This Sporting Life (radio program)
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This Sporting Life was a culturally iconic Triple J radio comedy programme, created by award-winning actor-writer-comedians John Doyle and Greig Pickhaver, who performed as their characters Roy and HG. Broadcast from 1986 to 2008, it was one of the longest-running, most popular and most successful radio comedy programmes of the television era in Australia. Undoubtedly the longest-running show in Triple J's programming history, it commanded a large and dedicated nationwide audience throughout its 22-year run.
The title This Sporting Life was taken from the novel and 1963 film of the same name.
- 1 Early years
- 2 Guests and comedy segments
- 3 Advertising parodies
- 4 The South Coast News
- 5 Humour and terms
- 6 This Sporting Life Terminology
- 7 Roy Slaven
- 8 State of Origin commentaries
- 9 Television
- 10 Published recordings
- 11 Recognition at Australian Comedy Awards
- 12 Move to Triple M
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Often referred to by its acronym, TSL, the show was a parody of sporting panel programmes, although the duo cast a wide comedic net that encompassed entertainment, politics, celebrity and contemporary Australian culture in general. It was modeled to some extent on the popular 1980s Melbourne radio sports comedy panel show Punter To Punter, which also featured Pickhaver (as HG Nelson) as a panel member and which was primarily concerned with the world of horse and greyhound racing. Interviewed in 2000, John Doyle cited controversial broadcaster John Laws as a major influence:
- "We started with This Sporting Life and what we did was anti-commercial. We modeled it, in the early days, on the John Laws show, constant self-promotion and constant promotion of products that were your own." 
Although TSL was not an instant hit—some Triple J listeners at first mistook it for a real sports show—it soon found a loyal audience in Sydney, and this grew into to a substantial nationwide following in the 1990s as Triple J expanded to become a national network.
TSL was also notable as one of the few successful topical comedy programmes that was substantially improvised. Doyle and Pickhaver would reportedly meet on the morning of the broadcast to discuss the week's events and agree on a general list of topics, but almost all of their discussions were improvised, live to air. The consistent high quality of their humour is doubly remarkable given the show's long-running time of three hours every Sunday afternoon (originally four hours on Saturdays).
Guests and comedy segments
Aside from their improvised commentary, over the years, This Sporting Life included numerous scripted, pre-recorded segments, such as the topical satire commentaries "The Nelson Report" and "Date's Up, With Roy Slaven".
There was also a series of regular live feature segments; one of the earliest of these was "Tips from the Other Side", in which HG Nelson would list predictions for forthcoming sporting fixtures which had been provided by contacting the spirits of deceased celebrities. According to HG, many these tips were provided thanks to the spirit of the late British "psychic" Doris Stokes, who acted as an intermediary. During one of these segments it was revealed that the spirits of the Russian Royal Family were avid fans of Rugby League. For several years in the late 1980s the show also featured a weekly satirical roundup of entertainment at local Sydney clubs.
Guests appeared on the programme in the early days, such as comedienne Angela Webber in the guise of "punk granny" Lillian Pascoe, but guest appearances were gradually eliminated as the years passed. However the duo maintained an enduring relationship with actor Robbie McGregor who, in the guise of "King Wally Otto In The Soundproof Booth", provided the introduction, links and a wide variety of parodic fake advertisements. Australian Big Brother host Gretel Killeen and actor-comedian Jonathan Biggins have also provided voice-overs for many fake ads.
In the last few years of the series comedian Chris Taylor from The Chaser filled in for John Doyle, broadcasting alongside HG Nelson on the occasions when Doyle was absent due to "other media commitments".
Aside from the regular improvised discussions and fake ads, one of the show's most enduring features was the listener giveaway segment, "The Fat", two of which occurred per show ("the first Fat of the afternoon", typically open to women only, and "the second Fat of the afternoon", open to all comers). In these competitions, listeners were asked to phone in with the answer to a question sourced from one of that afternoon's wide-ranging and often fantastical discussions of sporting news and personalities, for example: "Who is known as the founding father of Russian rugby league"?
Doyle and Pickhaver wrote dozens of parody advertisements for a vast range of imaginary products and services provided by Roy and HG's numerous fictional companies, most of which were gathered under the Nelson-Slaven Industries banner.
These included services such as The Elvis Society (a dating service for "pillows") and products such as "The Totally Ian Roberts Bar", a confectionery item (referring to gay rugby league player Ian Roberts), the HG Nelson Butchery -- "still doing things with meat other butchers only dream of" -- "Roy's Rectal Ring Balm" (a rectal ointment) and "Happy Jack's Ta-taa Packs" (a body bag) -- as well as innumerable parody books, films and TV series. Other highlights included a long-running series of fake ads for "Istengar", an esoteric branch of yoga that teaches practitioners how to create works of art from their own faeces. A recent fake ad (satirising the Nine Network's The Footy Show), promotes Rex Mossop's Rugby League Finishing School, which offers training to footballers hoping to pursue a career in the media.
