Tribute to Bert Newton

Published: 27/10/2022

Bert Newton's story was synonymous with Australian television but his story was also one of trust. He was an entertainment icon with a unique ability to adlib in the most challenging of circumstances and boy could he make us laugh! Three generations grew up with Newton and it was his warm, loyal and kind nature that made everyone feel as if they knew him. He could laugh at himself when a joke would misfire, in fact he loved it - and that is why Australia warmed to him so much.

Paying tribute to her late husband, Patti Newton said "...not everybody lives their dream - but he did, and he loved it"

Early years of radio and television

Bert Newton was born in Fitzroy Victoria on 23 July 1938. When Newton was fifteen he began work as a junior announcer for radio station 3XY.  By 1955 he was presenting his own show on Melbourne Speaks, a vox pop program recorded from the streets of Melbourne.

It wasn't long before Newton's talents were recognised and he was making plans to move into the exciting new broadcast medium of television.

Graham Kennedy (L) with Bert Newton
Graham Kennedy (L) with Bert Newton

Early days of television

As an up and coming nineteen year old television star, Newton's debut came on Melbourne channel HSV-7 in 1957 where he replaced Noel Ferrier to host the television variety series, The Late Show.

Hosting The Late Show saw Newton up against friend Graham Kennedy who was hosting In Melbourne Tonight at the time. This was no rival duo though, the exact opposite in fact for Kennedy and GTV executives had frequent late-night meetings about Newton joining the team.

Somewhat taken back by how well GTV9 was treating its on-air personnel and knowing that they were keen to have Bert on board made circumstances challenging for the entertainer. Bert eventually tried to resign from HSV-7 on a few occasions but was always refused. This led him to make a public resignation live on camera following an edition of The Late Show in 1959.

It wasn't long before Newton… ok enough with the formalities, it's Bert we're talking about here!

It wasn't long before Bert was invited to appear on a GTV9 telethon alongside Graham Kennedy and was making regular - very funny, appearances on Graham Kennedy's hit show In Melbourne Tonight (IMT) - and so, Australia's best loved TV double-act was born! They were an instant success and their chemistry undeniable. The two shared a beautiful partnership on-air for over a decade and continued friendship off-air for many years following.

Kennedy and Newton on IMT.
Kennedy and Newton on IMT.

Appearing on television most nights of the week, Bert sadly suffered a breakdown in 1964 and was away from the spotlight for many months. When he returned, he had minor voice over duties and occasional television appearances. However this all changed in 1966 when GTV sponsors insisted Bert host the new telecast the Queen of the Pacific on the Nine Network - against Nine Networks wishes, Bert was appointed the role. His sparkle and charm that night saw Bert host the next TV Week Logie Awards, which he continued to do so on and off from 1967 to 2010.

Mr Logie

When Patti paid tribute to Bert Newton at the 2022 TV Week Logie Awards, she said:

"The one thing that he [Bert] really loved was… the Logies. This was his baby. He absolutely loved it because it was a challenge. And he was very lucky to have his executive producer Peter Faiman give him the freedom to…take some risks…take a chance… make it your own. And he did"

Patti added that the more things went wrong up there, the better Bert felt.

Bert had a unique ability to adlib in the most difficult of circumstances - flashback 1979 Logies when he said to Muhammad Ali "I like the boy", not knowing that "boy" was used as a racial slur. Bert of course made the moment comedy-gold and the pair literally kissed and made up afterwards. And let's not forget the 1973 Michael Cole Logie moment when Cole could barely talk on stage having enjoyed one too many drinks. Bert, always cool, calm and collected handled the situation like a pro!

Bert could have a warm conversation with any presenter or guest, he really was a natural for the role. Hosting the ceremony an extraordinary nineteen times, he was also winner of the Gold Logie statue four times and was proudly inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988.

Television on the Nine Network

Bert appeared on a variety of shows with the Nine Network in a career spanning from 1975 to 1992 and included:  

The Don Lane Show with Don Lane as host and Bert as his faithful sidekick. Bert had some of the funniest on screen moments on the show frequently wearing crazy costumes and mimicking celebrities like Gene Simmons of Kiss and Demis Roussos, the Osmonds.

Bert Newton and Don Lane and the famous wheel on The Don Lane Show.
Bert Newton and Don Lane and the famous wheel on The Don Lane Show.

In 1976, Newton took over Frank Wilson on New Faces. The show was a big success thanks to Bert's famous adlib skills.  In 1981, Bert presented quiz show, Ford Superquiz, alongside his wife Patti. There was also a short lived stint of Tonight With Bert which aired in 1984.

Bert continued on The Don Lane Show, New Faces and The Logie Awards through to the 1980s, with a guest appearance as a TV reporter on the 0-10 Network's new situation comedy The Bluestone Boys.

Good morning Australia with Network Ten

Bert moved into hosting daytime television program The Morning Show in 1992 which eventually changed to Good Morning Australia on Network Ten.

With a mix of interviews, music, infomercials, the all important daily astrological segments and hilarious cooking segments, coupled with Bert Newton's brilliant charm saw Good Morning Australia have continued success for an impressive 14 year run.

Bert Newton relaxing on the set of television program "Good Morning Australia" in 2002.
Bert Newton relaxing on the set of television program "Good Morning Australia" in 2002.

In 2005, Network Ten cancelled the show and although Bert was offered roles with Network Ten, he wished to return to the Nine Network and did so in 2006.

Bert later hosted game shows Family Feud, 20 To 01, What A Year and many special events and appearances for the network.

Theatre

Bert Newton also loved acting and showed off his talents in theatre productions: Annie, The Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast, The Producers, Grease, The Rocky Horror Show, The Sound of Music and Wicked. Bert also had roles in films: Fatty Finn (1980) and Remembering Nigel (2007).

Remembering Bert Newton

Bert Newton started his career in radio before becoming a beloved star on Australian television since it started back in 1956. He was a pioneer, an Australian icon and one of the longest-serving television performers in the entire world.

Among his many honours Bert Newton was awarded Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1979 and Order of Australia in 2006.

Newton will forever be remembered as the face of Australian entertainment and was an admired and loved mentor to all who had the pleasure of knowing him and working with him.

Bert Newton loved television but loved his family above all else. Married to his wife Patti Newton for 47 years, she was herself a singer, dancer, actor and presenter and Australia also fell in love with her when the couple married in 1974. Together they have 2 children and 6 grandchildren.

A love for the ages: Bert and Patti. Picture: David Caird
A love for the ages: Bert and Patti. Picture: David Caird

Bert Newton passed away on 30 October 2021, aged 83. He was given a Victorian state funeral two weeks following his death.

A national treasure who was loved by all and who will never be forgotten.

Rest in peace Bert. Thank you for making us laugh and for always having a jolly good 'ol laugh at yourself too.

"Take a bow, Bert. You deserve the applause." - Adam Hills.

WATCH: Emotional photo tribute played at Bert Newton's state funeral. 

By Kirsten Jakubenko

Sources:

  • https://televisionau.com/feature-articles/bert-newton https://www.nfsa.gov.au/latest/vale-bert-newton
  • https://www.nfsa.gov.au/latest/vale-bert-newton
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fRC-5tz_uc
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bert_Newton#Good_Morning_Australia_

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