The Aunty Jack Show
|The Aunty Jack Show|
Kid Eager, Aunty Jack and Thin Arthur from the cassette cover of Aunty Jack Sings Wollongong (1974) (cassette version)
|Directed by||Maurice Murphy|
John Derum (1972)
Garry McDonald (1973)
|Country of origin||Australia|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||13 + 2 specials|
|Original run||15 November 1972 –
29 November 1973
1 March 1975 (special)
The Aunty Jack Show was a Logie Award–winning Australian television comedy series that ran from 1972 to 1973. Produced by and broadcast on ABC-TV, the series attained an instant cult status that persists to the present day.
The lead character, Aunty Jack was a unique comic creation — an obese, moustachioed, gravel-voiced transvestite, part trucker and part pantomime dame — who habitually solved any problem by knocking people unconscious or threatening to 'rip their bloody arms off'. Visually, she was unmistakable, dressed in a huge, tent-like blue velvet dress, football socks, workboots, and a golden boxing glove on her right hand. She rode everywhere on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and referred to everyone as "me little lovelies" — when she was not uttering her familiar threat: "I'll rip yer bloody arms off!", a phrase which immediately passed into the vernacular. The character was devised and played by the multi-talented Grahame Bond and was partly inspired by his overbearing Uncle Jack, whom he had disliked as a child, his grandfather Ben Doyle and Dot Strong the ABC's last official tea lady.
An architecture graduate of Sydney University, Bond was already an accomplished writer, producer, comedian, singer, songwriter and guitarist by the time he graduated. He cut his teeth writing and performing as a founder member and leading light of the University's legendary Architecture Revues from 1964-69. It was here that he met and became friends with other Sydney students including Geoffrey Atherden, Maurice Murphy and Peter Weir, who became Australia's most internationally acclaimed film director. Through these stage revues Grahame also met his longtime musical, writing and acting partner Rory O'Donoghue, who had begun his performing career playing The Artful Dodger in a Sydney production of the musical Oliver! as well as being the lead singer and guitarist in the Sydney rock bands The Pogs and Oakapple Day. Rory was only 14 at the time he met Bond, when The Pogs were brought in to provide musical backing for one of the Architecture Revues.
After graduating, Grahame and friends continued working together on a wide range of projects in film, TV, radio and theatre. He collaborated on several short films and stage pieces with Peter Weir, and wrote and played in a number of stage comedies and revues. The success of Bond's work in the Architecture Revues led to a professional stage revue for the PACT Theatre Company, Balloon Dubloon (1969) with Peter Weir, which in turn led to an invitation from festival director Sir Robert Helpmann to stage a reuve, Drip Dry Dreams at the Adelaide Festival and Richbrooke.
Through Bob Allnutt, a staffer at the PACT Theatre Company who also worked for the ABC's Religious Affairs Department, Weir, Bond and friends were commissioned to produce a TV special, Man On A Green Bike, a fantasy that examined three different views of Christmas; this screened on ABC-TV at the end of December 1969. The 50-minute film, which was Bond's first know TV appearance, was co-written by and starred Bond and Peter Weir, with Geoff Malone, James Dellit, and Anna Nygh. The story concerned three men, once friends sharing many adventures, who are now mayors of three cities—medieval Ackley, the futuristic Cadmium, and Petal Lake, a community reminiscent of the 1930s. Into their midst comes the strange figure of Mr. Maloon, a man travelling on a heavily laden green bike, whose presence disturbs and embarrasses the mayors.
During 1970 Bond, Weir and co. created and performed the revue Filth at the Phillip St Revue, followed by Hamlet On Ice at the Nimrod Theatre. Bond's friendship with Weir led to him writing the music for the three-part AFI Award-winning 1970 film Three To Go (in which he also had a small acting role), for which Weir directed one segment. Bond also provided the music and played a leading role in Weir's first film, the 1971 short feature Homesdale.
