Steve was the mild-mannered coach of my son’s junior footy team at Hampton Rovers for three years. He was a great coach but his match reports were far greater. Read all about why they were so great and his shenanigans with some very recognisable Melbourne names…
I grew up with 3 younger sisters out in Glen Waverley, near VFL Park in the late 60s. It was like the end of the earth. There was Glen Waverley and then there was literally paddocks from there to the Dandenongs which is now suburbia.
When I was ten we moved to New Zealand, supposedly for two years but we hated it so much we came back in six months.
In the 70s VFL Park opened. I remember as a kid we used to go down there and somebody had cut the fence and you’d bend it out and climb in and save the 30 cents for a kid’s admission. We were lucky we used to just walk there but years later when we moved and then came back for a game, getting out of that car park would take you hours, shocking joint.
I went to Haileybury in Keysborough. I sort of breezed through til about Form 5 with minimal effort and always getting good marks but I didn’t want to do business, law or accounting like all my mates were but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something a bit arty; I was good at art and writing. I got into graphic design at RMIT with grandiose plans of being an advertising designer until about a week into the course I realised all the kids there could all draw like Michelangelo and I was drawing cartoons of Captain Goodvibes, The Pig of Steel. That’s about as good as I got.
So I dropped out and got part time jobs. I wanted to get into advertising and I was a big fan of Phillip Adams and he was, at that time, a big advertising guru. So I wrote him a long letter saying I want to be a graphic designer and he wrote back and said “come in and see me”. So I went in and the first thing he said was “your artwork’s crap, you’ll never make it as a designer but your letter actually made me laugh, why don’t you be a copywriter?”
It never occurred to me that you could make a living from writing stuff. He said “go away and write something for me, whatever you think”. So I wrote him this big piece and he wrote back and said “that was really good, that was really funny”. So I just stumbled around dropping his name and finally got a job at 3XY as a copywriter, which was great. That was the heyday of 3XY.
It was the early 80s and I was 21 when I first got there. There was Gavin Wood, Greg Evans, Hans & Barry and Greg Smith and I just couldn’t believe it. I started on the Monday and ratings day was on the Friday and they had a big ratings party because XY were always number one and I just couldn’t believe it. In walks Shirley from Skyhooks and the guys from Dragon and Michael Gudinski and there’s Molly and there’s grog going everywhere and I thought “shit how good’s this?” I got $210 a week but it didn’t matter.
I stayed there for two and a half years and then travelled around America for about a year. I’d met an American guy and he was a bit of a wild one at school. He was from a rich family in Connecticut and his old man said “go and live in Australia for a year and work for one of my companies and get your head together”. He was sharing an apartment with mates of mine, then he went back and he was studying at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and I said “look I’m probably going to America next year, I’m sick of this radio job, I’m going to buy a car in LA and take off”. And so I lobbed on his doorstep in Tuscaloosa and stayed there for months. Learnt how to play American football. He had a little dorm he shared with another guy and he let me sleep on the floor in between the two single beds on the condition I wrote all his essays for him. So I used to write all his English essays and I stayed there for months.
When I came back I got a job at Channel 10 in publicity. I stayed there for a couple of years but I was hopeless at being a publicist. I was just no good at it. Learnt a lot but I just wasn’t very good at the publicity thing. I wanted to get into the production of TV shows because while I was useless at publicity, I could see all the shows being made. They used to make Prisoner, Neighbours, Carsons Law and Young Talent Time on Saturdays and I thought “now that’s what I want to do”. And so I ended up weaselling my way over into the newsroom as a trainee producer. In the newsroom at the stage we had Eddie McGuire, Steve Quartermain, Brigitte Duclos, Bruce McAvaney and Jen Hansen and we were as thick as thieves, just young punks, we were just young idiots. As Eddie said none of us could believe we were actually working in TV. We all got paid about $300 a week but as Ed said we would have paid them the $300 just for the fun and experience. I stayed there a couple of years and then went to America for six months, my best mate was living in New York.
