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Tribute to Tony Charlton (1929-2012)

Posted by ken On December - 21 - 2012

Tony Charlton (1929-2012)

    The veteran sports broadcaster Tony Charlton has died after battling bowel cancer for more than a year. He was 83. The veteran broadcaster passed away on Monday morning 17th of December, surrounded by his family.

    Tony came from a broadcasting family with his father Conrad Charlton describing the opening of the Sydney Harbour bridge for The Australian Broadcasting Company’s 2BL on March 19th 1932. Then on July 1st 1932, The Australian Broadcasting Commission was launched when his father introduced Prime Minister Joseph Lyons for the official inauguration. The broadcast was heard all around Australia. The ABC then controlled twelve stations – 2FC and 2BL in Sydney, 3AR and 3LO in Melbourne, 4QG in Brisbane, 5CL in Adelaide, 6WF in Perth, 7ZL in Hobart and the relay stations 2NC in Newcastle, 2CO at Corowa, 4RK in Rockhampton and 5CK at Crystal Brook.

    Conrad Charlton was a New Zealander who was wounded in the First World War during the Battle of the Somme. Later, during the Second World War he served as the local Manager of the ABC in Perth.

    Like his father, who was there for the launch the ABC Radio in 1932, his brother Michael made announcements in 1956, during the opening night of ABC TV in Sydney. The following decade, Michael was a co-creator of the current affairs program Four Corners, and initial host in 1961, before enjoying a long and successful career with the BBC in London.

    Though born in Sydney, Tony Charlton grew up in Perth where he was inspired by the deeds of his parents, with his mother being a very good opera singer who sang with the Perth and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras. His mother was also a friend to the wife of Australian wartime Prime Minister John Curtin.

    As a youth, Tony captained the First XI of Scotch College in Perth, where he and elder brother Michael were educated. Initially his sole ambition was to be a cricketer, but when he arrived at the South Melbourne Cricket Club to find it had 14 players of Test and Shield standard, his aspirations were somewhat dampened, so his father “thrust” him into radio.

    Tony Charlton retained the reverence for sport he had as a boy, and began his broadcasting career as an office boy at Melbourne’s commercial radio station 3AW in 1949, which was then a racing station, until the legendary broadcaster Norman Banks moved there from 3KZ and chose Tony to be his sidekick in the station’s first VFL football broadcast. This happened to be a night match at the Melbourne Showgrounds, next door to Flemington Racecourse.

    Television in Australia coincided with the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, and Tony was at the forefront of the Nine’s Games coverage, when he moved to GTV. The following year he was headhunted by HSV Channel Seven, to then call the first televised VFL match the following year, before Nine made him an offer he couldn’t refuse in 1960, and on returning he was a producer, presenter and commentator for various sporting broadcasts for more than a decade, and later the ABC. He called every major event from Australian Rules Football, tennis, motor racing and the Olympics.

   TVW Channel Seven veterans will remember Tony commentating and conducting interviews, not only for Seven in Perth, but also the Nine network during the 1962 Commonwealth and Empire Games at Perry Lakes Stadium, which were produced by Darcy Farrell. Darcy worked closely with Tony in advance and during the Games and muses over the lively panel programs where the definitive gentleman Tony Charlton ‘umpired’ the acrimonious but highly entertaining sessions between fitness experts Percy Cerutti and Mike Agostini. The eccentric and fanatic Percy was one of the world’s leading athletics coaches in the 1950s and 1960s. He coached Herb Elliott to a series of world record performances, culminating in an Olympic gold medal in the 1960 Rome Games, whilst Mike Agostini was a former track and field athlete from Trinidad and Tobago, who won gold at the Vancouver Commonwealth Games in 1954. Agostini twice wore the crown of “World’s Fastest Human” in 1954 and 1956, and went on to write books, with one titled “How to avoid killing yourself : the dangers of being a fitness fanatic” in 1986.

    Years later Channel 9 Footy Show panelist, John ‘Sam’ Newman, pointed out that Tony would bring a degree of sanity and respect to any sport or any event that he covered.

    He was not only a broadcasting legend, but also a philanthropist and pilot. He was always generous with his knowledge and wisdom.

In a statement, AFL chief Andrew Demetriou said…

“[He] was a high-quality broadcaster, who mixed both superb oratory and commentary skills with an ability to break news and tell the stories of our game.

“Most of all, Tony Charlton was a person of the highest standards and integrity with his commitment to his community, his charity work, and his constant willingness to guide and encourage young talent coming through the ranks of media. Many broadcasters and callers sought his guidance and he was only too willing to share his knowledge and skills.”

Tony took an interest in today’s commentators and said that,

“Today raising the bar significantly in terms of Olympic coverage and excellence is Bruce McAvaney, and in terms of football, Dennis Cometti and Tim Lane are absolutely outstanding figures”.

The Australian Olympic Committee Historian, Harry Gordon, paid tribute to Tony by saying,

“So much of what he did for charity is unknown, he did so much for Legacy – his father was a solder in France in World War One.”

    His work also included honouring Australian military involvement around the world with Australian Commemorative Plaques, which help educate Australians, young and old, about our wartime heritage, and to ensure the sacrifice of Australian servicemen and women is not forgotten. For a quarter of a century he hosted the ANZAC dawn service in Melbourne.

Gordon emphasised that,

“He was a constant giver… one of the most generous, caring, thoughtful men I have ever met”.

Melbourne AM talk-back station 3AW’s Neil Mitchell described Tony as,

“One of the most decent men in the media industry, he cared about people, he cared for people and did a lot to help people.”

“Tony’s work at the Alfred Hospital, a major hospital in Melbourne, Victoria, is really spectacular. His commitment to the hospital came about because they saved the life of his daughter. Cathy was in the United States and she needed a heart transplant, but they wouldn’t give her one because she was a cancer patient. Tony flew her back here to the Alfred, where she eventually had a transplant and thrived. Tony’s determination saved her life”.

    Cathy underwent her successful heart transplant at the world-renowned hospital in 1993, after cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease) damaged her heart, which in turn resulted from the cancer therapy, causing doctors in the United States to deem the operation too risky.

Cathy McKell and her father Tony Charlton at the recent opening of a new $6 million purpose-built cardiac unit at the Alfred Hospital

It was only last year that Tony was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame.



  • Order of Australia (Medal) 1990
  • Melbourne Cricket Club Order of Merit (1995)
  • Order of Australia (Member) 2003
  • Sport Australia Hall of Fame (2007)
  • National Sports Museum Ambassador (2008)
  • Australian Olympic Committee Order of Merit (2008)
  • AFL Hall of Fame (2011)

The passing of Tony Charlton prompted many other tributes about his integrity, influence and generosity.

Ted Baillieu (the Premier of Victoria since in 2010) said that,

“He’s made an enormous contribution to our nation, to our country and he will be very much missed right across the land”.

Tony Charlton is survived by his wife Loris and three children.

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