Chan­nel 7’s mild-man­nered re­porter Den­ham Hitch­cock proves you don’t need a suit (or cape) to per­form coura­geous deeds.

Whether he’s chas­ing a story in a dan­ger zone or a new fit­ness PB, Sun­day Night re­porter Den­ham Hitch­cock is a real-life Clark Kent

Men's Health (Australia) - - Contents - BY DANIEL WIL­LIAMS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY JA­SON IERACE

IF DEN­HAM HITCH­COCK’S as­sign­ment du jour were to com­pile a re­port on his own life, how would he start it? Per­haps it would be in the surf at Syd­ney’s Dee Why in the sum­mer of 2016, when he glanced to his right across the break and no­ticed a woman on her board. “She was pad­dling around in a Brazil­ian bikini, which is eye-catch­ing,” re­calls Hith­cock. “She was surf­ing with an­other guy, and I was just hop­ing he wasn’t her boyfriend.”

Ex­cept, it’s not Hitch­cock’s style just to sit there hop­ing. That kind of pas­sive­ness . . . well, it doesn’t get you any­where, does it? “So I waited for him to catch a wave, then I pad­dled over and said hello.”

The beauty turned out to be Mari Borges, a (sin­gle) Brazil­ian ex­pat and hos­tel man­ager. She and Hitch­cock hit it off, bond­ing over a shared love of fresh air, ex­er­cise and salt wa­ter. “We’ve been in­sep­a­ra­ble,” says Hitch­cock, who was 40 at the time. They’re get­ting mar­ried next Fe­bru­ary.

It would be a de­cent opener, and it would speak to Hitch­cock’s don’t-die-won­der­ing ap­proach. But it’s a mite too soft and sen­ti­men­tal for a jour­nal­ist

of his ilk. This isn’t a bloke who shad­ows the dress­maker be­fore a royal wed­ding. This is Sun­day

Night’s tough­est op­er­a­tor, who’s in his el­e­ment re­port­ing from a Mid­dle East bat­tle­field or but­ton­hol­ing a slip­pery mur­der sus­pect.

So though it’s painful, Hitch­cock would more likely hark back to some­thing that hap­pened a long time ago – when he was 14, in fact, and en­joy­ing a sum­mer scorcher on the Hawkes­bury River with his dad, Kevin. Young Den­ham, home from board­ing school for Christ­mas, had tied a rope to a branch and the pair were swing­ing out over the wa­ter and drop­ping in.

Then dis­as­ter struck. On a down­ward swing, Kevin’s foot clipped the bank, throw­ing him off kil­ter and send­ing him head­first into the shal­low wa­ter. Watch­ing on, Den­ham was at first un­con­cerned when his fa­ther failed to resur­face. “I thought he was jok­ing,” says Hitch­cock. “I was get­ting ready for him to spring out of the wa­ter and grab me.”

As the sec­onds ticked by, how­ever, it be­came fright­en­ingly clear his dad wasn’t fool­ing around. The boy started duck-div­ing into the mud-coloured wa­ter. On his third plunge he caught a flash of his fa­ther’s white trunks on the river floor. He pulled him to the sur­face and hauled him on to dry land. “He could breathe and he could speak, but he couldn’t move any­thing else,” says Hitch­cock, whose yells for help brought other fam­ily run­ning to the scene.

A chop­per would trans­port his fa­ther to hos­pi­tal, where doc­tors con­firmed a cat­a­strophic in­jury. Kevin Hitch­cock – 39 at the time and news direc­tor at Chan­nel 10 – be­came an in­com­plete quadraplegic that day. It would be four months be­fore he came home.

Over lunch in a cafe be­neath the Chan­nel 7 build­ing in Syd­ney’s CBD, Hitch­cock re­flects on the con­se­quences of that event with the im­pas­sive air of . . . ex­actly what he is: a sea­soned tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist who’s pretty much seen it all.

“Short term, I grew up very quickly. I be­came the man of the house a lot ear­lier than an­tic­i­pated,” says Hitch­cock, whose youngest sis­ter was a new­born at the time. “I was quite a re­bel­lious kid, but all that stopped on that day.”

