1900 - 1967 | NZ, NSW | Reporter, editor & presenter
Eric Baume was 17 when he became a proof-reader and cub reporter at the New Zealand Herald and was editor of the Timaru Herald at 22. He came to Sydney in 1923, working with Joynton Smith and Robert Packer before becoming editor of the Sunday Sun while presenting commentaries on radio. He reported WWII from his suite at the Savoy Hotel and broke the news of Hitler’s invasion of Russia. He returned to Australia to become our first modern multi-media man, with a newspaper column in the Daily Mirror, four radio programs a week on 2GB and weekly commentaries on Channel 7. He later gained national fame as presenter of Beauty and the Beast on Seven.
With his booming voice, bombastic slogan - “This I believe!” - and his role as the beastly man among four women, it’s no wonder that Eric Baume, journalist, war correspondent, radio announcer and television celebrity was known as Eric Boom and The Beast.
Larger Than Life, the title of Baume’s biography, summed him up. Tall and good looking, with his dark hair slicked down with Brilliantine, his bushy eyebrows, a bristly moustache and a strong, straight nose, he excelled as a self-publicist and charmer who knew how to impress and fight back when his critics tried to bring him down. It paid to cultivate Baume. He was a good friend and often the life of the party but he could snap like a rat trap to his darker side and become an enemy.
Born Frederick Ehrenfried Baume in Auckland on 29 May 1900, Baume had numerous writing posts in New Zealand in his teens and early 20s. After a stint at The New Zealand Herald he worked as a sub-editor at the Waipa Post, a leader writer for The Dominion in Wellington, a reporter for The Christchurch Sun and then editor of the Timaru Herald. In 1923 Baume moved to Sydney where he joined the Daily Guardian, owned by Smith’s Newspapers Ltd. One of Smith’s Newspapers’ founders, Robert Clyde Packer, became Baume’s mentor who promoted him from chief sub-editor to news editor and then night editor.
Baume’s wife, Mary, followed him to Australia in 1924. The next year she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Baume maintained that her illness kept the family in debt for many years although he was a compulsive gambler who often bet all of his salary on payday.
When the Daily Guardian was sold to Associated Newspapers Ltd and Packer moved to that company, he recruited Baume as editor of the Sunday Sun and Guardian. In 1935 Baume was elevated to editor-in-chief, with responsibility for the Sunday Sun and Telegraph as well as Woman magazine where he nurtured a circle of female writers. One of them, Mahdi McCrae, was invited to his family home, a double-storey house with a tennis court in the Sydney suburb of Gordon. There, she said, the guests could include everyone from a “famous crook to someone from Government House”. Another journalist, Pat Ziele, thought Baume “got on well with all the girls who thought he was a hoot”. Every morning, she remembered, he had the same exchange with his secretary, Eileen Ball: “Good morning, Mr Bum”. “Good morning, Miss Balls”.
During the 1930s, Baume began to develop his career as a multi-media commentator who wrote for the press, hosted 2GB radio programs, among them Pros and Cons and the 2GB News Review and wrote many books, most of them novels. Then, a month before the outbreak of World War II, he began an international career when he was appointed European correspondent for Truth and Sportsman.
Leaving his wife and their three children at home, Baume moved into London’s Savoy Hotel. There he set up his office and lived in an adjacent suite where he entertained friends, among them the Countess of Oxford, widow of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, and Lady Margaret Stewart, daughter of Lord Londonderry. La dolce vita came to an end in 1949 when Norton ordered his return to Australia. The trigger was a photograph of Baume wearing spats. When he saw it Norton roared: “Get him back here, he's been duchessed”.
Baume became deputy editor-in-chief of the Truth and the Sportsman group but was dismissed in 1952. He returned to 2GB where he hosted four programs then in late 1956 he joined the new television station, ATN-7, as a news-commentator. There he was nicknamed Eric Boom due to his habit of bumping into the sound boom when he leapt from his studio chair to introduce his live show, This I Believe.
Baume returned to newspapers in 1958 when Norton offered him the role of editorial director but when Norton sold Truth and Sportsman later that year, Baume was paid out of his contract. He zigzagged back to his freelance life, broadcasting on 2GB and writing commentaries for both the press and television.
A natural showman and actor, Eric became a household name from early 1964 when he compered Beauty and the Beast, an afternoon ATN-7 show in which he, and a panel of well-known women, answered letters from viewers.
On air, he was deliberately beastly to the panellists, a tactic that pleased some viewers and angered others. He spent only three years in the role before the more gentlemanly Stuart Wagstaff replaced him. Baume blamed bad health for his exit. During 1966 he had major abdominal surgery but he was also bored with the show, telling his biographer, Arthur Manning, that he was a serious writer and commentator, not a court jester.
On 24 April 1967, Baume died at his apartment in Kirribilli of cardiac and renal disease. News of his death came as a shock to close friends and press colleagues. In one press article the reporter wrote: “A fortnight ago he commented to a friend at Chequers night club in Sydney, ‘I’ve never felt fitter in my life and I intend to stay this way’.”
Two months after his death, his three dinner suits (including tailcoats) and four dress uniforms were passed in at auction in Sydney while his 400-plus pairs of shoes found a ready market. The ladies who loved him packed the auction room.
One of his fans, Mrs Nellie Allan, only wanted “some little thing to remind me of Eric. I listened to him for more than 30 years on the radio and considered him a friend”. Baume could be a friend in need and a comforter to many, although he often perched somewhere on the fence enjoying his role as a good bad guy. As he said of his audiences: “They love me yet they hate me.”
Valerie Lawson is an author and journalist, foundation editor of Good Weekend, former arts editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, and a dance writer and critic.
Eric Baume in 1939, courtesy of Fairfax.
Eric Baume portrait, courtesy of News Corp/Newspix.
Eric Baume in 1956, courtesy of Fairfax.
Eric Baume in 1965, courtesy of Fairfax.
Connie Sweetheart, The Story of Connie Robertson, Valerie Lawson, William Heinemann, 1990
Larger Than Life, Arthur Manning, A.H. &? A.W. Reed, 1967