I then came back and got a job at Grundy’s as a copywriter on Sale of the Century. Stayed there for a few years, went up to associate producer then I left and in 1990 went to Channel 10 for six months producing segments for the Bert Newton Show.
After six months there, I was hating it, when my boss at Grundy’s rang me and said “we’re bringing back The Price is Right, we’ve been working on it for three months but the producer’s useless and about to have a nervous breakdown”. The Price is the biggest show you can make. It’s the daggiest show ever made but it’s an incredibly difficult one to organise because in every show there’s hundreds of prizes and hundreds of prices that have to be right. It’s just a big, big production. He said “if you can pull this one off you’ll get a job anywhere”. So I went back and did that for a year or so then moved back to Sale as producer. We’re talking mid 90s now.
It still kept going for another couple of years with Glenn Ridge after I left but I was just sick of it. Glenn had been on radio and TV up the bush when Tony (Barber) left, no warning. Because you record the show about three or four weeks ahead, Nine didn’t want to have a break, so we had about four weeks of Tony in the can and in that time we had to find a new host and hostess. They quickly started going through all these tapes people had sent in over the years hoping to be on TV. And someone said “this Glenn Ridge guy’s a fresh faced looking thing and he hasn’t done anything, it’d be nice to have a brand new guy who hasn’t done 28 other game shows”. So we got Glenn in to audition and he was okay, wasn’t brilliant but nobody ever is at their first audition because you’ve got the full set and all the crew and it’s pretty daunting. It was actually Kerry Packer who said “this Glenn bloke, I want a new fresh face and he seems like a nice guy”. So that’s who’s doing it. Okay Kerry, yep, fine. “Hey Glenn, guess what, you’re the new host of Sale of the Century”. Fantastic bloke but the thing about Sale it’s so structured and regimented. For forty weeks a year that’s it and I was just jack of it. By that stage I was having a mad affair with the contestant coordinator, Tania. She used to organise all the contestants on Sale. We both left at the end of ’96.
The radio thing had started before then. Back in the late 80s I was sharing a house with Trevor Marmalade. Trevor had been doing Punter to Punter and he was a standup comedian. We were sharing a house in Albert Park and when Eddie first moved out of Broady he bought this tiny little flat in South Melbourne. The whole bunch of us used to socialise pretty heavily on the weekends: me, Trev, Eddie, Quartermain and whoever and when Eddie moved to South Melbourne most Monday nights we’d go to the Red Eagle for a steak and we’d inadvertently review the weekend, just talking shit. What happened in the footy, what happened in the nightclubs, who went home with who and one night we were sitting there and I said “you know if we recorded this conversation it’d make the funniest radio show”. And Eddie says “we’ll do that one day”.
I promptly forgot about it and then two years later The Footy Show had just about started and he rings and says “we’ve got a new radio show, Saturday mornings, Triple M, we’re calling it The Grill Team. Me, Marmalade, Jane Kennedy, Glenn Robbins and we want you to be the TV gossip critic but everybody knows you work at Channel 9 so think of a stupid name for yourself”. I’m thinking “oh this will last three weeks” but the show rated its arse off. For the first two years we just owned Saturday mornings then they moved it to Drive and then it all splintered and people couldn’t do it and it all went sideways.
We’d been renovating a house a couple of years before, pulled up the carpets to show the floorboards and there was a What’s On on the Gold Coast magazine from about 1970 and there was a picture of this cabaret singer called Sergio Paradise. He had the worst suit with big frills and he was singing in this lame little lounge at the Surfers Paradise Hotel on Monday afternoons. I remember thinking that’s a funny name; because he’s living and working in Surfers Paradise, he’s called himself Sergio Paradise and I thought that’s a cracker. So I said I’m just going to pinch this bloke’s name for The Grill Team, I don’t care, this is going to last a month. Santo Cilauro came in one week and grabs me and says “you know I’ve got two of his albums”. I said “who?” And he goes “Sergio Paradise”. And he bought them in for me and on one of them there’s old Sergio hanging out of a green tram. They were just shocking songs, Dean Martin, he couldn’t sing. And the second one he was on the steps of a TAA plane. I don’t know what ever happened to him. Our Grill Team producer spent months trying to track him down but he could never find him. So that barrelled on from there and lots of radio stations since.