Longer term? “Partly be­cause of my job I’ve been able to put it into per­spec­tive,” he says. “My fa­ther’s still here. I still get ad­vice from him. I go around and cook him din­ner every Sun­day night. So I still con­sider my­self for­tu­nate.”

The idea that his fa­ther’s ac­ci­dent would have jus­ti­fied the son floun­der­ing in life ir­ri­tates him. “Bad things hap­pen to good peo­ple,” he says. “It’s the way of the world. But it’s how you deal with it that sets you apart. You can’t use it as an ex­cuse. I’ve seen too many peo­ple do that.”

GO BOLDLY

Hitch­cock is good, blokey com­pany – quick with a laugh that re­veals his per­fect white teeth, never short of a rol­lick­ing anec­dote. But he can also seem pre­oc­cu­pied, in­vari­ably with some loose end at­tached to his cur­rent project.

To­day, that’s the in­side story of the huge po­lice op­er­a­tion that thwarted a home­grown ter­ror­ist plot in 2005. While that ef­fort put 18 men be­hind bars, many of them are now free (pre­ma­turely, Hitch­cock feels) and work­ing as tradies. Hitch­cock’s plan­ning to “bounce” one of them in Mel­bourne in a cou­ple of days. That’s tele­vi­sion­speak for ac­cost on the street with­out warn­ing, cam­era rolling.

Hitch­cock is the epit­ome of the in­trepid re­porter. It’s hard to imag­ine him get­ting out of bed for a story that didn’t, to some de­gree, put his life in peril, or at very least send his heart rac­ing. For Sun­day

Night, where he’s into his fifth year,

“Bad things hap­pen to good peo­ple. It’s how you deal with it that sets you apart”

he’s rid­den a race­horse at full gal­lop across a pad­dock to high­light the dan­gers of be­ing a jockey; flown a mo­torised paraglider over the Bar­ring­ton Tops Na­tional Park search­ing for a crashed plane; “taken a pound­ing” over a few rounds from UFC heavy­weight Mark Hunt; twice gone to Iraq, where he was shot at by snipers and pur­sued by grenade-bear­ing drones.

They’re just four ex­am­ples of a fear­less ap­proach to his craft that could make other journos feel faint twinges of in­ad­e­quacy. “The per­fect story for me makes a dif­fer­ence,” says Hitch­cock. “It goes be­yond en­ter­tain­ment, be­yond the cat­a­logu­ing of events.” It’s a les­son for you and me in not go­ing through the mo­tions. You spend half your life work­ing. Strike a blow.

THE WRITE STUFF

The man was al­ways go­ing to be a jour­nal­ist. His dad saw to that, read­ing him clas­sics like Moby Dick at bed­time in­stead of Win­nie the

Pooh or Jack and the Beanstalk, and get­ting Dick­ens into his hands when Den­ham was still in short pants. This per­me­ated the boy’s prose style, which in turn con­fused his teach­ers. “One com­ment was some­thing like, “I’m won­der­ing what Den­ham is read­ing at home

be­cause this seems like it was writ­ten by some­one in the 19th Cen­tury’,” re­calls Hitch­cock.

His dad loved fine writ­ing, but first and fore­most he was a news man. “So we’d sit and watch the news,” says Hitch­cock. “And then we’d watch the big cur­rent af­fairs shows. We’d talk about them, dis­sect them. And he’d give me lit­tle writ­ing as­sign­ments. So there was re­ally no doubt where I was head­ing.”

Hitch­cock landed his first job at 18, an­swer­ing phones and fill­ing the bis­cuit bar­rel at Chan­nel 7’s To­day

Tonight. But with Hitch­cock’s ini­tia­tive that was never go­ing to last. Every spare mo­ment, he worked the phones. “In the first six months I would have brought three lead sto­ries to them.” The boss pro­moted him to re­searcher: “You’re in­cred­i­bly young,” he told Hitch­cock, “but you’re wasted an­swer­ing phones.”