In recent years, real-life sporting stars such as rugby league players Stan Jurd and Paul Sironen also recorded parodic voice-overs for the show promoting fictional bodies such as the "National Rugby League Party", a fictitious political organisation.
In its last years TSL introduced another popular recurring voice-over character, Sydney car dealer Frosty Lahood (voiced by ABC NewsRadio sports reporter David Lord), whose famous "No root: no toot" deal offered customers their money back if the attractive new vehicle (usually a Daewoo Nubira or Hyundai Lantra) did not enable the buyer to "get a root" (i.e. have sex) within 24 hours of purchase.
Another parody was the "Alan Jones Scouts for God" child day-care centre, offering all-day child care for only five dollars. The slogan of the Alan Jones Scouts for God was: "If the kids are happy, and you're happy, there's a fair chance we're happy too".
The South Coast News
One of the show's most popular scripted segments was "The South Coast News", a parody news bulletin read by real-life journalist and TV presenter Paul Murphy. It ran for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s and two volumes of scripts were later published in book form, with illustrations by cartoonist Bill Leak, who had an enduring relationship with the duo.
The basic conceit of the sketch was that the small New South Wales south coast town of Ulladulla was heavily populated by famous Australian sporting and show business identities, that many of these celebrities owned businesses in the area or worked in various official capacities in the town, and that all were regularly involved in hilarious and often ribald misadventures.
Prominent recurring characters included the town's mayor, renowned TV composer and conductor Tommy Tycho, former TV wrestler Mario Milano, owner of the Bluebird Cafe, and former NSW Premier Barry Unsworth, owner of the disreputable 'Cardigan Club'. This fictional Ulladulla also boasted a colossal statue of long-distance swimmer Linda McGill ("The Big Linda", which stood astride the entrance to the boat harbour and featured a revolving restaurant in its head). All the streets were named after sporting or TV stars, and the local high school was named after rugby league player (Barry Beath).
Humour and terms
Much of Roy and HG's comedy is topical, poking fun at current sporting news, the foibles, ego trips and media gaffes of sporting, film and music stars, and the often risible phraseology used by sporting writers and commentators.
Doyle and Pickhaver also interweave their dialogue with a colourful and uniquely Australian form of linguistic comedy that often verges on the obscene, although they very rarely use "four-letter words" unless particularly enraged.
Over the years they have coined many memorable parodic words and terms, while others revive archaic expressions from their youth, and many have since entered the vernacular in Australia.
Many listeners will be familiar with the TSL lexicon, which includes words and phrases such as:
- "bed flute" or simply "flute"—the male sex organ
- "bugger-all to the power of less"—nothing
- "bush-junk"—useless native or introduced wild animals, suitable only for shooting
- "dwahl"—a slump in sporting form or a period of poor performance
- "football head"—the Zen-like focus or mindset required to play a good game of footy; underperforming players are often described as not having their football head on
- "half dream room, the"—an unconscious state, usually derived from a concussion; HG often claimed certain players were at their best when playing concussed
- "horizontal folk dancing"—sexual intercourse
- "pillow"—a pejorative term, signifiying that a player (typically in Rugby League or ARL) lacks the necessary level of aggression and/or masculinity, which probably derives from the Australian slang term "pillow-biter" (homosexual)
- "(Planet) Koozbane"—a perennial Nelson-ism applied to sportspersons who have been stunned by a heavy blow, fall or tackle. The term is believed to derive from the name of the home planet of the alien puppet characters featured on The Muppet Show and Sesame Street
- "love-tap"—a blow inflicted on another player (usually during League or ARL games) without the intention of inflicting serious harm
- "night-tools"—genital organs
- "night-tool work"—sexual intercourse
- "room of mirrors, the"—a metaphorical mirror-lined room to which players are (or should be) banished for a period of time, in order to renew their motivation by "taking a long, hard look at themselves"
- "set of seven"—one week, in reference to the expression "set of six" (tackles) from Rugby League
- "sloop"—penis; the organ is said to be "pointing north" when erect
- "stink"—a fight
- "Sweet Science, The"—boxing
- "yips, the"—a grave condition that adversely affects the performance of professional golfers
The duo are well known for their lengthy, hyperbolic dissertations on the characters of sporting and cultural identities. Roy is renowned for his long-winded and extremely colourful demolition of almost every conceivable aspect of the personality and performance of a sports star with whom he is displeased.
