In 2007, I had the pleasure of spending several hours with Tony Charlton, the veteran sports broadcaster with the elegant diction who passed away on Monday morning.
Afterwards I wrote, "You could talk sport with Charlton all day. Give him a name. If he saw them play or got to know them – and usually, it seems, he did both – there's a story, expertly told. Crafted, in fact. He is, if encouraged, a walking radio documentary. He said that if he had to describe his life in one word it would be 'lucky'. 'I'm so grateful. That's why I have to put back in.'
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Broadcaster Neil Mitchell pays tribute to Tony Charlton, the cherished voice of Australian sports broadcasting who died aged 83.
"And put back in he did. We met at the Alfred Hospital where Charlton worked five days a week as a volunteer, as he had been doing for the previous 15 years. The day after we met, he was officiating at a funeral. The following week, he was to be the voice that co-ordinated the dawn service at the Shrine of Remembrance, followed by an Essendon pre-match luncheon at the MCG, which he was compering. He was then 78.
Charlton's father, a New Zealander wounded in World War 1 during the Battle of the Somme, was a radio broadcaster, reading the evening news in a dinner jacket even though no one could see him. He also called the races.
As a youth, having captained the First XI of Scotch College in Perth, Tony Charlton's sole ambition was to be a cricketer but he arrived at South Melbourne Cricket Club to find it had 14 players of Test and Shield standard. His father "thrust" him into radio.
His first call was of the World Professional Footrunning Championships at the Melbourne Showgrounds. In the final, however, a runner called Stoney slipped and fell and the young commentator was so excited he cried out: "Stoney's down in centre ring!" Afterwards, he shrank with shame. He'd mixed his sporting metaphors.
He called his first game of footy for radio at the showgrounds in 1949. It was an experimental night game. The showgrounds, being a trotting track, was lit at the rim, meaning most of the match was played in a grey gloom.
His senior partner, Norman Banks, had poor sight. Banks called the game when the ball came near; Charlton did the rest. In 1957, he started calling the footy for Seven.
Charlton's call of Peter Norman's silver medal at the Mexico Olympics is well remembered but his favourite sporting memory was Betty Cuthbert winning her fourth gold medal in Tokyo in 1964. As she went through the tape, Charlton declared: "My God, she's won it!" He was accused of blasphemy. Telling me the story, he added: "Today they'd use the f-word and no one'd notice." Charlton acknowledged that others would see his values as old-fashioned. "Yes," he told me, "I'm one of those who believe you should stand to attention during the national anthem."
When I asked his favourite footballer, he gave the name in one word because two words would detract from its power: "Coleman." Essendon's John Coleman played fewer than 100 games, his career ending prematurely through a knee injury. His high marking is legendary. "How can you explain to anyone today who didn't see him? He had it all - intelligent, good-looking. He had an extraordinary hold on the public imagination." He was also dead at 42 from thrombosis, and as Charlton recounted the fact he visibly altered.
Tony Charlton retained the reverence for sport he had as a boy. As a sports caller, his style was slightly ornate, but his sincerity compelled attention. One of his contemporaries, Harry Gordon, described him as "unflappable and authoritative".
Charlton's death was the result of bowel cancer. He is survived by his wife Loris and three children.