Lawrence Money July 09, 2012
Annie cast member Alan Jones is set to hand over the role of President Roosevelt to Bert Newton in late July, when he heads to the Olympics. Photo: Penny Stephens
IT'S a miracle, really, that this interview with Alan Jones appears at all - especially in The Age. ''Your paper has not said a good thing about me in 20 years!'' roared the ever-controversial Sydney radio king when he knocked back an initial request for a chat about his role in the musical Annie.
The show's publicity team confirmed it: ''No, Mr Jones is not giving media interviews in Melbourne.'' Maybe they were still wounded after a critic (well, yes, it was in The Age) baked Jones after the Melbourne premiere, saying his casting as wheelchair-bound President Roosevelt must have been the result of a ''drunken dare''.
So, as the versatile Jones heads to the Olympics, handing over the role to Bert Newton on July 24, let's ask the professionals. ''Absolute team player,'' Anthony Warlow told us. ''Alan took notes and direction like the true professional he is!''
OK, how about co-star Nancye Hayes? ''Alan's commitment to the show has been top-drawer,'' said Hayes. ''He has always endeavoured to give his best. A great pleasure to get to know and work with him.''
All good - but could this be the same Wirelessaurus Rex that terrifies politicians, masticates media critics and calls for prime ministers to be placed in chaff bags and tossed into the sea? Well, apparently so. Meet the other Jones, the charming and eloquent chap sitting on the other side of the luncheon table in a King Street restaurant. He is looking fit and bright-eyed, which is a second miracle - few Melburnians realise he has continued his 2GB Sydney radio show throughout the Annie seasons, first in Sydney, then Brisbane and now in Melbourne, operating out of a studio at his rented villa at Crown.
This is the breakfast show that starts at 5.30, so his day has been starting at 3.30, only hours after he gets back from the theatre. ''He has been doing eight Annie shows a week, including matinees,'' says his PA, niece Tonia Taylor.
That's not all. Did you notice him up at our Parliament House last weekend, whipping up a crowd over the ''witchcraft'' carbon tax? Singing, acting, protesting, broadcasting … and don't forget, he once coached Australia's national rugby union side, the Wallabies, to a historic grand slam. Hey, just who is this bloke Jones?
''I'm a farmer's son,'' is how he explains the chaff-bag furore. ''That was a metaphor that my old man, Charlie, used on the farm: if something is useless you chuck it in the chaff bag.''
Jones, raised in tiny Acland, Queensland, and trained as a teacher, says he works 21 hours a day, taking radio work to the Regent Theatre because his character does not appear until the second act. He stays true to the credo of his mother, Beth, also a teacher: ''The only thing you get without hard work is failure.''
There is no time to waste. Just recently an acquaintance in Sydney was diagnosed with a blood clot and now has weeks to live.
''Just astounding,'' says Jones, ''it just comes at people.''
It came at Jones four years ago with prostate cancer and a benign brain tumour. ''I've had the lot, but I don't think about it. I just have good doctors and keep going. Too many people philosophise and hypothesise about all this but you have to get on with it!''
The disrupted work schedule and the remote broadcasting have done no harm ratings-wise - the latest numbers saw his show trounce the nearest rival, 18.5 to 12. That was after the Australian Communications and Media Authority last month dismissed a complaint about the chaff bag but rapped his knuckles for an arithmetic blue on carbon dioxide, an error seized on by his long-time harasser, the ABC's Media Watch.
It was back in 1985 that Jones, working with the Employers Federation of NSW at the time, jumped straight into radio as a novice, replacing John Laws on the 2UE morning show. Three years later he switched to 2UE breakfast then moved to 2GB breakfast in 2002 where he has reigned ever since.
Now a multimillionaire, he has been decried by critics, embraced by listeners, probed by broadcasting authorities. He has stood for Parliament, been a speechwriter for then prime minister Malcolm Fraser and now he has a musical-theatre notch on his belt.
This experience has left him agog at Anthony Warlow. ''That singing voice is the least of his talents,'' says Jones. ''He's an illusionist and a comedian.
''He can impersonate anyone - Tony Blair, me, a Yorkshire pig farmer … He sometimes does it on stage when he has his back to the audience.''
''Once we had a fire drill at the theatre. Warlow said he was sick of waiting and did all the sounds himself - the sirens, fire trucks. There were people running everywhere. Truly amazing! Sharing the stage with Warlow and Nancye Hayes is like sharing a tennis court with Novak Djokovic."
And obviously, sharing the stage with radio's big kahuna has been a bit of a buzz for the rest of the cast. But now the Jones caravan is about to move on and what better time for one of those hard-hitting AJ editorials? ''It is important to be appropriately deferential when people have a measure of accomplishment that merits recognition … You have to respect the office - prime minister, treasurer, for example - but you may not respect the people. There has been a big kerfuffle about pay rises for MPs. I think the Australian prime minister should be paid more. But should Gillard and Swan be paid anything? No!"
Exit stage right - certainly not left.