NEWTON, BERT (1938– )
Bert Newton, Australia’s consummate television host, presenter, interviewer and personality, is the last great survivor of the medium’s beginnings in Australia, when television was joyfully makeshift, impromptu and live. He once described himself as ‘second-stringer, second-banana, feedman, stooge’, but he is also an eloquent and witty speaker and a consummate interviewer.
Born in Melbourne, Newton became the youngest announcer in Melbourne’s radio history when he joined 3XY after finishing school in 1954, aged 15. He handled every shift on the station at some stage during the 1950s, including the prestigious evening programs, and was Melbourne’s self-labelled ‘Number One Bachelor Boy’ when he conducted 3XY’s Bachelor Club on Tuesday nights.
Newton began his television career at HSV7 in Melbourne, hosting The Late Show. However, at the age of 19 he joined GTV9 and soon became an announcer and Graham Kennedy’s offsider on the hugely successful In Melbourne Tonight. Their double act took Melbourne by storm, with Newton bringing unparalleled experience in ad libbing with him from his radio days. He and Kennedy performed cross-talk comedy with the immediacy of reminiscing brothers.
From 1975 until 1983, Newton worked with Don Lane on his long-running, highly successful The Don Lane Show, an inspired mix of celebrity interviews, stunts and buffoonery. In 1976, he also replaced long-running compere Frank Wilson on the successful talent show New Faces and in 1981, with singer wife Patti, hosted Ford Superquiz. An unhappy spell as general manager of 3DB Melbourne followed (1986–87).
In 1992, Newton moved to Network Ten and daytime television, where for the next 14 years he compered Good Morning Australia, an inventive, largely ad-libbed mix of interviews, music and cooking segments. He returned to the Nine Network in 2006, hosting Bert’s Family Feud and 20 to 1, a show composed of video clips and brief interviews with celebrities held together by Newton’s resonant voice.
Newton wrote Bert! Bert Newton’s Own Story in 1979. He was appointed MBE that year, and AM in 2006. He was compere of the Logie Awards for many years from the time they started in 1959, and won four Gold Logies for his roles in The Don Lane Show and New Faces. Newton is recognised as Australian television’s great talker, able to conversationally seize any moment of spontaneity like no other local compere, but gravely, impeccably diplomatic, with a veteran’s sense of what is appropriate.
REF: G. Blundell, King: The Life and Comedy of Graham Kennedy (2003).