Albert Watson "Bert" Newton, AM, MBE (born 23 July 1938), is an Australian entertainer and radio, theatre and television personality/presenter, known for hosting television series like In Melbourne Tonight, Good Morning Australia, and 20 to 1. Newton has hosted the Logie Awards on numerous occasions through his career, and is a four time recipient of the Gold Logie and a Hall of Fame inductee. He is known for his collaborations with Graham Kennedy and Don Lane. He started in radio broadcasting, before fitting a star and fixture of Australian television after its inception in 1956, and is considered both an industry pioneer and one of the longest-serving television performers in the world. Along with his wife Australian singer Patti Newton, the duo are ordinarily considered to be showbiz royalty.
Newton began life in Fitzroy, an inner suburb of Melbourne, Australia. He had three brothers (Tom, Jack and Bob) and a sister (Alice). He had been educated at St Joseph's Marist Brothers Roman Catholic college. In his early years he had thoughts of entering the priesthood and is still an active Roman Catholic.
Newton's first paid radio appearance was as a schoolboy on Melbourne radio station 3XY on 10 June 1952, doing advertisements dressed as a clown with Doug McKenzie, later to become "Zag" in Zig and Zag.
"... there was a radio programme on 3XY Melbourne called Scouting Around, compered by the late Tom Jones. One week the broadcast was recorded at our Scout Hall, and as the direct result of this, I began to seem on 3XY."
This led to regular appearances on a Saturday morning children's show, in which he worked with Stan Rofe and McKenzie.
In May 1954, 3XY employed him as a junior announcer (aged 15); by 1955 he had been presenting Melbourne Speaks, a vox pop programme recorded on the streets of Melbourne's CBD.
After GTV-9 purchased 3AK in April 1961, all GTV-9 personalities were expected to present programmes on 3AK. Graham Kennedy and Newton hosted a two-hour morning program.
Early television career
Newton began his television career at Melbourne's HSV-7, hosting The Late Show. For several years Newton worked with former manager Mason Jarrett whilst trying to find work on numerous television stations.
Newton left HSV-7 and went to GTV-9 in early 1959 to host a daytime television programme In Melbourne Today. After appearing in a live commercial on In Melbourne Tonight with his friend Graham Kennedy at Easter 1959, he began to make regular appearances on the show and assumed hosting duties on a few episodes. This began a lifelong association with Kennedy.
In 1959–1960 he hosted The Bert Newton Show (later re-titled Hi-Fi Club) on GTV-9, a series aimed at teenagers.
In 1960 and 1961, Newton, along with Graham Kennedy, appeared in the national Graham Kennedy's Channel 9 Show (a one-night-a-week national version of IMT). In January 1962, the show was cancelled and replaced by the similar The Channel 9 Show, hosted by Newton.
Television career 1975 to mid-1992
Newton mainly appeared on the Nine Network in these years. He appeared on:
- The Don Lane Show: Starting in 1975, Don Lane hosted his own variety show, The Don Lane Show, on Channel 9. Newton was cast in the role of sidekick and "barrel boy". Newton was dubbed "Moonface" on the show, and the nickname stuck. On the show Newton would frequently appear in outlandish costumes, most often sending up celebrities. One of the most memorable events on the show was when Bert Newton sent-up Demis Roussos, and Roussos was sent on to the set while Newton was doing the impersonation. Newton remained on the show until the show ended in 1983.
- The Bert Newton Show: Newton briefly hosted his own program, The Bert Newton Show, recorded in Sydney for the ABC. It wasn't a success, and he returned to working with Kennedy.
- New Faces: In 1976, Newton replaced long-running compere Frank Wilson on the Nine Network's amateur talent programme New Faces. The show was a success, and lasted until 1985. In 1992, Newton hosted another version of New Faces; however, it didn't last for long.
- Ford Superquiz: In 1981, Newton (and wife Patti) presented a quiz show, Ford Superquiz, produced by the Reg Grundy organisation for the Nine Network.
- Tonight With Bert Newton: Tonight With Bert Newton, for the Nine Network, was a short-lived attempt to bring back the spirit of IMT. It aired in 1984.
- The Bert Newton Show: This was done for the Seven Network in 1989 as an attempt to woo away a few of the audience of The Midday Show with Ray Martin. This, however, didn't work and was only on air for that year. It started out lasting one hour with a soapie following it called The Power, The Passion (which was an early role for Julian McMahon) but when that got axed the show was expanded to an hour and a half.
Move to Network Ten (1992–2005)
From mid-1992 until 2005, Newton appeared on Channel Ten as host of Good Morning Australia
- Good Morning Australia: In 1992 Newton moved into daytime television as host of The Morning Show, which soon changed title to Good Morning Australia (GMA) on Network Ten. The show revived Newton's celebrity status and was a continuing success for Ten. GMA was a mix of interviews, music, cooking segments featuring Newton's floor manager Robert Mascara, aka "Belvedere", doing the popular taste tests and innuendo which was primarily ad-libbed. Much of the screen time was dedicated to infomercials. Unusually for television, the show was broadcast live-to-air on Mondays and Tuesdays but for the rest of the week live-to-tape (recorded complete and aired later).
In October 2005, Network Ten announced that the programme would be cancelled at the end of the year after a 14-year run. Although Newton was offered ongoing employment (in an unclear role) at Network Ten, he stated that he would return to the Nine Network in 2006.
Return to the Nine Network (2006–2012)
After finishing on Network Ten's Good Morning Australia in late 2005, Newton returned to the Nine Network in early 2006. He appeared on:
- Bert's Family Feud: In 2006, Newton returned to the Nine Network and hosted Bert's Family Feud, a revised version of Family Feud in 2006 and until cancelled on 8 May 2007.