From there, he hasn’t looked back. Tal­ent, dogged­ness and am­bi­tion earned him jobs in Lon­don at Reuters TV and Chan­nel 3’s break­fast show GMTV. He worked for Chan­nel Nine for 14 years, four of those as its La-based for­eign cor­re­spon­dent. He cov­ered Barack Obama’s se­cond in­au­gu­ra­tion, back be­fore the world went mad. He’s nailed every role, but

Sun­day Night is a per­fect fit. “At the end of the day, some­times you’ve had a front-row seat to his­tory, and some­times you’ve just had a shot of adren­a­line that sets you on fire.”

CAM­ERA READY

You’ll have no­ticed by now that Hitch­cock is in ridicu­lously good shape. Bet­ter shape re­ally than any ded­i­cated jour­nal­ist is en­ti­tled to be in. Bet­ter shape, pos­si­bly, than any jour­nal­ist in the his­tory of jour­nal­ism. That may sound like rank, tabloid-tv hy­per­bole. Un­til you see him in the flesh.

His se­cret? Well, he says, it’s part luck: it just so hap­pens he loves do­ing the things that cre­ate a gran­ite-hard physique.

“Look, I’ve never had a per­sonal trainer, never had some­one guide me through rou­tines or tell me what I should be do­ing,” he puffs be­tween sprints at dawn at Syd­ney’s Dee Why beach. “I love be­ing out­doors. I love phys­i­cal ex­er­cise. And I do the work­outs I do be­cause I like the way they make me feel.”

When at home in Syd­ney, those work­outs are a com­bi­na­tion of heavy-duty weights ses­sions (dom­i­nated by tri-sets, the mid­dle set a bru­tal car­dio hit), soft-sand run­ning and surf­ing. But the point to make here is that Hitch­cock of­ten isn’t at home. He spends up to six months of the year in­ter­state or over­seas on as­sign­ment, of­ten with no ac­cess to a crummy gym, let alone a glo­ri­ous shore­line.

Right there would be his ex­cuse to let the ex­er­cise slide, but he never does. Don’t give him this ‘no-time’ crap. Or ‘no space’. “If you have two square me­tres to work in you can do 12 push-up burpees every minute for 10 min­utes and I guar­an­tee

“Eighty mi­nus your age. That’s how long you’ve got left. So the clock is tick­ing. Make it count”

you that will be one of the hard­est work­outs you’ve ever done.” It’s the same with food: he craves the stuff (meat, eggs) that makes mus­cle, and has no in­ter­est in the sweet de­lights that your body will store as fat. “Even as a kid my birth­day cake was a roast lamb with can­dles in it.”

The sprints done, Hitch­cock plunges into the freez­ing surf. This is a win­ter’s morn­ing. The air temp might be 8°C. But he strides out five min­utes later look­ing re­born. “Your body’s drawn to the soft­est op­tions – the most com­fort­able couch, the tasti­est food,” he says. “But re­ally it needs to be shocked now and then.”

It’s ob­vi­ous Hitch­cock doesn’t want to dwell on the shape he’s in. For one thing, “I’m by no means a health nut. I still drink. Fri­day night is tequila night for me and my girl. We go out and party.”

And be­sides, there’s so much more to life than the size of your del­toids. Per­haps as a con­se­quence of his dad’s ac­ci­dent, cer­tainly as a re­sult of be­ing a fre­quent eye­wit­ness to tragedy, Hitch­cock’s over­pow­er­ing drive is to make the most of his years on Earth.

“Eighty mi­nus your age,” he says ur­gently. “That’s roughly how long you’ve got left on this tiny, 14-bil­lion-year-old planet in a cor­ner of an in­fi­nite uni­verse. So the clock is tick­ing. Make it count!”

What does that mean? “It means ap­proach­ing that girl. It means if there’s a job you want, go for it. It means surf­ing Tea­hapoo. Don’t die won­der­ing. Be­cause you don’t have time to fuck around.”

COVER GUY: DEN­HAM HITCH­COCK PHO­TOGRAPHED BY JA­SON IERACE

MEAT-HEAD: “AS A KID MY BIRTH­DAY CAKE WAS A ROAST LAMB WITH CAN­DLES IN IT.” OC­TO­BER 2018

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