February 7, 2016
As a young sports journo in the1960s I was initially in some awe of Frank Hyde, such a commanding figure in the game – and already by then by then so well established as the strong, re-assuring (unique!) voice of many rugby league winters – and a man of authority with a league pedigree reaching far back into distant mists. But, progressively, I came to know him as so much more….as a warm bloke, of good humour and humanity and many diverse interests ……..as well as a true pillar of the League story…. of the game’s s past and present…. and its possibilities.
That awareness grew in the 70s and ‘80s when we were both involved with Rugby League Week magazine on which Frank was a straight-up-the guts weekly columnist who said exactly what he thought, being quite prepared in his writing to flail away at the game’s administration and its occasional mugs and shortcomings and such things as dumb rule changes whenever he thought it necessary. Which was fairly often. Football coaches were a particular target for a time as they grew in status and ego and delivered to an awed media their weekly pearls of wisdom - with the gravity of the Sermon on the Mount (those are Frank’s words)
I came to much enjoy his company and conversation which in their breadth embraced such a swathe of territory….…encompassing for me in my personal assessment of Frank Hyde such words as these: ……..genial, plain-spoken, robust, expert, fair dinkum, blunt, strong, honest, edgy compassionate, funny, loyal……………..and many more.
Later, in having the pleasure ….and significant privilege too …….of working with Frank on his 1995 autobiography (Straight Between the Posts), I came day by day to know the full, remarkable story of a man who stands rightly on a day such as this as one of the finest of the Rugby league century – although whether today’s game with its unblinking `now focus’ and uncertain leadership remembers him well enough, I doubt
I relish the recall of those afternoons with he and the unforgettable Gaby, Frank’s wife, in the family home at Queenscliff back in 1995 in the making of the book– with each of those occasions ending with a glass (or two) of the excellent home brewed beer of which Frank was so proud – with the bottles extracted lovingly from a cupboard under a sign which read de bibis nil nisi berum - Drink nothing but the best
The only slightly worrying coda to the ending of the day’s work at that time was the thought of safely negotiating the steep drive which led down to the street from Chez Hyde. Stories abounded of tumbles taken, some by famous league men after visits. When the great sports photographer Ernie McQuillan, who was responsible for the striking cover study done for Frank’s book, went back on several occasions to re-shoot the pic there was a growing suspicion that Frank’s excellent home brew was a significant attraction.
There will be many yarns told of him on this anniversary and because of that certainty mine will be only a brief `time out’ in play. I’ll provide a headline with each of these snippets that follow ; Frank would approve of that: he liked good order and accuracy in his words.
Number 1: OH, Danny Boy!!!!!!!
In Lyons France, on the day of the 1972 World Cup Final, my wife Joy and I , newlyweds on our honeymoon, took up Frank’s kind invitation to catch a free ride on one of his supporters tour buses to the ground. The evening before had been particularly heavy, spent in the colourful journalistic company of the likes of Bill `Tex’Mordey, Geoff ‘Pinky’ Prenter and Jeff `The Pigeon’ Collerson . Hangovers and hazy memories of fine French red wine , were the order of the following morning.
In what we thought may have been a shrewd tactical move out the front of the hotel, Joy and I clambered aboard the second Hyde tour bus, guided aboard by the man himself ….and armed with earlier insiders knowledge that Frank on Bus No 1, would inevitably sing en route to the ground. Craving silence in our fragile condition, we were to be kayoed by a combination of the Hyde tour game plan - and technology. Frank headed off to the No 1 bus, but the moment that our vehicle followed , a long-playing Frank Hyde favourites tape was slipped into the cassette player….. and set for the entire journey at decibels capable of raising the dead.
The trip to the ground was painfully slow (literally) – and Frank’s gravelly, albeit tuneful voice boomed out for every metre of the way. Oh!!!!! Danny Boy!!!!
Number 2 A Man of his Word:
On the occasion of the selection of the first four Immortals in 1981 Frank, Harry Bath and Tom Goodman (as eminent a rugby league panel as surely has ever been assembled in the game) debated long into the night at Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel. The painstaking reduction from an initial list of 100 chosen to the last five….then down to the required four was not arrived at until around 4 o’clock in the morning. Inevitably, a great player had missed the cut – and Frank, chairman of the panel, swore for ever after that he would never release the name. That he never did was a mark of the man………………..although it trickled out years later as these things do that Graeme Langlands had been the one to miss the cut…and Bob Fulton had got the nod.
