Educating Richie

Richie Benaud was a mentor to many.  He inspired cricket teams, sports leaders and the general public.  In this 1999 article from the Walkley Magazine archives, Richie remembers his own mentor, a dedicated newspaper reporter who taught him more than anyone else about how to make it in the world of television.

Noel Bailey was one of the best journalists and finest police roundsmen ever to write a front page story in Australia.   He was also the man who had a considerable amount to do with the fact that I have been able to sustain a career in television over the past thirty‑six years.

In 1956, aged 26 and back from the Australian cricket tour of England, I achieved an ambition in making the transition from the Counting House section of the old Sun newspaper in Elizabeth Street in Sydney, to the Editorial department of the same newspaper when it moved to Broadway with Lindsay Clinch as Editor.

Richie Benaud, cartoon by Peter Lewis

Richie Benaud, cartoon by Peter Lewis

Mr Clinch said he’d decided to approve the transfer, that I could put together a sports column and he’d find someone to ‘ghost’ it for me if I couldn’t do it myself.   I told him I certainly didn’t want that, I wanted to work on Police Rounds and News and to learn about newspapers, and that I would write the sports column myself.

He looked up and said, ‘OK, go and see Jack Toohey the news editor.’   When I was at the door his quiet voice came from behind me, ‘He’s expecting you.’

I walked into Jack Toohey’s office to be greeted with, ‘Hello Richie, Lindsay told me you’d be in, he wants you to work under Noel Bailey in Police Rounds.’

It was the year television began in Australia, with Channel Nine first on air.   At the end of the England section of the tour I stayed in London to undertake a special BBC television course.   For three weeks, on a specially designed roster, I worked every day from 11am to midnight on a wide variety of television programmes, not actually participating in them but having a close look at the way the medium worked and picking up as much general knowledge as possible.

It was with this background that I first met Noel Bailey.   The battles were legendary between the Sun and the Mirror, and between Bailey and Bill Jenkings, another outstanding police roundsman who worked for the opposition.   Watching Bailey in action was a complete education.

No mobile phones in those days.   Out on the job it was a case of checking there was still a full five minutes to catch the edition with the front page story, and then watching and listening to Bailey ad‑lib 500 words.  He always remained perfectly calm no matter what the pressure, even if, a few miles away, Lindsay Clinch might be grabbing at the copytaker’s headset.

For the world of television commentating and presenting there has been nothing more valuable than the practical training Bailey provided.   The five minute countdown to catch the edition has changed to the Director’s countdown of, ‘one minute to off air…30 seconds…10…nine…’and down to zero.’   You must always finish on zero otherwise it throws the six o’clock news and all other programmes around Australia out of timing and, back at the factory, no one is very pleased.

Noel Bailey is remembered as a police roundsman and as nothing at all to do with television but, without him knowing it, he was the best tutor I ever had.

Richie Benaud was the first cricketer in the history of the game to achieve the Test match double of 2000 runs and 200 wickets; he played 63 Tests and captained Australia 28 times, never losing a series and retiring as a player.  He is known as one of the greatest commentators in world cricket.  Richie died peacefully on April 10, 2015.

Peter Lewis is the editorial cartoonist for the Newcastle Herald.