Aunty Jack's birth
Aunty Jack was created for a proposed ABC Radio children's radio series, "The Aunty Jack Show", commissioned by Paddy Conroy (former head of ABC TV and now cable channel manager). It was intended to replace the long-running children's radio series The Argonauts Club, which was about to be cancelled. The new series never went to air because ABC executives felt that the Aunty Jack character and some of Grahame's songs were "inappropriate" for young listeners.
The Aunty Jack character made her TV debut in Aunty Jack's Travelling Show, an episode of ABC-TV's The Comedy Game, broadcast in late 1971. It was originally to be called Aunty Jack's Travelling Abattoirs but ABC executives also found the title inappropriate. The program featured Bond, O'Donoghue and Derum, with Sharman Mellick and Kate Fitzpatrick in supporting roles.
This marked the start of a fruitful partnership between Bond, O'Donoghue and ABC writer, producer and director Maurice Murphy. They became the creative nucleus for a string of programs that strongly influenced TV comedy in Australia.
Although frequently compared to Monty Python's Flying Circus, the Aunty Jack character in fact made her appearance well before Python was screened in Australia, although the two teams evidently shared the same love of surreal humour. The Goons have also been mentioned as an inspiration, but in Johnson and Smiedt's history of Australian comedy Boom Boom, Bond himself said that he had listened to The Goons only occasionally. He mentioned Australian radio star Jack Davey, Bob Dyer, the Mickey Mouse Club and The Steve Allen Show as early interests, but cited the surreal black humour of Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22 as a major comedic influence.
Peter Weir was also involved behind the scenes in the early days of the series. He had been part of the university revues they had done together in the 1960s, and had a small part in Homesdale, but by his own account he gave up performing just before The Aunty Jack Show. He later recounted that, after seeing Monty Python's Flying Circus for the first time, he felt that there was no way he could perform as well as the Python team and decided to stay behind the camera.
Maurice Murphy was a pivotal figure in this fertile era of Australian television comedy—he oversaw Aunty Jack and its various spin-off series, and also acted as a vital buffer between the Aunty Jack creative team and the ABC's conservative management. Ted Robinson, then a young director, got his break working for Murphy on the second series of Aunty Jack. Robinson later took over Murphy's mantle in the 1980s, producing some of the best Australian TV comedy series of the period, including The Big Gig and The Gillies Report. Interviewed for Mouthing Off, a history of Australian comedy, Robinson enthusiastically sang Murphy's praises:
- "When I was brought in to work on the second series of The Aunty Jack Show, it was my first contact with television comedy, and I was amazed by the atmosphere of drive and energy that Maurice generated. He made it such an exciting time to be working in comedy because the creative climate under him was so open; nothing was considered too mad or bad or off-the-wall that it wouldn't be considered for broadcast. People like me were able to learn their craft 'on-air' in those days, which meant that we were able to make mistakes or even fail completely with programs and still have a job. Maurice encouraged us to take risks and experiment with comedy and I believe this resulted in some of the best and most innovative comedy ever seen on Australian television."
Aunty Jack's Travelling Show convinced the ABC to commission a short series, to be screened weekly. The Aunty Jack Show premiered on 16 November 1972 and became an immediate cult hit with younger audiences, although it was poorly received by critics. Some viewers found it too confronting, and according to Murphy, the ABC received hundreds of calls after the first episode, complaining about the violence, the "bad language" and especially about the drag aspect of the Aunty Jack character.
Aunty's adolescence and death
The adverse reaction was reportedly strong enough for the ABC to seriously consider taking the series off the air, but it is generally reported that impassioned pleas from the children of certain ABC executives saved the show from being cancelled. This would not be the team's last such run-in with management, however, and the tensions between the creative and bureaucratic elements in the ABC eventually came to a head with the infamous The Off Show in 1977.
