LES – YOU BROKE THE MOULD – TRIBUTES AND GALLERY
Veteran crime reporter Les Kennedy, who died of cancer today aged 53, fought the disease until the very end and insisted on leaving Royal Prince Alfred Hospital to resume his life. He left the hospital last week, went into the Fairfax building at Pyrmont, announced to The Sun-Herald that he had a “scoop” on the Kerry Whelan murder case, then went back to hospital.
Les Kennedy had soft hands. They were warm in a handshake, cool in a crisis and, when the heat came, as it always does for sleeve-rolling scribes like Les, he never wilted. In the context of his life and career, my time with Les was not long.
…….honoured in the category of Regional Reporting of the Year
“If you had to describe Lockyer’s overall demeanour, you’d select words such as helpful, friendly, generous and supportive. I saw Lockyer on television many times after the Chambers/Barlow case but I rarely saw him onscreen without feeling.”
….. honoured in the category of Most Outstanding News Camera Coverage
“His was a big life and he was a larger-than-life character…..he acquired the nickname 006, because he was about the closest thing to James Bond anyone would see in real life.” – ABC’s Head of News Programming, Don Lange.
Mark Day pays tribute to 2016 Lifetime Achievement Winner John Smith, veteran pictorial editor of The Daily Telegraph.
Published in The Australian
There is a view among old newspaper hounds that we had the best of it. We flourished in the golden years — the 1950s through to the end of the 80s — when newspapers and those who filled them with racy yarns were admired, not vilified.
We used to pride ourselves on getting it first and getting it right. We were full of dash and daring and people bought our products for news that told them what they didn’t know.
It’s all changed now, of course. Today’s generation has good reason to ask what yesterday’s men would know about search engine optimisation, data diving or repurposing copy for phones, tablets or Facebook.
So it’s nice to see the news men and women of today pay respect to one of the old-timers .
At Friday night’s Kennedy Awards in Sydney, the old photographer and Daily Telegraph picture editor John Smith received a lifetime achievement award.
The Kennedys, named after the late crime reporter Les Kennedy, are awards for NSWbased journalists, complementing the Quills in Victoria.
This is their fifth year and John Smith follows crime reporters Harry Potter and Phil Cornford and sportswriter Ian Heads as recipients of the lifetime achievement award.
Smithy is 87 now and a great character. He still has his rapier wit, his conversational zingers, his pet sayings such as “the editor will be pleased” and his raffish charm. I am delighted to call him a friend and I call him from time to time to see how he’s doing.
“I’m all right,” he says, “but if I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.” Amen to that.
Smithy was 16 when he commenced as a copy boy at Frank Packer’s Telegraph in 1946. He started work the same day as Phillip Knightley, who went on to head the London Sunday Times investigative team and expose Britain’s Cold War spies.
Smithy was working as the late stop copy boy one night when an escaped convict named Antonio
Martini was involved in a shootout in North Sydney.
“I stole an old Speed Graphic camera from the darkroom and went with the late stop sub to the scene where I photographed a terrified bloke in a phone box with bullet holes in it,” Smithy says. “I had four exposures and two flash bulbs, but neither worked, so my pictures were failures.
“The next day I got a telegram at home saying Mr Packer wanted to see me. I thought that would be the end of me for stealing the camera , but Mr Packer said I had done well. He said ‘Don’t waste your time with the scribblers; I’m going to move you to photographic.’”
That was 1948. Four years later Smithy was in the Korean War frontline, attached to the Australian 3 Battalion, with which his father had served in France during World War I. He documented life in the trenches for Australian newspapers.
Today press photographers can snap a picture and immediately email the shot in a matter of seconds via satphones to anywhere in the world.
“It was different then,” says Smithy. “I took a picture of wounded Aussies coming out of the front line on my Rolleiflex, then sent the film back to field headquarters, where it was then flown to Commonwealth Forces HQ in Tokyo, then on to Australia for processing. It appeared on front pages about a week after I took the shot.”
Smithy spent most of the 50s on the road. He recalls another encounter with Mr Packer after he lavished a bottle of fine champagne on a young lady after the
“I was called to his office and I thought, ‘I’m on toast here’ . Mr Packer said ‘Sit down, son,’ then talked about the Cup and the tennis for a while. Then he said: ‘What’s this taking sheilas out on my money?’ I said I fully intended to pay, of course, and he said: ‘You’re a good liar’ . That was the end of it.”
Another famous Smithy story followed a prolonged drink after covering a royal tour in Canberra with fellow snapper John Jones. The Telegraph’s picturegram truck was spotted allegedly being driven erratically through a Canberra backstreet.
Federal police pulled the truck over and demanded names. “I’m John Jones,” said Jones, to which one copper snarled: “And I suppose you’re John Smith.”
Smithy brought his rapier wit and gift for a quick quip into play. He replied: “Yes, officer.” Jones produced his press pass and one Fed said: “Hey this one is John Jones.”
And when Smithy showed his pass the other incredulous Fed said “And this one is John Smith.” Fortunately all parties were amused and they both escaped with a warning.
Smithy took on a desk job in 1970 when he became the Tele’s picture editor. When Rupert Murdoch bought the masthead in 1972 Frank Packer cried as he watched his staff leave.
“You can stay here, son,” he said to Smithy. “I have a job here for you.” Smithy replied that he felt he had to go with his team but asked if he could buy his company car.
“How much?” Packer asked. When Smithy named his price of $1200 Packer said “You’re a good poker player. I’ll think about it.” Two weeks later Smithy was asked to pay $1 for the transfer fee.
It’s trite but true: Smithy represents an era passed. We will never return to those days and unhappily it won’t be long before the notion of newspapers employing staff photographers is also consigned to the dustbin. That has already happened in many US cities.
Virtually nothing newsworthy happens today without someone, somewhere, capturing the event on a smartphone.
Their pictures or video are grist for the 24/7 television news mill and frequently make the front pages of newspapers.
These shots are not professionally staged or lit, but they carry undeniable impact.
Smithy is the first press photographer to be honoured with a Kennedy lifetime achievement award.
The editor will be pleased, but chances are he’ll be the last.