Vale Bill Collins: The Man Who Brought Australia ‘The Golden Years Of Hollywood’

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It’s been some time since I’ve written, being deeply depressed and despondent regarding writing and the lack of response and interest that writers usually face. I’m sure those of you are reading this and write know what I’m talking about. At the point of almost giving up, I find myself looking back to a man who introduced and nurtured a love for classic film to generations of Australians after he passed away recently.

His passing offered a chance and moment of retrospect, in being reminded of why I fell in love with classic film in the first place; and why I shouldn’t give up writing about classic film.

Below is a far overdue tribute to Australia’s ‘Mr Movies’ Bill Collins who passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 84 on June 21stthis year.

Recently, classic film fans in Australia and indeed many Australians who grew up watching TV from the 60s through to the mid 90s, were saddened by the passing of one of television’s most beloved celebrities. He was not a famous actor or director, but few knew cinema like he did. He was not a singer or musician, yet he loved musicals, and few would have had the record collection he owned. He was not a talk show host, yet he interviewed many great actors, actresses and film-makers. He did something which seemed fairly basic and unimportant on the surface – he introduced films on television. Yet nobody could equal what he did and the fact that we will no longer see him do it, is a great loss to fans of classic film. They called him ‘Mr. Movies’ and his name was Bill Collins.

Bill Collins was famous on Australian television for the burning passion, incredible knowledge and deeply informative introductions to the classic films that he presented on Australia television.  Trained as an English teacher, Collins was a man with a passion for literature and theatre and taught in high schools in Sydney’s inner-west during the early to mid-60s. Always the great film fan, Collins was already writing film reviews in the 1960s before starting with the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission), which is the Australian equivalent of the BBC or Canada’s CBC. From this point on, Bill Collins movie presentation career never looked back and whilst he was no longer in the classroom, he would remain a passionate teacher and we were happy to be students as we learned about the films he was presenting.

In the days before Pay-TV (cable to American readers), videos, DVDs and online streaming, Bill Collins was one of the most important presenters of classic film. He would work across a number of Australian television stations. But he really found home at Channel 10 in 1980, where he reached a national audience every Saturday night on ‘Bill Collins Golden Years Of Hollywood’ for nearly 15 years.

Saturday nights on Channel 10 were a ratings winner. As the song ‘That’s Entertainment’ began and a montage of Hollywood images played, families across Australia settled in to hear and see ‘Mr. Movies’ introduce the first film of a double feature from the classic era. Collins would give background to the key players, the artwork from his incredible collection of posters and lobby cards and discuss almost every element of production from the direction to the musical score. And of course, he also shared some juicy and fascinating gossip. His incredible knowledge was matched by an oft-described over the top manner which a few criticised as being saccharine and even over-compensatory. Cinephiles would also criticise Collins for his overt nostalgia and the lack of distance from a film needed to provide a more focused and balanced critique. But nobody could deny his passion and love for film.

Collins was also an extremely busy presenter. Whilst Saturday night’s program was the main event and jewel in the crown, Collins would also present Saturday and Sunday afternoon films, late Friday night film noir classics and would continue to present films from the modern era on regional TV stations across Australia. Despite the charge that he was too kind to the films he presented, the truth is that Collins could often be scathing and honest in his assessment. He was particularly brutal towards the 1984 remake of The Razor’s Edge with Bill Murray. And I can still remember his controlled yet poor assessment of First Blood, which he presented on WIN’s Sunday night film (the regional station in our area).  

He could be imperious, demanding that we watch the film and declaring that it was impossible not to love the film. There was certainly a powerfully nostalgic theme running through the whole package and persona of Bill Collins – but that is why he was so loved as well. It was a very personal approach that Bill Collins offered as he leaned forward as if speaking only to you as an individual and bringing his teacher-like persona into your living room. The literary background to the man was also revealed through his discussion of the book of the film, often a beautiful edition again from his own private collection. And being a lover and aficionado of the musical (and music in general), he would usually show a copy of the soundtrack as well, which would be part of his extensive collection of books, albums, film posters and other memorabilia.

What was particularly impressive about the man was that he presented with no script and no auto-cue. Every line Bill Collins delivered was “off the cuff”, which added to the intimate nature of his connection with the audience. We would often be told (or rather ‘ordered’) that we ‘could not help but love this film’. And often he was right.

