MAKE 'EM LAUGH - A TRIBUTE TO BERT BRYANT

Image of the Cover of 'The Bert Bryant Story' by Neill Phillipson. Published: 1978

Image of the Cover of 'The Bert Bryant Story' by Neill Phillipson. Published: 1978

For Molly, Greg, Darryl and Suzanne bryant

Most race callers are so intent on getting the job done accurately, they wouldn’t give a thought to throwing in a funny line.

Maybe today’s punters are too intense to appreciate a light hearted comment. By the time they’ve ploughed through the endless data available, and listened to the comments of an army of tipsters, all they want to do is get it over with. Just a no frills call, with a quick and accurate delivery is all they require.

That kind of commentary wouldn’t have suited the late Bert Bryant, who died in 1991 following several years of indifferent health. Bert believed that punters having a bad day, needed some cheering up, and he set about developing an array of  “one liners” designed to take the pain out of losing your money.

It should be said that Bert’s style probably worked better in the pre TV era, when punters had to use their imagination as they listened to a Bryant commentary.

I can remember standing with the throng in the Sydney interstate betting ring listening to his calls of the Melbourne races, in the days when punters hung on every word.

What a sight it was, to see hundreds of punters crowded underneath a loudspeaker, rocking with laughter at a Bert Bryant “funny”. His clichés passed into the vernacular during his thirty years at the microphone.

For much of that time, he relayed through 3UZ in Melbourne to the Macquarie Network, which at one stage had 50 stations around the nation, subscribing to the Saturday afternoon racing service. He had a huge fan base, and those loyalists couldn’t wait for Saturday to come. “Blue Boy is hanging like Jimmy Hannan’s teeth”, was one of his favourites. (Jimmy Hannan was a popular daytime TV host in the 60’s and 70’s who had a set of protruding ‘choppers”. Jim thought Bert’s irreverence was hilarious).

‘This favourite couldn’t win if he caught a cab’ always got a laugh.
Image from 'The Bert Bryant Story' by Neill Phillipson. Published: 1978

Image from 'The Bert Bryant Story' by Neill Phillipson. Published: 1978

Look at Blogswalllop out in front going like last week’s pay”, was another standard.

He once declared a horse unbeatable on his Saturday morning preview show Three Way Turf Talk. “You can put your mother in law on Jack Sludge in the fourth”, quipped Bert. ”Come to think of it don’t do that. Something might go wrong and you’ll get her back”.

I remember another occasion when he “bagged” a horse called Kaiwaka, on the Saturday morning. He said the horse was a non trier, and was at ridiculously short odds. He went as far as to say, if Kaiwaka wins I’ll resign”.

I think Australia’s punting public were listening to Bert’s call later in the day.

His voice rose suddenly as they turned for home, when Kaiwaka dashed about three lengths in front. “There’s no sign of him stopping, and he’s still well clear”, shouted the startled commentator.” Half a furlong from home and Kaiwaka’s going strongly, he’s home today. Pack the bags Molly I’m out of a job”. Bert was referring to his wife Molly, who had become very well known through Three Way Turf Talk which was broadcast from their home.

Ernest”Bert” Bryant was born at Dubbo in 1927, the only boy in a family of four. His love of a ‘punt” was obvious from an early age. “I sold the Dubbo Standard Newspaper, collected rags and bottles, and did all sorts of odd jobs to get some punting money”, he recalled in later years.

During young Bert’s days at the De La Salle College, he often went missing on Wednesday afternoons to attend the Dubbo Dogs. There was one rainy Wednesday when Brother Doseitheus was surprised to find Berty sitting at his desk. The good brother was delighted to see that young Mr. Bryant had finally seen the error of his ways. “I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the dogs had been washed out”, chuckled Bert.

Marcus Clarke’s in Dubbo was Bert’s first full time employer. “That finished when they found out I was giving pensioners unauthorised discounts” he said.

Next job Moran and Cato who had him carting potatoes around in a side car. His stint in the grocery business came to an abrupt end, when his boss caught him polishing off a can of sliced pineapple which came out of stock.

Undaunted, the little battler got a job with a newly established munitions factory, only to run foul of the establishment on two counts. “They caught me smoking in the toilet which is strictly prohibited in a munitions factory.

Secondly some mug dobbed me in for running a book. I was only being enterprising. It was obvious there was an opening for an SP bookie so I filled the gap”, Bert reflected years after.

A genial Scotsman called Wally Grant laid the first stone on the path that would take Bert to big time radio in Melbourne. He was appointed to call all race meetings in the region for 2DU Dubbo. “My first broadcast was from a little place called Geurie, where the crows fly backwards to keep the dust out of their eyes. I was scared stiff, but struggled through somehow”, he admitted.

One night in the Spring of 1948 Bert was thumbing through the pages of a newspaper, when he spotted an advertisement from Melbourne station 3UZ, calling for an assistant for resident race caller Tom Moon. Unaware there were 60 applicants for the job, Bert was ready to take on the world, when his Mother and Molly, his future wife, farewelled him at Dubbo railway station.

