A guy called Bob
The world will be a much duller place with the death of VW
(now VWIP) scribe Bob Tomalski in mid January. Not having been on the receiving
end of "Bob T's" questions, it's hard to say with any certainty, but I
would imagine that he was one of the most feared interrogators that companies
had to contend with, and certainly one of the most respected. His performances
at press conferences where legendary. You could get in with a question before
Bob, but only if for some reason he hadn't arrived when arrived when the Q&A
You got a sense sometimes that he was
playing to the crowd, and its true, he was a born entertainer, as anyone who has
seen his performances on TV, heard him on the radio, or even just been in the
room when he bounced in with his trademark greeting: "Greetings" will
readily testify. But at the same time, he knew his onions. Boy did he know his
onions. From AV gear to camcorders to mobile phones to PDA's, digital cameras
and PCs, not to mention CB radio and amateur TV gear and probably a whole
lot of other stuff, there didn't seem to be a bit of consumer electronics kit
out there that Bob didn't know inside out and backwards.
to talk from time to time about what it might be like to leave the safety
of his job WV and go freelance, but he appreciated the freedom the company gave
him to honour his TV and radio commitments, and was concerned too that the work
might not come in. Yeah, right Bob, I and others would tell him, like every
technical magazine in the county wouldn't be forming a queue outside his door,
not to mention the TV opportunities. It was a sign of his own modesty, and
perhaps insecurity, that he was still working at WV at the time of his death.
a magazine editor at WV myself, having someone of Bob's talent to call on in-house
was fantastic. It was like having the best freelancer in the world on your books
without having to pay him out of your monthly budget.
ways, he was his own worst enemy. Everyone wanted him to review kit or interview
some top Japanese designer or get the real story behind the delay of a new
format launch, and Bob being Bob just couldn't say no, leading to a constantly
heavy workload which undoubtedly contributed to some of his health problems he
suffered in recent years. Then again, if you hadn't given him work to do, he
would only have gone out and found it for himself.
Bob had great
ambitions to make a name for himself on TV. He was probably the best presenter
Tomorrow's World never had. In recent years, he had begun to make inroads, in
particular with his Techofile slot on Sky. But no matter how much he craved the
studio lights, it was a measure of the man that remained as committed to writing
a 1000-word review on a budget Pro-Logic amp as he did putting together a slot
to go out national television.
Bob's dedication to the job was
equally evident on foreign press trips. While the rest of us would spend most of
the morning session speculating as to what we would be for lunch, Bob would be
sniffing round the back of the display with his digital camera, looking for the
hidden risk of electronics that the manufacturer was using to pull a fast one,
or doorstepping the big cheese who had been flown over from Japan with his
MiniDisc recorder, trying to get him to say something newsworthy while the PR
minders weren't around to step in at an inopportune moment. He was the nearest
thing we had to a Roger Cook in our industry and fellow hacks, and I hope the
people on the receiving end, respected him hugely for it.
Bob knew, too, from our smartarse comments, that some of us other hacks
occasionally mocked his commitment to the job in a light-hearted way. It was to
his credit that I never heard him go all worthy on us about his business in his
usual no-nonsense way and got the story as a result.
half expecting to see him at the next press conference I go to, and I won't
quite believe he's gone until I see for myself that he's not there. His death
will sadden many people in the business, including fellow journos in this
country and abroad, as well as those on the receiving end of his grillings, for
whom dealing with Bob must always have been stimulating challenge. I'd be
willing to bet too that in board rooms in Tokyo and Osaka, some of the men at
the very top of the Japanese consumer electronics giants will privately shed a
tear at the tragic passing of a remarkable man.