He will often describe the subject as "a hopeless joke", and declare that they are a fool to him/herself and to his/her family, state and country of origin; this climactic phase of his analysis is usually delivered at the top of his voice. Yet, paradoxically, Roy almost invariably concludes these harangues with quiet, amiable remarks on what a nice person the subject is, how much he likes them, and how much he or she has contributed to their particular field of endeavour. This can also be reversed such as when commentating the first Melbourne Grand Prix he praised the track as "the best in the world... superior to Monza, Spa and Hockenheim" which were all "rubbish". When there was a big crash on the first corner he claimed the track was to blame because it was "a joke".
Although usually more concise than Roy, and typically taking the role of presenter/interviewer who sets out the subject and poses questions for Roy to comment on, HG Nelson has his own unique and colourful editorial style. On many occasions he has described decisions or innovations with which he disagrees as "a hastily cobbled-together farrago". He once promised that he would "walk nude down George Street with a pie on my head" if the outcome of a sporting fixture did not match his prediction, and during one especially memorable rant he denounced golfer Greg Norman as:
- "... a hapless water buffalo, wallowing around in the swamp, waiting for the safari to wander by and finish him off".
In his roundup of the 2006 Melbourne Cup, Nelson described the unusual hat he had worn to the event, which was fashioned in the form of a miniature chicken-processing factory, and which automatically dispensed tiny chickens for "the kiddies". The duo have also long been advocates of the concept of employing "celebrity shooters" at racing fixtures—i.e. hiring well-known personalities to 'put down' horses that are badly injured during races and in 2008 they energetically promoted the concept of a national pig-shoot for peace.
TV programming is another favourite target for duo's satire. Responding to the growth in realty TV progamming, Roy suggested several innovative new programmes including "Celebrities With Gastric" and "Celebrity Horses With Gastric".
Cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman has long been a target of the duo's satire, and it is now well established—at least according to Roy & HG—that Bradman was a spy for the Japanese during World War II. They have also deduced that, in his twilight years, "The Don" was locked in a shed at the back of his house in Bowral, NSW and forced to sign millions of items of all descriptions in order to capitalise on the inevitably lucrative market in Bradman memorabilia that would emerge after his death.
This Sporting Life Terminology
|This Sporting Life Terminology|
|Braith Anasta||The most overrated man in Rugby League||Came about as a result of repeated Rugby League player polls in which Anasta was often nominated as the most overrated player by his peers.|
|Martin Bella||Squirrel Gripper||Came about as a result of Bella's penchant for employing the "squirrel grip" or "Christmas handshake" which involves firmly gripping an opponent's testicles during a tackle performed in the sport of Rugby League.|
|Danny Buderus||Butterball Buderus||Because of his poor ball handling in a State of Origin match.|
|Dean Brogan||Dick Head||Brogan took exception to being called Dick Head at Adelaide Airport by a heckler and punched the offender in the nose, he was subsequently fined by the AFL and Port Adelaide.|
|Ben Cousins||Rolled Note||Derived from Cousins's after-hours work with the white powder.|
|Ben Off The Gear Cousins||Developed after Cousins declared himself clean and ready to resume his football career.|
|Greg Dowling||Dish-head Dowling|
|Ben Elias||Backdoor Benny||Often shortened to simply The Door or B.D.B. Elias.|
|Israel Folau||The Queensland wunderkind||Refers to a newspaper report; often said sotto voce to show Slaven's displeasure with the use of a German word.|
|Richard Fromberg||Clay court specialist||Refers to one good tournament that Frommers had on clay. Ever after he was considered Australia's clay court specialist.|
|Mark Gasnier||Fire Up Bitch! aka "The Fire Up Bitch Man"||Gasnier was fired from the 2004 New South Wales State of Origin team for leaving an obscene voice mail message on a woman's mobile phone after a 'bonding session'. The transcript of the phone message is as follows:
Roy and HG also shorten this nickname to variations such as "the F.U.B.", "fubby" and "the fubster".
