How Malcolm Turnbull helped the Paper Giants story

Exclusive: Former Packer barrister Malcolm Turnbull gave Rob Carlton some great yarns for Paper Giants: Magazine Wars.

15pgiEXCLUSIVE: When Rob Carlton was researching the role of Kerry Packer for Paper Giants: Magazine Wars he turned to Malcolm Turnbull for insight.

Turnbull was an in-house barrister for for Australian Consolidated Press in the mid-80s, advising Kerry Packer on the Costigan Commission. He represented Packer during his famous sale of Nine stations to Alan Bond.

Carlton spent two hours with Turnbull hearing memorable yarns, some of which have now been embedded into the script as a result.

“When the deal was reached between Kerry and Alan, it was Malcolm Turnbull who was sent to be the bulldog on the deal. He was the one who went up against Alan Bond’s lawyers,” Carlton explains.

“The Bond lawyer was saying, ‘Malcolm you’re being too tough. I’m going to walk away, Bond’s money is about to walk away, you better watch out.’ And Malcolm said ‘Well, walk away if you have to.’

“And (Bond’s lawyer) said ‘I’m not going to walk away until I’ve spoken to Kerry Packer about it.’ Then he looked him in the eye and said ‘The reason this deal is going south is because you’re not giving over on stuff.’

“Malcolm said, ‘Fine. I’ll hook up a meeting with Kerry.’

“Kerry said to (Bond’s lawyers) ‘Son, I’m not sure if I should sell.’ Then he turned around and pointed to a photo on the wall and said ‘My father loved this (network) and gave it to me. What sort of a mongrel would I be if I sold it?’”

Carlton was eager to include the scene in Paper Giants to add a sense of theatre.

“He told me the story when Kerry Packer almost had a tear running down his face about his father, and Bond’s lawyers thought ‘Never mind me walking away, Kerry Packer might walk away. How will I explain that to Alan Bond?’ So he gives up and says he will sort it and the deal goes through.

“But as they left, Kerry looked at Malcolm and gave him a wink. Malcolm swears to this day he never saw the photo of Kerry’s father in the office before that day, and he never saw it again after that day.”

Sneak Peek: Paper Giants: Magazine Wars (see the scene here).

In Paper Giants, the scene has been modified for dramatic effect with actor Steve Rodgers playing Bond in a face-off with Packer. Turnbull has been written out although Carlton tossed in an aside about sending Turnbull over to do the paperwork.

“In any given story there are anachronisms, but that scene ended up being pretty good through the generosity of Malcolm sharing that story with me,” he says.

Another line of dialogue, uttered by US-born exec Al “Chainsaw” Dunlap (Sean Taylor) was in reality an exchange between Packer and Turnbull.

“There’s a great line in the second episode where Al says, ‘It’s a bizarre way to run a public company,’ says Carlton.

“Malcolm was shouting at Kerry and Kerry’s response, rather than to shout louder, was to give his mischievous smile and say, ‘Well Al, what you seem to be overlooking is that I am a bizarre character!’”

Carlton returns as the media mogul after his Logie-winning appearance in Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo. But after friend and actor Lachy Hulme was cast as Packer in Howzat: Kerry Packer’s War, there was a time when he wasn’t sure if he would ever return to the role.

“It was a very difficult time for me,” he concedes.

“I was on the record at the time. I thought we were a collaborative team working towards a goal and I thought I was in negotiations to play that role. Then I was informed differently by the producer. So obviously they were tough times, but that’s the business. But then the production company came back and offered me the role of Kerry Packer for the ABC.

“And in the meantime my friend Lachy turned in a great performance.

“This ‘Kerry’ presented different challenges from the first ‘Kerry.’

“It’s also different to where he was in Howzat, which Lachy did so well. His sense of self wasn’t attached to whether Woman’s Day or New Idea won. Let’s be clear, it was a smaller part of a much bigger empire. He’d already convinced the world that he was a very classy businessman worth watching. So to that I have to find different ways of making his character’s stakes high,” he says.

“Rather than being the all-shouting, power-thumper I tried to put together a more detailed puppet-master, if you will. Someone who lives above the fray a little more. With the research I was doing I tried to get a better sense of the kind of trickery and fun that he could have at boardroom level.”

Mandy McElhinney, who played Packer’s secretary Rose in Howzat! now returns as Woman’s Day editor Nene King, at odds with New Idea’s Dulcie Boling (Rachel Griffiths). The war between the two women transgressed publications, sales and state borders.

“Like Asher (Keddie), Mandy McElhinney has put in an amazing performance. It’s a detailed and raw performance,” he says.

“She’s an amazing actor who’s been working so hard for so long. Obviously she’s a darling of the theatre, but it’s great that over the last 12 months Australian television audiences have had a chance to see this amazing actress at work.”

Carlton won’t say if any of the Packer family have spoken to him about portraying Kerry Packer, but he acknowledges some in “those circles passed on to me that there was an appreciation for my work.”

This time round they can look to a more layered portrayal of Packer, with Carlton striving to show another side to the late billionaire, and some of it due to Malcolm Turnbull.

“Up until now we’ve seen a lot of the shouter and a lot of the bully but we haven’t seen a lot of the dexterity. It’s been largely absent from a lot of the stories until now. This sense of being a master-craftsman when it comes to manipulation, of other businessmen,” he says.

“Kerry’s role is not as charged as he was in Paper Giants season one. I was trying to find different ways of illuminating him as an interesting creature.

“And that’s the joy I had of spending 2 hours with another fascinating Australian. That’s one of the great gifts this role has offered me.”

Paper Giants: Magazine Wars airs 8:30pm Sunday June 2 and 9 on ABC1.

5 Responses

  1. Wow, really interesting hearing about what’s gone on behind the scenes. Really loved Paper Giants and Howzat too, so look forward to seeing this. I’ve always bought both Woman’s Day & New Idea, and knew there was rivalry between the 2, but didn’t realise there was so much bitterness & animosity between them, so will be interesting to see what went on.

  2. Thanks for this David. These insights are always a good read. I enjoyed both Paper Giants and Howzat, and am looking fwd to watching this.

    Everyone talks/writes about Mandy McElhinney’s performance but not so much about Rachel Griffiths. Is it just that we already know that Griffiths is a good actress whereas McElhinney is only just starting to becomes more widely acclaimed or does Griffiths not come across that well in this?

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