AUSTRALIA-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > AUSTRALIA-OBITS > 2005-12 > 1136040188
From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: PACKER: Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer--d.26/12/2005>AUSTRALIAN---obits, the telegraph.co.uk
Date: Sat, 31 Dec 2005 14:43:08 -0000
The Daily Telegraph and the telegraph.co.uk
Kerry Packer, the Australian media baron who died on Boxing Day aged 68,
proved himself one of the toughest and shrewdest business brains of his
time, but his name will always be associated with a coup that irrevocably
altered the character of international cricket.
In May 1977 one of his magazines, the Bulletin, announced out of the blue
that 35 of the world's best cricketers - including Imran Khan, Barry
Richards, Graeme Pollock, Tony Greig, Greg Chappell, Clive Lloyd and Viv
Richards - had signed lucrative contracts of between one and three years to
play a series of one-day games in Australia that year.
The deal had been born of Packer's frustration at his failure to negotiate
an arrangement with the Australian Cricket Board that would give Channel
Nine - owned by Packer's Television Corporation - exclusive rights to
televise first-class cricket in Australia.
The board's obduracy was inexplicable to Packer, whose business philosophy
was always robust. "Come on," he told them, "we're all harlots - what's your
This exchange set the tone for the subsequent struggle between a
conservative, soi disant gentlemanly cricket establishment, which was
unwilling on any account to relinquish control of the game, and a ruthless,
dynamic entrepreneur who had no desire whatever to be taken as a gentleman.
Socially Packer might appear to be shy, but his features, which suggested a
bruiser, and his bear-like physique, which underscored the impression, did
not deceive. "When you see Kerry Packer," Sir Les Patterson, Australia's
cultural attaché (as created by Barry Humphries), advised, "don't ask him
why he's wearing a stocking over his face, he'll have heard that one before.
Packer once expressed his regret that Australians had inherited the English
mentality rather than the American. "In business," he philosophised, "you
don't tell your opponents what you are going to do; you do it and let them
get on with it."
In truth, the cricket authorities, taken completely by surprise, hardly knew
what to do. Their initial reaction hardly went beyond outrage that Packer's
organisation had, in total secrecy, managed to suborn players whose loyalty
appeared beyond question.
Tony Greig, who had not only signed for Packer himself, but actively
canvassed other players to join him, was captain of England at the time; and
Greg Chappell, the captain of Australia, had been serving on a sub-committee
of the Australian board that had been designed to involve players more
closely with the administration of the game.
The cricket authorities' fears that cricket would be prostituted to the
demands of television were to some extent justified by events; and there was
no denying that the fixtures which Packer had arranged were in direct
conflict with the official Test programme.
At first, it seemed that some compromise might be possible. A meeting at
Lords on June 23 1977 between the International Cricket Conference and
Packer (with Richie Benaud in attendance) appeared at first to be on the
brink of success, only to founder on Packer's absolute insistence on
exclusive television rights.
"Now it's every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost," was
Packer's parting shot as he left the meeting. For his part, the ICC chairman
reflected that "wars are not won by appeasement".
The ICC's determination not to be browbeaten, however, led it into grave
error, for it issued a dictat that, after October 1 1977, any player who
made himself available to play in a match disapproved by the Conference
would thereafter be banned from Test cricket. In the autumn the High Court
decreed that the ban constituted an illegal attempt to interfere with the
players' contracts with Packer's organisation.
The World Series Cricket, as the Packer matches were known, certainly
represented a departure from traditional ideas of cricket. Many games were
played under floodlights at night, with a white ball, black sightscreens,
and teams attired in what appeared to be pyjamas - pink for the West Indies
and yellow for Australia - in order to secure the largest possible
But the matches were by no means an instant success; the cameras had to
concentrate on the pitch to avoid showing the yawning spaces in the stands.
Only during the second year's programme, in 1978-79, did the matches begin
to attract a large following - mainly because the Australian crowds,
notoriously intolerant of sporting failure, turned away in disgust from the
contemporaneous spectacle of the official national side going down to
humiliating defeat against Mike Brearley's England team.
Packer, ever the opportunist, offered the Australian board large sums of
money to field a full Australian team, including "his" players, in a
"deciding" fixture. This notion came to nothing, but the Australians were
now ready to come to terms that appeared close to surrender.
In April and May 1979 it was agreed that Kerry Packer should disband World
Series Cricket. The board agreed what they had always previously rejected,
that - in return for an unspecified amount of money - they should give
Packer exclusive rights to the televising of first-class cricket in the
In addition the board undertook to cancel the Australian tour of India
scheduled for 1979-80, to allow a further series of one-day fixtures between
Australia, England and the West Indies. PBL, one of Packer's companies, was
to be in charge of selling the game to the Australian public.