Bill Collins noted that by the early to mid 1990s, something was changing in television and the long-established formats, as well as the personnel. Video had been around a while (and there was even a Bill Collins Classic Series!) but the advent of Pay-TV would change the face of Australian television permanently. But that wasn’t the end of Bill Collins, with the man moving to the newly formed Fox Classics. To the credit of the bosses at Pay-TV, they let Collins do things the way he always did, and Saturday nights felt the same again.

Sadly, that began to change in 2018 with a winding down and an eventual retirement in September, 2018. Pre-recorded introductions were available to be streamed but it wasn’t the same. The eventual sad news that Bill Collins had passed away has seen not only the end of an era but is a watershed moment in the decline of classic film on Australian television. Fox Classics has become a shadow of its’ former self, with poor and bizarre programming. Doubled with the loss of TCM after 20 years on Australian Pay-TV, classic film fans are looking to other streaming services, DVDs and even returning to traditional television to watch classic film. But it’s not getting easier and even the purchasing of classic film on DVD has become more difficult and expensive, thanks to Federal Government legislation (making it difficult to purchase classic films on DVD from overseas sites) and the huge price hike in international postage.

So, the lament and sadness in Bill Collins’ passing is even greater than ever. As a tribute to the great man, on the Saturday after his passing, Fox Classics aired a special screening of Gone With The Wind, with the great man introducing what was his favourite film and the film he attributed to beginning his romance with classic film. As I sat and watched, I realised it really was the end of an era and that I would never again see or hear Bill Collins introduce a classic film.

There have been other presenters and there may be other presenters. Yet none of them will match the charisma and passion that Bill Collins nor the longevity and enormity of his career and his personality. If there was a ‘king’ of classic films in Australia, Bill Collins would have worn the crown.

What is left is a wonderful legacy and an incredible amount of gratitude for a man who set alight in me a love for the Golden Years Of Hollywood. He gave Australian film fans so very much and we won’t forget him.

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history. 

18 thoughts on “Vale Bill Collins: The Man Who Brought Australia ‘The Golden Years Of Hollywood’

  1. It’s been some time since I’ve written, being deeply depressed and despondent regarding writing and the lack of response and interest that writers usually face. I’m sure those of you are reading this and write know what I’m talking about.

    Yes indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never heard of Bill Collins before, but I became an instant fan through your tribute and the clips you posted. I love his style and the way he has of connecting with the viewer. Also: A lovely “In Memorium” piece – I was starting to feel a bit emotional, even though I’d just learned about him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much – he was a very special individual who made such a difference to the experience of classic film. It was emotional to write and watch those clips again! I’m so glad that you felt as moved by his persona as we were in Australia!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Bill Collins was a wonderful guy and one of my great regrets was that I never wrote to him. He was by all accounts a very warm and personable man who loved to engage with classic film fans – especially towards young classic film fans. I’ve never heard of Barry Norman but I will look him up.

      I will try to write some more. I haven’t even watched any classic films for a while. Hard to shake off the black dog.

      Like

  3. I think many, maybe most, countries had a Bill Collins of some kind. Someone on TV who became associated with classic cinema, and who introduced a new generation to old films and helped to shape how they were seen.

    I don’t know if people are going to have the same kind of relationship with classic films now, they seem to be disappearing from the TV schedules in many places. Which is a great shame, because the presentation of those films can now be a lot better than it was even 20 years ago with widescreen, high definition TVs, etc. I think we are lucky here that there are still a couple of decent TV channels for films and the BBC does dig out old films on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

    Also, I don’t know how, but Bill Collins has a really Australian face! He just looks Australian. Is it the glasses or something? Somehow, I can hear his voice before even playing the clips. I just know he’s an Aussie. Weird.

    I did see your comment on Maddy’s blog about the film noir blogathon. I was going to contact you, but thought I’d wait until after the WWII blogathon as I didn’t want you to think I just wanted to make sure you were going to participate! I did want to offer you some encouragement, because your writing is very good and I think good work should be encouraged.

    The advantage of blogging is that you can publish your work at no cost and reach a theoretical audience of billions. But it also offers the same opportunity to everyone else, so attracting an audience is really hard. I think it’s only worthwhile if you enjoy the process and then maybe other people will respond to what you write. It is weird what gets popular though. I see some movie review blogs on WordPress that I think are really bad with nothing to offer readers at all, yet they have 1000 followers. How does that work?!

    For me, writing about films takes up too much time and effort and the public response is mostly overwhelming indifference. But I keep going, I think partly out of habit now. The effort almost certainly isn’t worth the reward, but writing helps to clarify my own thoughts and I find watching films becomes more rewarding by writing (and therefore thinking) about them.