- 20 to 1: Since 2006, Newton has hosted the new series of 20 to 1 taking over from Bud Tingwell.
- What a Year: An Additional program, in a similar vein to 20 to 1, is What a Year hosted by Newton and comedian Julia Zemiro in 2007, replacing previous hosts Mike Munro and Megan Gale. The programme took a light-hearted look at a chosen year in history, revisiting major events and pop culture from the year.
Newton reputedly received a yearly salary of A$800,000 from Nine throughout this era.
In October 2008, it was announced that he would be taking over the role of The Wizard in the Melbourne production of the musical Wicked, after the sudden death of Rob Guest. He played his first performance on 12 November 2008. The production closed on 9 August 2009 and transferred to Sydney from 12 September 2009. Newton continued to play the role on the national tour, which began in January 2011, opposite Lucy Durack as Glinda, Jemma Rix as Elphaba, David Harris as Fiyero and Maggie Kirkpatrick as Madame Morrible. In 2011 he had been part of the Australian cast performing Wicked in Singapore. Altogether Newton had a three-year run in this show.
In March 2013 it was announced that Newton would be returning to the stage in producer John Frost's production of Grease The Musical which commenced in August 2013. Newton played disc jockey Vince Fontaine.
Newton played the Narrator in the 2015 Australian production of the Rocky Horror Show.
Newton has appeared in several movies including:-
- Doctors & Nurses (1981) as Mr Cody
- Fatty Finn (1980) as Mr Finn
- The Wannabes (2003) as himself
- Remembering Nigel (2007) as The Agent
Newton published an autobiography, Bert!: Bert Newton's Own Story, in 1979.
Newton and his wife Patti Newton released a 1977 music album entitled The Bert & Patti Family Album.
Newton has been a part of the Logie Awards after the awards started in 1959. He has been nominated for a large number of Logie Awards and has won several:
- Four Gold Logies: 1979, 1981, 1982, 1984 (for his roles in The Don Lane Show and New Faces)
- Hall of Fame: 1988
- Three 'Best Compere' awards: 1972, 1973, 1974 (for his role in In Melbourne Tonight and The Graham Kennedy Show)
- Gold Logie: 1978 (for The Don Lane Show); 1983 (for The Don Lane Show and New Faces), 2006 (for Good Morning Australia) and 2007 (for 20 to 1 and Bert's Family Feud).
- Most Popular Light Entertainment Personality: 1993 (for his role in Good Morning Australia)
Newton has additionally hosted the Logies (1968–1980, 1982, 1984, 1989, 1993 and 2010, and co-host in 2006). He holds the record for both the most Logies hosted and the most Logies hosted in a continuous run. Some notable moments of his hosting include:
- At the 1979 Logies awards Newton said to Muhammad Ali "I like the boy", not knowing that "boy" can be taken as a racial slur. Ali responded "Did he call me Roy?" and members of the audience, including Don Lane, shouted to Newton to say "Yes, Roy". Newton looked puzzled and later explained to the media that he didn't realise that "boy" was used as a racial slur. Ali at least realised Newton's use was unintended and they kissed and made up. Newton additionally made light of the incident by saying: "I'll change my name, my religion ... anything.", referring to Ali's change of name from Cassius Clay when he adopted Islam in 1964.
- In 1973, American actor Michael Cole, best known for his role in the TV series The Mod Squad, accepted an award while obviously drunk and ended his barely coherent thank-you speech with the word "shit", to which Newton, after a classic pause, merely added 'congratulations'.
- In 2006, after the awards, he had a fall and injured himself. The injury was visible for a number of Bert's Family Feud episodes.
Honours and awards
On 12 June 2006 he had been made a Member of the Order of Australia "for service to the entertainment industry as a presenter, actor, comedian, and through support for a range of medical research and charitable organisations".
"For Bert" was written by GTV-9's musical director Brian Rangott. The lyrics include:
- Everything I do,
- I do for Bert –
- Some might think Bert's not much,
- But they like his gentle touch –
- Everything I do,
- I do for Bert!
In 1997 Newton was the subject of a This Is Your Life tribute. His wife Patti was honoured with her own tribute in 2001.
The Best of Bert Newton was aired in 2002. Channel Nine Salutes Bert Newton was broadcast in early 2004, depicting the career of Newton from his earliest days.
In 2001 he had been awarded the Centenary Medal.
Show business awards include a Mo Award (1997), a Television Society of Australia award (1981 and 1983), three Penguin Citations and three Pater (Professional Excellence in Television and Radio Arts and Sciences) awards for radio.
To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of television in Australia, Channel 9 ran a show titled 50 Years, 50 Stars, where they looked back at the Top 50 stars of Australian television. Bert Newton was listed as the No. 1 Australian TV star of the past 50 years.
On 1 July 2008, Newton was named Victorian of the Year.
On 23 July 2008, Channel 9 marked Newton's seventieth birthday with a star-studded one hour special of This Is Your Life hosted by Mike Munro.
Newton was reputed to have lived at home with his mom until the age of 36, prompting widespread gossip that he had been gay. In 1974 he married Patti McGrath, a co-worker. The Newtons have a son, Matthew, and a daughter, Lauren. Matthew Newton is an actor and has appeared in a number of Australian films and television dramas. Lauren Newton married swimmer Matt Welsh.
In 1993, a gambling problem led Newton to near bankruptcy and a $1 million debt.
In November 2012, Newton underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery having been admitted to hospital twice in the twelve months prior.