Vale Brian Walsh
Although he was a true titan of Australian television (the man who turned Neighbours into a global phenom) and sports events (the man who put Tina Turner into rugby league’s Simply The Best campaign), he was less well known in surfing circles.
'Walshie', who died this week at 68, was the creative force behind Foxtel from its beginnings in 1995, but long before that he was a grom from the suburbs, not quite a surfer but a confident kid who fell in love with the culture and, through persistence and precocious talent as a promoter, became an important part of it.
I first met Walshie when he did an internship at Tracks in the mid-1970s while finishing a communications degree. I can’t remember what he did exactly, but he was an infectiously positive presence, full of bounce and good ideas, and we loved having him around. But he didn’t last long. When Jack McCoy and Dick Hoole finished their first surf feature, Tubular Swells, they snapped him up to roadshow and promote the hell out of it around Australia. Having done the same tough gig for David Mexican Sumpter’s On Any Morning a couple of years earlier, I could only drool over Walshie’s ability to get every newspaper and radio station in every coastal town to do his bidding.
In 1978, my colleague at Tracks, Paul Holmes took over the running of the Coca Cola 2SM Surfabout, then the richest pro event in the world, and on the back of his success with Tubular Swells, the radio station hired Walshie as publicist. Paul said this week: “He did such a fantastic job that 2SM hired him full time, and he went on to an amazing career, a legit media mogul.”
But Brian Walsh never acted like a media mogul. He was a sweet guy and as a boss, a gentle persuader rather than a classroom bully.
When I moved to Queensland in 1990, I lost touch with Walshie on a personal level, although I saw plenty of pictures of him with the stars of the day (Kylie, Guy, Tina et al) in the trade press. At Foxtel from its inception, he seemed to flow effortlessly from one role to another, and when I started working on live broadcast teams from 1998, our paths would cross again. In fact, I was working on the Foxtel crew at the London Olympics in 2012 when the boss, Walshie, turned up with an ailing Molly Meldrum on his arm. (Molly had nearly died after falling off a ladder.)
Knowing that I knew Molly a bit from way back, Walshie came running across the room at the elaborate welcome party for the crew. “Can you look after Molly while I take a conference call?” he asked. Sure, I said, but what do you want me to do with him? “Just make sure he doesn’t climb any ladders!” And Walshie was off, moving across the floor like an ice skater, in that way he had.
In 2015 he phoned me and said he was coming to Noosa and wanted to buy me lunch. “I want to do something on surfing,” he said. “Have a think about it.” As it happened I’d been thinking about a surf documentary for a few months. I’d been watching my good friend Bill Wallace get frailer by the day, while Scotty Dillon was simply getting stranger. I wanted to tell the stories of the pioneer Brookvale boardbuilders while they were still with us, and the clock was running. I sat down and wrote a one-page pitch.
At the lunch we talked about anything but. Walshie was a very entertaining fellow, and generous with the wine. Halfway through the second bottle I needed to excuse myself. As I got up, I pulled the pitch out of my pocket and said, “Take a quick look at this while I have a leak.” When I got back to the table he was beaming! “I love it! This has got so much heart. We’re in, 100 per cent. When can you start?”
At Foxtel Studios in Sydney a week or so later the top execs and producers were telling me, “No one gets 100 per cent funding - doesn’t happen.” But Walshie made it happen. And when it came time to launch Men of Wood and Foam, he didn’t hold back. On a glittering night at the historic Freshwater Surf Club, we introduced the Brookvale Six to the television world and celebrated them in tributes cut from our film, then Little Pattie joined The Band of Frequencies on a makeshift stage out the back and we stomped the night away.
That was typical Brian Walsh. All heart. He will be missed.
// PHIL JARRATT
He must’ve been a great guy for you to remember him so fondly.
Those McCoy double flyers swallow/pins of the late 70's were great boards. Beautiful plan shapes.
Thanks Phil for your beautiful reflective insightful thoughts.
Many generations in Oz have been influenced by the mainstream media; Australians were daily fed US & UK news, music, TV, even school text books, until about the late 1970's; It was common for Australians to 'make it' with a successful career, only if they went O/S.
Grateful that Brian's provided an opportunity for the some Aussie cultures to be appreciated in Oz. Many may have been exposed to Brian's enthusiasm.
so good to know that there are people like him in senior positions that rate (and back) the opinions/ judgement of their friends
…. at a fundamental level surfing is very special in that sense- despite commercial/ competitive/ etc pressures, there is an underlying brotherhood
Great story. Sad to see blokes like him go !!! A Great movie that I have felt deserved wider acclaim.
I met both Brian & his sparing partner Graham McNiece way back in 1981 when Brian was the 2SM Marketing boss with the 2SM Coke Surfabout contest at Narrabeen. Over the years we kept in touch with Graham's doco Thats Surfing, The History of Australian Surfing. Then when I made the BIG WAVE PROJECT i approached Brian at Foxtel made a deal that included the 4 part series SWELL CHASERS. Brian always was supportive of programming in surfing mostly due to his early relationship with the sport. The last time we caught up is when he came to the Avoca Beach Theatre to see the BIG WAVE PROJECT 2. He insisted that he buy a ticket saying 'Timmy you know I'll always support your projects, let me know when you have your next film and I'll see what i can do'. I'll miss this man not cause he was generous but mostly cause he really did love the sport and always did it with a lot pride & joy. RIP Brian.
good to see terry on the drums there
He was a very nice person, met him during our filming of the Coke Surfabout's in 1979/80. RIP.
Interesting that this he was involved in the 2SM surfabout promotions. Lair Blair's prime time televised tube ride at North Steyne is still etched in my memory almost as deeply as the first wave I glided on.
That film clip.........
Great sounds. Great footage.
What id give to go back...................?