Two series of The Aunty Jack Show were made in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The first series comprised seven episodes, the second six episodes. There were also two specials, one aired 8 June 1973 before the second series began in the fall, and a second aired in 1975. Each episode was built around a central theme. The episode titles were:
Series One (1972):
- Aunty Jack Rox On
Series Two (1973):
- "The Channel Nine Show"
- "The Iron Maiden Show"
- "The Golden Glove Show"
- "The Ear Nose and Throat Show"
- "The Little Lovelies Show"
- "The R-Certificate Show"
- Aunty Jack Introduces Colour
Bond killed off the show at the end of the second season by having Aunty Jack die of a heart attack, 'mortified' by the other cast members' 'dirty' language and content. Nevertheless, the cast returned for a special two years later to mark the inauguration of colour television in Australia on 1 March 1975. The special beat ABC's commercial rivals by beginning 3 minutes early, at 11:57 pm 28 March 1975 in black and white and then wiping to colour at midnight.
Aunty Jack alternated one-off sketches with segments featuring many regular and semi-regular characters. All episodes featured segments with Aunty Jack and her sidekicks — blonde bombshell Flange Desire (Sandra McGregor), the tremulous Thin Arthur (O'Donoghue) and, in the first season the snobbish Narrator Neville (John Derum) who was replaced in the second season by the obnoxious Kid Eager (Garry McDonald), a parodic amalgam of characters like Dennis the Menace and Ginger Meggs. There were also semi-regular appearances by nervous folk-singing duo Errol and Neil (Grahame & Rory), and extrovert rock'n'roll butcher Kev Kavanagh (Bond), a character that he had introduced (as "Mr Kevin") in Peter Weir's Homesdale.
Derum left the show after Series 1, wishing to pursue other interests. Derum appeared in archival footage in the special, Aunty Jack Rox On, and was replaced in Series 2 by a new cast member, Garry McDonald, a talented young actor, comedian and musician, who had recently graduated from NIDA. His main role was as Aunty Jack's new sidekick, the cheeky, gum-chewing, freckle-faced Kid Eager. In one episode McDonald premiered a new character, devised by staff writer Wendy Heather. This character featured only briefly in Aunty Jack, but became much more prominent in the spin-off Wollongong the Brave and went on to become one of the most popular comedy characters in the history of Australian television—the now-legendary Wollongong media 'un-personality' Norman Gunston. The Gunston character also appeared on the Aunty Jack Sings Wollongong LP and starred in his own hugely successful, Logie-winning Tonight Show parody, The Norman Gunston Show, which premiered in 1975.
There were some legendary sketches over the two series of The Aunty Jack Show, including:
- Tarzan Superape ("An origami rock opera"), which parodied Jesus Christ Superstar
- Dried Elephant Arrangements for Beginners, in which Aunty Jack visits Taronga Zoo to teach viewers the fine art of "elephanto reducioso" with the reluctant assistance of Colin the elephant
- Colonel Passionfruit, a campy military commander who led his squad of gay troops through a dangerous choreographed war with the help of The Pride Of Erin Mine Avoidance Tactic #III
- Country and eastern singers, The Farrelly Brothers, who performed a unique version of Lucky Starr's "I've Been Everywhere" - but in this version the only places they had been were the NSW regional towns of Wollongong and Dapto (Bond's home town)
- Flat 1A 968 George St (a parody of popular 'sex and sin' soap opera Number 96) in which viewers were promised "lots of bottoms and lots of breasts" - at which point two actors are shown, clad in multiple plastic 'joke' bottoms and breasts.
The popularity of the series led to a one-off TV special, Aunty Jack Rox On, a concert tour, a #1 hit single, "Farewell Aunty Jack" (a version of the closing theme of the series) and a best-selling album Aunty Jack Sings Wollongong, released in early 1974. "Farewell Aunty Jack" was released as a single in December 1973, reached Number 1 on the Australian charts a week later, where it stayed for 10 weeks. It was the first single to debut in Australia at Number 1, the first Australian single to debut at Number 1 and also the first Australian single in picture-disc form, reputedly being the first disc of its kind in the world.