    Incidentally, your blog only allows a limited range of comment options. There doesn’t seem to be a Name/URL option, which is my preferred one. If you don’t have a WordPress/Facebook/Twitter/Google account or don’t want to use them (and I really don’t want Facebook stalking me around all day!) then you can’t comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. BJay, you have brought up some outstanding points regarding the demise of classic film being widely available and I dread what will happen in the future. There is a bright spot on some of our free to air stations where there are some very obscure films (and many British ones!) which are being shown during midday and afternoons on one or two channels. Our ABC used to screen old films almost every night (late nights) but rarely do anymore.

      Interesting that you mention Bill’s glasses! They dark frames were a part of his persona and he was never seen without them and part of his signature. We were very luck to have him for all those years, right up to recently.

      Thank you for your encouragement and support – I think we all struggle with building and audience and I’m not very good technology-wise. I agree and don’t understand that some blogs have incredible response for some pedestrian articles. Facebook was a great place to share but for some reason it doesn’t come up in the stats here anymore and I don’t understand why. WordPress support are no help at all.

      I’ve shared on Twitter as well but am lucky to get even one like – which is far more depressing and you start to feel invisible. But as you said, I just have to find the joy in doing it and enjoy the learning and viewing process. Oh well!

      Thanks again for taking the time to respond and I’m going to try and write for the WW2 Blogathon. Best regards, Paul.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think blog comments have declined anyway because a lot of conversation has moved to Twitter, Facebook etc. Twitter has incredible potential to drive traffic but it’s a lot of work to cultivate an audience there. It’s something we all have to decide if it’s worth the effort for us. I decided that for me it wasn’t really and all my social media stuff is very half-hearted.

        I went through quite a long period when I was getting no response at all and very few readers. Even the readers I thought I had turned out to be Russian spam bots! But that can be liberating in a way, because there are no expectations on you, you can just please yourself and write about whatever you want.

        Even if you don’t get much fame or acclaim, your work is out there and there can be unexpected consequences of that. I had a nice email yesterday from a student who wanted to quote one of my reviews in her college presentation, which was very flattering. Hopefully she wasn’t just going to use it as an example of some of the drivel people write on the internet!

        The best advice I can give for getting over any kind of block is just to start writing something, even a short paragraph will do. I’ve settled into a routine which I’ve found helpful. I start writing about a film within a day or two of seeing it, usually just a very brief plot summary or something like that off the top of my head, and then I leave it and come back to it later (sometimes weeks or months later). It’s very inefficient because I have so many partly written posts, but it just gets you started and you have something to work with.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve tried using Twitter but am about to abandon it as you barely get a response and you are correct that it takes time and effort to build an audience.

        Facebook was far better and I will stick with it, but the traffic does not show in the Word Press stats under each article.

        You offer some great advice and I think I will just plug along and keep going. Best way to shake it off!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m simply butting in on this conversation. I agree that the audience for classic films is shrinking though the movies nowadays look better and better. Probably better than when they came out. Streaming services too shut down, like Filmstruck.
        Paul, why don’t you get TCM anymore in Australia?

        “I see some movie review blogs on WordPress that I think are really bad with nothing to offer readers at all, yet they have 1000 followers.”
        Jay, I couldn’t agree more. A lot of those reviews are very short, only rehash the plot and offer no analysis at all, but somehow people like them.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Please butt in anytime! Audiences are getting ‘trained’ for particular films – CGI based, massive budgets and action every 5 seconds; which means classic film suffers. Story seems to suffer greatly as well, in contemporary cinema.

        The loss of TCM was a decision made by Fox who own and control Pay TV in Australia. TCM will not stream here either 😦 It’s VERY depressing!

        I’m also puzzled, surprised and confused at the articles that get likes. I saw one blog (not a film based one) which had over 500 likes from bloggers!!! And it was a terribly pedestrian rehash of a fairly over-examined subject area, that was almost cliched. What to do?

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  4. What a lovely tribute to a man I unfortunately didn’t even know about. I checked out your links and they’re very informative. I see there are more clips of his intros on youtube, I’ll be sure to check them out too.

    Probably the equivalent on US television would be the late TCM host Robert Osborne whose deep passion, understanding, enthusiasm and love of classic film always shone through. Maybe both of them were occasionally too nostalgic with classic movies, but so what? I find it forgivable. Actually I find perpetually nitpicking “critics” who must find fault with everything a lot more annoying. So often it just seems to be motivated by grandstanding and the desire to wear one’s supposedly impossibly high standards on one’s sleeves just to prove that no movie in the world is good enough for them.