Number 3 The cruellest cut of all.
Frank Hyde was a leader of men, as his record and reputation demonstrated. It was not until the late 1940s, in conversation with the forthright man who became President of the Australian and NSW Rugby Leagues, Bill Buckley, that he learned he had been pencilled in to the biggest job the sport had to offer - as the likely captain of the 1941 Kangaroos……... There never was a Roo tour of ’41 of course ….thanks to the War, and in what was one of the toughest calls of his fine career Frank never did get to wear the green and gold jersey.
Number 4 Give us a Song Frank!
In the early 1980s, Rugby League Week, of which I was then editor, shamelessly nicked an idea off the Aussie Rules mob and staged the game’s first Rugby League Grand Final Breakfast . It proved a rousing success, and drew a big crowd to the Wentworth. Star of the event was the Immortal John `Chook’ Raper dressed in pyjamas, dressing gown and spats – and flourishing a magnum of champagne from which, as he descended the stairs, he took an occasional swig.
Unbeknown to many that morning there had been a significant luncheon held a few days before, featuring Frank Hyde who was to be a star attraction at the Breakfast - and the imposing, talented and witty cabaret star Sue Cruikshank who was also booked to do a spot there in her hilarious persona of `Tiger’ (as in Balmain) Lil’. Various of us waifs and strays from RLW attended the pre- event lunch in the particularly seedy downstairs bar of a close-to-the-office inner city pub, in which the first impression on any arrival was of your shoes sticking to the carpet – which they were….. owing to the gallons of beer and other fluids which had been spilt on it over aeons. The colourful Pub manager, a rugby league fan who we knew as `Captain Morgan’ would highlight any RLW luncheon there by appearing in due course with free bottles of port, which he did, destructively….and on this day. Late in that afternoon came the stand-out highlight - an impromptu concert delivered by Frank and Tiger Lil. Together, side by side they sang a bracket of songs. It was wonderful. A League Week staff attendee who left late afternoon to attend water polo training, was found hours later asleep on a bench just outside the pub. It had been that sort of lunch. For his part Frank, obviously found his way back to Queenscliff and safely negotiated the steep climb to the house - for he was there full of life a few days later at the Breakfast – which was subsequently deemed a ground-breaking smash hit and ran for 20 years or so in the period that followed..
Frank Hyde’s story is full of spirited tales of friendships and footy and travel – with great enjoyment and sense of fun the fellow travellers along the way.
In the telling of his life and times - with its first memories from back in around 1919 - pages 126-134 are my special favourites in the book that became a reality in 1995 - at a time when the building Super League storm crackled in the background .
In fact, those few slim pages of a chapter called `The Importance of Being Tiger’ rank very high in my own mind among anything else that exists in the 40 or so books I have worked on since about 1988. They tell of the beautiful knockabout friendship between 2SM’s Frank and his 2KY broadcasting rival and pal E. (for Ernest) ‘Tiger Black’.
For anyone who cares about rugby league…..the way it was …..the way perhaps it can be …….I commend them to you. It was a chapter that effectively wrote itself as Frank reeled off tales of his little mate Tiger. The stories shine with the enjoyment of life …and of the game…and true mateship…………..and of the thrill too of the grand, long tours that used to be the way of the Kangaroo experience They are a wonderful snapshot of human friendship and the shared experience.
There could surely be no greater irony that the year in question when Frank sat down to tell his story was 1995 – with the game edging daily into the midst of the commerce- and- greed- driven war for rugby league’s future that would almost tear it apart. We can only wonder what he would have made of today when the much loved sport that provided the back drop to his life has gone from being just a game……..to a game-slash-business………and on to today’s manifestation of a business-slash game. I suspect that very likely he would have grumbled away ……..but loved it still.
Today, the great Frank Hyde OAM is remembered - a man with a dual love of family and a game called rugby league. He touched so many lives along the way…… would have loved the friendship and harmony of this day with its happy memories..
And you could back it in …..that somewhere along the way, at some time, he would have sung Danny Boy.
Irony of ‘95