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Broadcast legend Tony Charlton passes away

Ben Collins  December 17, 2012 1:45 PM

2011 Hall of Fame - Tony Charlton Tony Charlton was one of the football's most respected broadcasters
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Broadcast legend Tony Charlton has passed away

AUSTRALIAN media legend Tony Charlton – who was last year inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame – has died.

Charlton, also a member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, had been battling cancer for more than a year. He was 83.

Regarded as one of Australia's greatest sporting commentators, Charlton was renowned for his ability to describe various sporting contests in perfect diction.

He is revered for his media work on a range of sporting events, having called three Olympics, two Commonwealth Games, Test cricket, golf, tennis, the list goes on.

Charlton also called 12 VFL Grand Finals, and told AFL.com.au last year that his three favourites, in order, involved famous Collingwood defeats: Carlton's comeback in 1970, Melbourne's heart-sopping win in 1964, and St Kilda one-point victory in 1966.

"They're all wonderful events and great theatre," he said. "Reminds me of (The Age writer) Greg Baum's quote: 'The theatre of the great and grand.' And so it is."

Charlton's humble and generous nature – for example, he was a fulltime volunteer for Melbourne's The Alfred Hospital for more than 20 years after its doctors saved the life of his daughter Cathy – won him many friends in the sporting sphere and beyond.

He was probably always destined for a media career. His father Conrad was one of the original broadcasters on ABC radio. His elder brother Michael was also a co-creator of current affairs program Four Corners in 1961, enjoying a long and successful career with the BBC in London.

Born in Sydney and educated in Perth, Charlton first made his name on Melbourne radio station 3AW in the early 1950s.

Television in Australia coincided with the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, and Charlton was at the forefront of the Nine Network's Games coverage.

He was headhunted by Seven to be part of the network's first televised coverage of football.

In 1960, Nine made him an offer he couldn't refuse, and for five years he also hosted his own sports program 48 weeks a year for three hours each Sunday, in direct competition with Seven's World Of Sport.

One episode of The Tony Charlton Football Show had the entire football world enthralled.

In mid-1965, Melbourne's six-time premiership coach Norm Smith had been sensationally sacked. It remains one of the biggest stories in the game's history and Charlton – who scored an exclusive interview with Smith – covered the scandal as well as any news outlet would be expected to today.

In a statement, AFL chief Andrew Demetriou said that interview was "compelling".

"Even nearly 50 years after his legendary interview with a just-sacked Norm Smith was conducted, it remains compelling viewing for the highly-charged emotions on display, as evidence of Charlton’s ability to guide his subject and inform his audience," Demetriou said.

"[He] was a high-quality broadcaster, who mixed both superb oratory and commentary skills with an ability to break news and tell the stories of our game.
 
"Most of all, Tony Charlton was a person of the highest standards and integrity with his commitment to his community, his charity work, and his constant willingness to guide and encourage young talent coming through the ranks of media. Many broadcasters and callers sought his guidance and he was only too willing to share his knowledge and skills."

Last year Charlton made a well-received speech at the first Norm Smith Oration at the MCG.

Of his induction into the Australian Football Hall of Fame, a humbled Charlton said: "As a commentator, you’re supposed to be able to produce words like bubbles in champagne. (But) I find it difficult because it's such a lovely thing to have happened."