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December 28th 2014 print

Geoffrey Luck

Wailing for Walkabout Waleed

If you are of the opinion that the national broadcaster doesn't do genuine comedy, let me urge a close reading of Barbara Heggen's farewell to Radio National colleague Waleed Aly, as published in the SMH. Thing is, though, this gushing lady is serious, which tells us rather a lot about the ABC

waleed mikeFor all their verbal skills and encouragement by Premiers’ and Prime Ministers’ literary awards, satire has not been high on the list of Australian writers’ accomplishments. Until this weekend. The Sydney Morning Herald published a tongue-in-cheek lament by ABC Drive Producer Barbara Heggen entitled: Waleed Aly: How to cope when he leaves you for another network. The piece began: “When a good workplace relationship ends, and he’s enjoying the new workplace, the grief can be startling.”

The reference of course was to the resignation from the ABC of its highly promoted Egyptian-Australian go-to know-all for all programmes, and special pretender to terrorism expertise (it’s just an “irritant”, in case you less-smart souls thought otherwise).  Aly defected in an altruistic effort to single-handedly fill the intellectual vacuum in Channel 10. This young, charming, intelligent, humorous man for all seasons had devoted himself selflessly for three years to leading a programme on a bookish radio network of modest means. Such a glittering star could not help being tarnished.

walleed's womenThe “modest means” – seven women (pictured with their idol) who daily served Mr Aly as he favoured the limited audience of Radio National’s Drive with his views and interpretations – were left devastated. What happened when Mr Aly announced he was leaving for a younger demographic and a more glamorous show? Let Barbara continue her Lilliputian tale:

“Since that day I’ve been feeling all the motions that you feel when a partner leaves you for someone else; sadness, anxiety, self-doubt, confusion, anger and even jealousy. I’ve been having sleepless nights, waking in tears, dreading the studio without him. In 25 years of media experience, I’ve never before felt this way about the end of a workplace relationship.

“I’ve had to ask myself, ‘Is this normal? Is this type of workplace grief common?’ So, like any 21st century journalist, I started searching the internet for guidance, and it seems the answer to both (questions) is yes!

“Most of us don’t get to choose our work colleagues and yet we often spend more time with them than (with) our family. When you work in a news/current affairs environment you’re often forced to have deeper office conversations about confronting issues. Not the usual water-cooler banter. You really do feel as though you get to know, and develop strong bonds with, your colleagues. So when this particular radio host announced his departure, I felt like I was being dumped, and I behaved like it.

First, I cried openly in the office. Next, I started leaving news articles on his desk about the financial instability of his future workplace. As a departing gesture I gave him the business card of one of the country’s best media lawyers, just in case things go pear-shaped in his new job.

Of course I wasn’t the only one gutted by his departure. Our whole team started tossing in the odd jibe here and there……We were all struggling with the news.

“But eventually, thanks to the best internet advice I could find, I realised I was behaving badly. I’ve since tried to move forward. I’ve told him I’ll miss him and I’ve wished him well. Heck, I even helped organize the best darn farewell radio show ever. From here on, it’s about embracing the new.”

I was just ruminating that while it would have sounded better if composed in Alexander Pope’s superb heroic couplets, it was starting to nudge Jonathan Swift in its ability to give the ribs a little tickle with the poniard, when the phone rang…

“Hello…yes, it’s me, Barbara. I’m just writing a piece on your brilliant satirical send-up of Waleed Aly. Congratulations. What? It’s not satire, it’s for real?!!  Well, thank you so much for your call. I’m much indebted”.

Indebted indeed. Because she explains (almost) everything about the ABC.

Geoffrey Luck was an ABC journalist from 1950 until 1976.

Comments [4]

  1. en passant says:

    I too am saddened by Waleed’s departure for CH10 as it was easier to find the ducks and turkeys when they were all in the one pen. I also thought that this would mean I have now two permanently banned and unwatched channels (ABC & CH10 – I confess to watching some of the better SBS stuff), when I remembered that I have not watched CH10 since that disgraceful episode on the barely viewed intellectual-bubble-gum morning show “The Circle” (which never recovered and was soon cancelled).

    To refresh readers memories these were my comments in 2012:
    “Bullets are flying around, aimed at you and your mates as thirty fanatical Taliban try to kill you and your fellow soldiers. Two of your regimental friends have already been killed in previous actions as well as another 33 soldiers from other units. This is reality, not Hollywood, not a game and death is forever. So are sucking wounds and smashed bodies after being hit by a high powered weapon.