When Tom Moon succumbed to the ravages of asthma in 1949, young Bryant stepped into the coveted role. He was destined to spend the next 28 years as one of Australia’s best loved radio personalities.

Bert was responsible for so many wonderful race calls, its hard to pick a career highlight, but many of his fans plump for the 1970 Queen Elizabeth Stakes. The VRC almost abandoned the race when only two horses were left in at acceptance time. High profile racing journalist Jack Elliot talked the committee into going ahead with the race and promoting it heavily. 

The two combatants were Rain Lover and Big Philou, two big name horses at the time. Most race callers would have been horrified at the prospect of doing justice to a two horse race over 2500 metres, but Bert Bryant saw the opportunity to turn it into an epic. His famous call combined wit, humour and drama and the end result saw his commentary published word for word in the B&T Media Magazine. 

The quality of the audio in this replay is below average, so make sure you turn your audio up. 

 

Bert’s sudden illness in April 1977, rocked the sporting world. He was struck down by a subarachnoid haemorrhage - a burst blood vessel on top of the brain.

He admitted in later years, that his own impatience and stubbornness, probably hastened his premature retirement. “I should have gone away for six months and done absolutely nothing Instead I got ready for my comeback just 3 months later, with disastrous results”, he recalled with sadness.

His Doctor suggested he should start off by calling only a couple of races a day, and 3UZ Management backed that recommendation. Bert told them both to take a running jump, and was back in the broadcast box at Flemington on July 9th, 1977-a hell of a day for a comeback.

Because of a postponement a week earlier, the Grand national Hurdle, and the Grand National Steeplchase were run on the same day- a total of 9,800 metres, not to mention the other 7 races on the card.

“It flattened me completely. By the last couple of races all my concentration had deserted me”, reflected Bert. “it was the same story at Caulfield the following week, and I knew my race calling days were over. I went home and cried like a baby”.

He went through a long period of depression, and by his own admission gave his family a pretty tough time. Soon after a new friend, the late Harry Lawton walked into Bert’s life.

Harry was one of Australia’s pioneer racing syndicators, who had the respect of all sections of the industry. His proposal to the former great race caller, revolved around the use of the Bert Bryant name, in press and radio advertising. Bert’s job would be to take phone calls, meet the prospective clients, and arrange to show them the horse in question. When the syndicate was completed, Bert would bring all of the people together for the official signing-up process.

Image from 'The Bert Bryant Story' by Neill Phillipson. Published: 1978.   Bert Pictured with friends at Hollywood Park in the USA. 

Image from 'The Bert Bryant Story' by Neill Phillipson. Published: 1978. 

Bert Pictured with friends at Hollywood Park in the USA. 

Bert later admitted his new involvement had saved his life. He said meeting up with old fans, and talking about the old times in racing was just the tonic he needed. Harry Lawton has been gone for quite some time himself now, and I hope he knew that his generous heart had played a major role in giving Bert Bryant a second chance at life.

I have some precious memories of my friendship with the little bloke from Dubbo, and here are just a couple of them. I had to spend a week in Melbourne in the mid 1980’s sending Melbourne Cup stories back to Channel 9 News in Sydney. While I was on the road one day, my wife Ann and my 4 year old daughter Rebecca spent some time with the Bryants.

Bert took Rebecca down to the local shopping centre, and bought her a fluffy little musical toy called “Mr. Chuggles”. She had that toy for years, and probably still has it stashed among her souvenirs.

Bert invited us to a little gathering he hosted on the Sunday before the Melbourne Cup sometime in the late eighties. I had heard about people “playing the spoons”, but had never seen it until that day. Late in the afternoon, Berty with a few drinks on board, produced a pair of table spoons, and with the record player providing accompaniment, launched into a very rhythmic percussion solo, which left me “gobsmacked”.

I got a phone call one day in 1990, from a rather distressed Ray Warren.

He told me that Bert was visiting his sister Rita on the NSW Central Coast, and was in bad shape. I hadn’t seen him for quite some time, and didn’t know what to expect when I pulled up in Rita’s driveway. He knew we were visiting, and actually came out onto the front veranda to show us in.

I couldn’t believe how much his health had deteriorated, and it was obvious our visit was none too soon. It occured to me that he was there to say goodbye to his sister, and I’m grateful to this day that I saw the little master one last time.

As a sentimentalist, I tend to save things that have tugged my heartstrings over the years. One of my most prized possessions is a battered old telegram I received a couple of days after I filled in for Ken Howard at a Rosehill Saturday meeting in 1965. The message simply said “Congratulations, terrific job last Saturday”, and it was signed Bert Bryant.

It meant the world to me.

Image of the Telegram from Bert Bryant. 

Image of the Telegram from Bert Bryant.