Brad Leach | May 9, 2016

One of the brightest and most interesting chapters in the history of the Australian automotive industry – and of the media which reports on it – closed over the weekend with the death of journalist Bill Tuckey at the age of 80.

Your TMR correspondent’s career in this business started in the early 1980s, and over the journey I worked alongside Bill, and for him… fortunately never against him. Because Bill was an old-time newsman and fundamental to being a ‘newsbreaker’ was to be first with the news.

So when stories broke – as they often did in the early days before PR Managers invaded the industry and began steering filtered messages from brand boardrooms – Bill was at his irascible best battling rivals in the race to file a story, and just as quick to share a beverage afterwards.

Yes, fighting Bill for a story wasn’t fun, but in his time steering Wheels magazine, launching Business Review Weekly magazine and in later years launching Car Australia magazine and covering the Bathurst enduro for Ray Berghouse’s Chevron Publishing, Bill’s zest for life made him many friends in the media, in the industry and in motor sport.

I was part of the team for a couple of those Bathurst books, and, as many of us know, while the days covering the lead-up to the race and the race itself were hard work, the nights with Bill holding court at his favourite restaurants were also long, but immensely entertaining.

In those days of the classic race at Mount Panorama, major Holden Dealer Team sponsor Phillip Morris hosted a dinner on the Friday for a small team of journalists in the nearby historic gold mining town of Sofala.

No matter how long the day, or how frigid the weather, Mr Tuckey entertained us with ‘fireside’ chats covering motor sport, the automotive industry, the media industry, current affairs, politics… or anything else on his mind.

And no matter how late the night or how many bottles were consumed, at first light the next morning, Mr Tuckey would stride into the Mount Panorama pressroom, clasp his hand on my shoulder and say: “What’s happening son!”

In fact, stories about Bill’s love of good food and the accompanying wines continue today. When catering at a new model media launch fails to meet a required level, the line: “This would never cut it with Tuckey,” is the warcry among the industry veterans.

John Smailes, Mel Nichols, Peter Robinson, Matt Whelan, Phil Christensen, Peter McKay, Wayne Webster, Will Hagon, David Robertson and Mike Kable (the last two sadly no longer with us) were some of the fellow ‘scribblers’ who shared those times with Bill.

The ‘Tuckey’ file started in Queensland, included many years in Sydney and also a stint in Melbourne.

In fact it was in ‘Bleak City’ where Bill’s audience expanded beyond the automotive industry when he was one of radio’s original ‘Shock Jocks’ with a prime-time slot at 3AW.

"What would he know...". Bill didn't just write about The Great Race, he was a competitor.
"What would he know...". Bill didn't just write about The Great Race, he was a competitor.

He also amused, sometimes shocked, threw stones around all manner of glass houses, and respected no sacred cow, with his often hilarious, always acerbic, Romsey Quints alter ego.

Perhaps Bill’s greatest legacy to the industry however was his ‘lightbulb’ idea of the Wheels Car Of The Year Award – the Wheels COTY.

Now copied by magazines and websites throughout the world, let it never be forgotten this concept came from the mind of one William Tuckey.

Alongside his incredibly detailed knowledge of all things motoring, Bill was a seriously good steerer, with several Bathurst starts on his resume. I’ve shared cars with Bill in Australia and in Italy so I can vouch for his ability behind the wheel.

‘Legend’ is an often overused term. But it is one those of us in this industry should keep in mind for Bill Tuckey. Vale Bill, legend indeed.

Monaro image via Robert Davies

MORE: Australian Motorsport Hall Of Fame Launched With First 30 Inductees
MORE News & Reviews:
History | Racing

Follow Brad Leach on Google+