Bill Collins, Australia’s ‘Mr Movies’, dies peacefully in his sleep aged 84


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But the shadow of one man loomed large, the bespectacled Bill Collins.

Collins’s uniform was a large pair of dark-rimmed glasses, a jacket and tie, and an intimate set adorned with movie posters from the golden age of cinema he loved so much.

Collins talked about the films he presented – from Scarface to Star Wars, from Gone With The Wind to Young Frankenstein – with the kind of wide-eyed enthusiasm you find in a child let loose in a lolly shop.

He spoke emotionally, and passionately, and personally. He had the theatrical delivery of an actor, but in truth he was simply a fan, drawn into the magic of the movie house, hypnotised by the flickering light of the projector.

Bill Collins with his wife Joan.

Bill Collins with his wife Joan.Credit:Penny Stephens

Collins’s wife Joan reflected on the legacy her husband leaves and thanked the public for their support throughout his long career.

“Our hearts are broken by the loss of our dear Bill – he will never be forgotten. How fortunate we were to have him in our lives. On behalf of Bill’s family and myself, I would like to thank the public for the great support given to Bill over the years,” she said.

“Bill’s love of film was encouraged by you, his audience, and his love of sharing his passion, which increased over the five decades that he presented on every Australian television.

“Bill was always thrilled when he realised the joy and happiness he gave to his viewers. He never took them for granted, always wanting to please.

“Darling Bill you will be loved and missed always.”

He famously filmed his introductions in a single take, repeating them from the start only if there was a verbal fumble.

Collins with David Stratton.

Collins with David Stratton.Credit:Photographic

At the tapings I attended over the years, watching from the shadows behind the camera, a new monologue was often different to the one before it. He pencilled a few notes to himself, but almost everything he said came from his memory. And his heart.

And when Collins fumbled a word, which required he start again, it was sometimes followed by few more, slightly colourful, words. The outtakes, if anyone dared to try and find them, would surely be a riot.

Collins first appeared on television in 1963, presenting a series of film appreciation segments on the ABC program Roundabout; perhaps unsurprisingly before that he was a school teacher and college lecturer.

He was inducted into the Logies hall of fame in 2009.

He was inducted into the Logies hall of fame in 2009.Credit:Photographic

It was telling that he presented movies not from the comfort of an armchair, but from behind a desk. Even as a television entertainer, there was a part of Collins that could not shake off the manner of a school headmaster.

Across five decades he worked for the ABC, and the Seven, Nine and Ten networks, introducing classic and contemporary Hollywood films for television audiences.

Between 1995 and 2018, Collins worked for Foxtel, as the face of the platform’s classic cinema channel, Fox Classics. He retired last year.

In addition to his work on television, Collins authored three books, presented radio programs and was for many years a newspaper columnist. In 1987 he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his services to film and television, and in 2009 he was inducted into the TV Week Logie Hall of Fame.

Away from the screen, he was married to Joan Collins, and was tickled pink when, during a press tour by the Hollywood legend of the same name, he managed to take them both to dinner.

I encountered Collins for the first time as a 19-year-old reporter tasked with interviewing the legendary “Mr Movies” who had taught me, as a teenage kid watching TV, to appreciate the art of cinema.

He was a grand, giant of a man and I was terrified of him, though I later discovered I need not have been. He lumbered into the room like a bear, but he spoke, both conversationally and about the art of cinema, with great delicacy.

Quite simply, he loved movies. And he loved people who loved movies.

Bill Collins and Jack Nicholson in 1976 for an interview promoting Nicholson's film One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.

Bill Collins and Jack Nicholson in 1976 for an interview promoting Nicholson’s film One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Credit:Photographic

To be called upon to write the obituary of one’s heroes is always tough, but it goes with the gig; to be called upon to write the obituary for someone you know, and whose presence, authority and wisdom has influenced you personally, is tougher, and leaves you with a heavy heart.

Collins took care with young reporters, where he encountered them. He nurtured in us a great passion for film. And, with a wry smile and an arched eyebrow, offered only the mildest disapproval when some of us declared a greater passion for television itself.

Perhaps he didn’t think too much of the physically smaller of the two mediums, though to be fair he lived mostly in an era where television’s fullest narrative potential was yet to be realised. And where a young boy, sitting in a darkened cinema, could be properly transported to a fantasy land of infinite wonder by flickering images created by the peculiar art of pouring light through celluloid film.

Collins with James Bond star Roger Moore.

Collins with James Bond star Roger Moore.

“If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended, that you have but slumbered here, while these visions did appear,” wrote the other Bill, William Shakespeare, who was not a film critic, but really should have been.

Wherever they both are, I imagine the two namesakes are watching a movie.

But not until our Bill has had a few words to say at the start.

Bill and Joan shared a love for books and animals, so in lieu of flowers, they have asked fans to consider a donation to Dymocks Children’s Charities or Monika’s Doggie Rescue.

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