|This article relies on references to primary sources. (December 2007)|
Agro is an Australian puppet and media personality, operated by comedian and voice artist Jamie Dunn. He was especially prominent on Australian television in the 1990s due to his co-hosting opposite Ann-Maree Biggar and Terasa Livingstone of Agro's Cartoon Connection, a children's program that was aired from 1989 to 1997 on weekday mornings by the Seven network.
The word 'agro' (also spelled 'aggro') is Australian English slang for 'aggressive', and may be used as an adjective to describe someone with a belligerent personality. Agro is sometimes said to have the surname Vation, though the puppet is rarely credited with a surname.
Agro's humour tends to be adult, with much sexual suggestion, cursing and uninhibited behaviour. He has often appeared with an innocent-acting female offsider, who is subjected to mocking and innuendo. His pre-taped performances in shows intended for a juvenile or family audience were vetted before broadcast, but in the adult-oriented shows (and in the Christmas tapes of Agro's Cartoon Connection) his largely uncensored antics were given full rein. Unlike many characters, particularly children's puppets, Agro often broke the fourth wall, making reference, for example, to the facts that he was a puppet, that his limbs did not move, and that a hand was up his back.
The original puppet was created by BTQ-7 employee Garry Rhodes, who was a floor manager at the time. Reputedly made from a bathmat (Agro frequently describes himself as a 'talking bathmat'), the Agro puppet is more-or-less a version of the Muppet character Animal. Later, the producer of Agro's Cartoon Connection claimed that Agro had been "altered by the Red Cross", after Jim Henson's Muppets made a claim regarding copyright.
Rhodes had an exceptional talent in the use of the puppet and initially entertained his daughter, family and friends with it. The producer of the children's show on Channel Seven saw the character's potential and thus Agro appeared on TV. It was Rhodes who coined the concept of "eating flies" and other naughty quirks that later continued as part of the puppet's character.
After a fall-out with Seven led to Rhodes' resignation, several different 'operators' were involved in working the puppet. Jamie Dunn eventually fell into that role after a not-so-startling singing career. It was Dunn who took the character to greater heights and created an iconic part of Australian television history. Dunn's marketing prowess resulted in the Agro concept becoming a lucrative career for him.
The Agro puppet eventually produced by Fisher-Price was unusual in its construction. The puppeteer could open and close the mouth, and could also manipulate the eyebrows via a plastic lever in the head. This allowed Dunn to create a sexually-suggestive leering expression, which he often used. The eyes and limbs do not move.
After Agro's rise to fame there was some dispute between Rhodes and Jamie Dunn because Dunn attempted to claim creative ownership of the puppet. A court case loomed, but BTQ-7 and the parties involved reached a settlement that allowed Jamie Dunn to retain the rights.
Agro officially belongs to Channel Seven. In 2001 Channel Seven Productions enlisted puppeteer and puppet builder Warren Duxbury to rebuild Agro because the original Agro had deteriorated beyond repair. The new puppet was built for use on the revival of dating show Perfect Match, hosted by Shelley Craft. The nose of the new puppet was noticeably different from the old one.
Agro hosted the following Australian television shows:
- Boris' Breakfast Club (? – 1989)
- Wombat (1983–1990)
- Agro's Cartoon Connection (1989–1997)
- Super Sunday Show (aka Super Saturday Show)
- Perfect Match (2002 revival)
Agro has also appeared as a guest on the following television shows:
- Hey Dad..!
- Wheel of Fortune (often appearing as the partner and mouthpiece for Fat Cat on Celebrity Wheel of Fortune)
- Family Feud (with his "family" father Star, mother Ellie and younger brother Neville)
- The Main Event
- Talk With the Animals
- The Daily Edition
He has also appeared on a number of Australian telethons, particularly those that raise money for the Royal Children's Hospital, Brisbane.
Agro's radio credits include:
- The Morning Crew (1990–2005), B105 FM's breakfast show. Agro performed prank telephone calls and also presented a segment Agro to the Rescue, in which he would provide money or resources to a family or individual in trouble. Eventually the 'Agro' performances were credited to Jamie Dunn, and the 'Agro' character was marginalised.
- The Zinc Morning Zoo (2006–), with Ian Calder and Courtney Burns on Sunshine Coast FM radio station "Zinc 96".
Agro has released four albums, a Game Boy game, an arcade game (Agro's Fantastic Arcade Game), and a range of merchandise including action figures, stickers, lunchboxes, and children's clothing. He is patron of the Shandar Smith Foundation, a charity for children with cancer.
Dunn has never appeared alongside Agro, as a typical ventriloquist might. When Agro appears on camera or on stage, Dunn is always hidden, often by furniture.
Agro's on-camera roles became less frequent in the late 1990s as his radio commitments grew and the novelty of the character wore off. When Agro performed on radio, Jamie Dunn would sit in the studio and provide the Agro voice without actually operating the puppet. In time, these performances were credited to Dunn himself.
Dunn aspired to become a show-business personality in his own right, and so in time he appeared in promotional material for the B105 FM Morning Crew as himself. He used the 'Agro' character as a kind of alternative, more uninhibited personality (for example, when making prank telephone calls). The puppet itself was seldom seen during the 2000s. Dunn said at one point that Agro was 'in a suitcase somewhere'. More recently, Agro has appeared in promotional material for Zinc 96.
In March 2009 Agro returned to television screens in South East Queensland to promote a $7,000 cash give-away on Radio Station 4BC. As of August 2013, Agro started appearing on Channel 7 program 'The Daily Edition'. He talks to the panel and answers viewer questions.
- 1987: Most Popular Children's Program: Wombat
- 1988: Most Popular Children's Program: Wombat
- 1989: Most Popular Children's Program: Wombat
- 1990: Most Popular Children's Program: Wombat
- 1991: Most Popular Children's Program: Agro's Cartoon Connection
- 1992: Most Popular Children's Program: Agro's Cartoon Connection
- 1993: Most Popular Children's Program: Agro's Cartoon Connection
- 1994: Most Popular Children's Program: Agro's Cartoon Connection
- 1995: Most Popular Children's Program: Agro's Cartoon Connection
- 1996: Most Popular Children's Program: Agro's Cartoon Connection
- 1997: Most Popular Children's Program: Agro's Cartoon Connection
He also received a Penguin Award for "Best Presenter of Light Entertainment".
- PARTRIDGE2006 Eric Partridge; Tom Dalzell; Terry Victor (2006). Taylor & Francis, ed. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-415-25937-8.