Farewell to an Entertainment Icon

BY MEL BONDFIELD

Bert Newton, a legend of Australia’s entertainment industry, has died on 30 October 2021 at the age of 83. With a career in radio, television, film and theatre that spanned 7 decades, he will be remembered as one of this country’s biggest ever stars.

In 1997 Bert Newton’s career was celebrated on the program This is Your Life, with host Mike Munro surprising him during a taping of his Network Ten morning program, Good Morning Australia. This endearing clip shows how it unfolded, with guest Jeanne Little outed as Munro’s co-conspirator:

Australia’s Youngest Broadcaster

Three men sitting around a radio microphone.

Bert Newton, age 15, (left) at radio station 3XY in Melbourne, c1953, with Alwyn Kurts (centre) and Hal Todd (right). NFSA title: 676930.

Newton was born in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy on 23 July 1938 and by age 15 he was working as a junior announcer for radio station 3XY.

By 1955 he was presenting his own radio show and it was not long until he was ready to make the move into the new broadcast medium of television.

And while Newton is best known for his television career, he also had a lengthy and successful career in radio. He had a hit show with Graham Kennedy on 3AK in the 1960s and also presented on 3UZ in the 1970s.

Undeniable Chemistry

Melbourne channel HSV-7 recognised Newton’s potential as a young television star and in 1957, at the age of 19, he was snapped up to host the TV variety series The Late Show.

Newton was soon coaxed into switching networks and by 1959 he was making regular appearances on GTV-9 on Graham Kennedy’s hit show In Melbourne Tonight.

The chemistry between Kennedy and Newton as a comedy duo was instantaneous and undeniable, with Newton playing Kennedy’s straight man to perfection. The two would become arguably Australia’s best loved TV pairing of all time. Here they are together performing one of their famous advertorials for Raoul Merton Shoes:

Unparalleled Showbiz Career

From those early days of Australian television and right through to the 1990s, Newton was rarely absent from the small screen, hosting some of Australia’s most popular programs. He was best known for variety and late night TV, with shows including New Faces, The Bert Newton Show, The Hi Five Club, Good Morning Australia and The Don Lane Show - in which, this time he played funny man to the suave host Lane.

He also hosted many of Australia’s favourite game shows including Australia’s Celebrity Game, Family Feud and Ford Superquiz, which he compered with wife Patti:

A Man of Many Talents

Family of 3 around a dining table.

Bert Newton in Fatty Finn (1980). Pictured with Ben Oxenbould and Noni Hazlehurst. NFSA title: 471267.

Newton was also no stranger to acting, having shown off his theatre chops in Annie, The Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast, The ProducersGrease, The Rocky Horror ShowThe Sound of MusicWicked and many other stage productions. He was also known for his impersonations of celebrities such as Demis Roussos.

His film appearances included Fatty Finn (1980), opposite Noni Hazlehurst and a young Ben Oxenbould, and more recently, Remembering Nigel (2007).

Mr Logies

While Newton’s television credits are too numerous to mention, his name will always be synonymous with the annual TV Week Logie Awards, having hosted the awards ceremony a record 14 times, won the Gold Logie statue 4 times and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988.

Here is Bert hosting in 1975, alongside special overseas guest John Wayne who is presenting the Gold Logie to Denise Drysdale:

Newton also has a Mo Award, 2 Penguin Awards and a Centenary Medal to his name.

Among his other honours are a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1979 and Order of Australia in 2006.

Remembering Bert

Newton will be remembered as a giant of the Australian entertainment industry, as well as a beloved mentor to many who followed him.

Bert Newton is survived by his wife of 47 years, Patti Newton (nee McGrath) – a famous entertainer in her own right. Newton met Patti – a singer, dancer, actor and presenter – working in the television industry. They married in 1974 and soon became one of Australia's most loved couples. Bert and Patti have 2 children and 6 grandchildren.

In this clip from This Is Your Life, Patti sings a heartfelt song to Bert to close the show and the other guests join in: