In attendance were Nine managing director Jeffrey Browne, news boss Darren Wick, Melbourne news director Hugh Nailon, Eddie McGuire, Sam Newman, Livinia Nixon, Grant Williams, Ian Patterson, Pete Smith, Alicia Loxley, Jo Hall, Brett McLeod, Clint Stanaway, Seb Costello, Rob McKnight plus Nine News reporters, producers, publicists, family and media.
The night was hosted by Tracy Grimshaw and Tony Jones who recalled their stories of working with the man everybody simply knows as “Hitch.” Grimshaw, who had been in transit for close to 24 hours from Bundaberg to Melbourne, recalled her first day at Nine at the age of 21 when she was star-struck by Hitchener who took the time to meet and talk to her about her background.
Footage of Hitch’s early days, briefly as host of quiz show Gambit, drew many laughs but were tempered by footage of Hitch across the decades, presenting historic stories including Hoddle Street killings, Bali bombings, Beaconsfield, 9/11 World Trade Tower attacks, Black Saturday bushfires, Death of Princess Diana and more.
Hitchener took over the role of news presenter in 1998 after Naylor retired, a role which would eventually lead to him announcing the death of his predecessor from the Black Saturday bushfires.
An avid Tweeter, he has also overseen great technical changes in news gathering over his 40 years.
As Jeffrey Browne told guests last night, “Not only have you been with us for 40 years, but you’re at the top of your game.” Last year Nine’s Melbourne News never lost a week of ratings.
There were video messages from Julia Gillard, Brian Henderson, Karl Stefanovic, Lisa Wilkinson, Peter Harvey, Ray Martin, Mal Walden, Robert Penfold, Ted Ballieu, Lou Richards and Andrew Demetriou.
One video message from a remarkably lucid Bert Newton showed his trademark wit was still on fire.
“You white-anted Sir Eric Pearce and Brian Naylor, two of the finest newsreaders, now we say there are three of the finest newsreaders. And you basically did it with no copy of those two wonderful newsreaders. You didn’t have the advantage of a pipe or a permanent hairstyle. Peter you really are an absolute gem,” he said.
“You can hold you head high. There’s been no-one better than Peter Hitchener.”
There were also many acknowledgements of Hitchener’s tireless work with local charities and community groups from Dogs Victoria, hospitals, welfare groups and Lort Smith Animal Hospital to grass-roots football clubs.
Hitch recalled his early days of doing double-header bulletins with Sir Eric Pearce, who once told the news director, “I say old boy. He’s got three more words than me tonight. I demand you change this.
“These little rivalries were part of being the best of friends.
“It’s a dream job. What’s the matter with me? After 40 years I still love coming into work and I’d be lost without it.”
And yes, there was even mention of that seagull, arguably still the only one to upstage him.