Packer also demanded that no player should be victimised for having signed a
contract with him. The truce was ratified by the ICC at the end of June
Nevertheless, Packer's influence on cricket did not die with the World
Series. Through the terms he had offered, and through the sponsorship which
he had attracted into the game, the salaries of top players were more than
It has been remarked, with justice, that players' pay was improving before
the Packer revolution, and that the lesser players did not share in the
bonanza; even so, the difference in the remuneration of Test cricketers
before and after Packer remains startling. In the mid-1970s Bob Willis was
earning £7,000 a year, or twice the average male salary; in 1987 Graham
Dilley received some £45,000 - four times the average salary.
Packer's brash methods also left the authorities more conscious of the need
to please crowds, while television coverage was greatly improved. Although
the proliferation of one-day cricket might be counted on the debit side by
purists, the jolt which Packer delivered cannot be reckoned either untimely
But the controversy over Packer's involvement with cricket, for all the heat
that it generated, was only one incident in its protagonist's protean
business career. With Rupert Murdoch he was the most successful of the new
breed of international operators produced by Australia.
Packer was Australia's richest man - thought to be worth A$6.9billion (or
nearly £3billion). Television stations, magazines, films, cattle stations,
engineering works, property and building, ski resorts, plantations, mines,
chemicals, mineral water - he made or lost money on them all.
No deal was too big for his pocket, or too small to engage his interest. If
Packer built no outstanding monuments, he nevertheless took the long view
with some of his investments, particularly his cattle properties, which he
invariably left in better shape than he found them.
He denied being interested in power - "it doesn't keep you warm at nights" -
and he convincingly repudiated any intellectual interests - "the ultimate
purgatory for me would be to go to the Opera House and hear Joan Sutherland
Everything, even his television empire, was for sale if the price was right.
Packer's affairs had a kaleidoscopic quality - forever changing, never
achieving final coherence. Nevertheless, supported by a small and expert
management team, he never seemed in the least danger of joining the grim
procession of those who over-reached themselves in recent years.
Detractors claimed he owed less to ability than to the good fortune of
inheriting, in 1974, a publishing and broadcasting empire from his father,
Sir Frank Packer. But if Kerry Packer was lucky in business, his luck
He managed to sell most of his stock market investments just before the
crash of October 1987. Perhaps his most most remarkable feat, though, was to
obtain an absurd A$1,055 million from an eager Alan Bond in 1987 for two
television stations in Sydney and Melbourne, and some radio interests - and
then to buy the television interest back from the ruins of Bond's empire
(after the businessman had been disgraced) for a fifth of what Bond had paid
Apart from television, Packer's main business interest was in magazines -
among them Australian Business, Australian Women's Weekly, Cosmopolitan, and
the Bulletin (which includes Newsweek). He also owned Valassis, the largest
publisher of free-standing coupon inserts in the US.
In addition he was one of Australia's biggest landowners, with vast rural
properties in the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales, and
with interests in cattle, wool and cotton.
As an employer he adopted a patriarchal approach: all his employees would
receive food and drink hampers at Christmas. He was always prepared to
delegate - but he expected results, and those who failed to achieve them
were liable to find themselves on the wrong side of his temper.
Packer mixed with politicians and used them when he could, but had no
loyalty to any party and, despite his friendship with various politicians,
no one ever alleged corruption against him in relation to them. What did
tarnish his reputation, though, was the Royal Commission conducted by Frank
Costigan, QC, which began as inquiry into union activities in Victoria, but
burgeoned out to examine an an enormous area of Australian society.
Allegations arose that Packer had been involved in a tax offences, in
smuggling drugs, in pornography, and in the death of a bank manager.
In reporting these claims the National Times used the code-name of "the
Goanna" (a large Australian lizard), whereupon Packer identified himself
publicly as the person referred to, and came out fighting.
He had the satisfaction of an unqualified clearance by the Federal Attorney
General, and apologies in four newspapers published by the Fairfax Group.
But the experience left him bitter towards the media.
Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer was born on December 17 1937, the second of
two sons of Sir Frank Packer, the Sydney media proprietor.
In the 17th century the Packers, established in Berkshire, had been staunch
Royalists; in the 18th century the family had shown a strong musical bent -
Kerry's great-great-great grandfather was the organist of St Mary's Minster
in Reading; and his great-great grandfather Frederick Alexander Packer, also
a musician, married Augusta Gow, daughter of Neil Gow, one of Scotland's
Frederick Alexander emigrated to Tasmania in the middle of the 19th century.
It was Kerry's grandfather, Robert Clyde Packer, who began the family's
association with journalism, becoming editor of the Sydney Sunday Times,
having moved from Tasmania after finding 10 shillings in the street and
placing it on a horse. Frank, Kerry's father, once heavyweight boxing
champion of New South Wales, built up a newspaper empire with a combination
of hard work and devil-may-care bravado.
