"News, even TV news, is not staged drama," George Negus explained. Sydney, capital of New South Wales was founded in 1788 and said to be Australia's oldest city. For 46 years, Brian Henderson presented the most-watched news bulletin in Sydney, the channel Nine news. George Donikian told Mark Coultan of 'Fairfax Media' in 1983, "I'm a child of television. I grew up with James (Dibble 1956-1983) and Brian (also known as 'Hendo'). Together with Ross Symonds, they make up the triumvirate (a political regime headed by 3 powerful persons). They are out on their own. I'm a newsreader, they are institutions."
Brian Henderson left New Zealand for Australia with only one year and 6 months of experience in radio. He was said encountered "surprisingly few hurdles on (his) journey" to becoming Sydney's "most popular and credible television newscaster". At the time, "Sydney's the only place to be," Brian told 'Fairfax Media' in 1986. Don Groves made the comment in 1979, "News is news, but in commercial TV it's also part of a highly competitive programming battle. If you want more news-value per minute, then the commercial-free ABC is your answer."
Brian told Don, "Because of the money involved these days (back in 1979), the news area is much more important. It's dramatically more important compared with the early days (in 1957), when we started with 10 minutes bulletins and borrowed film from Cinesound." David Prior of 'ABC News' maintained, "I think there is no doubt we (the ABC) have the most comprehensive coverage. We deal more with the news of the world than the commercials do. We take the sober view of assessing news largely by its importance rather than by its razzamatazz or showbiz value."
At the time, the Broadcasting Tribunal hearings learnt channel Ten news did not cover international news "adequately". Tom Barnett told Don Groves, "We have a brief to be locally oriented. But I don't admit to neglecting overseas news." George Donikian told Nikkie Barrowclough in 1983, "Ratings are designed entirely for the commercial stations, not for us (a multicultural channel). We are creating an entirely different market. Everyone jumped on Bruce Gyngell when he said our news would be complementary and supplementary, but he was right. I would hope that if we're doing anything, we’re complementing other news services, giving people a fair perspective, and adding to their knowledge of world events."
In 1961, then 17-years-old Ricky May left Onehunga for Sydney. He told 'Fairfax Media' in 1986, "Sydney was to me what New York would be to a young Sydneysider … and I’ve never been disappointed in any aspect of it. There was a time early on when New Zealand artists had a bit of a reputation for undercutting rates and wanting to work 24 hours a day. But that was because they were easy prey for sharp managers. A lot of Kiwi hopefuls got paid peanuts while their managers went to Acapulco and Monte Carlo looking for work for them. But the talent that came out of New Zealand was always popular with the audiences here (in Australia).
"Aussies recognize good talent and they show that they appreciate it. And despite the ribbing that goes on, there are ties that bond us (Australian and New Zealander) together … New Zealand and Australia have got a very special thing. I'll always have a soft spot for New Zealand and I'll always be a Maori … I don't have to prove that. But I’ve got a few things I’d like to say about the industry I’m in and I don’t want to say them as some tourist who’s taken advantage of all the hospitality and opportunities, and then has a whinge. I want to say it as an Australian being constructive about Australia." It was reported Ricky was in the process of taking out Australian citizenship in 1986.
"I haven't reached my peak yet," Brian told 'The Sun-Herald' back in March 1981. "We've started off with the opposition breathing down our necks but then we've pulled away. No one can really predict what's going to happen." John Sorell of channel Nine told Leslie Falkiner in 1989, Brian Naylor in Melbourne "is probably the last of the old school. There is him and Brian Henderson in Sydney … People who have grown up in news without being trained as cadet journalists."
In 1976, Barbara Walters co-anchored the American 'ABC News' with Harry Reasoner. Brian made the observation in 1981, "I see no reason why we can't bring reporters on from time to time, but I like to be in charge of my desk. Also, I'm not terribly keen on all that 'back to you, so-and-so,' and 'thank you, so-and-so.' I like to give the news straight to the people and cut out all the kaffuffle."
Budgeting meant the commercial networks "are never going to train people because the easy way is to let someone else train them and then (poach) them," Jock Rankin told Leslie Falkiner in 1989. John Sorell added, "It is a strange industry … you'll warehouse talent purely to keep people away from the opposition. You might not have anything for them to do but, to stop them going anywhere else, you will pay them good money and wait for a slot to open up."
Jock Rankin elaborated, "Channel Nine and Sam Chisholm started the star system in this country (Australia) and that is what you have got with your news presenters. They are a very important part of your marketing strategy … so it is inevitable they will be paid a lot of money. Some of them, some of the Sydney people, are supposed to be paid half a million dollars a year. Well, I think that is crap. There is no one who is that good, who is so terrific, so truthful, so wonderful, such a great communicator, that they are worth half a million dollars. There is not a lot of difference between top journalists in this country (Australia) in terms of ability, yet there is a fair whack of difference in what they are paid."
Radio presenter Annie Webster left Auckland for Australia in 1977. Her story: "I did my schooling in England, so I had the advantage of not having to overcome a New Zealand accent. I came to Australia because I was living with a guy who was a songwriter. Australia was the natural progression for him … and I did the female thing and followed along. There were prejudices early, but Australians are also quick to accept someone who proves they can do the job. I have a great affection for New Zealand for its maternal instincts. If you’re stressed-out, New Zealand will restore you in no time and put you quickly back in touch with basic realities. But there's no way I'd rush back."
Brian Henderson believed "Roger Climpson reacts to his news, and I don't. He shows emotion, while I have a flatter style." Roger begged to differ, "If you are telling a friend that Mrs Jones has had a baby, your tone will obviously be different from when you are saying that Mrs Jones was hit by a bus. There's an obvious emotional involvement in what you are saying." On reflection, Brian acknowledged, "Except for that 2-year period (1974-76) when we couldn't get back-up, I began to have self-doubts. Roger was doing a lot of 'story-response' at the time, and I had my flat delivery. I began to wonder if Climpson was right and I was wrong. Thank God I didn’t change, because there is room for 2 styles."
George Donikian made the point in 1983, "The hardest thing in the world is to be apolitical and unbiased. But a smile, a smirk, a look of disdain can say it all. Brian Henderson is Brian Henderson. He is Brian Henderson and he always will be Brian Henderson. He has learnt the secret of consistency. I also admire Michael Willesee, because he’s the most subtle performer on air. He says more by not saying anything."
Of catering to the multicultural audience, "It's being aware that we live in Australia and there is an Australian viewpoint but we are also saying, 'You came here for a better life, so this is what your (former) country means to the rest of the world, and you are the rest of the world now.' If we can be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine in one news item, that's pretty balanced television."
Known for his skillful pronunciation, "I can cover Spanish and Italian pretty well, Turkish is all right, Chinese is difficult. When I stuff up a Greek word, I feel like a heel...I make plenty of mistakes but I always make an effort. That is what gives it ('World News') an international, a truly multicultural flavor. Sometimes it can be very hard coming out of a foreign name and reverting to English because pronunciation of t's and th's are often so different."