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Flannery, Sean Martin (1942–2011)

by Malcolm Brown

Sean Flannery, a loveable rogue of Australian journalism, was known not just for his journalistic triumphs but for his spectacular sackings, especially at the hands of Christopher Skase, who had hired him as a television newsreader in Adelaide and then discovered, at a dance, that Flannery was – allegedly – getting fresh with his wife Pixie. On a much later occasion he infuriated the management of Radio 2GB by chatting on air to Alan Jones about the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Jones happened to work for a rival radio station. John Singleton sacked Flannery and his producer. But as journalist Ian Parry-Okeden said, Flannery kowtowed to nobody. He was as open and forthright as anybody could be, and one of the greatest radio reporters to grace the profession.

Sean Martin Rogers Lawrence Flannery was born in Forbes, NSW, on September 27, 1942, son of a publican, Reginald Flannery, and Marie Coral (nee Martin). He went to Red Bend Catholic College in Forbes and on leaving school worked as a stock buyer for the pastoral company William Angliss and Co at a nearby town, Daroobalgie. He met a teacher, Nicole Brenac, and married her in 1963. The couple suffered a misfortune when their home burnt down, so they moved to Sydney. Flannery worked for a time for Qantas and then tried a traineeship with David Jones Ltd. His first child, Mary-Ellen, was born in 1964.

Wanting more excitement, Flannery talked his way into the newsroom at Radio 2SM. His exuberant, outgoing style was an immediate hit. He was one of the first announcers to participate in talk-back radio. With another child, Brigid, born in 1966, he was not slowing down. Ian Parry-Okeden said that one morning he was doing traffic reporting but the station could not make contact with him. A member of the public rang to say he was asleep in a well-marked 2SM news car on the Pacific Highway. Flannery had apparently had a big night. Becoming a father again when his son, John, was born in 1968, Flannery kept going at breakneck speed. He did very good reporting on drug trafficking in the Golden Triangle when the problem was acute in Thailand.

Flannery's marriage broke down in 1970 and he and Nicole divorced. In 1972, he met Julie Blake, who was an editorial assistant on the Kings Cross Whisper, and they married in 1975. He acquired stepchildren Sam and Kate de Brito, whom he loved as his own children. Flannery was hired by Radio 2UE where he did the Sydney Night Watch program, broadcast at 9am every Sunday, telling the world what had happened in Sydney overnight. He talked about the crime, and told human interest stories, and it reached a wide audience.

In 1980 he was reporting on the Azaria Chamberlain case. By that time he had linked with another hellraiser, the Sydney Daily Mirror's Jim Oram. The two were stopped by police in the early hours of the morning in Alice Springs having a race in shopping trolleys, Flannery in full voice singing Onward Christian Soldiers. Parry-Okeden said: ''He was one of those quintessential Australians who could walk into a pub anywhere and somebody would say, 'Good day, Sean'. We could be in a country town miles from anywhere and go into a bar and someone would say that.''

Flannery was given an award by the CNN news service for his story when he decided to do a bungee jump and have it filmed, screaming all the way down. For the rest of his life he treasured the little bowl he received. He was hired by the Channel Seven network, then owned by Christopher Skase, and went to Adelaide where his forthright, open style sent the ratings up quickly. Skase later terminated his services but Flannery found further employment on Channel 10, which he left in 1994. Flannery went back to radio, working with Radio 2GB, until his interview with Alan Jones in 1999 provoked his sacking. He then retired to Mt Victoria in the Blue Mountains. He was diagnosed with cancer soon after he retired and fought the disease for more than a decade. Sean Flannery is survived by sister, Helen, his widow, Julie, his children and stepchildren.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 November 2011

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Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Flannery, Sean Martin (1942–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/flannery-sean-martin-16721/text28617, accessed 17 December 2018.

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