Australian TV comedy needs a written history. Not individual bios!
Recently, comedian and former 1/3 of the defunct comedy troupe Doug Anthony All-Star-er Tim Ferguson released an autobiography Carry A Big Stick, which was obviously all about him, but also contained a fair bit of stuff from the Doug Anthony All-Star past. This prompted a delightful tweet from the other 1/3 of the troupe – Paul McDermott to comment on a possible ‘tell all’ book on the history of the Doug Anthony All-Stars. (Update: the book “DAAS: Their Part In My Downfall” by Paul Livingston has since been published)
@YoungMasterPaul Great, but don’t mention the thing. What happens on goat stays on goat.
— Tim Ferguson (@WithTimFerguson) October 21, 2013
At the time, the other 1/3 of the Doug Anthony All-Stars .. that guy named Richard Fidler, has not mentioned anything. Not because he doesn’t want to, he probably isn’t aware of the tweet at all. Also, probably no-one has asked him yet. If you’re not aware of their antics, you might as well dive in head first into a milestone of Australian comedy that rose from the busking streets of the nation’s Capital, to the nation’s cathode ray tubes.
But this made me think: what would be a
good great decent somewhat entertaining tell-all book about a couple of Aussie comedy shows?
Beginning all the way from their Melbourne revue shows, this would be a pretty in depth look into how the group of 6+ (Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro, Michael Veitch, John Harrison, Magda Szubanski, Marg Downey, Nick Bufalo, Jane Turner) formed to begin one of the best comedy shows in the 80s on the ABC.
After the show finished, half of the group fell apart after a venture into breakfast radio. A few years later, joined by Mick Molloy, Tony Martin, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, Judith Lucy (though some joined during breakfast and the second season of D-Generation), a live late night sketch comedy show The Late Show became a cult favourite.
Why Should A Book Be Written?
Citing exhaustion from the late night schenanigans, the team matured and created the dramedy behind-the-scenes current affairs show Frontline, and spawning successful silver screen movies (The Castle, The Dish) and even more TV shows that pop up from time to time today.
The list is endless on the content made. While team members have come and gone, these people have created their own content too. There have been more radio shows, stand-up that’s evolved from failed radio shows, as well as the infamous falling out between once inseparable duo Martin and Molloy over Molloy’s film Boytown.
From books, more movies, and radio shows. It’s just one big family tree. Nowadays, extra ‘members’ have joined the spawned off Working Dog team, such as Sam Pang and Ed Kavalee (Santo, Sam & Ed).
Fast Forward / Full Frontal
After the success of D-Generation producing 4 comedy specials on Channel 7, Fast Forward was developed from leftover shavings from The D-Generation, when comedian and producer Steve Vizard ‘poached’ some of the talent of the D-Gen (Veitch, Szubanski, Downey, Turner) and signed them with Steve Blackburn, Geoff Brooks, Ernie Dingo, Peter Moon, Alan Pentland and Bryan Dawe.
Beginning in 1989, it was one of the most successful Australian comedy shows to be broadcasted on commercial television. Dingo and Dawe left after Season 1, and Gina Riley, Glenn Robbins and Gerry Connolly stepping in from Season 2 and 3 onwards. The show lasted 4 seasons and spawning household names and characters like Michelle and Ferrett, Derryn Hunch, Jana Wendt, Bruce Rump (read Ruxton) and more.
After Fast Forward wrapped up, Full Frontal was born, with 95% new talent, and a handful of the cast of Fast Forward appearing in a few early episodes to make a smoother transition. There was various new talent in Season 1, such as Eric Bana, Glenn Butcher, Greg Fleet, Matt Parkinson, Matt Quartermaine, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Rima Te Wiata, Kim Gyngell and Ross Williams. Fleet left the series after the first season, and Sue Yardley, John Walker and Denise Scott signed up in Season two.
More people came and went from Season three, such as Kitty Flanagan, Daina Reid, Shaun Micallef, Francis Greenslade, Jackie Leob, Julia Morris, Darren Gilshenan, Dave O’Neil, Gabby Millgate and Ursula Brooks. This show went for 5 seasons, spawning even more household names and characters like Milo Kerrigan, Leon the Critic, Ray Martin, and the Australian National Nightly Network News team.
Why Should A Book Be Written?
Then though the creation of Fast Forward and Full Frontal was explained in a biography Vizard Uncut, there’s an interesting story on how the behind-the-scenes with the writers carried on, as per former Full Frontal writer Doug MacLeod explains in his blog.
After key players Micallef and Bana left, the 5th season struggled and was axed in 1997. But it went down with a fight, winning its 4th Logie in a row in 1998.
Rival commercial network Channel 10 heard the Logie outcry, and picked up whatever team was leftover and re-badged as Totally Full Frontal – lasting 2 seasons. Then Australian sketch comedy pretty much died after that, with some comedy shows created and dying a quick death.
The Comedy Company
Let’s take a step back to mid way around D-Generation and just before Fast Forward was about to start. In the late 80s, Channel 10 dared to take on Channel 9’s current affairs ratings juggernaut 60 Minutes on a Sunday night, by slapping a 1 hour sketch comedy series next to it. Mary-Anne Fahey, Ian McFadyen, Mark Mitchell, Glenn Robbins, Kim Gyngell, Chris Keogh, Russell Gilbert. Sioban Tuke, Paula Gardner and Tim Smith made up the cast of season one, with Peter Rowsthorn replacing Smith later on.
