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Authors: Philip Luker

Tags: #Biography, #Media and journalism, #Australian history

Phillip Adams

BOOK: Phillip Adams

Phillip Adams

The Ideas Man: A Life Revealed

Philip Luker

Published by JoJo Publishing

First published 2011

'Yarra's Edge'

2203/80 Lorimer Street

Docklands VIC 3008


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© Philip Luker

Author's email address: 
[email protected]

All rights reserved.  No part of this printed or video publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electrical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher and copyright owner.

JoJo Publishing

Editor: Ormé Harris

Designer / typesetter:  Chameleon Print Design

Cover image: The front page photo of Adams was taken by Bob Finlayson of News Ltd at the Abbey Restaurant, Glebe, Sydney, in November 1999.

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry

Author: Luker, Philip.

Title: Phillip Adams : the ideas man : a life revealed / Philip Luker.

ISBN: 9780994256454 (eBook)

Subjects: Adams, Phillip, 1939-

Authors, Australian--Biography.


Motion picture producers and directors--Australia--Biography.

Dewey Number: 070.92

Digital edition distributed by

Port Campbell Press

eBook Conversion by
Winking Billy

“He's been around the media for decades, he looks more like a priest than a radio jock, he talks proper, he has an amazingly retentive memory, he's accessibly cerebral, he wears his biases on his skivvy, he polarises opinion and opinion-makers, he applies historical perspective to his views and discussions, he attracts by far the most significant interview subjects from around the globe to his program, he probes and banters with them as an equal, he gets himself properly briefed on the detail, he gives his subjects time and space to be discursive and therefore, often, illuminating, he breaks all the rules of talk radio, he is an Australian institution and an international-calibre broadcaster who would distinguish the airwaves of any radio station anywhere. He is Phillip Adams.”

— Eric Beecher in
The Reader
in December 2003

About the Author

Philip Luker did an Arts course at Sydney University and then became a newspaperman on the Sydney
Daily Mirror,
The Sun,
Daily Telegraph,
The Australian Financial Review
and the London
Daily Mail.

He backpacked (before the word was invented) through 48 countries and was the first Australian journalist to get into Communist China, in January 1956. The articles and photos he sold, including a cover story in
a front-page series
in all US Hearst newspapers,
paid for the rest of his world trip, during which he travelled right through North, Central and South America and Africa. At Los Angeles Airport he met Marilyn Monroe on her way to marry Arthur Miller — she held on to his hand while he thought of as many questions as he could.

Back in Australia and wanting to run his own business, he successively launched, published and edited four management newsletters,
Inside Retailing, Greenweek
, all of which concentrated on controversy and personalities and all of which are still being published by others. He wrote and published the books
How to Handle the Green Revolution
Inside the Food Industry.

He returned to Africa to interview Australian doctors and nurses working for Medecins Sans Frontieres and, back in Australia, continued to interview MSF volunteers returning home and had a hundred stories published about them.

Luker lives in Sydney with his wife, Margaret. One day he wrote to Phillip Adams to ask whether he would co-operate over a biography. This book is the result.


Phillip Adams always received me at his Sydney office with courtesy, a cup of tea and a willingness to talk about his professional life, anecdotes, experiences and beliefs. He seemed to believe I had agreed not to delve into his private life. He never asked me to agree and I did not do so, either verbally or in writing. Adams said in his original letter to me, “I would not be happy with a heavy emphasis on my private life.” This book does
heavily emphasise his private life.

Did he believe that, after working as a journalist for fifty years, I would not try to find out about his private life, just because he didn't want me to? Any worthwhile journalist who is refused information from one source tries to find it from another. My first duty in writing this book is to its readers, to tell them as full and honest a story as I can about Adams the man as well as Adams the journalist and public intellectual. Presumably, Adams' first duty is also to his readers and listeners. Ironically, most information about his private life came from his own mouth in a National Library oral history he gave me written access to.

Irina Dunn worked hard at finding me a good publisher and found one in Barry Dorr and his partner Jo. Their company, JoJo Publishing, worked swiftly and expertly to arrange the publishing and marketing of the book after it had been skillfully edited and managed by Ormé Harris, designed by Chameleon Print Design, and proofread by Merryl Scott.

The nineteen prominent people whose phone numbers Adams gave me as friends who might give me information and insight into him all agreed to do so, and I met all except two of them personally: Hugh Mackay, Peter Best, Peter Faiman, Matt Noffs, Brian Monahan, Lyle Dayman, Bruce Petty, Fred Chaney, Alan Snyder, Ranald McDonald, Carmen Lawrence, Philip Nitschke, Jim Soorley, Dick Smith, Bob Brown, Mark Aarons, John Cain, Barry Jones and Bob Ellis. Chris Bullock, the former executive producer of
Late Night Live,
told me how it operates and I watched it go to air twice. My conversations with these twenty people were always enjoyable and often very funny. All twenty were obviously fond of Adams but also mentioned his human frailties. I owe them my sincere thanks.

I contacted Paul Keating, Mike Rann, Anna Bligh and Bob Carr without help from Adams but they also were willing to talk about him. Only one of all these people, Bob Carr, asked me to tell him what I would quote from him. Only one person, John Howard, swiftly declined to meet me about Adams and there is no need to wonder why. Bruce Shapiro,
Late Night Live's
US correspondent, told me how he has enjoyed talking with Adams every week for twelve years. The willingness of all these associates to talk about him shows the warmth of his people relationships.

Adams told me he would leave it to me to contact some of the ‘hostiles' as he calls them, and I did so: Bob Hawke, Alan Jones, Gerard Henderson, Philip Ruddock, John Brennan, Miranda Devine and Piers Akerman.

The National Library's Manuscripts Department gave me access, with Adams' permission, to the 500 boxes of letters and emails listeners and readers have sent him over almost forty years, and the library's Oral History Collection gave me access, again with Adams' permission, to its verbatim record of the two-day conversation Margaret Chalker had with him.
The Weekend Australian Magazine
gave me permission to reproduce extracts from his columns and Penguin Books gave me permission to quote from books of his columns where it holds the copyright. Bob Ellis, James Woodford, Alan Ramsey and Ashley Hay gave me permission to quote from
Late Night Live
sessions where Adams interviewed them.

The book could not have been written without continued support from my wife Margaret and daughter Trish Luker. Thank you all. I enjoyed my contact with you and enjoyed the research and writing.

— Philip Luker

To Margaret

‘Some enchanted evening, when you find your true love,

When you see her call you across a crowded room,

Then fly to her side and make her your own,

Or all of your life you may dream all alone.'

— from the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical
South Pacific


  1. A Crowded Life
  2. Childhood Notions of Death
  3. Supping with the Devil
  4. Having Fun Making Films
  5. The Phillip Adams Enigma
  6. The Good Guy and the Flip Side
  7. The Angry Old Left-winger
  8. Keating Pre-cooks Adams
  9. Eight Prime Ministers Adams Has Known
  10. Hilarious Tales of Politicians and Others
  11. The Ideas Adams Gave Two Premiers
  12. Phillip Adams' Seven Women
  13. An Edgy Friendship with Packer
  14. Bob Ellis on the Intellectual Santa Claus
  15. Late Night Intercourse
  16. Letters to Adams—Bashings and Body Odours
  17. Adams and Other Media Grumpies
  18. Outspoken Views—He Stirs the Possum
  19. Best Columns—Songs of Satire and Dogs
  20. Ten Bonzer LNL Episodes
  21. Adams' Artifacts — His Ghostly Friends
  22. What Drives Phillip Adams
  23. Appendix—Awards and Appointments
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