Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

George Alick Richards (1934–2024)

by Malcolm Brown and Gillian Brent

George Alick Richards, born into a family of journalists, was never going to spend much time away from his calling, even on his honeymoon on Lord Howe Island.

When a yacht was stolen from the island's lagoon he promptly got his report to the island's telegraph office and his bride, Liz, obliged by tortuously transmitting it to The Sydney Morning Herald. Richards' story about the theft of the Cythera was front-page news on April 12, 1963.

George Richards, born in Newcastle on October 8, 1934, was the youngest of three children of Alick "Charlie" Richards and Marjory (nee Kinder). For 45 years, he was a journalist on the Herald and other Fairfax publications, working variously as a sub-editor, London news editor, and for 15 years editor of Column 8. He was noted throughout his life not just for his journalistic enterprise but for his intellect, which enabled him to sail through school and retain a grasp of detail that saw him win prize after prize on radio quiz shows, and allowed him to make his Column 8 a talking point.

Richards grew up in Sydney, where his family had made its mark. His grandfather, George Allen Richards, had been a member of the NSW parliament as a Liberal member for Drummoyne. His father, Alick, was a journalist who worked variously for the Guardian, Sun, People magazine and Woman's Day. Richards' uncle, Len Richards, worked with the Daily Mirror, and his brother, Dick Richards, for the Daily Telegraph. Richards went to an opportunity school in Eastwood, then to Sydney Boys' High, where he topped every year except the final year - although, throttling back, he still managed to come second.

Sydney Boys' High's deputy principal said Richards should go to university. Instead, in 1950, he went into journalism. He applied for a job at Fairfax but he was told to go away until he was older. He then joined the Telegraph. In the meantime, he was doing well on radio quiz shows, including Jack Davey's Dulux Show. "He had this most extraordinary memory," his daughter Gillian said. "He learnt something and it stayed there. He did not have to review it." In 1956, Richards' radio quiz triumph won him an air ticket to London, and he spent a year there working in the Daily Mirror's London office.

In 1958, Richards finally landed a job with the Herald as a sub-editor. The following year he enrolled at Sydney University to do an arts degree, studying by day and working by night.

While at Sydney University, Richards edited and wrote articles for Honi Soit, working alongside Germaine Greer, Clive James, Madeleine St John, Richard Walsh, Graham Macdonald and other members of the Sydney Push.

He did his second year in 1960 but, finding the time of his final exam clashed with a final recording for Bob Dyer's Pick a Box, he opted for Pick a Box. Richards was then selected to be the NSW representative in Pick a Box's interstate challenge, in which Barry Jones was competing as Victorian representative. In the contest, in which Queensland and South Australia were also represented, Richards came second to Jones.

In 1962, Richards met an accounts clerk, Elizabeth Capper, originally from Maitland, and they married at Lindfield in April the following year. Gillian was born in 1964. In 1965, the year his son Tim was born, Richards joined the Lindfield Cricket Club. In 1966, he became editor of People magazine, in those days a clean and wholesome family publication, but he left it when the magazine moved to a risque formula. In 1969, he was page one editor at the Herald when he put together the coverage of the landing on the moon - Men on Moon - published on July 21. The front page also carried the story of Teddy Kennedy facing charges over the Chappaquiddick incident.

In 1962, Richards and his fellow editors sponsored young Aboriginal photographer Mervyn Bishop to take up a cadetship at Fairfax. Bishop went on to gain several awards and become an acclaimed news and documentary photographer.

In 1970 the Richards family settled in Wahroonga, where another son, Ben, was born in 1970, followed by James in 1971. In 1973, Richards was posted to Britain as news editor in the London office. The family lived in Orpington, on the edges of south-east London. Richards found himself covering such events as the marriage of Princess Anne and the resignation of prime minister Harold Wilson.

In 1974, when Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam visited London, Richards hosted Whitlam's media staff for Christmas dinner at his home. It was then that news came of the Cyclone Tracy disaster in Darwin. Whitlam's speech to Australia, that we would "rebuild Darwin", was drafted on Richards' dining room table.

In 1976 Richards finished his three-year term, but before returning to Australia he was told to tour the Netherlands and the United States to look at the progress of newspaper computerisation. The family went to New York, Washington, Detroit and California. Back in Sydney, Richards became chief sub-editor at the Herald and, in 1978, chief of staff. In 1981, he became editorial training manager and the following year travelled again to the US to investigate newspaper computerisation. Family board game nights were a favourite, and he excelled at Trivial Pursuit, requiring a handicap to let the rest of the family have a chance. Richards also competed in late-night radio quiz shows - and was so good he was told to stop ringing.

In 1986, Richards, a long-standing member of the Sydney Cricket Ground and for some years manager of junior cricket teams, started umpiring, beginning a career in which over the next 23 years he presided over nearly 200 Sydney grade and shire cricket matches, and umpired in England and India with the International Fellowship of Cricketing Rotarians.

He also umpired a charity cricket match where he no-balled Brett Lee five times in one over, Shane Warne twice, and declared Glenn McGrath not out in a close and much-debated lbw decision.

At work, Richards helped Fairfax move into the computer age. In 1988, he took over Column 8, dealing with his beloved trivia. He had many funny stories, one being when a naked man accidentally locked himself out of his room at the Novotel Hotel at Darling Harbour and used pages of the Herald to preserve some of his modesty while he sheepishly made his way into the street and back into the foyer to ask for a spare key - something that could never have been achieved with the smaller-format Daily Telegraph.

A cloud fell over his life in 1989 when son Tim, newly graduated from university, died during an Outward Bound expedition. Richards left the Herald with a redundancy package, but less than five months later was recalled as a contracted employee and resumed at Column 8. In 1990 he started a Collected Column 8 books series. In 1990 Richards joined the Wahroonga Rotary Club which, along with photography and gardening, became his passion.

Ever the newspaperman, when his daughter acquired a fiance, George gave the young man a spelling quiz before declaring him suitable. In 2004 he retired from the Herald and was given a traditional "rattling-out" for long-serving employees. Richards was active in retirement, with Rotary and clubs such as BurrCutters Union and Wafflers.

After suffering a stroke in May 2018, he died this week. A memorial service will be held at a time and place to be fixed.

George Richards is survived by his wife Liz, his daughter, two sons, and four grandchildren. His son Tim predeceased him.

Original publication

Citation details

Malcolm Brown and Gillian Brent, 'Richards, George Alick (1934–2024)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/richards-george-alick-34085/text42743, accessed 15 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024