Mum right now.
Tom Krause is the supervising producer of Ten’s Meet the Press. His views are his own; always have been.