Bill Collins OAM: 23 September 1928 – 14 June 1997
With many of this year’s big Group 1 races fast approaching – across all codes of Australian racing – including the G1 TAB Melbourne Cup for greyhounds at Sandown Park, it’s an ‘odds on’ chance that free-to-air television networks will at some point replay an ‘underestimation’ by one of the world’s greatest race callers, the late Bill Collins.
“Kingston Town can’t win!” is something that is played year-in, year-out. It’s a tired, and with time, increasingly disrespectful acknowledgment, of a man, whose indelible mark, on both global race broadcasting, and Australian racing, transcended continents, hemispheres and three codes of racing.
And, if you had been in the stands at Moonee Valley on the day of the 1982 W.S. Cox Plate, just like Collins, you would have realised that Kingston Town, was under pressure from about the 1600 metre mark.
Born on this day, in Trafalgar, Gippsland, in 1928, today marks what would have been Collins’ 93rd birthday.
The son of a Gippsland horse trainer and bookmaker, racing ran thick in the veins of the Collins family, which included several jockeys as relatives, including one of the world’s finest, Bill’s cousin – Scobie Breasley.
Influenced by some of Victoria’s earliest race broadcasters, Eric Welch and Jim Carroll, Collins joined 3TR Sale, and was appointed trotting commentator at the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds, before joining 3UZ as an ‘offsider’ to Bert Bryant early in his career.
A brief period saw Collins return to Gippsland, where he continued race broadcasting and radio hosting back at 3TR, prior to his appointment in 1953 with 3DB in Melbourne, as a general announcer and third-string race caller, to Eric Welch and Dick Cranbourne.
Quiz shows, breakfast programs, sport and entertainment, Collins took on everything with great finesse, which graced the radio airwaves of the day.
With the retirement of senior callers, Welch and Cranbourne, in 1954, Collins became the number-one caller for radio 3DB. But, radio wasn’t the only medium through which you could tune into some ‘Bill Collins magic’.
The year 1956 was a turning point in Australia. Melbourne stood proud, as the first city in the southern hemisphere to host a modern Olympiad, and Australian television made its inaugural transmission. And, Collins was there!
Covering sport in television news bulletins, as well as the Olympic Games thrusted Melbourne and Collins firmly on the world-wide sporting stage.
Collins would go on to broadcast three Olympics, locally here in Melbourne and with international commentary teams for Montreal 1976 & Moscow 1980.
RSN race caller Rob Testa, crowned the Ken Carr Medallist at last Sunday’s Victorian Greyhound Awards, was fortunate enough to be an understudy to Collins.
WATCH: Bonecrusher defeats Our Waverley Star in the 1986 W.S. Cox Plate, as called by the late Bill Collins.
“From my first phone call with Bill I had a significant friendship with him, and that did not stop until the day he died” – ROB TESTA
“Bill Collins strode the stage like a colossus!” Testa recalled.
“He was a guiding light to a few of us…even when he retired from race calling, he still had a significant impact, and cast a large shadow over all the race callers and broadcasting team in Melbourne during the latter part of the 1980s and into the 90’s, right up until his death.”
“From my first phone call with Bill I had a significant friendship with him, and that did not stop until the day he died.”
Collins created Australian broadcasting history in 1958, by being the first Australian race caller to broadcast live from the United States, with the Victorian trained star galloper, ‘Sailor’s Guide’ winning the Washington D.C International. (Now known as the Breeders’ Cup Turf.)
Bill called three English Derbies, five South African Spring Carnivals, and even provided tuition for South African broadcasters, such was the world-wide acclaim for the man dubbed ‘The Accurate One.’
Only last year, British race caller, Richard Hoiles cited the influence that Collins had in an interview with the global online TRC report (Thoroughbred Racing Commentary) just prior to Hoiles call of the world’s richest race, the Saudi Cup, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“Bill Collins’ description of the 1986 Cox Plate between Our Waverley Star and Bonecrusher was amazing. He was very much on the entertainment side – accuracy has to underpin it all, but good use of language can add a good bit of colour and depth,” Hoiles said.
WATCH: A tribute to the late Bill Collins.
Collins also starred in variety television, with ‘Sunnyside Up’ and ‘The Penthouse Club’, both top rating programs, frequently taking him straight from the track, to the television studio, for live song and dance routines. And, he also had a near 20-year association with Channel 7’s ‘World of Sport’ as well.
Somehow, Collins found the time to write a regular column and form contributions for The Herald and Weekly Times, which punters frequently referred to as ‘the only reason, they bought the paper.’
And Victorian greyhound racing did not miss out on the brilliance of Collins either. Not only did we have the incredible benefit of his broadcasts of our code of racing, Collins was also an avid greyhound owner and breeder. Additionally, Collins’ administration skills and vision for our sport helped steer Victorian greyhound racing into the highly enviable position it finds itself in today.
Collins was appointed Chairman of the Greyhound Racing Control Board (GRV) in 1987, after two years with the Harness Racing Board (HRV). Additionally, Collins was also Chairman of the Australia and New Zealand Greyhound Association.
Australian Rules football was also served with Collins’ expertise and passion, as he was Chairman of the South Melbourne Football Club, where he found himself acting as a ‘mediator’ to warring factions’ within the club, helping to ensure a ‘life-saving’ relocation to Sydney.
An inductee into GRV’s Hall of Fame, Collins also served as a board member of the Totalisator Agency (TAB) and Radio 3UZ, which today broadcasts as RSN, and fittingly, received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his exceptional services to racing and the media. It is fair to say, that Collins ‘did it all’, before we sadly lost him in 1997.
For all of Collins’ achievements, there are many reasons, as racing fans and participants, why on this day, we should express our gratitude to ‘The Accurate One.’
And, from the brilliant race callers that he mentored, to the administrative changes and direction that he drove, and that GRV proudly continues to deliver on the international racing stage today, I don’t think Bill Collins, has ever really left us.
GRV HALL OF FAME: BILL COLLINS
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