Rex Heading, the man who created Humphrey B. Bear in the 1960s, has died from cancer at the age of 81.
Heading was working at Adelaide radio station 5KA when he became one of the first staff appointed by the city’s first television station, NWS9 – Rupert Murdoch’s first television station – when it was preparing to launch in 1959. He was the new station’s first program and production manager, overseeing early programs including Adelaide Tonight, The Country And Western Hour and the channel’s big-budget Christmas pantomimes.
When NWS9’s resident children’s character Bobo the Clown moved across to rival channel SAS10 in 1965, Heading needed a new character to take his place:
“I believed what we wanted was some form of three-dimensional cartoon character. I had spent time years earlier drawing cartoons for some not very discerning magazines, and so I sat down with a pad and started to draw. After a lot of sketching based around a human outline, the result was Humphrey B. Bear.”
Humphrey made his debut on NWS9’s The Channel Niners and was so successful he was soon given his own show, Here’s Humphrey. The new program was screened nationally across the Nine Network and many regional stations, creating an iconic children’s brand that has lasted generations and would run on Nine almost continuously for over forty years.
In the 1970s, Heading created a breakfast show featuring Cheryl Mills and characters Winky Dink and Hot Dog – and the success of Here’s Humphrey also led to a spin-off, The Curiosity Show. Heading’s contribution to children’s television led to him being made a foundation member of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal's children's program committee, as well as to the committee that founded the Australian Children's Television Foundation.
His success in production at NWS9 led to him being promoted to general manager and then managing director. He was involved in the establishment of regional television stations in Kalgoorlie, WA, and the Riverland district in South Australia, and spent three years working for the Ten Network. He also worked for Crawford Productions and radio 3AW.
In 1996, Heading co-wrote the book Miracle on Tynte Street: The Channel 9 Story and in 2006 was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to the television industry as a producer and director.
The death of Rex Heading comes only a few months after the passing of Tedd Dunn, the creator of another children’s TV character, Fredd Bear, in 1964.