Sunday, June 4

Bert Newton, an Instant Hit Who Became Australia’s Longest-Standing TV Personality, Dies at 83 | Australian television

Once the youngest radio host in Melbourne, Bert Newton evolved into the longest-running media personality in the country. His prolific and multifaceted career in radio, television, stage and screen spanned more than six decades and crossed generational divisions. Bob Hope once described him as “the Bob Hope of Australia”.

Newton, who died at 83 after several years of poor health, led Australia through the early days of television on a diet of sparkling and vaudeville entertainment. Few over 40 would not recognize his distinctive round face, wide toothy smile, and impeccably groomed hair, usually atop a tux (he went through 40 tuxedos in 18 years) as the host of the Logie Awards or the dazzling manager of Belvedere floor in its long-running Good Morning Australia lifestyle program. For much of his career, Newton nimbly shared the talk show spotlight, either as Graham Kennedy’s “second banana” or as the “barrel boy” of Don Lane, who dubbed him Moonface.

Newton has hosted more Logie Award nights (19) than anyone else, a feat made possible by the ease with which he could improvise and perform during three hours of unscripted live television. In his 2014 biography Bert, Graeme Blundell described Newton as “a buffoon in a well-cut ball gown”, and his presentation of the awards as “something extraordinary” that came to be admired by the television inner circle.A later hostess, Wendy Harmer, compared the experience to “cutting an arm with a chainsaw”.

Albert Watson Newton was born on July 23, 1938 in the Melbourne suburb of North Fitzroy, the youngest of six children of Joseph (Joe) and Gladys.Joe, who had returned from WWII with malaria, was often ill and died when Bert was 11 years old. Despite poverty, Bert had a happy childhood with his widowed mother and grew up enjoying news, stories, music, and a sense of community. your Bakelite cordless device brought home. When he was seven years old, Bert had set his heart on a career in radio and began writing plays while attending St Joseph’s Marist Brothers University.

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An opportunity through the Boy Scouts to become a junior announcer led to Newton’s first radio job when he was 15, with 3XY, making him the youngest broadcaster in Melbourne radio history.

But in 1957, Australians couldn’t get enough television and 19-year-old Newton could see the writing on the wall. Kennedy was already hosting a late-night show on Channel Nine. Newton had landed a job with Channel Seven as a booth announcer, but it wasn’t until his mother woke him up one morning, wielding a copy of the Sun, that she found out he would be attending The Late Show, beginning that night, and in direct competition. . with Kennedy.

Graham Kennedy and Bert Newton on the set of In Melbourne Tonight
Graham Kennedy and Bert Newton on the set of In Melbourne Tonight, where they gave Australian audiences a new kind of live television. Photography: Nine Network

“I had read it in the newspaper; they had forgotten to tell me, ”he told Blundell. “So I learned early in the piece that things can change very quickly on television and that it was going to be a very interesting and enjoyable trip.”

Newton was an instant hit, especially with women, who called her home up to 40 times a day and asked her mother what color her eyes were and what car she was driving.

After being courted by Nine in 1959, ostensibly to host a daytime show, Newton found himself performing a double act with Kennedy on In Melbourne Tonight, offering audiences live television the likes of which he had never seen before. The pair swapped, unscripted and unrehearsed, causing chaos and laughter, Newton playing it straight into Kennedy’s cruelest comedy. While not all the shows were as successful as the first, the couple became stars, launching a lifelong personal and professional partnership that ended only with Kennedy’s death in 2005.

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With stardom came media scrutiny and, like the handsome bachelor, Newton was often under the microscope for the variety of women in his life. In 1962 he became engaged to television personality Susan-Gaye Anderson, but it was canceled after two weeks. The hectic pace of being one half of a superstar team was wreaking havoc on Newton’s life and in 1964 he was admitted to a psychiatric unit where he was treated with experimental LSD, later calling it “the scariest experience of my life.” The collapse led him to give up Nine, and when he finally returned, it was to start from scratch.

“Before my illness, I had an instinctive feeling that there was only one me and that it could never be replaced,” he said. “But I learned that as the program continues, new people are being found. The king is dead, long live the king. “

Newton eventually married and moved house at 36. He had met singer and dancer Patti McGrath when they were both children on the radio and his 1974 wedding in Melbourne, with Kennedy as best man, was harassed by thousands of fans.

With audiences eager for new varieties of entertainment during the turbulent 1960s, Newton found a niche that hosted expansive, sparkling, and special-occasion television productions for Nine. What started with beauty pageants and beach girl searches grew into a prolific association with the Logie Awards, which saw him shoot the breeze with a bewildered group of international stars including Muhammad Ali, Rock Hudson, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett. and John Wayne. While Newton won four Golden Lodges throughout his career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame, the Lodges also marked the end of his era. In 2018, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Newton was vilified for inappropriate on-air comments about Kennedy and Lane and for referring to himself using a gay slur.

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For a time in television history, Newton seemed to be everywhere. In addition to television game shows and variety shows, he launched several talk shows of the same name and spent eight years working alongside Lane. He also appeared on stage in various productions, including three years with the musical Wicked. He appeared in four films, wrote an autobiography, and recorded several singles, as well as The Bert and Patti Family Album in 1977. In 1979, Newton was made a member of the Order of the British Empire and, in 2006, a member of the Order of Australia.

“He didn’t ‘just survive’; he’s stayed creative when a lot of juniors haven’t, ”Andrew Denton said in a 2004 interview. Bert doesn’t play it safe. It is defined by the tradition of vaudeville. It is his ‘bushido’, his warrior code. They act no matter what. “

Newton is survived by his wife, Patti, their children, Matthew and Lauren, and six grandchildren.

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