Barrie Cassidy has built a reputation as the steady, unflappable political interrogator at the helm of Insiders for 18 years, but presenting his final program, the emotion broke through in a sign of just how much it has meant to him.
His voice broke as he reflected on how Insiders has become a Sunday morning institution.
“Over the years I’ve been pulled up in the streets so many times, had so many emails from people who said they changed their routine, changed the way they managed Sunday morning around Insiders and I just loved hearing that,” Cassidy said.
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles, a keen snow globe collector, presented Cassidy with a globe featuring a mini Barrie after his interview, in a unique tribute to his contribution.
ABC colleagues, director of news Gaven Morris, who with Cassidy sketched out the format, former news director Max Uechtritz, who commissioned it, and the program’s first executive producer, Kate Torney, joined family, including his wife Heather Ewart, children Adam and Caitlin and grandson Quinn, at the ABC’s Melbourne studios to watch Cassidy’s final program go to air.
Three of the longest-serving panellists — Karen Middleton, Dennis Atkins and Malcolm Farr — were on the couch.
In a touching tribute, all wore purple in memory of one of the show’s much-loved commentators and journalist with The Australian, Matt Price, who died of a brain tumour in 2007.
Midway through the program, photographer and host of the Talking Pictures segment Mike Bowers surprised Cassidy by walking onto the set to introduce a moving video featuring tributes from politicians, including John Howard, Julie Bishop, Josh Frydenberg, Bob Hawke, Penny Wong, Sarah Hanson-Young, as well as panellists and Cassidy’s children.
Bowers, who coined the phrase “Back to you, Barrie”, summed up Cassidy’s contribution in his own unique way, recalling how those who’ve worked with Cassidy have craved his praise as he doesn’t give it out often and when he does. it means something.
“My my wife likened it to the final scene in Babe where farmer Hoggett looks down at the pig and says “that’ll do pig, that’ll do”.
“We call it in our house getting the pig, so I will finish with not back to you Barrie, but that’ll do Baz, that’ll do.”
Former prime minister Mr Howard, who was the program’s very first guest when it launched in 2001, acknowledged Cassidy’s contribution to political discourse.
“In [Cassidy’s] interviews with me I found him straight up and down, I enjoyed the jousting.
“For 18 years he’s anchored a very serious, valuable program that’s helped explain political attitudes to the Australian people.”
In an interview recorded before his death, Mr Hawke, who Cassidy worked for as a media adviser for five years, said: “I think he makes very sound judgements about politics. He’s even-handed, and that’s what I like about him more than anything.”
Politicians from all sides told how an interview on Insiders was not for the faint-hearted.
“Barrie Cassidy could charm and disarm, you could enter into a conversation on a Sunday morning without your tie only to realise afterwards you’d been hit with a velvet glove,” Treasurer Mr Frydenberg said.
“He’s respected for being tough but fair, Barrie is less about a gotcha moment but he will put [a question] to you in a way that makes it difficult to avoid the difficult answer,” Senator Wong said.
Cassidy has covered politics at the ABC since the 1970s and was working as the broadcaster’s Europe correspondent in 2010 when he was offered the opportunity to create a new kind of Sunday morning political program, something he’d been wanting to do for years.
Over dinner with visiting friends Morris, previously Cassidy’s producer at The 7.30 Report, and Bowers, the Insiders format was nutted out.
“We mapped out some ideas and it’s amazing how many of those, the structures that we put in place for the program, remain with Insiders today as an essential part of the program.”
Insiders steadily built a strong and loyal audience and is now Australia’s most-watched morning show on any day of the week.
Fellow ABC journalist Annabel Crabb applauded his vision and drive to keep developing the program over the years.
“You’ve got with Insiders the most unusual of TV programs, which is A, one that’s grown its entire life — which is practically unheard of in television — and B, it’s a show that looks as young as it did when it started out and that’s really really hard to do when you’ve had the same host all the way through.
“That is thanks in a great part to the agelessness of Barrie Cassidy.”
In March, on receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Melbourne Press Club, Cassidy announced he was leaving Insiders after the federal election.
He is staying with the ABC and will return after a break to explore new projects.
“I’ll continue to contribute to the ABC — hopefully in a substantial way — but only recently I’ve come to the view that while I’m at Insiders, I’ll never really know precisely what that contribution might be,” Cassidy said.
“And so, I want to find out — and do other things before I run out of motivation and energy.”
Stepping into his shoes is highly respected Sky News journalist David Speers, however, he will not start until next year and Insiders will mostly be hosted in the meantime by respected political journalists Fran Kelly and Crabb.
Always a team player, the footy-mad Cassidy signed off cheering for the new recruit and the future success of the program.
“I am moving on but next week and into the future it will be the same team, the same coach, just a different captain, so stay loyal because the people around here deserve that, they really do,” he said.
“For the final time — thanks for watching.”
Watch Barrie Cassidy’s last Insiders on iview.