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Vale Leigh Tierney – Production Designer Extraordinaire

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Leigh Tierney, production designer extraordinaire passed away on 9th January 2024. He spent four and a half decades at the ABC in Sydney, working in drama, documentaries and news and current affairs. Flamboyant, fastidious and very, very creative, he is fondly remembered by Eric Napper and friends.

LEIGH TIERNEY 

For those of us that worked with Leigh, he will be remembered as a passionate practitioner of his craft who brought a sense of occasion to each and every project he touched.  His career spanned four and half decades with the ABC – a milestone very few have reached – and included many of the broadcaster’s major productions.  His sets, staging and creative environments both in studio and on location ranged from the conservative doctors’ waiting room in “GP”, to the realism of “Police Rescue”, comic exaggerations in “Grass Roots”, and bold visual statements for special broadcasts.

It was those special broadcasts where I worked most closely with Leigh, beginning in the mid 90’s on a Queensland election; the genesis of a partnership that covered state and federal elections into the mid-2010s, and numerous special projects in between.  We worked together on “Australia Talks”, the precursor to Q&A, on the Republic Referendum of 1999, budget coverages, and talk shows to name a few.  Leigh’s capacity to take a design brief and turn it into the basis of excellent television stretched beyond his formidable visual language to included organisational skills, finely tuned over decades of working with producers, directors and staging crews.  I marvelled at his skill in managing all the moving parts. The success of our election broadcasts hinged on Leigh’s preparation and execution – creating working spaces brimming with technology, complemented by deliberate visual messages to our audiences.

Leigh loved to travel. His holiday snaps were from all corners of the globe, and he relished every opportunity he had to travel for our productions.  We shared many meals and experiences, often in remote locations, and I came to enjoy his company enormously.  

And Leigh loved the people around him.   He was funny, entertaining, caring and read people well.  When we discovered a family heritage in common, it felt like he was more than a colleague; he was now my “cousin Leigh”.  He knew how to enjoy the company of others, and how to include them in his life.  I felt fortunate to be part of that cohort.

Peter McEvoy, former Executive Producer of Q&A writes:

“Leigh designed the first Q&A sets and came along with strong concepts for an architecture that helped shape the interaction between the audience and the panel. 

Leigh brought his sharp vision when we headed on the road, as well as his dry humour. What a wonderful old bugger he was.”

Sharon Bruce, Senior Production Manager on Q&A recalls the very first time she met Leigh:

“I first met Leigh when I started as Production Manager of Q&A in 2010. It was my first ever Outside broadcast, OB, at Albury-Wodonga.  Leigh and director Fitz (Mark Fitzgerald) took the newbie out for a drink to suss me out. It turned out he knew my then mother-in-law from the industry and we were then firm friends. I felt like I had passed his test in the same way I felt about passing Uni exams – I was chuffed but wondered how the hell I’d managed that!

I remember early on when we were travelling and Leigh heard about the death by suicide of one of the ABC staging hands. He cried, he was devastated telling me how much he wished he had done more to support the person and how ‘beautiful’ they were.  He cared so much for the staging teams and always appreciated how undervalued they were.

We were both part of the team that took Q&A to Jakarta. We went on a recce  to the company building the travel desk. Leigh spent hours looking at the angles, making suggestions, querying their concept – the rest of us were exhausted and just wanted to get back to the hotel for a beer! He was ever the perfectionist, often critical, argumentative, strong minded and at times inflexible but he was also funny, flirty, strong, caring, protective and warm.

Farewell Leigh, there will never again be someone quite like you and wherever you are I know there is a party going on!”


Eric Napper joined the ABC in 1990 as the inaugural studio director of “Lateline” in Canberra. His career included producer and executive producer credits on news programs and specials, most notably for state and federal elections.  He also spent time as State Editor in the ACT newsroom and retired from the ABC in 2022 after serving as Head of Operations and Projects in the news executive team.

NB: There will be a memorial service for Leigh Tierney at Ripples, Chowder Bay, 

Chowder Bay Road, Mosman NSW from 2pm on Monday 22nd January 2024. Further information via this link: https://tomorrowfunerals.com.au/leigh-tierney/


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