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
For 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.
The “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.