1 9 6 6 – 1 9 9 5 (Australia)
Bill Collins has been described as “Mr Movies of Australia”. He presented films on television and on video from 1963 and came to be a trusted and enthusiastic guarantor of whatever film he happened to be presenting.
As a high school English teacher, long interested in the cinema and its possible role in the classroom, he completed a Master’s degree in Education on the role of film in education and took up a position as a lecturer in English at the Sydney Teachers’ College.
In 1963 he made his first appearance on television, producing and presenting a series of filmed segments on film appreciation.
That same year also saw him compiling a weekly column for Australia’s television guide, TV Times, entitled “The Golden Years of Hollywood”.
The column consisted of a series of reviews of upcoming Hollywood films to be screened on Australia’s three commercial networks as well as the public broadcaster, the ABC.
Collins’ reviews were invariably to the point and reliable in their production credits at a time when this kind of information was not so easily available as it is nowadays.
To write these reviews, Collins was having to preview many of the films. It seemed quite logical, then, when TCN Channel 9 (owned by Consolidated Press who co-published TV Times with the ABC) decided to have Collins host a Saturday night movie, with the generic name of The Golden Years of Hollywood.
Collins continued to host the Saturday night movie on Channel 9 in Sydney until 1975 when he moved to the Seven Network. Channel 9 disputed that Collins had the legal right to call his Saturday night movie programme The Golden Years of Hollywood and so the Seven programme became Bill Collins’ Golden Years of Hollywood.
The change suited Collins because his career as a movie host was now taking off. His Saturday night movie was now increasingly seen nationally and as his earnings increased Collins quit his teaching job to concentrate full time on his television work.
At Seven, Collins began to host a Sunday daytime film, Bill Collins’ Picture Time and also a more general programme featuring film clips and promotion for new releases, Bill Collins’ Show Business.
Collins moved yet again in 1980 in a move that made him even busier. Rupert Murdoch had recently acquired the third commercial network which he re-named Network Ten. The latter had always lagged in the ratings and Murdoch was determined to change this situation even if it meant spending a lot of money to hire Collins away.
Collins now became a national figure to the point that other movie hosts on regional stations ceased to have any importance and little recognition. By this time he seemed to be everywhere.
Not only did he host a double feature on a Saturday night under the old title of The Golden Years of Hollywood, a double feature on Sunday lunchtime and afternoon, the midday movie during the week on a capital city by capital city basis but also an afternoon book review and promotion programme.
Thanks both to the size of his programme budgets as well as his commercial standing, Collins was able to do live interviews with major Hollywood actors including his very favourite, Clint Eastwood. He also published two books, lavishly illustrated, on his favourite films.
In addition, Collins also had his own series of Hollywood feature films on video which he hosted – Bill Collins’ Movie Collection. Collins also made professional visits to fans across the country, these taking the form of breakfasts and lunches. To carry out these massive commitments Collins now had a staff of researchers and his own press and publicity agents.
In 1987, because of the introduction of new cross-ownership rules in Australian media, Murdoch sold off Network Ten. Collins continued there until 1994. The network suffered from financial problems, so there was a curtailment of his programmes.
However, in 1995 he, in effect, rejoined the Murdoch camp when he began presenting films on Australia’s first cable network, Foxtel, owned and operated by Murdoch’s News Corporation and Telstra Corporation.
There is no gainsaying the achievement of Bill Collins. He appeared on Australian television at a time when Hollywood films, not only of the 1930s and 1940s but also of the 1950s were becoming available for television programming. He has helped to make Hollywood films popular with generations who were born after the Hollywood studio era.
His introductions to particular films were invariably interesting, enthusiastic and well researched. He would often display a still or a poster, brandish the book on which a film was based (he had an extensive collection of these, often extremely rare books) or play some of a film’s theme music.
Altogether Bill Collins was one of the most durable and valuable figures in the history of Australian television.
Collins died in June 2019.