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Inside the Harold Mitchell State Memorial Service

The Victorian Government held a State Memorial Service for the advertising industry icon Harold Mitchell in Melbourne on Monday morning. Virginia Trioli host the service.

The audience at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall heard how Mitchell’s influence in shaping Australia as a media power began at the age of 16. His service to the community and generosity lasted a lifetime.

Harold Mitchell died in February 2024 at the age of 81. The Memorial Service was held on what would have been his 82nd birthday – May 13, 2024.

Mitchell founded the communications group Mitchell & Partners in 1976. As the company grew, he created a formidable reputation both locally and globally. Mitchell spent years rejecting takeover deals from all global holding companies before selling the agency to Britain’s Aegis Group for $363 million in 2012.

But as his son Stuart Mitchell explained during two appearances on the service’s stage, things were far from smooth.

Harold’s son Stuart Mitchell

Harold Mitchell also established the Harold Mitchell Foundation in 2000 and made significant contributions to the arts and Australian public life.

The Harold Mitchell Foundation confirmed his death in February, stating that he died “while recovering from knee replacement surgery.”

“He was a great man who helped so many people. He will be sadly missed,” the statement said.

During his career, Mitchell also served as chairman of Free TV Australia from 2013 to 2018, where he was involved in the repeal of the media ownership laws, the abolition of commercial television licensing fees, the transition to digital-only television and the rejection of the proposal. to increase the advertising periods for SBS and to enforce the anti-siphoning list.

He also served on the boards of institutions including the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Opera Australia and Tennis Australia.

Also see: The industry is remembering media industry legend Harold Mitchell following his death at the age of 81

Host Virginia Trioli

Guests of the memorial service

The service included representatives of the Governor General, the Victorian Governor and the Prime Minister. The current Victorian Prime Minister Jacinta Allan spoke, while former state premiers sat in the audience Daniel Andrews, Steve Bracks And Jeff Kennett. Bracks also spoke. Mayor of Melbourne Sally Cap was also present.

In addition to the speakers listed below, attendees included News Corp Australia Peter Zavecz And Peter BlundenRyanCaps Simon RyanSeven Kurt Burnette And Peter CharlesOmnicoms Peter HorganOMDs Kenny StewartPHDs Simon LawsonZeniths Jason TonelliInitiative Sarah Jamesformer Dentsu boss Luke LittlefieldQMSs John O’Neill And Barclay Nettlefold, Eddie McGuiretruck driver Lindsay Fox and SMIs Jane Ractliffe.

Steve Bracks

Highlights of the tribute: Stuart Mitchell

Victorian Premier Allan said: ‘He was the boy who went from nothing to doing everything he could to make Victoria smarter, better and fairer. Harold’s early years were nomadic and there was a restlessness about the future that would stay with him throughout his life.

“Like many kids with big dreams growing up in small towns, he became obsessed with the radio lying on his bed, listening to 3DB. Radio and television opened up an exciting world. He said it felt like the city was right there in his room. Melbourne was where he wanted to be – the city was his dream. After spotting an advertisement The age for an office boy at the advertising agency, Harold made a long-distance telephone call, which was a big deal in 1959. Shortly afterwards he had his first job in the city.”

Harold’s son Stuart Mitchell spoke twice during the service. During his first appearance on stage, Stuart noticed his father’s extraordinary success. However, he wanted to focus on parts of his life that were not as well known. “Dad started his own business then my sister Amanda was two and I was six. He wasn’t around much, but life was okay. We lived in St Andrews, 45k from Melbourne, in a new house on a 30 acre estate. My dad was there most weekends and would usually bring home fish and chips on the way home from work on Friday evenings.”

He told how the family often ate Chinese food. Something that took Harold about 90 minutes to complete the round trip to the nearest Chinese restaurant. Stuart recalled that one day that routine changed. “We were amazed when he reappeared within minutes with all the usual goodies. “How did you recover so quickly?” Amanda and I asked. He explained how he had sponsored a family from Shanghai to run a local Chinese restaurant just five minutes away. That was so daddy. Pure Harold. Anything could be solved.

