WHITTA, CLIFFORD NICHOLLS (‘NICKY’)
Clifford Nicholls Whitta (‘Nicky’) was one of the first Australian broadcasters to develop a distinctive personality as the main attraction of his broadcasts. After working briefly at 3LO Melbourne as a musician, he joined 3AW in 1932. Through his breakfast program with Fred Tupper (‘Tuppy’) and his children’s program, Chatterbox Corner, with Nancy Lee (Kathleen Lindgren), Nicky developed his image as an ordinary bloke with his characteristic acting the fool on the air. ‘Forgetting’ to turn off the microphone was one of his early techniques of drawing his listeners into his world of domestic troubles and pleasures.
Nicky’s style was in sharp contrast to that of ABC announcers, who were expected to wear a dinner suit for evening programs. On Chatterbox Corner, he entertained the ‘Chums’ by playing the loveable naughty boy—a personality he and Nancy Lee took outside the world of radio to host fancy-dress and children’s parties to raise funds for Christmas and hospital appeals. He interspersed his programs with ‘friendly advice’ (his term for advertisements), bringing excellent results so that sponsors were lining up by 1935 waiting for space on his programs.
Much to the delight of their fans, Nicky and Nancy Lee were married in 1935. Nancy attributed her own popularity to her ‘girlnext-door’ image. Nicky adapted his persona for daytime programs, becoming the cheeky but warm-hearted tease, even sending up his sponsors. He called his listeners ‘Mum’ and ‘Darl’, and treated his listeners to (usually fabricated) stories of his daily life. His success was highlighted when he briefly left Melbourne and 3AW in 1946 to move to 2CH in Sydney, with listeners bewailing their loss of a ‘close, personal friend’.
Nicky returned to Melbourne nine months later to work on the 3KZ breakfast session, again exploiting the cute kid image with a character called ‘Georgie’. In 1950, he moved to 3UZ to present a program explicitly aimed at housewives. He teamed up with a young Graham Kennedy as his turntable operator. The session was eventually extended to five hours a day, with Kennedy joining Nicky on air as the perfect foil for his humour.
In 1956, GTV9 signed Nicky up to be compere of its children’s session, but he died of a heart attack before he could begin this new phase of his broadcasting career.
REFs: L. Johnson, The Unseen Voice (1988); N. Lee, Being a Chum was Fun (1979).