For me, the 1970s was the golden age of TV comedy. That’s when classic British comedies such as Till Death Us Do Part, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin strafed the family telly with their side-splitting electrons.
Alas, Australian TV comedy never reached those leg-rattling heights. With such a small population and television production budgets to match, we just couldn’t approach the quality or quantity of the UK’s comedy output. Still, we turned out a few great comedy moments here and there. Some of them intentional. Some of them not so intentional.
Sally Struthers on the Norman Gunston Show
Norman Gunston was a fictional tissue paper-speckled media personality who hosted several comedy shows bearing his name from the 1970s to the 1990s. I’ll never forget the time he visited an L.A. cinema that featured live sex acts on stage. “What’s playing, cowboys and Indians?” he innocently asked the ticket booth lady.
As he disappeared inside, she turned to the camera and said, “Who is that psycho?” Seconds later he stormed out with a grave look on his face and reported, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s absolute bedlam in there. The projector has broken down, and people are up onstage, tearing each other’s clothes off.”
Norman was famous for his hilarious celebrity interviews. This is one of his best.
Iggy Pop on Countdown
Countdown was a top 40 music program that showcased live pop acts and music videos from Oz and elsewhere in the world. Ian “Molly” Meldrum, presented a pop news segment on each edition. Even on the best of days, he dithered and blundered his way through it, but when a chemically copious Iggy Pop made a guest appearance, he had no hope.
Check out Iggy’s dance moves in the following clip. He looks like he’s trying to struggle out of a straitjacket while having an epileptic fit.
Graham Kennedy on Kingswood Country
Kingswood Country was a comedy series about Ted Bullpitt, a bigoted grumble bum who only had eyes for his beloved Holden Kingswood. In one episode, Ted’s wife cooks dinner for Aussie TV legend Graham Kennedy. Her prized meatloaf is supposed to be on the menu, but the ever-erring Ted brings in a plate of dog food from the kitchen by mistake.
The look on Kennedy’s face when he realizes he isn’t chowing down on meatloaf is one for the ages.
David Thai on Pot Luck
Pot Luck was a talent show that aired in the 1980s. The quality of the acts that appeared on it ranged from the bad to the naked flame in a munitions factory. David Thai, a needle-thin fedora-wearing Vietnamese singer who fancied himself as a combination of John Farnham and Michael Jackson, with a dash of Bruce Lee, fell headlong into the latter category.
The flamboyant and mercilessly candid judge Bernard King, who once gave a hapless Sinatra wannabe a score of minus five, delivers one of the funniest critiques in talent show history.
Rags the Kangaroo on the Early Bird Show
Kangaroos are gentle, cuddly, harmless marsupials, right? Wrong! Rags dispels that gross misconception in this classic clip from The Early Bird Show, a Saturday morning children’s TV program of the 1980s. With headlocks, face jabs, and crotch kicks, Rags shows his bungling handler and Marty the Monster who’s the boss. Incidentally, Marty is what a gerbil looks like when you’re on drugs.
Sir Les Patterson on Parkinson
British TV interviewer Sir Michael Parkinson has brought his chat show to Oz a number of times. Sir Les Patterson, Australia’s cultural attaché, was a guest on one. Sir Les is a creation of Barry Humphries, the comic genius behind Dame Edna Everage. How to describe him? If you took the most disgusting, politically incorrect wino you could find and passed him off as a politician, you would have Sir Les. This clip is safe for work, if you work on a wharf.
Bert Newton on the Don Lane Show
The Don Lane Show was a top-rating tonight show beamed into Aussie homes from 1975 to 1984. The talented Bert Newton was Don’s second banana. Often when a major overseas guest appeared on the show, Bert would impersonate him or her during the show’s wheel segment. Here Bert sends up the whistling kettle-voiced crooner Demis Roussos. It’s thirty-nine seconds of twenty-four-karat comedy gold.
John Clark and Bryan Dawe on Lateline
Lateline is a news analysis program that’s still going strong on ABC TV. Once a week, comedians John Clark and Bryan Dawe appear on the show to satirize a current news story in the form of a studio interview. In this instance it was a supertanker that from all accounts was designed and built by Mr. Magoo.