Remembering a TV and Radio legend

BY MEL BONDFIELD

With a career spanning five decades, Jonathan 'Jono' Coleman (1956–2021) was a beloved figure in the Australian media industry and a great supporter of the NFSA. 

Jono passed away on 9 July 2021 at the age of 65, after having been diagnosed with prostate cancer four years earlier.  

It was my pleasure to work with him in 2019 when he made a significant contribution to our curated collection celebrating 40 years of Simon Townsend's Wonder World! 

Jono's Big Break

Jono's media career began in Australia during the 1970s.

Jonathan Coleman wearing a yellow jacket, smiling at camera.

Publicity shot for Simon Townsend's Wonder World!, c.1980. Courtesy Simon Townsend.

His breakthrough came in 1979 while working for 2WS in Sydney.

Journalist Simon Townsend was launching a news and current affairs TV show for kids and was looking for reporters and it was suggested to Jono that he shoot a screen test.

In this excerpt from an exclusive oral history interview Jono gave to the NFSA in December 2010, he talks about how he landed a reporting job on what became one of the most groundbreaking children's shows on Australian television: Simon Townsend's Wonder World! (1979–1987):

From left to right, entertainer Jeanne Little, singer Elton John and Wonder World! reporter Jonathan Coleman, circa 1982 in what looks to be a press conference.

Jonathan Coleman and Jeanne Little with Elton John, 20 November 1980. NFSA title: 787204.

 

Jono was one of the most popular – and memorable – reporters on Wonder World!

He started in 1979 as part of the original team and stayed for four years, leaving a lasting impact.

For a generation of teens in the 1980s, Jono's work was comedic gold, with his quick wit and geniunely funny reporting which usually incorporated stunts, pranks and dressing up in crazy costumes.

Aside from his reputation as the show's zaniest funny man, Jono scored interviews with some of the biggest names visiting our shores at the time. He talked to Elton John while dressed in a bee costume, and you can see his interview with the irreverent Monty Python comedian Graham Chapman in the clip below: 

The Jono and Dano Show

After Wonder World, Jono teamed up with Ian 'Dano' Rogerson as hosts of Off The Record on 2JJJ radio. The program was a hit and the team were soon picked up by 2SM for their breakfast show. By 1984 they had moved to 2MMM where The Jono and Dano Show found huge success as the highest rating night-time show (6-10pm) in Sydney.

Jono and Dano moved into television in the late 1980s, presenting a number of TV specials and shows. On Saturday Morning Live they brought the chemistry, high energy and zaniness that had made them so popular on radio. The following clip is an excerpt from the 1988 Christmas episode featuring a live cross to Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan:

To the UK and back

In 1990 Jono left Australia for the UK, where he was born and had spent most of his childhood. He found great success there in radio broadcasting with the BBC, Virgin Radio and Heart 106.2. 

His UK stint lasted nearly 17 years until he returned to Australia to be near his elderly mother in Sydney. He hosted The Jonathan Coleman Experience with RocKwiz's Julia Zemiro and also reunited with Rogerson in 2008 to host the Jono and Dano Show on WSFM.

Jono also brought the laughter to Network Ten's morning program Studio 10 as a regular contributor later in his career.

Jono at the NFSA

Jono visited the NFSA in 2010 when he gave an in-depth oral history interview. He also tracked down his very first story for Simon Townsend's Wonder World!, which the NFSA is now the custodian of, along with almost 2,000 episodes of the popular, long-running program. He documented his visit in this video which appears on his YouTube channel.

In 2015, he was awarded an OAM for services to broadcast media in Australia.

Jonathan Coleman will be remembered as a big-hearted, larger-than-life character with a natural comedic talent, and as a legend of Australian TV and radio.