By Andrew Biggs
The annual Australian TV awards called The Logies were on last week.
A friend provided a link to one portion of the program. It was a less frenetic moment featuring the names and faces of those in the TV industry who had passed away in the last 12 months. So many faces from my youth popped up, while a singer provided a moving and slow rendition of David Bowie’s Heroes.
This year one name and face dissolved in and out which brought a nostalgic tear to my eye:
Jaye Walton, TV Personality.
What is even more curious is that the average Australian may not remember who she was — she would have much greater recognition here in Thailand.
Jaye Walton was a larger-than-life Australian expat who mingled in Bangkok expat social circles for more than three decades.
She had a life before that too, as host of a daytime TV show called A Touch Of Elegance. It ran from 1968-1980 on Channel 10 in her home state of South Australia, which is how older Adelaide viewers would remember her.
With her striking blonde hair, Jaye offered tips and tricks for Australian housewives of that era. In a Barry Humphries DVD where he sends up Australian life in the 1970s, she makes a brief appearance in a clip where she introduces South Australians to a new type of food straight from Italy called “pasta”, pronouncing it with an elongated “ah”.
Barry Humphries appeared as a guest on that show as his alter ego Les Patterson, inebriated and raucous, as another guest attempted to demonstrate a spaghetti-making machine. It was hilarious, and very controversial at the time.
In the 1980s Jaye came to Thailand to make a series of documentaries for the Tourism Authority of Thailand. It was during that time she interviewed Their Majesties King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit. She ended up settling down here, becoming a tireless worker for Thailand’s National Cancer Institute.
Any foreigner who was in Thailand in the 1990s and noughties would remember Jaye, because she landed herself a morning talk show on Channel 11 not unlike A Touch Of Elegance from her Adelaide days.
That morning talk show was called, perhaps a little unimaginatively, Morning Talk. She teamed up with another expat powerhouse of the time, Valerie McKenzie, and they interviewed just about every expat who ever got sent to these shores. The first half was Valerie’s interview; the second half was Jaye’s. Then it was switched around the following week.
There was perhaps nothing innovative or technically stupendous about the program, but it did last a helluva long time.
Back in the 1990s in the analog era there were almost no English shows on Thai TV, but these two saw out the decade with their weekly half-hour program featuring interviews with CEOs, chefs, five-star hotel managers, tailors, architects —just about anybody whose name may have popped up in the media. Jaye’s staff would be onto you in a flash. They interviewed Thais, as well, but only those who could speak the language, which back then made the guest pool limited.
The show was always taped at a five-star hotel that happened to be a primary sponsor of the show.
I remember my first interview with Jaye Walton. It was in 1993 and it was at the Shangri-La Hotel on the river. On YouTube there is a Morning Talk program from 2013, which suggests Jaye was on Thai TV for two decades.
Actually I was interviewed three times on the show. She and Valerie had a small stable of expats whom they knew they could call on at a minute’s notice, to fill in for that guest who either came down with a cold, or cold feet, at the last moment.
“Khun Jaye would like to interview you for Morning Talk,” came a phone call one morning around 11 am while I was still working for this newspaper’s chief rival circa 1997.
“But she’s interviewed me twice already,” I replied.
“Khun Jaye would like to interview you again.”
“Okay. What day, when and where? I’m away all next week.”
“One pm today?”
Jaye and Valerie were great sports. They could be seen together swanning around expat events such as the Ploenchit Fair and the annual Australian Embassy Australia Day party back when it was held on embassy grounds.
They were two colorful characters on the Bangkok landscape, eccentric and yet down-to-earth, full of life.
Both were strong and sometimes fierce personalities whom you either loved, feared or despised. I thought they were great.
They were the picture of poise and elegance on camera, but off camera, these two Aussie women, particularly Valerie, could put a painters and dockers union worker to shame with their language.
Meanwhile Jaye loved a glass of wine and a chat, which could end up in salacious gossip. She had an opinion on everything and everyone.
Then something happened. Something drove a wedge between Valerie and Jaye. Perhaps it was because they were two strong-willed women in such close proximity for such a long time. They split, somewhat acrimoniously, and Valerie was suddenly on her own continuing Morning Talk.
As for Jaye, she created a new TV show, called Thai-Oz Talk, which was broadcast on a Sunday afternoon. A newly-arrived expat, particularly of Australian persuasion, would now be on TV twice.
I remember the last time I saw Jaye and Valerie together; it was at an Australia Day function and, while they stood in the same circle of eight or nine people, not a word was spoken between them.
Jaye’s health began to fail as she moved into her 80s and she returned to Adelaide sometime after 2013.
I saw her for the last time in Adelaide in 2014, when she attended a function at the Tourism Authority of Thailand. She was in good spirits and we reminisced about the good old days of Thailand, with her expressing a desire to return.
She never did. She passed away in March this year.
Valerie has gone, too, passing on in 2013 owing to cancer, but not before picking up the Outstanding Australian Award at the Austcham Business Awards.
I miss them both.
A friend of mine visited Jaye just a few months ago in the Lutheran home where she was staying at the end of her life. A heart attack and stroke rendered her a little incapacitated.
Her lodgings featured walls with pictures of Jaye and the Thai Royal Family, a constant reminder of her happy days in this country.
My friend brought her a bottle of champagne. She took one look at the bottle and said: “Thank God! What took you so long?”
Both Jaye and Valerie may be gone, but they blazed a trail in the English media industry here in Thailand.
It is worthy to note that in this current world, where there are at any given moment hundreds, if not thousands, of Thais emceeing their own TV shows from the comfort of their bedrooms via Facebook Live, it was just a short time ago we had just one or two English TV shows for the whole country.
Vale, Jaye Walton, TV Personality.