Vale: Ernie Sigley

Updated: Legendary entertainer Ernie Sigley, who enjoyed a long career in television & radio, has died.

Legendary entertainer Ernie Sigley, fondly known as “the little Aussie battler” has died, aged 82.

Footscray-born Sigley enjoyed a long career in Australian showbiz on television, radio, music and stage.

In recent years he has been in care, after family confirmed he was living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.

He began at 3DB in 1952 before hosting Teenage Mailbag on HSV-7 in 1957. Shortly after this, he travelled to London, gaining some work experience at the BBC. But a bigger break was to come with a three-year stint at Radio Luxembourg, where he performed under the name ‘Ernie Williams’.

He was part of the original cast of Sunnyside Up before hosting Adelaide Tonight in 1959.

By 1974, Sigley was the host of The Ernie Sigley Show, on Nine with Denise Drysdale, which famously included an episode filmed at Pentridge Prison. In 1975 he won the Gold Logie.

The show was abruptly axed after an off-air outburst directed at Kerry Packer. Packer flew to Melbourne the next day and dismissed Sigley on the spot and replaced him with Don Lane.

He then moved to ATV-0 and hosted the early evening variety show Ernie and then in 1978, the Penthouse Club with Mary Hardy on Seven.

Sigley was also the original host of Wheel of Fortune from 1981 to 1984, filmed in Adelaide with Adriana Xenides and announcer John Deeks, and later Pot Luck and Six Tonight for BTV-6 Ballarat.

In 1989 he reunited with Denise Drysdale for morning show In Melbourne Today, reinventing morning television on Nine (also called Ernie and Denise).

‘Hey Paula’ a 1974 duet with Drysdale was a pop sensation, reaching #2 and being performed on shows such as Countdown. He is still remembered for his association with the Adelaide leg of The Beatles tour in 1964. At one press conference, Sigley’s questioning of The Beatles brought about an enthusiastic response from John Lennon, which led to one of the best interviews of the tour.

By 1981, Sigley returned to 3DB to host the breakfast program before News Talk 3UZ and then 3AW in
1996. He hosted the afternoon program for 12 years until his  semi-retirement in 2008.

Sigley was notoriously fickle with management. There were arguments at Nine and 3AW, a post-Logies biffo with Don Lane, but his larrikin style kept him popular with audiences across the country.

I’m also personally indebted to Ernie for taking me on as a TV critic on 3AW when his producer suggested he try me out in 2008. The entire first session was a conversation with Ernie asking about my background (and none of my TV notes!) which he later told me was to let the audience get to know me. Ernie didn’t watch much TV then, but always had great anecdotes to share.

He once told Melbourne Observer, “I’d say a bit of a gasbag, more than anything. I just like talking. I don’t sing very well and I crack weak gags.

“I think I can communicate with people, yeah. I think I’ve got a good knowledge of what people want.”

Asked what sort of relationship he has with viewers, he answered, “Mainly, just a friend I suppose. A mate. I believe in live television, like I do, you’re virtually a guest in somebody’s lounge room.
A bit like the bloke next door who comes in and has a drink.”

Farewell, Ern.


Denise Drysdale said, “We’ve lost one of the all-time great’s Australian TV and radio today. Ernie Sigley was one of a kind. He was enormously generous to me. In fact if it wasn’t for Ernie I doubt that my career would’ve turned out the way it did. He always just let me be myself and that is the greatest gift of all. I will cherish the memories of all the mischief we got up to together. He still makes me laugh just thinking about him. Love and respect dear Ernie.”

Nine said in a statement, “Today we have lost ‘the little Aussie Battler’ Ernie Sigley and our heartfelt sympathy goes to his family and friends. Ernie entertained millions of Australians. He was an Australian TV pioneer, who began his career in SA and at Nine a man who brightened our lives and brought laughter into our homes, we remember him fondly.”

Bert Newton said, “Ernie & I started out together as young boys. He was one of a kind, had a fabulous career and our love goes out to his family. He’ll be sadly missed.”

22 Responses

  1. Sad. Remember that time Ernie made front page news when a prop failed and he was stabbed in the back? I think he yelled “f***” on live television.

  2. Very fond memories of Ernie. I suppose many people have. I was in my 20’s and went to the studio audience. I was randomly picked to spin the choc wheel and Ding Dong asked me a question and I won, wait for it, a black and white portable tv! I was so excited as I only lived in a studio flat & had no tv. Ah good memories. He was the best host back in his hey day! and we always watched his shows. R.I.P. Ernie

  3. Very sad day in AUssie entertainment with the loss of Ernie Sigley. Ernie Sigley had a wonderful career in Television, but also in singing.
    I remembered that time when Ernie was unable to attend the 2016 AFL Grand Final (where the Doggies won) as he suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. My thoughts are with his family at this saddening time.
    Thanks for the memories, Ernie.

  4. So very sad to hear of Ern’s passing. Truly one of Australia’s great TV legends and larrikins. Original and one of a kind. My heartfelt condolences to his family and friends, especially his son Matthew. Rest In Peace Ern xx

  5. … sitting in the studio audience of Ernie’s AT at NWS9 in 1967 was my first exposure to a television studio in Australia … the prelude to a long and happy career in the industry … and meeting the crew revealed many backstage stories about Ernie himself(!) … bye Ern …

  6. It was pretty weak that Today basically crammed in a “tribute” to Ernie in about 15 seconds…I read more online in an article than what was mentioned by weak as water Stephanovic

      1. I was eagerly waiting to see the tribute…so had taped Today and Extra to see when it would come on….very disappointed..

        Wonder if Sunrise and Studio 10 did a tribute? Hopefully better than Nine

  7. Another sad day for Aussie entertainment. Ernie (and Denise) were mainstays of my youth from their variety program and of Logie nights. Ernie’s personality was often larger than the show he hosted; it was what made him such a hit with audiences.

    With Ernie’s passing and with Graeme Kennedy, Bobby Limb, Don Lane, Ian Turpie and Jimmy Hannan also left us; only Bert Newton, Daryl Somers, Tony Barber and John Burgess from that generation of male hosts are still with us (apologies if i’ve left anybody out). We need to celebrate our entertainers whilst we still can.

    Condolences to Ernie’s family on their loss.

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