Second Innings

Host with the most

From fine leg to the studio: Mike Whitney made the journey almost as soon as he hung up his boots

Mike Whitney portrait, February 1989

Whitney flashes his best made-for-TV smile  •  Getty Images

In 1994 I retired from first-class cricket and started a promotions and marketing company with a few mates of mine. I had been speaking at a lot of cricket functions and luncheons. A fellow who heard me rang me saying he was putting together a show for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation called Innovations and Inventions and he would like me to host it as the guy he had originally lined up had reported sick. I turned him down, but an hour later he dropped in at my office. So I spoke to my partners and they asked me to go ahead.
It aired on Channel 2 and I really enjoyed it. On the back of that I was offered a job on Channel 9 in the commentary team. I said no. I had been playing cricket for 15 years, so I thought I needed a break.
Just then, out of the blue, a friend of mine, Chris Chapman, who was running the Seven Network asked if I wanted to do sport for Channel 7. I said no, and he asked me exactly what I wanted to do. I picked up a bowler hat from a coat rack in his room and danced around his room wearing it, singing a random tune. I told him I wanted to do entertainment.
He was sceptical at first, but he said they were about to start a show called Sydney Weekender, which would inform the viewer where he could go and what he could do in the state of New South Wales. I started the show on January 1, 1995 and 15 years down the track I have done in excess of 650 episodes, travelling the length and breadth of my state.
Not long after that, the idea of Who Dares Wins came up, and I also started working as a referee on another show, called Gladiators. So I was filming three shows all together. I worked on Gladiators for a year and spent three years doing Who Dares Wins, and I'm still going strong hosting Sydney Weekender.
For the last 30 years my whole life has been a performance. Cricket, television, after-dinner speaking, and playing in the Mike Whitney Band in Sydney have kept me busy. I think performing in front of the crowd at fine leg during my cricketing days was a precursor to me going into television.
As a performer I definitely am interested in knowing what the public feels about my show. But before that, I'm my own critic. I derive satisfaction by being critical of myself on the show. I sit down and watch my shows and check if I asked the right questions, if it was properly shot, if we could have improved the lights and such stuff. If a show is really beautifully made and put together, I feel satisfied. One way of knowing that is when people come up to me on the street and say, "Whits, we actually went to that place you mentioned on the Sydney Weekender. Thanks. It was fantastic."
The most difficult part of my job is that television makes you something you are not. I'm a normal person with the same habits and needs as anyone else. People forget that, and sometimes they expect to know every single thing about someone who is famous.
Still, there are some compliments that keep you going and motivate you. Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard once said to me, "I just want to tell you that my wife and I watch your show when we are available and we love it." I was absolutely thrilled.

As told to Nagraj Gollapudi