    About your intro, yes I can relate so much. I too haven’t written in a while, and while summer has been quite busy the real reason for not writing is that I’ve seem to hit a brick wall. I dropped out of three blogathons because I just can’t come up with anything.

    On top of that – you are absolutely correct – the lack of response and interest can be very depressing. A lot of time and research goes into our articles and it is so frustrating when people don’t bother to comment or even read them. Please don’t give up. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind response Margot. It was nice to hear from you.

      I have heard a lot about Robert Osborne and wish we had got to experience his presenting when we had TCM in Australia. It is one of the great tragedies that we lost that channel in regards to classic film.

      I agree wholeheartedly with your statements regarding nostalgia and nit-picking critics that no movie is good enough for them. Bill Collins could be a little over the top at times and some used to joke about it. But we loved him and he is terribly missed.

      I hope you find the drive to write, too, as it is very hard at times. You are very kind to offer encouragement! 🙂

      Like

  5. As a fellow fan of classic film, I think we owe people such as Mr. Collins a huge debt of gratitude. Mr. Collins’ show did not air in Canada, of course, but we had our own “Mr. Movies”, a gentleman named Elwy Yost; in so many instances in your article I could have substituted “Yost” in place of “Collins” and the accuracy of the information would not have been impacted. Mr. Yost also hosted a Saturday night show, “Saturday Night at the Movies”, for 25 years, starting in 1974. I remember the first movie shown – the Canadian premiere of the restored, uncensored pre-code version of “King Kong”. Just as Mr. Collins was awarded the Order of Australia, Mr. Yost was awarded the Order of Canada. Even the film clips that you included in your wonderful tribute were so reminiscent of the introductions and conclusions presented by Mr. Yost, a film scholar as well as avid fan.

    With the passing of such people who promoted the classic films (Mr. Yost died in 2011, and I include the late Robert Osborne of TCM in that group), I wonder if the fan base of these movies will dwindle to a “niche” audience. I grew up with these movies, watching them on “late shows” during my teen-age years in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s. Many of my much younger friends, however, will simply not watch anything in black-and-white; every film needs colour and lots of action and/or special effects. We still get TCM in Canada, and while it continues to be the best television source for classic films, I see the programming changing all the time to include more modern films, presumably to attract younger audiences. It makes me cherish my DVD and blu-ray collection of the classics all the more.

    (P. S. – I understand your discouragement with lack of response to your writing; I experience the same thing myself. But I like to think that the writing is worth the effort, even if only a few people appreciate the result. Please don’t give up on it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’ve been VERY fortunate to have these wonderful people who nurtured our own passion and love for classic film – and if not for them our understanding and love for classic film may not have been so developed. Mr Yost is a man who sounds much like our own Bill Collins or as you pointed out TCM’s Robert Osborne. We are for the poorer as the passing of these presenters, and I also cherish the films I have as I also lament and grieve over the demise of programming of classic film. I also fear that the next generations will never watch a silent film, unless they are students at film school or studying at a university – as you correctly point out, classic film fans could become a niche audience. Losing TCM here was a huge blow and the programming on Fox Classics has gone down the toilet – I don’t know what that will mean for the future. Hopefully better streaming services? The recent purchase of Fox by Disney is also worrying, where the whole back catalogue of classic films may very will be locked away and forgotten by a conglomerate who cares about profits not art.

      I supposed I mentioned the depression in writing more to emphasise it’s occurring at a time when the man most responsible for giving me a love of classic films passed away. A chance to remember why we should keep the passion alive! And thank you for your continual support! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s always nice to learn more about these unsung heroes of film!

    As to your writing, I can relate. But then I always remind myself that really I’m writing for myself. It’s a creative outlet I desperately need regardless if anyone else ever reads my writing. And if someone does notice and comment that’s just icing on the cake! On the other hand, the lack of interaction online is always a good reminder to me to take the time to comment on other writer’s work. I always enjoy reading your posts. They are very detailed and thoroughly researched but also accessible which I like. I always fell like I’ve learned something when I’m done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Brittany – you offer a beautiful perspective and you’re 100% correct. I always enjoy reading other people’s work because it’s a great chance to learn and discover other viewpoints. It warms my heart that you appreciate my writing. Recently I’ve stayed away from here but the passing of Bill Collins brought my attention back to why I love classic films so much and the role he played in driving that passion within.

      Like

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