Fred Dagg is a fictional archetype satirist from New Zealand created and acted on stage, film and television by satirist John Clarke. Clarke graced New Zealand TV screens as Dagg during the mid to late 1970s, "taking the piss" out of the post-pioneering Kiwi bloke and "blokesses".
When Clarke first unveiled the character of Fred Dagg in recordings and on New Zealand TV in 1975, he became a national star and icon. Clarke also recorded a series of records and cassettes as Dagg, as well as publishing several books.
The Fred Dagg character is a stereotypical farmer and New Zealand bloke: Clad in a black singlet and gumboots, hailing from the isolated rural town of Taihape, and attended by numerous associates (or sons) all named "Trev". One memorable expression was uttered whenever there was a knock at the door: "That'll be the door."
In 1979, Clarke moved from New Zealand to Australia, where he went on to establish himself as a top script writer and personality. He still appears regularly on Australian television doing political satire sketches with actor comedian Bryan Dawe.
Clarke has stated that the inspiration for Fred Dagg came primarily from his uncles who would talk in such a way, using intonation and speech rhythm, to cause laughter without the standard telling of jokes.
Much of the comedy coming into New Zealand at the time was British radio and this was an inspiration to him.
Fred Dagg first came to public attention as a closing satire item on the NZBC farming show, Country Calendar - much as he does currently with Brian Dawe weekly on the 7.30 Report. He went on to become a household name in New Zealand in 1975, with the release by Clarke (as Dagg) of two singles with EMI, "Traditional Air"/"Unlabelled", and "We Don't Know How Lucky We Are"/"Larry Loves Barry", with the latter making it to number 17 on the national music single charts.
An album called Fred Dagg's Greatest Hits followed and was a massive seller. Thirty years after its release this album remains one of New Zealand's all-time biggest selling records.
Another single recorded with Diamond Lil was an even bigger hit in 1976. "Gumboots"/"Save The Last Dance For Me" climbed to number 6 on the charts. "Gumboots" was a modified version of Billy Connolly's "If It Wasna For Your Wellies", itself an adaptation of the old song "The Work Of The Weavers".
A second album, Fred Dagg Live was released in 1976. Following on in the style of the first, it was also a huge seller.
1977 saw the release of the film Dagg Day Afternoon, co-directed and co-written by John Clarke and Geoff Murphy, and starring Fred Dagg. The film, under 45 minutes long, is essentially a series of sketches tied together with a loose narrative about Dagg's secret mission to find a "bionic sheep" (or 6 million dollar ram) which has been lost by the government. While disappointing on the narrative level the film nevertheless is a showcase for the rare gem that is early Kiwi comedy, highlighting a penchant for comedic understatment, an emphasis on New Zealand speech patterns (verbal reversals and wordplay) and the ironic stabs at the obvious.
A third and final album was released in 1979 called The Fred Dagg Tapes.
In 1998 the Fred Dagg Anthology CD was released by Columbia. It contains a range of John Clarke's material, including most of the items Fred Dagg is most remembered for. A lot of the second half of the Anthology isn't genuine "Fred Dagg" material, having been created by Clarke after he'd retired Fred Dagg and moved to Australia. A number of mock interviews were first broadcast on Australian current affairs television, and lampoon prominent people (such as businessman Alan Bond) who would not be familiar to a New Zealand audience. There are also six "farnarkeling" reports, which parody sports news and were first performed by Clarke on the ABC's The Gillies Report.
- "Gumboots" New Zealand Geographic No85 May–June 2007