That great journalist and editor with an international reputation, the charming and amusing doyen of the Australian press, Frank Devine left this world on 3 July 2009. The excellent Peter Coleman has penned an obituary for Quadrant online.
Frank Devine’s string of editorships was impressive in its range, both as to gravitas and also as to geography. These included the Australian edition of the Readers’ Digest, the American edition of The Digest, the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Post and The Australian. After Rupert Murdoch curiously removed him from the editorship of his flagship, he remained there and at Quadrant as a columnist. He was out of the ordinary – unpredictable, not locked into a party agenda and with a sparkling sense of humour.
…a covert monarchist….
Although The Australian house style mandates republicanism, I long ago concluded that he was probably a covert monarchist. In fact, I saw him as one of a band of covert monarchists planted across the nation. Some see tactical advantage in not announcing their allegiance, others are embarrassed to admit their monarchism in public; all are ready to act when needed.
But I never thought for one moment that were his monarchism to be widely known, it would have worried him. He would not have been concerned that he might be barred from the journalists' club, hissed at in the press gallery, that corgis would openly lick his hand in the streets, or even that he might have never again been invited to the fashionable republican salons of inner Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra . Heavens, his ABC and SBS reception could well have been jammed in retaliation, and The Age might never again have been delivered. Frank Devine could not have cared less about all that. In fact he would have revelled in the reaction.
I came to the conclusion that he only posed as a direct election republican to “take the mickey” not out of the monarchists, but what he probably found to be infinitely more fun, out of the other rather gloomy roundheads. Writing in his column in The Australian on 7 September, 2007, he camouflaged his monarchism by saying his household is by no means a “one-stop shop politically.” Claiming to be “mildly affronted,” he says he was not surprised to come upon a magazine in the sitting room with a portrait of Prince William, “looking almost Paris Hiltonishly provocative and lovely, on its front cover.” This was ACM’s journal, The Australian Constitutional Defender.
He wrote: “The prince was wearing a uniform that might have been run up for him to star at the Duchess of Richmond's ball on the eve of Waterloo. I guess he would have left his leather-visored cap, with its broad red band and EIIR insignia, in the gents' cloakroom. But the silver-buttoned, high-necked, gold-braided navy blue tunic and (one assumes, though the cover picture cut him off at the lower chest, matching trousers) would have made him a cynosure on the dance floor in old Brussels, or I guess at a club hop in Simla or Nairobi. This is not to mention his fine white teeth and sexily sleepy blue eyes.”
Frank thought that The Queen was crucial to cohesiveness of the Commonwealth. He mischievously argued that “it's lucky for us direct-election republicans that a chap will follow the Queen on the throne.”
I wrote to ACM supporters advising that in my opinion, Frank was pulling their leg.
…a superb wag….
To illustrate that Frank was a superb wag, I mentioned that not long before I had been at a Quadrant function, chatting to a small group which had included his daughter Miranda. She incidentally, is one of the few conservatives tolerated at Fairfax, presumably so that they can stop their haemorrhaging circulation in a market whose potential readers have quadrupled in one lifetime .
Frank wandered over, and hailed his progeny thus : “Hullo darling! “ . Then he looked at me and said again, “Hullo darling!” which seemed to surprise or even shock some of the people in the group. I assured the group, “I don’t mind how Mr. Devine addresses me, provided he doesn’t follow Paddy Mc Guinness, who to my great embarrassment sometimes greets me with these words” Hullo, comrade!”…I am trying, desperately, to keep his induction of me into his schoolboy Marxist cell out of the press, and quite frankly, Paddy is blowing my cover.”
So as I say, Frank was not serious in affecting republicanism. He was being what he loved to be – mischievous. He knew, as well as the constitutional lawyer and university vice chancellor Professor Greg Craven and Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Turnbull do, that direct election grafted on to the Australian version of the Westminster system would not work, and in fact, would be a disaster.
He knew, as they do, that Australians do not want the American system. Although it works, it is too rigid and too frozen by its Georgian constitution, and has never been successfully exported. Frank couldn’t have cared less about all that. In fact he would have probably enjoyed the reaction.
I am sure he posed as a direct election republican to “take the mickey” out of not so much out of the monarchists, but what is infinitely more fun, our gloomy conservative republicans.
I rejoice in the fact that Frank was the oldest enfant terrible that I had ever known. I only wish there were more like him to stimulate the world of politics and the media.
In another time, not so long ago, he would have been an ideal recipient of one of those awards in Her Majesty’s personal gift. Nowadays the republicans have ensured that the only knighthoods available to Australians come from foreign countries, including republics.
We have thus been denied that moving scene, alas : “ Arise, our trusty and well beloved Sir Frank Devine.”
[Frank Devine is survived by his wife, Jacqueline, and his daughters Miranda, Alexandra and Rosalind. His funeral will be held at 10.30am on Wednesday 8 July 2009 at St Leonard's Catholic Church, at Naremburn in Sydney.]