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June 26, 2024

Authors salute a legend as Phillip Adams retires as LNL host

This week, Phillip Adams will officially step down from his role as host of ABC Radio National’s Late Night Live. For 33 years Adams has been a champion of authors, inviting them on to his little wireless program and holding up their books to his microphone. In addition to writers, Adams has interviewed politicians, historians, philosophers and economists. With a warm and relaxed style, dry humour, and fierce intellect, he has been inviting and holding fascinating conversations for decades, and he will be missed by Australia’s literary community.

Kate Grenville says, “Every interview with Phillip was an invitation to take a stroll through books and ideas with a companion who was always  generous, insightful, witty and interested (if he wasn’t interested, you soon knew, and he’d throw you a life-ring to get you out of the morass of dullness you’d got yourself into). His warm support for writers and their books was an essential part of our literary ecosystem. His programme was the perfect late-night listening – musing, amusing, relaxed. There was no rush, nothing shallow.  Everything was worth holding up to the light and turning to see all its angles. Phillip, we will miss you.”

Richard Flanagan says, “Phillip Adams’ reverence for words and for books, his joy and delight in them, has meant Late Night Live—that wondrous institution Phillip created over the years and then decades—was one of the last outposts that still celebrated books not as frippery or sensation nor yet something that only existed if consecrated by celebrity, but as central to our idea of ourselves both as individuals and as a people.   

At some point Phillip became my friend and then a dear friend. He is wonderfully warm, gossipy, ruminative, reflective, fascinating. I came to see he is one of the last links we have with an older, more optimistic time when, half a century ago, people believed they might make of this country not a death mask in the image of money and power nor that of imperial cultures but, rather, something wonderful in its own image, in its own way.   

And implicit in every Late Night Live show was that hope, that optimism, and writing and writers were always fundamental to it. Phillip Adams honoured all Australian writers not once, but night after night, year after year, decade after decade, and to listen in was to realise that your own struggle with the empty page and the blinking cursor was neither futile nor pointless, that it joined you with something greater and more marvellous that still lived. With Phillip it felt eternal.   

We writers owe him a great deal. To be interviewed by him wasn’t then simply a moment when you could blather on about your own concerns. It was a moment when you felt joined to something far larger, some unstated grander, greater project which, for want of a better word, we might call Australia. We’ll miss that. And I shall miss him.”

Many writers were not only interviewed on Late Night Live, but were keen fans of the program. Tony Birch says, “I have appeared on Live Night Live several times over the years and listened in on many, many nights – most often while tucked up in my bed. A Phillip Adams lullaby has often sent me off to sleep, in the most informed way.”

Anna Funder says, “Phillip Adams has been a joy to me all my adult life, bringing his wit and warmth to the biggest ideas of our time. My heart always lifted when I heard the opening strains of the violin concerto and his ‘Hello Gladdies’;  I knew it would be a treat for mind and soul. And it was always a huge privilege to be in conversation with him in the studio. Phillip you are loved and treasured, have given us all so much, and will be much, much missed.”

Still others have admired his warmth, charm, and generosity. Helen Garner says, “Phillip had a warm, swervy interviewing manner that put you at ease, and gave you just the surprises you needed to get outside your own clichés. Once, when I wimpily turned up at the ABC to be part of a group discussion he could see I wasn’t really interested in, he said something very bracing to me: ‘When are you going to start saying no?’”

Tom Keneally says, “Phillip’s radio show was a garden of delightful and unexpected ideas. What writers delighted in was his personality and how present he was in the interview and its glittering concepts. His presence in every interview was in fact like a gift, and writers who were lucky enough found he gave not only of his Adams-ness but another precious thing: time to talk. When commentators consider someone irreplaceable it is sometimes out of politeness, but Phillip cannot be replaced. In a time of glibness, he spoke, or sparked the speaking of, truth.”

Peter Carey recounts an instance of Adams’ early encouragement of his work, saying, “I first knew Phillip as someone who might hire me as a copywriter (which he never did) but then, almost immediately and more importantly, as a passionate supporter of my early writing. It was Phillip who not only made sure that Overland published my story ‘Crabs’ but took the trouble to congratulate me when it finally appeared.”

“I rarely received that sort of encouragement in my early years so if those hundred words were all Phillip had ever done to lift my spirits, they would be much more than enough. Later, of course, he became that public reader every writer hopes for and so rarely finds, that warm wise friend and critic who might tell you something you hadn’t heard a hundred times before. I’m still hoping for just one more lunch.”

Also encouraged by Adams was Professor Clare Wright who says, “Phillip was the cultural father who put me on his figurative knee and asked all the right questions of a wide-eyed baby public intellectual who was desperate to be taken seriously. With warmth and what always appeared to be genuine curiosity, Phillip patronised my scholarly output in the most generous way: national visibility. He shared the credibility of his mic with me, and in so doing helped me find a voice that could, in our most recent encounters, dare to question his authority.  That is not chivalry. That is infinite grace.”

Many other authors have offered their thanks, including Alice Pung, “Thank you for your generosity towards Australian authors, your considered and deep interviews with us, and your genuine love for the written as well as spoken word. You are a titan and your presence on air will be greatly missed.”

Bernadette Brennan, “My first radio interview for Leaping Into Waterfalls: The Enigmatic Gillian Mears (2021) was with Phillip, conducted during the covid lockdown in NSW. It was quiet, profound, important and took me places I had not anticipated going. I will be forever grateful. Phillip’s reach has been so broad and constant that thousands of listeners know things about Australian writers and their work that they might otherwise never have discovered. Thank you Phillip for your brilliant service.”

Hugh Mackay, “What an achievement! What an enrichment of our culture! What an advocate for writers and writing … the program could well have been called Late Night Books. Deepest thanks and highest admiration from one of the authors whose work you have so generously supported over many years.”

And Geraldine Brooks, who has penned an article saluting Phillip Adams upon his retirement which you can read at ABC News.

Adams’ passion for books does not stop at hosting Late Night Live – he is the author and co-author of over 20 books. He is also an advocate for the film industry, as well as a champion of the arts more broadly. Throughout his career, he’s been awarded an Order of Australia twice, the Longford Award (1981) for outstanding services to the Australian film industry, the Australian Humanist of the Year (1987), the Henry Lawson Arts Award (1987), Australian Republican of the Year 2005, a Walkley Award for radio journalism (2004),  the Humans Rights Medal (2006), and has been elected one of Australia’s 100 Living National Treasures by the National Trust. He has campaigned for Australia to become a republic, for climate action, for Reconciliation and for just treatment of refugees.  

On behalf of every Australian writer who has appeared on Late Night Live, and the writing community you have championed, thank you, Phillip. For the respect you’ve fostered for writers, for the time you’ve given to Australian and international authors and for sharing our books with your listeners. You are a true friend of the writer and we salute you. We wish you every good thing for your retirement. May it be filled with the gifts you’ve brought to so many others: many wonderful books to read and fine conversation with friends. 

Adams will be passing on the Late Night Live mantle to Walkley award-winning journalist, author, and broadcaster, David Marr. We warmly congratulate David and wish him all the very best in the new role.