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Tribute to Sir James Cruthers (1924-2015)

Posted by ken On November - 5 - 2015

Tribute to Sir James Cruthers (1924-2015)

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    Sir James Cruthers (1924-2015) passed away peacefully on Tuesday 13th October, aged 90.

    He was the founder of TVW Channel Seven in Perth, the first television station in Western Australia, which opened on Friday 16th October 1959.

    A Eucharist to celebrate the life of Sir James was conducted on Monday 26th October, 2015, at St George’s Cathedral in Perth.

    This was attended by many of his friends, family and former employees.

    The service was conducted by the Very Reverend Richard Pengelley, the Dean of Perth.

    Eulogies were given by his son John Cruthers, Bill McKenzie (a professional colleague), Professor Ian Constable (of the Lions Eye Institute) and a grandson, Sam Cruthers.

    Afterwards, a reception was held in the Burt Memorial Hall and attended by many of the mourners.

Celebrating the life of Sir James Cruthers at The funeral of WA’s TV Pioneer

WA TV History
Friends and family have farewelled the man who established Perth’s Channel Seven back in 1958, to begin broadcasting on Friday October 16th, 1959.

Hundreds turned out on Monday October 26th, 2015, at St George’s Cathedral for his funeral.

The service was conducted the Very Reverend Richard Pengelley the Dean of Perth.

Eulogies were given by his son John Cruthers, Bill McKenzie (a professional colleague), Professor Ian Constable (of the Lions Eye Institute) and a grandson, Sam Cruthers.

Bill McKenzie’s eulogy for Sir James Cruthers – 26 October 2015

    Bill McKenzie filled many key executive rolls at TVW, was the Managing Director of ATV in Melbourne and later become the first Managing Director of NEW-10 in Perth.

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Bill McKenzie delivers his eulogy on Sir James Cruthers at St George’s Cathedral

Good afternoon,

Sir James time as a broadcaster spans four decades and can be divided into two distinct parts.

The first part is by association with James Edward Macartney, managing editor of West Australian Newspapers, in the 1950’s-60’s and Jim’s mentor. The second by association with Keith Rupert Murdoch.

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James Edward Macartney

In 1958 Mr. Macartney asked jim to prepare a licence application for Perth’s first commercial television station. Two applications were received by the then Australian Broadcasting Control Board, – The West, and Rupert Murdoch’s Adelaide News Limited. The West application in the name of TVW Limited was successful. Jim was appointed general manager, and instructed by the board to have the station up and running in 12 months time. The company was floated on the ASX with an IPO at 10 shillings a share. Investors did not rush to participate and a shortfall was picked up by The West, who now owned slightly less than 50%.

The clock ticked quickly, and Jim had much to do, recruiting staff, a contract with H.A. Doust for studio and transmitter construction and a decision to join with an existing network or operate independently. The brave decision to be independent was taken.

Jim recalled a statement made by the then minister responsible for broadcasting in 1956, Charles Davidson. The minister said:

‘The conduct of a commercial television station is not to be considered as merely running a business for the sake of profit; television stations are in a position to exercise a constant and cumulative effect on public taste and standards of conduct, and, because of the influence they can bring to bear on the community, the business interests of licensees must at all times be subordinated to the overriding principle that the possession of a licence is, indeed, …. A public trust for the benefit of the members of our society.”

This had a life long influence on many of Jim’s decisions. Jim took the role of program manager and retained responsibility for programming until retirement. He programmed every hour of every day, every week, every month, 12 months in advance with hand written fine detail. He had a common touch and was a very, very good programmer.

From day 1 the emphasis on local programs, struck a chord with viewers. The most important local program was the evening News, crafted by doyen news editor, Darcy Farrell. A mix of community related promotions like young film-makers, young artists, Birdman Rally and Beercan Regatta led to Miss Universe, the Christmas Pageant and of course, Telethon. Channel 7 moved at a cracking pace, saving the Barracks Arch, a team to Rome for the 1960 Olympics, first direct telecast to australia of the FA Cup Final, coverage of the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth, cash sponsorship and direct counting of football’s sandover medal … the list went on and on.

Aside from News, Jim’s other favourite program was World of Sport at noon each sunday. He was never happier sharing a beer with Steve Marsh and Mick Cronin, after the program, and talking about his beloved Claremont Footy Club.

Jim’s first love was journalism, and journalists, many friends for life. Among them the late Bob Cribb. Cribby. Cribby was the architect of the popular John K. Watts news segment, and Jim wrote occasional pieces. Cribby wrote and behaved like a Damon Runyon character. Lots of transgressions, file marked never to be employed again. But he always was, Jim always relented. Today would not be complete without one Cribby story, and Jim told this one many times.

