Garry Wilkinson: “TV is a cruel business”

Veteran broadcaster Garry Wilkinson had been working for nearly 3 decades across Seven Sport and News when he was summoned to the Sydney office and handed an envelope.

Veteran sports broadcaster Garry Wilkinson, who spent nearly three decades at Seven has spoken about being unceremoniously dumped by the network in 2003.

Speaking to V8Sleuth podcast, Wilkinson recalls being summoned from Melbourne to the network’s Sydney headquarters for what he thought was a meeting about contract renewal.

“I had just come off an Australian Open Championship, hadn’t long come off the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. It was only two years after a hugely successful Sydney Olympic Games, for which I commentated on the gold medal winning Equestrian event. I did the Opening Ceremony. I did the Closing Ceremony, a massive, massive ratings success.”

‘Wilko’s’ distinguished CV also included Bathurst, Asian Games and presenting across weekend, morning, and afternoon Seven News programs.

But he had no idea of what was about to unfold in the meeting in Sydney.

“No, I didn’t know something was up,” he recalls.

“I turned up for the meeting. I walked in, there were only two people in the room, surprisingly. The surprise was the head of Human Resources. I walked in, neither of them spoke. They just handed me an envelope. I opened the envelope. That was it. Goodbye.

“There’s a backstory to that, which I can’t tell you. But the reasons why and the manipulations that went on behind the scenes, to engineer somebody else into a vacancy left by my departure. But that’s neither here nor there.”

Reports at the time said Seven would not be renewing Wilkinson’s contract and noted he was privately devastated at the decision.

Referring to the former management, he continued, “People come in, and they know that the board of directors want action so they turn everything upside down. Whether it produces good results or bad, it’s movement. Action. And that sometimes gets good people.

“I mean, I’ve met a lot of good people in television, talented people in television. Some of whom are still there. But I know an awful lot more that just vanished off the face. There one day, gone the next.

“It’s a cruel business.”

“Wilko’ claims he was also denied long service payout.

“I said ‘I’ve worked here every day of my life for the last 28 years. Sometimes six, sometimes seven days a week, sometimes 10, 12, 14 hours a day, and sometimes for 6, 7, 8 weeks on end, without a day off,” he said.

“(They said) ‘There would have been times between one contract expiring and you signing the new one where technically you weren’t employed. So no , you’re not entitled to service leave.’

“‘Righto, I said ‘We’ll I’ll see you in court.'”

With no immediate offers from rival broadcasters, he went to SKY News which, at the time was one third owned by Seven.

“There was no chance of getting my foot in the door at SKY News if I was in court, trying to squeeze long service leave. So I had to bite the bullet on that.”

He would continue to work for SKY News, SKY Racing and freelancing for the Australian Open global feed, Nine and even Seven.

Wilkinson, 79, now describes himself as “95% retired” but remains open to opportunities “if something fell into my lap tomorrow.”

He is a former winner of an international tennis association annual award as “World’s Best Commentator” and, in Sydney’s Olympic year, was awarded the “Australian Sports Medal” by the Australian Government, in recognition of his contribution to sports broadcasting.

“If I could get a gig at the Australian Open in January, that will be my 48th year of tennis commentary and my 45th Australian Open,” he added.

Seven has been contacted for comment.

You can hear more here.


8 Responses

  1. Yes Garry, experience and a great voice mean nothing these days, especially when a young pretty boy and/or girl have to be found a job, regardless of experience. I missed you but didn’t realise it’s been 20 years.

  2. All time legend! His iconic voice the sound of so many Oz Opens and Davis Cups for those growing up in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Also of course the V8s. And Olympics such as anchoring Atlanta 1996. He can still be heard each January calling for TA’s World Feed (which also used to be produced by Seven Sport until around 2014) at the Australian Open, such a treat whenever you hear him come on. I’d always wondered why he disappeared, a shame to hear.

  3. I’m sure Wilko is a lovely guy, but at 79 you have to move on. There are so many young and talented reporters trying to get a foot in the door – and workers who refuse to retire take their space.

    It sounds like the way Seven handled his departure was not befitting of his many years of employment – and I’m sure he would be entitled to long service leave of some description.

    I think a lot of our current issues with the state of FTA in Australia have to do with age problem – ie boomers programming for boomers. Perhaps a little youth and exuberance across the board can inject some much needed life into the industry

    1. I can assure you that boomers programming for boomers is not a thing here in FTA TV.
      First hand I know that unashamedly 18-39 and 25-54 are the desired demos across the commercial nets and for sure they aren’t boomers!!!
      Also, the current crop of commercial programmers and even the development heads are not boomers.

      Again, from experience, sadly I can say absolutely that ageism is alive in the business here.
      The obsession many have with “younger” behind the scenes people and predominately reflected in the casting in front of the cameras as well is not reflected in the US or UK industries, where experience is far more valued than age.

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