Life was tough for young Kerry. When he erred he would receive a summons
from his father to don boxing gloves and meet him in one of the larger rooms
of their Belvedere Hill mansion, a method of discipline that at least had
the merit of making Kerry the school boxing champion.
At Cranbrook School in Sydney and Geelong, in Victoria, the boy devoted
himself to games as an escape from schoolwork that was often beyond him. In
later years it became clear that he had suffered a degree of dyslexia.
On one occasion, when Kerry returned from Geelong to Sydney for the school
holidays without his tennis racquet, his father, anxious to inculcate a
sense of the value of possessions, sent him straight back by train - a
1,200-mile journey - to retrieve it. "Arrived Melbourne safely," the
miscreant telegraphed, "no love, Kerry."
His elder brother Clyde was brought up as the future controller of
Consolidated Press, parent company for the Packer newspapers, but departed
after a fierce row with his father for Los Angeles, where he became an
successful impresario. Kerry bought out his share in the business, and after
Sir Frank died in 1974 assumed control of the television, radio and magazine
In 1983 he took the company private and accelerated the diversification and
growth at a rate that astonished even his admirers. He came within an ace of
merging his media interests with those of the Herald and Weekly Times, which
backed out at the last moment, only to be taken over soon afterwards by
In 1989 he acquired control of Australian National Industries, the country's
largest engineering group, but his interests stretched far beyond his native
land. "I want to live in Australia," he said, "but you have to protect your
organisation by going overseas and by being defensive when investing in
In 1987 he made a handsome profit by selling his holding in Hill Samuel to
the Trustee Savings Bank, and in 1989 he linked up with Sir James Goldsmith
and Jacob Rothschild to buy a 30 per cent share of Ranks, Hovis, McDougall
in Britain. Later the same trio made a £13 billion bid for BAT Industries,
the tobacco-based conglomerate, but this venture came to nothing.
In 2004 he entered an agreement with the British betting exchange Betfair to
help it enter the Australian market; he had been planning to build
super-casinos in this country next year.
Packer was an expert, and compulsive, gambler, both on the horses and at the
tables. He told the Costigan Inquiry that at one stage he had withdrawn a
million dollars in cash from a Sydney bank for betting purposes. In 1999 he
was reported to have lost £11 million at Crockford's in London.
He was, more remarkably, once reported to have won 20 hands of baccarat in a
row at Las Vegas. There, a Texan oilman at Packer's table brashly announced
he was worth $60 million. "Toss you for it," came the laconic reply.
In the summer of 1989 he was said to have won £7 million at Crockford's and
Aspinall's in London; he later won a further £4.5 million, £2.4million of it
playing blackjack at the Clermont, betting £25,000 on each of the seven
boxes on the table.
With typical generosity he gave away much of his winnings - £100,000 to each
of the seven members of his polo squad. Similar stories abounded. After a
restaurant refused to open for him after hours, he proceeded to the next,
where he tipped the waiter £10,000. "Make sure your mate down the road gets
to hear," he said.
When one waitress at a coffee shop, asked why she wasn't at home with her
family, pointed out that she had a mortgage, she got home to find it had
been paid off.
Other, less well-known, examples of his beneficence included his purchase of
a von Guerard painting, said to be worth A$750,000, for the National Gallery
of Victoria; a donation of A$500,000 for the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust
for postgraduate study at Cambridge; finance for a theatre for the exclusive
Ascham Girls School in Sydney; and a Disneyland holiday for a child
suffering from cerebral palsy.
With the demise of World Series Cricket polo became Packer's ruling passion.
Failing health and increasing bulk (though he was a heavy smoker) never
stood in his way; he took up the sport up on a grand scale in the 1980s,
spending £15 million at Ellerston, his 75,000 acre estate in New South
Wales, on a new house and seven polo grounds.
He also laid out $1.5 million dollars on ponies in Argentina, and in 1989
bought a 1,000-acre estate, Fyning Hill Farm, at Rogate in West Sussex for
£5 million - for the use of the players in his Australian team.
Unsurprisingly, Packer's Ellerston White established itself as the most
consistent team in England; and his contribution to the sport was recognised
when the Queen invited him into the royal box to watch a polo match.
After a heart attack on the polo field in 1991, he was declared clinically
dead, but returned with the news that there was no afterlife. It was the
first of a series of cardiac arrests; he also received a kidney (donated by
his pilot) in 2000, when he was falsely reported dead. He was also reported
as having suffered from cancer recently.
Packer was a Companion of the Order of Australia.
In 1963 he married Roslyn Weedon; they had a daughter and a son, James, to
whom Packer ceded control of some of the family businesses several years
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.