    A giant of a man gets up and almost suicidally charges at the people trying to kill him. One jumps on him, but he is shaken off and killed. Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith then moves forward towards a machine gun crew firing 600 rounds a minute at him and somehow gets close enough to kill them all. He then charges a second MG and kills its crew too.

    He miraculously survives and is awarded the Victoria Cross to go with his previous awards for bravery in the face of an enemy trying their hardest to kill him.

    Having done all that, he comes back to his twin daughters and a loving family in WA (which he had a 90% chance of being lost to, dead as a result of his courage). When called upon, like every other soldier, he goes back to the war as his government demands and does it all again.

    But his greatest reward? Medals, money, fame? No, being given a spot on the Aunt Sally Circle Show where he can be vilely mocked by infantile and moronic ‘celebrities’ (I had never heard of) who think he needs to dive to the bottom of the pool to find his brains (Yumi Stynes). This is offensive, as Ben Roberts-Smith is better educated and more intelligent than any CH10 ‘celebrity’.

    But the piece-de-resistance is the demented (or is it dementia) comments of ‘Dangerman George’ Negus who chimed in with his despicable remark that maybe “he (Ben, VC) is no good in the sack” – a dud root as some idiot chimed in. This was clearly intended as a slander at Ben and his wife because it took IVF for her to conceive. I wonder how many of the thousands of IVF couples and their beloved children fell off their chairs laughing at that one? I am quite a good wordsmith, but I can find nothing publishable in my vocabulary that can express my disgust and contempt for this geriatric parody of a cowardly, humourless has-been hack. No, I need to correct that as George is just a ‘never was’. But I sympathise with the unenviable position you TV station have placed him in: the rest of the panel were all clearly smarter, faster with the repartee and getting all the attention. He needed a headline grabber that his mind could hang on to at the pace of his walking frame.

    It only got worse when the next day he doddled out his so-called apology and explained that he has been in dangerous situations too. I feel sick that he can even be allowed to breathe the same air and compare his danger-filled ‘experiences’ (whatever they were) with those of Ben, VC. For goodness sake, how tough can Georgie boy be when Margaret Thatcher chewed him up when he questioned her for 60-Minutes and didn’t even ruffle her lacquered hair! Boy, was that a dangerous situation! What a legend, or rather, what a pathetic specimen of the human race to compare himself with a real hero who had his life on the line.

    This was one of the most disgusting performances from our New Age bogan morons that society seems to be producing in greater numbers than ever before. They are uneducated, flippant, mocking, without substance, ignorant, vile, vacuous – and with opinions on everything they can never understand. They are our modern celebrities …!

    My advice to your show? Get rid of this pair for a start (but you might have to keep the mindless audience as they will laugh, cheer and clap at everything, no matter what, as they think they are famous for being there). You can never recover from this while you have a geriatric and a nobody as the main attractions. Let them settle to their real level of capability and join the ‘Occupy Something’ zombies.

    No pseudo-apology from the mindless mockers of a man who has risked everything several times will ever undo the vileness of his attackers. And the insult to his manhood was beyond redemption. Get rid of them – or the show.

    For me I swear this means never watching the show and avoiding the advertisers who support it. But from here to eternity it also means never watching any programme containing Negus or Stynes.”

    I have kept my word and basically never watch CH10. I doubt that Waleed will appeal to the CH10 audiences, nor will he be attractive to advertisers. Let’s see how the real world responds, but I will make a prediction that he will be needing that lawyer …

    • Davidovich says:

      I, too, would list as unwatchable all Ch!0 and all ABC news and public affairs programs but there is one tiny ray of light on Sundays on Ch10, and that is the Bolt Report which is essential watching if you want an alternate non-PC view of the world.

  2. Jody says:

    Waleed is the poster-boy for political correctness. Channel 10 obviously wants to intellectual heft to give credibility to its endless list of celebrity air-heads. It will never work because Waleed is too cloying, too perfect, too glib and too detached from reality. But I think your point about keeping the turkeys and ducks in the same pen is an excellent one.

    You express surprise and dismay about the growing list of vacuous celebrities and has-beens like the vile, humourless George Negus. Welcome to my world! As a friend of my late father once said, “the world is getting fuller and fuller of people I like less and less”. Apposite.

    • paulbegley says:

      Geoffrey Luck rightly detects an intemperate measure of self-indulgence in ‘Drive’ producer Barbara’s lament at Waleed Aly’s Radio National departure. That said, I enjoyed listening to Aly’s program while I cooked dinner after work each evening. I thought he adroitly steered a course between the tribal excesses of the Left and the Right with a candour that avoided the heavy hand of political correctness. Hence, like Barbara, I miss him – but I got over it.