Most of the cast had been working on a Channel 7 sketch show The Eleventh Hour with Vizard and Moon, when they went their separate ways to create Fast Forward. McFadyen developed The Comedy Company with successful results, with many characters becoming… yes, household names. Many of the sketches parodied TV shows and celebrities of the time, such as Graham Kennedy’s Coast To Coast, Hey Hey It’s Saturday, Newsworld and many more. It slaughtered 60 Minutes in the ratings for a while, until the steam cooled. But many household characters are remembered, such as Fahey’s rebellious schoolgirl Kylie Mole, Mitchell’s Con The Fruiterer, and Robbins’ Uncle Arthur which he brought over from another ABC comedy show While You’re Down There, with his hilarious sped up home videos with his ‘innocent’ commentary. There was even McFadyen’s David Attenborough piss-take David Rabbitborough investigating simple things like the garden hose, and McFadyen/Fahey’s married couple in bed who are always having a healthy debate or argument.
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Fahey’s schoolgirl character Kylie Mole took off like a house on fire, even Kylie Minogue joined in on the fun, especially as her celebrity status was rising by the day. Mole’s popularity spawned off her own merchandise from diaries to her own music single So Excellent which charted at Number 8 in the Australian music charts.
Mitchell’s character Con The Fruiterer – a Greek fruit shop owner with a passion for telling a yarn and expressing his love for his wife Marika (played by Mitchell too) got similar exposure, even releasing his own single A Cuppla Days. The song was written by Men At Work frontmen Colin Hay and Greg Ham. The song barely scratched the surface of the music charts, and has long since been forgotten. Until now.
Gyngell’s lazy docile simpleton Col’n Carpenter got his own spin-off series… named Col’n Carpenter. It lasted 36 episodes and shown on Channel 10, the same network as The Comedy Company.
and Robbins’ favourite relative Uncle Arthur, pops up randomly where ever Robbins is making TV appearance.
A mention of McFadyen and Fahey’s divorce which happened after the show finished was apparently not well received, but was inspirational for another TV comedy show Kittson Fahey.
Hey Hey It’s Saturday
Okay, I’ll probably lose you here, but I’m not referring to the 2009/10 reunion and revival. I’m talking about the 28 years when it was on air. We all watched it when we were kids. No one went out on a Saturday night until HHIS was over at 8:30pm. With a plethora of segments and talent walking in and out the doors, from Red Faces to Molly’s Melodrama, Hollywood interviews, costume nights, games and performers, Daryl Somers and hand puppet sidekick Ossie Ostrich would entertain the young and old. How? Let’s skip to…
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This show has major history. Back to when Somers was being trained up to replace Graham Kennedy when he would go on holidays or leave altogether he was noticed by Ernie Carroll (the operator of Ossie with his arm up his bum). They started a Saturday morning show called Cartoon Corner which they would provide the ‘top and tail’ before and after the cartoons for entertainment. Before Ossie popped up to be Daryl’s sidekick, former AFL player Peter McKenna was by Somers’ side for 8 weeks, then left. Ossie Ostrich the hand puppet appeared and became a fixture to the show. In the mid 80s, HHIS was moved to late night, aiming at an older audience. John Blackman was part of the team with his voiceovers, while Countdown announcer Gavin Wood would appear with his music segment before his mate and Countdown host Ian “Molly” Meldrum took over.
Also in the 80s, Skyhooks guitarist Red Symons and Ol’ 55 saxaphonist Wilbur Wilde joined the in-house band with their sparkling repartee, with Symons being the negative judge on the no-talent segment Red Faces. Queensland talent Jacki MacDonald joined the cast too as Daryl’s off-sider with bubbly personality and innocent jokes that everyone loved.
Segments and games like Wot Cheezus Me Off, Media Watch Press and heaps more came and went, same with chance-luck games Chooklotto were played where the viewing audience would mail in their frozen chicken sizes and hoping they’d be drawn out when the frozen chickens would pop out of the dodgy cage. This would be eventually replaced by Plucka Duck – a man in a duck costume with attitude running amuck.
Other cast members joined, such as cartoonist Andrew Fyfe (who would later get his own game show for kids in the mid 90s), Russell Gilbert for studio audience comic relief, Trevor Marmalade for his live crosses somewhere in Australia, Shane Bourne and Maurie Fields for The Great Aussie Joke and many more, including many characters from Blackman, such as Dickie Knee.
Carroll would then retire around 1994, taking Ossie with him. Daryl went through a few co-hosts after Jacki left, with Denise Drysdale – whom allegedly had a falling out.. maybe a personality conflict, then Jo Beth Taylor in the mid 90s, but left after a nervous breakdown. Penne Dennison also joined, but left and was replaced by Livina Nixon who stayed until the final show in 1999.
Thanks to the power of social media, fan Corrine Lawrence created a HHIS Facebook page and spawned many ‘likes’. This prompted Channel 9 to allow two reunions, and EVERYONE came back to make some sort of an appearance. The two specials rated highly, and were shown on a Wednesday night. Times had changed and the strongest period where the audience would watch TV was a Wednesday, so Channel 9 exploited the ratings hot-spot. Due to the success, HHIS returned for new season in 2010 on a Wednesday, but the ratings steadily declined. It was also hit with the ‘blackface’ scandal, where guest Harry Connick Jr scorned the show for allowing a group of people perform the “Jackson Jive” on Red Faces, having their faces painted black. This is apparently deemed racist in some overseas areas, and Connick Jr forced Somers to make an on-air apology. Naturally, there were people for and against the skit, even making international headlines in the US.
Eventually HHIS was moved back to Saturday where it wrapped up, being the final show broadcasted from the Channel 9 studios in Richmond, Victoria, before it was torn down to make way for an apartment complex – with Channel 9’s history going with it.