By the time Series 2 was underway Bond was already tired of Aunty Jack so he decided to kill her off in the final episode, "The R-Certificate Show" when, shocked by the gratuitous sex and nudity, Aunty Jack expires from a heart attack. Bond then departed for a much-needed holiday on Norfolk Island where, jointly inspired by the convict ruins and his holiday reading, Errol Flynn's My Wicked Wicked Ways, he came up with the concept for a new series set in the bushranger days, which became Flash Nick From Jindivik.
The next outing for the classic Aunty Jack team was Wollongong the Brave (1974), a series of four one-hour specials that showcased favourite characters from the series. Episode 1 Aunty Jack'n'The Gong in Bloody Concert featured the core characters, augmented by a rock group, with special guest Stevie Wright, former lead singer of The Easybeats, who was then appearing in Jesus Christ Superstar with O'Donoghue. Episode 2 featured 'Country and Mediterranean' music group The Farelly Brothers and their singing sheep Jason; Episode 3 featured meat guru Kev Kavanagh and the final instalment Norman Gunston: The Golden Weeks eventually spawned The Norman Gunston Show in late 1975.
At 11:57 PM on Friday 28 February 1975, Aunty Jack, Thin Arthur, and Kid Eager introduced colour television broadcasting on ABC-TV, beating another channel's first colour program by deliberately starting three minutes early. The team's last major TV collaboration was the abortive comedy series The Off Show (1977) which was cancelled after only a few episodes following a controversial incident in which ABC executive Alan Batemen pulled the premiere episode from the schedule half an hour before it was due to air and then erased the tape, reportedly because he was offended by the Bill Harding religious parody sketch "Leave It To Jesus".
Although fans long hoped that the show might be released on home video, it was more than thirty years after the show's first screening until this took place. Although there have been a number of reasons suggested, it is generally accepted that the major stumbling block was a long-running disagreement between Bond and the ABC, stemming from Bond and O'Donoghue's resentment over the presumed loss of several Aunty Jack episodes and the Off Show incident. Since Bond and O'Donoghue controlled the rights for all the original music featured in the series, their refusal to release them effectively kept the series off home video until 2005.
For many years there were persistent rumours—fuelled by press statements from Bond himself—that some episodes had been lost or destroyed. This was given added credence by the fact that (like the BBC) the ABC had undertaken an "economy drive" in the late 1970s and early 1980s, during which (it has been reported) that substantial portions of many shows were erased.
Although (according to Bond) the original master tapes for three episodes were erased, all the original film footage shot for the missing episodes had survived and with the assistance of the National Archives of Australia the footage was located and restored, enabling the missing episodes to be reconstructed. The long awaited release of the complete Series 1 on DVD took place in December 2005, and the complete Series 2 followed in April 2006. Although the master videotapes were monochrome, and the main episodes are presented in this format on DVD, much of the footage for the series was filmed in colour and these are included as alternate scenes.
Aunty Jack returned in early 2006 in a live stage show titled The Aunty Jack Show and Tell, starring Grahame Bond and Rory O'Donoghue. As well as Aunty Jack and Thin Arthur, the show featured the singing tramps Neil and Errol, Country and Eastern music exponents the Farrelly Brothers, the Ri Fol Tit Men and bodgie butcher and meat artist Kev Kavanagh.
- Rob Johnson & David Smiedt, Boom-boom! A Century of Australian Comedy (Hodder & Stoughton, Sydney, 1999), p.189
- Johnson & Smiedt, 1999, p.190
- Johnson & Smiedt, 1999, p.184
- Johnson & Smiedt, 1999, p.222
- Johnson & Smiedt, 1999, p.237
- Radio Ha Ha - interview with Grahame Bond and Rory O'Donoghue