I then got a job on the Eric Bana Show which only lasted six weeks. They put it up against The Footy Show which was at its absolute peak so it never had a chance but that was good fun.
Then Tania and I made our own documentary about the making of a golf course. I’d always had this idea to show a golf course being designed and made, starting off with paddocks and ending up with the real thing. I was a member down at National when they bought this new land next to it and said Greg Norman’s going to design one course and Peter Thompson the other. So that took a year and a half because we literally started off with paddocks full of sheep and followed them through and watched them carve it out. We interviewed Norman and Thompson and put it together and sold it to Channel 10 and Fox Sports.
The year or so we were making the doco I was doing lots of stuff. I was doing stuff for The Footy Show, producing stuff, writing stuff, they just paid me a salary to do what they suggested. And Trev always liked me in the studios so if I thought of a smart arsed one liner, I’d tell him in the break. I was a regular on The Panel for that year – I did about eight shows, not as Sergio, but as Steve.
I did lots of freelance jobs for a couple of years then we got into the toy business. My old man had been in toys; he had a toy company but he did a whole different thing, he used to rep a 100 different Hong Kong based companies and sell to the big majors and then he started his own product which did well in Australia – little cars that came in a tin and did it exclusively through Woolworths and did really well with it and because the tin was the key, they were called Tiny Tins and they had girly products in them, little plush toys and they did really well and he got Tan involved helping with the selling.
Then I came on board to make the TV commercials for them. He then wanted to sell and retire so we bought the business and thought well we’ve got to change this whole thing because all the big retailers here have opened their own buying offices in Hong Kong and China so they don’t want to have another layer of costs. I remember saying what we need to do is forget Australia, it’s too small, we’ve got to create our own thing and hopefully take it to the world. When Reg sold Grundys for $850 million I remember thinking at the time, why was it worth that much money? Everyone can make a TV show and sell it to a network but why is it worth that much? And then I realised it’s because he owned the programs and the IP. So if you wanted to make Sale of the Century in Venuzula you had to pay Reg. If you wanted to make Neighbours or Sons and Daughters, pay Reg. Wheel of Fortune, pay Reg. That’s why he was worth so much money, he owned the shows.
So I said we’ve got to create something and own it and hopefully take it to the world and still own the brand. We’ve done that with one thing that’s done really well and Tania’s about to launch another one this year.
The first one was called Shnooks, it was a plush character with hair and face and feet. And that came about because one of our suppliers in Hong Kong did a lot of plush stuff which he made for big companies in America and he patented this vacuum sealing of the plush, you suck all the air out and it flattens it out and he said “you do this with a teddy bear – you can now fit 24 of them in a carton instead of 6, better for shipping”. And we’re saying “yeah but nobody’s going to buy a giant teddy bear squished in plastic, the whole point of a teddy bear is to cuddle it”. And he said “but what if you made a small character and you made the plastic part of the story?” So Tania wrote the whole back story about the characters and where they came from. You rip the bubble open and shake it to life; that brings them to life. And then we tested it with little girls and they all started doing their hair so we put in a little hair brush and hair clips with it.
I remember pitching the idea to the head of merchandise at Woolworths on a park bench in Hong Kong and she said “we’ll take it as long as we can have it exclusively” and I said “you have to take this number of pieces to give me enough money to make a TV campaign to launch”. So they did and it did really well. And then we licenced it to this Hong Kong based company, Zuru, which is owned by two brothers and a sister from New Zealand who’d moved over there wanting to get into the toy business and created their own factory and they’ve done incredibly well. And so they sold Shnooks around the world. That ran really well for 3 or 4 years which is about the life span of most toys and then you give them a break. They didn’t work everywhere. Zuru were never big enough to break into America particularly well but for some reason Shnooks were huge in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and the UK. You couldn’t give them away in France. Zuru are about to relaunch Shnooks again next year worldwide.
