Vale Mike Willesee


by Eric Hunter

Mike Willesee will be remembered by many of us who worked with him, as the finest political reporter in the ABC’s history.

I had the privilege of introducing him to ABC audiences on This Day Tonight’s second night, 11 April 1967 (when he was a press gallery reporter for Perth's Daily News, shortly before he joined us), in an interview that created TDT’s first political storm.

While others, such as Richard Carleton and Kerry O'Brien came close, none have had the quite the same intuitive nose for asking the right question at the right time in the way Mike did.

Politicians soon feared, but couldn’t resist, a Willesee interview request because they thought this might be the time they bested him. None did of course, but it wasn’t too long before Mike, being ambitious, sought greener pastures and persuaded Kerry Packer to take on a new commercial concept, namely, A Current Affair, which exceeded everyone’s expectations.

It was in this regard that my best recollection of Mike came about, because of his disappointment that the ABC wouldn’t adequately recognise his talents. He told us, after a contract meeting with General Manager Talbot Duckmanton, that the GM was horrified when he named a figure, replying, “Dear me Mike, if I gave you that amount, you’d be getting more than me!" (an unthinkable idea in the halls of a then very bureaucratic ABC). Shortly after, Mike made his move to even greater fame and certainly fortune.

Vale Mike Willesee!

Eric Hunter, ABC Alumni Convenor, Canberra & ACT

Mike Willesee on the set of This Day Tonight

The Mike Willesee question that turned the 'unlosable election'

Willesee interviews Liberal leader John Hewson during the 1993 Federal election