When I heard that "A Current Affair"'s Gold Logie winning anchorperson Ray Martin had obtained the rights to an exclusive interview with Sir Donald Bradman - the last interview he intends to give - I recoiled with horror. "Toupee Ray" - the former king of daytime television - the frontman of night-time tabloid journalism - the man who gave us such showbiz interview extravaganzas as "Top Blokes And Good Sorts" - allowed to share the same airspace as the man considered by most the Greatest Living Australian?
The background to this program was interesting. Kerry Packer - the same Kerry Packer who loved cricket so much that he bought its best players and started his own competition for profit in 1977 - wanted that rarest of media scoops, an interview with Sir Don on his own TV network. Bradman agreed on the basis that the program be used as a fund-raising exercise for the under-construction Bradman Museum at Bowral, NSW. Sir Donald has granted very few interviews for the electronic media in the past, two that I am aware of: a six-hour serialised radio interview with Norman May for the ABC in 1988 as part of an Australian Bicentennial project; and a TV interview with Jack Egan for ABC-TV in 1990, that became the basis of a video release.
The opening lines of the show worried me, Ray Martin's standard ACA opening interview, "Sir Donald, thanks for your time..." and then the first question in the same breath, however on the whole it wasn't as bad as I had feared it would be. Most of the interview was recorded in what looked like a box in the member's stand at the Adelaide Oval, with some portions shot at the Bradman residence. The 87-year-old Sir Donald, still looking very healthy for his age, gave many anecdotes from his long life, about Bodyline, the 1948 tour, the sledging (or the total lack of it in his day), his lack of desire for entering politics despite being invited by both sides, even a funny anecdote about his recent booking for speeding. Noticeably, no mention of World Series Cricket and especially of Sir Donald's stern opposition at the time. Can't offend the boss, Ray?
There are very few original revelations about Bradman's opinions about himself or other players over the years - the uneasy modesty of a man so much greater than any other batsman in history shows as it does through much of his writings over the years. He still rates his 254 at Lords in 1930 as his greatest innings, and McCabe's innings at Trent Bridge (annoyingly spelt "Trentbridge" in an on-screen caption) as the greatest he has seen, and Bill O'Reilly as the greatest bowler he has seen - after saying that Hordern, Grimmett and Warne were Australia's three greatest leg-spin bowlers!
Perhaps a little more surprising was his nomination of Sachin Tendulkar as the batsman most like him today (the "mystery" of who he would name was offered as a teaser on the National Nine News earlier that evening), pleasing nonetheless. The one error I picked up in Sir Donald's comments over the evening was when he said that Tendulkar had never toured Australia - had he not witnessed Sachin's Test century at the Adelaide Oval in 1992 (or his 148 at the SCG earlier in the series)?
All in all a lightweight but reverent hour or so with the greatest living name in Australian folklore. Less tasteful were some of the other aspects of the show "back in the studio, live". Australian country folk singer/composer John Williamson, a bit of an icon himself, wrote and
performed a schmaltzy song about Sir Don which had an opening line that sounded something like "When Aunty Ducky danced with Donald Bradman, she said it was the proudest moment of her life". Anyway, she was definitely Aunty Ducky. Paul Kelly's long and rambling ballad about Bradman released in the mid-1980's was more sincere and less sentimental in its tribute to the great man - but we didn't hear any of that on the night. We did listen to "Our Don Bradman", which he admits detesting ("...as a batsman he was just plum pud...").
Prior to the commercial breaks we had tributes to Sir Don from current Test captain Mark Taylor, former captain Richie Benaud, prime minister John Howard, and olympic swimmers Keiran Perkins and Samantha Riley, complete with the 1800 number to ring to give your donation to the Bradman Museum. A noble cause, but the telethon feel to the last half-hour of the show was very off-putting - nice to see the boy scouts manning the phones, though.
Oh, and that ad for Sanitarium Weet-Bix with the Bradman-Larwood bodyline confrontation being re-enacted by children, was played at every break. It was cute the first time I saw it several months ago...
The last portion of the show included a studio panel discussing Sir Donald, comprising Mark Taylor, Shane Warne, and 1948 team-mates Bill Brown and Arthur Morris. Nice to see Brown and Morris again, but I couldn't help feel the occasion was a trifle gratituious. There was a pre-recorded interview by Tony Greig with Tendulkar, and a satellite link to Harold "Dickie" Bird, who gave a hilarious telling in his Yorkshire brogue of the Pythonesque occasion when his father got up in the morning, walked 38 miles to see Bradman play, then walked 38 miles home again.
Plenty of footage of Sir Donald batting, his final Test duck to Eric Hollies was played at least twice. Larwood's hammering of Oldfield and Woodfull at Adelaide Oval was visited and revisited. There was also footage of some of the other greats that Sir Don anointed during the program, like McCabe, Larwood, Sobers, Tendulkar (footage from this year's World Cup) and Warne (his spectacular dismissals of Gatting and Gooch in the 1993 Test series).
In summary: A nice program, but not a major historical document. I'm sure it rated through the roof, and may have even drawn some viewers away from the X-Files on Channel Ten at the same time. I would not at all be surprised to see a video release shortly, maybe an ideal Father's Day gift come September, surely with proceeds going to the Bradman Museum.
Footnote: We were shown the advertising logos and slogans of the companies who have each given $50,000 to the Bradman Museum and are thus now members of the "50,000 Club". We were reminded of how to make donations and that gifts over $2.00 are tax deductible. Now I understand why a TV show about cricket went to air on May 29 - four weeks before the end of the financial year.
"Don Bradman - 87 Not Out" went to air on the National Nine Network from 8.30-10.30 pm on Wednesday, 29 May 1996.
Note: First published on the rec.sport.cricket newsgroup on 30 May 1996, the day after the screening of the television program "Don Bradman - 87 Not Out". This article was subsequently published on CricInfo. I have subsequently corrected it to amend William Eric Hollies' name from Bill to Eric.