University of Melbourne Magazine

Veteran casts an eye on TV


    Nigel Dick AM (PhD 2015). PICTURE: PAUL BURSTON

    Nigel Dick AM (PhD 2015). PICTURE: PAUL BURSTON

    Nigel Dick has devoted his working life to television. Not as a writer or an actor but as an executive, one who witnessed first-hand the birth and development of Australian TV.

    “Bloody hard work,” Dick says of his decades at the top of the country’s broadcasting industry, running the show at GTV9 and Southern Cross Communications. “But it was exciting. All the way through.”

    But then, he was never one for idleness.

    Four years ago, aged 83, a time when most Australians are well into their retirement, Dick applied to do a doctorate. “I was getting a bit bored with life and I thought, well, nobody has written a thesis on the history of TV,” he says.

    “I thought it might be an interesting way to while away the hours.”

    Unlike most history academics, Dick had the unusual advantage of being an eyewitness to the subject of his research. He was in his mid-20s – and working in the advertising offices of Sir Frank Packer’s media empire– when a Royal Commission was appointed to consider the introduction of commercial television to Australia.

    He decided to make the Royal Commission – and its aftermath – the subject of his thesis. “It’s a bit grand to say it, but there aren’t too many who were as senior as I was in the executive ranks of media who could write a thesis,” he says. “Simply because many are dead.”

    Dick ran Sir Frank’s television stations in Melbourne and Sydney. He later headed the Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand.

    So why not a biography?

    “I had the desire to publish and write a thesis as opposed to a book [as it] has the advantage of being academically supervised. You don’t get away with anything,” he says.

    Dick completed his doctorate in December – aged 87 – putting him among the 9 per cent of alumni aged 70 and over.