A RESPECTED journalist, editor and manager, an immaculate dresser and a terrible golfer is how friends and colleagues have fondly remembered Malcolm Colless.
Mr Colless died last week at the age of 73 after a 45-year media career that included a brief stint as the general manager of The Northern Daily Leader.
Mr Colless, whose funeral will be held on Friday in Sydney, is survived by wife Christine and daughter Doone.
Peter Bailey met Mr Colless through the former’s office equipment business, and the two maintained a business relationship and friendship for decades after.
Mr Bailey said Mr Colless had made a name for himself with newspapers in Australia, New York and London, as a reporter, correspondent and editor in business, finance and, most notably, politics.
A highlight was, in 1977, breaking the story in The Australian that governor-general Sir John Kerr had resigned.
Mr Bailey said Mr Colless had had “the best contact book I’d ever seen”.
“He knew every PM and MP, he knew their office numbers, their private numbers.
“He didn’t abuse it – but used it when he had to – but if he wanted to, he could just dial up the prime minister.”
‘You start Monday week’
Then the chief political correspondent in Canberra, Mr Colless’s posting to the Leader – owned by News Ltd at the time – came in 1981.
“He was having dinner with Rupert Murdoch, and after two or three bottles of red – or four – he said, ‘I’m fed up with being a journalist; I want to get into management’,” Mr Bailey said.
“He thought no more of it, but got a call a matter of weeks later from … the deputy managing director of News Ltd.
“He told him: ‘Monday week, you’re starting as the general manager of The Northern Daily Leader in Tamworth’ ...
“He came up here and made the Leader one of the most profitable mastheads on a proportional basis in the News Ltd group.”
Ron Turton was then the advertising manager at the Leader.
“He was the sort of bloke – this sounds corny, but you’d look forward to going to work,” Mr Turton said.
“As a bloke, he was so kind, really just a nice person and his family were just nice people.
“A lovely bloke to work with.”
Mr Turton said Mr Colless had been an approachable boss who’d nonetheless kept a respectful professional distance between himself and other staff.
“Work was work but he kept it a friendly, happy working atmosphere, and he respected everyone’s position; he trusted them [to do their jobs],” Mr Turton said.
Picture of composure
Mr Turton said an incident that summed up Mr Colless’s character – his class and composure – took place just before the Melbourne Cup one year.
“We used to have a meeting every week: him, the advertising manager – me, the company secretary, editor and production manager.
“Something happened and [one staff member] had a bit of a blow-up.
“He smashed a ruler on the desk and stormed out, slammed the door and off he went …
“Malcolm sort of sat there for about 30 seconds and we thought, ‘Uh oh, what’s going to happen now?’
“Then, unruffled, in a beautiful suit, he opened up his drawer and said, ‘Well, does anyone want to buy a ticket in the Melbourne Cup sweep?’
“That was just Malcolm.”
He had been “immaculately groomed” with an “unbelievable array of hats”.
“We used to bet what sort of hat he’d wear into work and we never got it right, because he always had a new one – anything from a pith helmet to a pork pie hat, and beautiful tweed jackets.”
Mr Turton said this had led to a staffer nicknaming Mr Colless ‘The Galloping Major’.
“And honestly, it just summed him up, especially if he had his tweeds on; the most beautiful dresser … It was said with affection, you know?”
Mr Turton said Mr Colless had loved golf.
“But I tell you what, despite all my coaching, as a golfer he was a bloody good journo and manager.”
Integrity and hard work
After just a couple of years at the NDL, Mr Colless’s senior management career continued in newspapers, television, pay TV and online.
This included roles as managing director of News Ltd’s suburban newspaper operations across Australia; chief executive of the Herald and Weekly Times in Melbourne; director of corporate development steering New Ltd’s entry into what is now Foxtel; and establishing an online joint venture company between the People’s Daily newspaper and News Limited in Beijing.
Mr Colless saw out his career with News Ltd as an intermediary between it and political parties on issues such as digital broadcasting and media ownership laws, until he retired in 2007.
He saw out his working life as a freelance writer and consultant.
Mr Bailey said Mr Colless “never forgot people along the way”.
“I think you could say his time in Tamworth gave him a love of regions and the country,” Mr Bailey said.
“He never forgot people along the way; when I had my office equipment business I used to fly in regularly where he was working [to help with equipment].
“He was very loyal, very hospitable.
“I regularly stayed with him in Mosman, and we used to say that we’d go to bed having solved the problems of the world and wake up the next morning and we couldn’t remember the solutions.”