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Bob Cribb

In the early 60’s police were called to the Robinson family house in Belmont to a domestic blue. A constable Isle was walking from the street into the house when Robinson shot him. Robinson ran onto the road, to commandeer a car. The driver wouldn’t stop. Robinson shot him, and then stopped a taxi at gun point. The driver was told to head for the Gnangara Pine Plantation, where Robinson ran into deep bush. News flash reports on every media.


TVW staff milling around the small OB van used during the manhunt. (Standing) Jim Healy, John O’Callaghan, Darcy Farrell, Bob Cribb (Dec), and Paul Kinna. Colin Gorey is seated on the bonnet whilst Ross McDonald and Cedric Woods are on the roof.

Cribby was in charge of news that weekend, and decided to send a one camera outside broadcast unit to Gnangara and he would ride along. On site he interviewed inspector Freddie Douglas, who called for the public to assist in this highly dangerous matter. Cribby elaborated, “bring your dog, bring your ute, bring a gun if you’ve got one, the mad dog killer is in the bush behind me now.”

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When Robinson emerged he couldn’t believe the thousands of people confronting him … they came three deep aboard motor cycles, on horseback, in utes. It was a cross between the Beverly Hillbillies and shoot out at the O.K. Coral.

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It was compulsory live viewing on 7 that day. And Cribby was the star. Robinson was wounded but ultimately found guilty and hanged.

1963 Manhunt for Brian William Robinson

WA TV History
On the afternoon of that fateful day, Constable Iles of the Belmont Police Station, attended a disturbance at a house in Epsom Avenue, Belmont on his way home from duty. Robinson had gone berserk during an argument with his father at their home, after he had heard an incest rumour that his mother was also his sister.

As Constable Iles walked up the path to the front door of the house he was shot in the face by a shotgun, fired from a window by Robinson. Iles fell to his knees holding his face, and Robinson ran from the house, jumped the fence, pushing the kneeling Constable Iles over with his foot and then shot him in the head killing him instantly.

The retirement of James Macartney in 1968 and the subsequent take over of WA Newspapers by the Herald and Weekly Times provided Jim with the opportunity for expansion. TVW Limited became TVW Enterprises Ltd and over the next few years acquired Channel 10 Adelaide, City Theatres and the 6IX Radio Network. The Perth Entertainment Centre followed and the company was now a significant media conglomerate.

For personal reasons Jim decided to retire in 1981. A few months of golf and fishing and Jim yearned again for the cut and thrust of broadcasting. All it took was a telephone call from Rupert Murdoch. And so the second part of Jim’s broadcasting life began.

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Rupert asked Jim to be his personal assistant, based in New York. Jim would also become deputy chairman of News America and chairman of Sky Television in the U.K. Jim accepted, and he and Sheila moved to New York.

The equivalent of Charles Davidson’s 1956 views on broadcasting in Australia was probably the Hollywood reporter’s Hunter S. Thompson who famously wrote:

“The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.”

American broadcasting was certainly different. Working from an office next to Rupert did not, I’m sure, allow for much quiet time, or down time. Jim immersed himself in Fox Broadcasting News and current affairs, and separately was a regular passenger on the Concord shuttle to London for Sky. Sky was very important to Rupert. It was in a life or death struggle with competitor British Satellite Broadcasting or simply, BSB. Sky was losing millions of pounds each month and Rupert was edgy. History now repeated itself. Jim orchestrated a major promotion of Sky News with Australian News editor John O’Loan. The news became the driver for Sky.

I believe BSB’s financial position was similar, and finally common sense prevailed and a merger of the competing broadcasters saw the creation of B Sky B with Rupert a 50% stakeholder. This had been a herculean effort by Jim, perhaps the greatest achievement of his broadcasting career.

Jim and Sheila both missed family and home, and so it was that in 1989 they returned to Perth. Rupert asked jim to be chairman of the Sunday Times.

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Many people say that when you get to know a great man, the more you realize he is just a man, I can say from my experience Jim was a great man and he will be greatly missed.

Thank you.

    Seven Perth Managing Director Mario D’Orazio paid Tribute to Sir James Cruthers during the closing ceremony of the 2015 Telethon presentation, for Sir James was the founder of the Channel Seven Telethon in 1968.

    This charitable event took place in the same week in which Sir James passed away peacefully on Tuesday 13th October, aged 90.

    The Channel Seven Telethon raised $25.8m for 2015, taking Telethon’s total since starting in 1968 to more than $200 million.

A Tribute to the late Sir James Cruthers – the founder of the Channel Seven Telethon in 1968

WA TV History
The 2015 Channel Seven Telethon conducted in Perth Western Australia raises $25.8m, taking Telethon’s total since starting in 1968 to more than $200 million.

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