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Barry Jones: from quiz champ to national icon

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia
 

Barry argues that the great objectives of the French revolution - liberty, equality, fraternity - have been replaced by materialism, self interest, exclusion. I fear he is correct.
- Australia's former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, launching Barry Jones's autobiography, "A Thinking Reed," in Sydney last month.

I've known and greatly admired Barry Jones, now a 74-year-old Australian "National Treasure," for half a century.

He rocketed to fame when, as a young Melbourne school teacher, he won the title of national quiz king in Bob Dyer's BP Pick-a-Box show on Sydney's Channel 7 in the days of black-and-white television.

Eric Shackle, Barry Jones and Jack Dabinett As public relations officer for the sponsor, I often drove him from his Sydney hotel to and from the TV studio in Epping, about 16km (10 miles) from the central business district. He was a friendly, intense young man who never stopped talking. We discussed politics, education, media and showbiz, any subject you might name.

Barry was a great TV performer for several years, becoming a national celebrity when he beat challenges from quiz champions from the US, UK, Finland, South Africa, and elsewhere. A few years later he gained degrees in arts and law and doctorates in science and literature.

Turning to politics, he entered Victoria's State parliament as a Labor member in 1972, and graduated to become a Federal parliamentarian from 1977 until 1998. He was Minister for Science from 1983 to 1990 and national president of the Australian Labor Party from 1992 to 2000.

In January 1998, he was deputy chair of the Constitutional Convention and in February 1998 became a "national treasure," one of 100 people the National Trust named as Australian icons. Barry Jones Bay in the Australian Antarctic Territory, and Yalkaparidon jonesi, a rare extinct family of marsupials, were named for him.

With all those impressive achievements behind him, his new book, which took him several years to complete, has attracted media attention throughout Australia.

On ABC-TV's "Late Line", reporter John Stewart said: "Tonight, Barry Jones launched his autobiography, a book which offers some advice for the modern Labor Party. The book also criticises Kim Beazley for being too conservative and timid. But now Mr Jones says his views about the Opposition Leader have changed."

Jones said: "Whatever criticism I may have had is criticism that relates to that earlier period when I was very much involved in the events in 2001. I think he is a very transformed character and I think he'll make an effective Prime Minister."

STEWART: Barry Jones and Gough Whitlam say the ALP must counter the fear factor and keep pushing the message that the war in Iraq is a total disaster.

JONES: I think there's been an understandable degree of caution, perhaps an excess of caution, but I think now when they realise that, in fact, the world is not a safer place than it was when the war on terror began, that the war in Iraq has, in fact, acted as the US Congress themselves said "as a recruiting for al Qaeda."

Reviewing the book for the Sydney Morning Herald, Norman Abjorensen wrote:

Jones, universally recognised, is not so universally loved. Criticised as a know-all, a show-off and, as one childhood playmate put it, a "blatherskite", he is simply a man with an insatiable curiosity about almost everything; he collects knowledge as others might collect stamps. That admirable trait is accompanied by an unalloyed and irrepressible joy at discovering new things, a joy he is moved to share with anyone who happens to be nearby. He assumes, incorrectly, that all share his passions.

 

BARRY'S TV QUIZ CAREER, 1960-2006

TV critic and one-time Jeopardy question-writer Brian Courtis wrote in The Age (Melbourne) in March 2005:

Australia's first hit quiz show, Bob Dyer's Pick-A-Box, which started on radio in 1948, first went to air on television in 1957. Its format was simple, but Pick-A-Box put husband-and-wife team Bob and Dolly Dyer among our first big TV stars. And, mindful of the US scandals, they kept the show impeccably legitimate.

Dyer, son of a Tennessee sharefarmer, came to Australia in 1937, changing his name for showbiz from the distinctly discouraging Bob Dies. With Dolly, the dancer from Bondi, he made 900 episodes of Pick-A-Box before bringing their run to a halt in 1971.

In that time, of course, they had introduced Australia's most famous champion quiz contestant. In a 1960 show, following his usual "Howdy customers!" introduction, Bob asked: "Who's our next contestant, Dolly?" And she replied: "Bob, this is Barry Jones, a teacher from Caulfield."

The feisty, intense and competitive Barry Owen Jones, who would become a federal cabinet minister and later president of the Australian Labor Party (and a panellist on the ABC's current quiz show, The Einstein Factor), was an astonishing fount of knowledge. The moustachioed, expert-on-everything won about $58,000 and many prizes over the next eight years.

But it wasn't until 1968, it seems, before Dyer and Jones met without a third party present. Dyer was always mindful of the Van Doren affair.

FOOTNOTE: The title of Barry's book, The Thinking Reed, is NOT a typo. It refers to a lecture by the French philosopher, mathematician, theologian, physicist and writer, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) who said:

Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.

All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavour, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.

A Thinking Reed

A THINKING REED:

by Barry Jones
Australian Price: $55.00 Inc. GST
New Zealand Price: $65.00 Inc. GST
APN: 174114387X
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Format: Hardcover
Number of pages: 576
Publication Date: October, 2006

 

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This story has also been posted by the South Korean citizen reporters' journal OhmyNewsInternational

Story first posted November 2006

Copyright 2006

Eric Shackle

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