Tania’s created this new thing – we can’t discuss it yet. She took it to London to a toy fair in June last year and we’ve done a big licencing deal with this Canadian company who are launching it later this year in Canada and the US and then the rest of the world next year.
I hadn’t done any radio for about the last two or three years and I said to Tan I really want to get back into it. I’d done Saturday mornings on SEN for 3 years with Scotty Cummings and Ralphy Horowitz – Ralphy, Serge and the Big Man. Then I did three years a couple of mornings a week on 927 Breakfast but I hadn’t done anything for about three years. They’re all clamouring for content with all this new digital stuff and then on Twitter I found this guy who calls himself Titus O’Reily. I sent him a direct message last year saying “mate that bit today was one of your finest pieces ever”. And he messaged me back and said “oh thanks I appreciate it, I used to listen to you all the time”. And I said “we should get together and do a radio show” and he said he was desperate to get into it. So I caught up with him and we got on well. He’s as smart as a whip and so I said “this is the real world nobody’s just going to give us a radio show”. So I rang Lee Simon at Triple M who I know pretty well and asked him if he knew Titus O’Reily and he did, he’d read his stuff. I said “he and I want to do something together” and I said “look I know there’s no radio shows going but what about a podcast?” So we went in and recorded a couple of demos just talking footy which I actually thought were shithouse. Lee took the second one to the boss and he said yeah great, get them to do a podcast every week. We started in August last year. We’re the only footy show that started in Round 16 and they wanted us to keep doing them over summer which we did.
About a month ago they said “we want you to do a show this year” so we’re going to be on Sundays 12 til 1 on Triple M – we start Round One, March 27th.
A year after 9/11, Tania and I were in New York for the Toy Fair when I had the woefully cliched idea to propose to her on top of the Empire State Building. An hour before, I went to a Russian antique store in Greenwich Village I’d remembered from when I lived there. I found a ring and asked the bloke about its history. “It’s 200 years old and belonged to the Russian aristocracy”, he told me. “Fine, how much?” “Fifty bucks.” Given that the Russian aristocracy story was obviously bullshit and that it had really belonged to a former Moscow pig farmer from Brooklyn, I bought it. She said yes and a year later we were married on the beach at Byron Bay, the site of our first holiday together (when we were on the run from Grundy executives). Ten months later, Sam was born.
Tan and I bought a house in St Kilda which was perfect for the two of us but then the two boys came along and it was too small and we wanted a bit of a backyard. Her sister and mum live in Hampton so we started looking down this way. We found our house in Hampton East which was a great place. They’ve grown up on the oval next to the house. That’s half the reason the boys are so good at footy like their old man…
After leaving school, I played 180-odd games for Old Haileybury in the amateurs. Not surprisingly, one of our arch rivals was Hampton Rovers, and many a fierce battle was held at Boss James between the two local sides. I retired at 28 due to a combination of injuries, work pressures and the potential ego blow of losing my senior spot to a younger, fitter player.
We love living near the beach because all my family live back out towards the hills but I need to be near the beach. Great area, good schools. Even with Hampton Rovers because I didn’t marry and have kids until late, I never had the slightest interest in other people’s kids, I couldn’t think of anything worse. And then when Sam wanted to do Auskick, in the box that says are you willing to help I thought “oh yeah somebody’s got to help”. And then next thing they’re saying “oh can you coach these kids” and I’m like “really?” But then I actually found I quite enjoyed teaching these kids how to kick a footy and then it just kept going til I stopped. They were a good bunch of kids too. And you hear about idiot parents, I’ve never seen that. I guess we’re just lucky.
Do yourselves a favour and listen to the Titus n Paradise podcasts via iTunes here (I love how they pretty much all say Explicit!) and listen to them live on Triple M Sundays from 12 til 1 from 27th March. Hopefully Steve can still catch a few junior footy matches on Sundays and watch the boys he trained for 3 years grow in their development and more importantly write the occasional match report for the current coach!
Feel free to leave your thoughts below
Otto Ablinger says
Nice one Marshall. Good read.
Next chapter….”Boofhead of Beaumaris” perhaps.