Annie Parsons

Virginia Trioli put Harold on the air

Virginia Trioli recalled inviting Harold to her then radio show for a regular guest spot. “I have known Harold since 2001, when I asked him to join my 774 ABC Melbourne driving program for a regular segment.

“I have always really enjoyed reading his very smart and witty commentary on politics in the media. But what would we call the segment? He asked me and no description seemed sufficient to portray his restless mind and all its curiosities. I jokingly suggested the big title ‘The world according to Harold Mitchell – he didn’t turn a hair around.’ He said yes, that’s about right. He was the perfect radio guest. Fearless and funny. He was cunning and provocative.

Triolo also noted: “Harold was of course a bit of a dandy. With elegant shoes and colorful trousers and of course his famous red tracksuit.”

Video tribute from Kerry Stokes and Annie Parsons

There were a number of people who provided a video tribute. Most of them came from outside the media, showing how wide his reach was, not just in the Melbourne community. But also throughout Australia and the rest of the world.

Former media agency boss Annie Parsons talked about standing up to Harold and having fun sparring with him.

Pioneer in the field of outdoor advertising David Nettlefold said: “I could talk to him like no one was talking to him. I was probably one of the few guys who could walk into his office without an appointment. I have never known anyone so intellectually brilliant.”

Kerry Stokes started saying how sad he was that he couldn’t attend the service in person. He then described his friend: “Relentless, tough, curious, generous. A visionary powerhouse. Harold was all of these. To me he was a business partner and a good friend. A valued friend for decades.

Kerry Stokes

During his ten-minute tribute, Stokes couldn’t remember when they first met. However, he recalled Mitchell’s involvement in an early radio investment in Stokes.

We worked together when we launched Perth’s very first commercial FM radio station, 96FM, in 1980. It was still early and our ratings and revenue were pretty bad. Harold saw the potential of this new media platform and the possibilities for advertisers to reach new audiences. He said once 96FM was up and running, the rest would follow. He was right.”

Stokes recalled how they both later served on the board of the National Gallery of Australia. “He helped me finance the commissioning of David Hockney’s A bigger Grand Canyon. At the time it cost $5.3 million. It was the most expensive purchase for the National Gallery at the time. Harold was a good judge – today painting is worth almost seventy million dollars.”

The Carlton football fan

Carlton Football Club coach Michael Vos said Mitchell, a lifelong supporter, who embodied the club’s values. “His humility and unity were striking. Harold’s contribution has helped transform our facilities to a world-class status that our athletes and coaches are grateful to make the most of every day. I’m sure I won’t be the only person to point out that Harold never sought any recognition for his enormous generosity.

Scash and Swifte about years at Mitchell & Partners

Former Mitchell & Partners colleagues Allen Scash And Nick Swifte remembered their years working with Harold at the media agency.

Scash said: ‘Harold was fiercely loyal to those he called his people, his staff, his managers, his customers and in some cases even his suppliers. He only asked in return that his loyalty be honesty. He wanted the truth, even if you brought bad news.

Swifte noted some details about life at Mitchell & Partners. “There were always rules – you had to follow the rules. You were never allowed to have a long lunch. The men had to wear suits and ties and shave every day. But if you knew how to work within the rules, you could have a little fun. We ended up running one of the largest unlicensed bars in all of Melbourne. Harold’s Bar and Grill through the back door of the York Street boardroom.

Allen Scash and Nick Swifte

When Stuart spoke for the second time just before the end of the Memorial, he remembered a time when things were not going well.

“October 1987 and everything changed for our family. The global stock market collapsed. Harold Mitchell became a different man overnight. His rapid business expansion left him severely vulnerable. He had to sell everything and mortgage the parental home.”

Stuart noted how Harold refused advice to declare himself bankrupt. “He borrowed money from Kerry Packer to keep the company afloat and accepted his agreement with the bank to repay tens of millions of dollars in monthly installments.

“We hardly saw Howard during our childhood. He refocused on what he knew best: advertising. But more importantly, he began gathering a select group of advisors around him to create an economic forecasting model that would ensure they would never have to experience anything like the 1987 crisis again.”