Ian Frykberg: The Master Negotiator

Ian Stewart Frykberg was a giant of a man in so many ways – but not in so many words.
The political journalist, TV executive producer, news and current affairs director, sports rights agent extraordinaire, and family man could say so much with just one word than others could do with one hundred.
He was the first executive producer I worked for at the Channel Nine Sunday Program from 1986 to 1991, and on reflection, probably the best in my 20 years at the show.
Frykers, as he was affectionately known, would call up the producer or reporter like Graham Davis on a Monday morning, and say one word: “Privatisation.” He would add: “That’s the cover story this week.” As Graham Davis put it on Facebook this week, “The yarns would always make a splash because Frykers was extraordinarily well connected.” Ian was very close to the NSW Right, and in those days, it was Paul Keating and Mick Young and Graham Richardson, to name just a few. He drank with most of them in the Bellevue Hotel in the Sydney suburb of Paddington. It was owned by Susie Carleton and his close mates included Brian Johns and Peter Barron.
One Saturday afternoon in 1991, I was at the Sunday cottage in Willoughby when I got a call from Frykers. I could tell from the background noise that he was probably at the Bellevue. He said: “Could you please call WIN in Canberra and book a studio for a guest for Laurie tomorrow morning?” I said: “Why don’t we just use the studio at Nine in Canberra?” He said: “It’s a special guest and we don’t want anyone to see him before the interview.” Of course, it was Paul Keating making his second, and soon to be successful, leadership challenge against Bob Hawke. Frykers had managed to line up Keating and wanted to make sure the interview was exclusive and there would be no door-stopping of the Treasurer. It worked a treat.
When Frykers started making calls at 10.30am to arrange lunch, he was working. By the end of a frequently long repast, he would have a guest, a cover story and was still able to talk to the supervising producer, Richard Carey, or later Richard Andrews or Allan Hogan, about what should go into the program that week. Even more important, if the show had been particularly good on Sunday, he would take the staff to lunch on Tuesday. It was a way of boosting morale and if there were any problems, they could be discussed over a beer. The lunch often ended with PCAs: “Palate Cleansing Ales.” Those were the good old days.
That was the key to Frykers’ success: his ability to negotiate. He could do it with staff and management, and later with sporting codes, and he often did it over a beer at the pub. As Damien Murphy put it in the SMH obituary (Photo above: Jacky Ghossein) this week: Ian “became the ‘go to’ man when rich men and sporting organisations were in deadlock.” As they often are, in both sport and the media. http://bit.ly/OeOkHn
My favourite beer story is Frykers taking Charles Wooley, then a Sunday reporter, to the local Nine pub, the Bridgeview, to conduct contract negotiations. Charles said Frykers would get him a bit drunk and then have him sign the contract, so he decided to pull a swiftie. He told the bartender to just give him light beer and his boss his usual full-strength ale. It worked for one round, until Frykers picked up Wooley’s beer, looked at it, smelled it, and said: “Give him a schooner of real beer.” Charles said he eventually signed the contract – as usual. You couldn’t put one over on Ian Frykberg.
Ian Frykberg was a perceptive executive producer. In 1990 while I was on a press mission to Israel, sponsored by the Australian/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, I had a confrontation with the Israeli police. I was trying to secure the release of four Palestinian women arrested for selling embroideries with representations of the PLO flag. The women were simply fund-raising for a school being built by the well-known advocate for non-violence, Father Elias Chacour of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. I was with a World Vision representative when an Israeli policeman gently shoved us out the door of the police station in Ibillin in Galilee. Father Chacour (who recently retired as Archbishop of all Galilee) was allowed to go, but the women had to stay. I had to call Frykers in Sydney to tell him what had happened, just in case something might go wrong. He was calm, as usual, and told me to stay cool and get some sleep. Just one question: “You didn’t get involved?” “No,” I replied, “except to the extent that journos ask questions.” He just chuckled and said goodbye. That was Frykers. (And yes, the women were eventually released.)
Frykers knew when it was time to go. He left as EP of the Sunday and Business Sunday programs to devote all his time to being head of sport at Nine. He knew when to leave BSkyB in London to launch his own sports rights organisation, International Sports Television in 1996, and step up to multi-million dollar deals with cricket, soccer, Aussie Rules and Rugby League. And he knew how to multi-task before the phrase became popular. A workaholic, he was actually EP of Sunday at the same time he was editor of the Bulletin magazine. He used to tell the Bulletin staff he was at Sunday, and the Sunday staff he was at the Bulletin. I’m not sure exactly where he was, but neither the program nor the magazine suffered because he was always working. He came up with stories that produced ratings and circulation, as well as quality. His mantra to Sunday was: “All I want from you is quality television.” And he always wanted the program to be “on the pace.”
Ian Frykberg was never one to complain about his illness. When I heard that he was very crook, I called and left a message asking how he was, then followed it up with a text, saying I just wanted to wish him well. I received a text a few days later: “Apologies for the tardiness of my reply. I will give you a ring … And yes, the Sunday days were great! Ciao, Ian F”
I responded with “It’s hard to keep a good man down. Just call when you can …” A close friend of Ian’s told me he had seen him in Sydney’s St Vincent Hospital and, despite his failing body, he was hanging in there: “That big brain still ticking over… ”
That was Frykers. There will be plenty of tears and beers at his funeral and wake tomorrow.

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