Rugby league broadcaster
Saturday 29 September 2007
Frank Hyde, rugby league player, coach and broadcaster: born Sydney 7 February 1916; MBE 1974; married Gaby Schofield (died 2007; three sons, three daughters); died Sydney 23 September 2007.
Frank Hyde had a distinguished career as a rugby league player and coach, but will be remembered first and foremost as the most famous of broadcasters on the game. For almost half a century in his native Australia, he was routinely described as the "Voice of the Game", attracting huge radio audiences for his vivid match commentaries.
Hyde was born into a large Irish family in the historic Rocks area of Sydney in 1916 and his earliest memories included seeing the 1924 British tourists play at the Sydney Cricket Ground – the venue for important rugby league games in those days – and hearing cricket's "Bodyline" Ashes series of 1932-33 on a crackly radio through a pub doorway.
He discovered his own talent for league by accident, being persuaded to have a game by one of his cricketing team-mates. Despite not having played in the three years since leaving school, Hyde made enough of an impression to be invited for a trial by one of Sydney's senior clubs, Newtown.
Because of residential-qualification rules, he had to pretend to live in that district, but after two years during which he established himself as a first-grade player, he transferred to his local club, Balmain. He played for them in the 1939 Grand Final, which they lost to South Sydney, won six caps for New South Wales and, by general consensus, would have played centre for Australia in Tests if not for the intervention of the Second World War. He was told later that he had been pencilled in as the captain for the 1941 tour, which never took place.
Hyde could not join the army because he was in a reserved occupation in the communications industry. When he married and set up home on the opposite side of the Harbour Bridge in North Sydney, he joined that club as captain and coach. It was in that joint capacity that he had the distinction of leading Norths in what turned out to be their last Grand Final, although they were thrashed 34-7 by his first club, Newtown.
After his retirement as a player, Hyde qualified as a referee, although he was put off that side of the game when he was thumped by a spectator after a match in which he was acting as a touch judge. He continued coaching, including an unhappy season back at North Sydney in 1950.
But another door was about to open for him. In 1953, the Sydney radio station 2SM invited him to try out as their sports commentator: initially he covered his other sporting love, boxing, but soon found himself concentrating on rugby league.
Broadcasting on the game was not a luxurious business in those days. Hyde's most prominent commentary position was at a folding table a few feet from the touch-line at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Despite, or perhaps because of that vantage point, he soon earned a reputation for the accuracy of his descriptions of play, dwelling with particular enthusiasm on how tries had been scored.
He was encouraged in his approach by a blind correspondent, who told him how his descriptions brought the game alive for him.
Hyde even made a regulation goal-kick sound exciting, through the judicious use of his most celebrated catch-phrase: "It's high enough, it's long enough, it's straight between the posts." For many years, that was one of the most instantly recognisable sayings in Australia.
Starting in 1953 and including replays, he commentated on 33 successive Grand Finals before "retiring" after the 1983 event. But he continued to broadcast for a variety of outlets long after that.His career also included covering and leading tour groups on a number of Kangaroo tours to Europe. On a particularly grey day on one trip, he went to have a close look at Bradford, where he had been supposed to be joining the local club, Bradford Northern, in the late 1930s before the deal fell though. "Thank God," he is said to have remarked.
Hyde was active in the Catholic Church and its charities throughout his life and was appointed MBE and to the Order of Australia. He achieved further celebrity as an accomplished entertainer. For decades, no rugby league gathering was complete without his rendition of "Danny Boy," which was a best-selling single for him in Australia in the 1970s.
He also maintained to the last his interest in the game with which he had been synonymous. On the day before his death, he watched the local side of his latter years, Manly, beat North Queensland on television. The following day, as he was drifting in and out of consciousness with his family around him, it was to the background of Melbourne versus Parramatta on the radio.
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