|The Shimmy, Shimmy, Whoosh! Man.||From an NRL Pog describing Gasnier's step maneuver as the Shimmy, Shimmy, Whoosh.|
|Dare I say||A reference to the frequent use of "Dare I say" as a preface to comments in Marks regular newspaper column which appears in the Daily Telegraph.|
|Mark Geyer||The Tap||He can run hot and cold, or "turn it on" i.e. on-field violence. By extension, Geyer's younger brother Matt is "Tap II".|
|Barry Hall||Hitman||'Hitman' came about due to Roy & HG looking for a nickname for Hall to make his boxing debut under.|
|Barry Deck The Hall||Another nickname that was developed for Hall's boxing career.|
|Solomon Haumono||Captain Feathers||Constructed due to the lack of a fighting name for Haumono when he began his boxing career following his rugby league career.|
|Jarryd Hayne||Hip-Head||As a result of Hayne being knocked out momentarily after attempting to make a tackle in Game III of the 2008 State of Origin series, in which his head cannoned into his opponent's hip.|
|Mark Hensby||The forgotten man of Australian golf||A reference to Hensby's laments in national newspapers that he was the "forgotten man" of golf.|
|Lleyton Hewitt||Little||Due to Hewitt's diminutive size.|
|Terry Hill||King of the Kids or The Lobster Fisherman||The latter title derived from an incident after his playing days, when Hill was caught stealing lobsters from pots that didn't belong to him, resulting in Hill facing the magistrates' court, where he his defence was that he "didn't know what he was doing".|
|John Hopoate||Stinkfist, The Proctologist||A reference to an infamous incident during a 2001 NRL game when, in an attempt to unsettle the opposing team, Hopoate forcibly pushed his finger into the anuses of three opposing players. This led to speculation by Roy & HG that Hopoate may have in fact been acting as an unofficial proctologist and that he was doing the players a favour because his impromptu rectal examination may have detected early signs of serious illness.|
|Alan Jones||The Parrot|
|Senator Rod Kemp||The "Eh-Eh" Man||Kemp is the former federal Minister for Arts and Sport (2001–2007) whose nickname parodies his halting manner of speech. In the final years of the series Kemp was often held up as a supposed model of excellence in his portfolio, usually by way of an unfavourable comparison with the current incumbent (e.g. "This wouldn't have happened if The Eh-Eh Man was still in charge, Roy!"). On one occasion Roy summed up Kemp's distinctive facial hair (a beard without a moustache) by saying "He's got that type of beard that says 'I'm a failed psychologist' ".|
|Glenn Lazarus||The Brick With Eyes||The nickname is because of Glenn's large, solid physique. Roy and HG have also called him "Dr Death". The United Kingdom's The Sun newspaper once got this name wrong and called him "The Brick with Ears".|
|Wally Lewis and Allan Langer||The King and I||A reference to the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Wally Lewis's nickname is 'King Wally', making his team-mate Allan Langer the 'I'. Langer was usually referred to as "Deborah Kerr", the actress who played the "I" in the movie version with Yul Brynner.|
|Greg Norman||The Paleface Adios of Golf||A reference to Norman's drawn-out career.|
|Willie Mason||The Brainstrust||A satirical reference to the fact that Mason's well-known propensity for aggressive behaviour was explained by the fact that he reportedly suffers from an autism spectrum disorder.|
|The New Face of the Eastern Suburbs|
|Les Mason||Mad-Dog||Introduced due to the lack of a nickname for Mason, as compared to Captain Feathers and Stinkfist.|
|Steve Menzies||Beaver||Other Roy and HG name variations include "Beav", "The Flying Beaver" and "Leave it to Beaver" along with "Beaver Las Vegas".|
|Methuselah||A poke at Menzies' relatively old playing age in the twilight of his career.|
|Steve Mortimer||Prince of Darkness|
|Mark Philippoussis||The dangerous floater||A double reference, both to the media constantly promoting Philippoussis as a hidden threat in tennis tournaments, and also a play on Philippoussis's nickname 'The Poo'. Usually invoked with reference to the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadow.|
|Julian O'Neill||The Poo in the Shoe||O'Neill, who has a history of off-field misconduct, including two DUI charges and urinating under casino blackjack tables on two separate occasions, was involved in a 1999 pre-season incident which led to his South Sydney Rabbitohs being banned from a Dubbo hotel. Following years of personal and professional turmoil, O'Neill trashed the Dubbo hotel room by smearing the walls with faeces. A direct quote from the horse's mouth describing a further bad deed from the night was "hey Schlossie, I just shat in your shoe". |
|Wendell Sailor||Ding Dong Dell|
|Casey Stoner||The Real Deal||From an article in a local paper, in reference to his dominance in MotoGP, "The Real Deal" was used to describe Stoner as a genuine competitor for the Moto GP title.|
|Ricky Stuart||The Angry Ant|
|Carlos Smearson||From 2009 when the Sharks played a home game in Adelaide their media manager organised a radio interview for Ricky Stuart on FIVEaa &, for a joke, told the station that his name was Carlos Smearson. That lead to an introduction along the lines of, "and now joining us it's the coach of the Cronulla Sharks NRL team, Carlos Smearson. Welcome to the show Carlos...."|
|The Game's Greatest Thinker|
|Timana Tahu||Tim Tam Tahu||Named after the Australian chocolate biscuit brand, Tim Tams.|
|Kostya Tszyu||The Russian-born, Sydney-based powerhouse||A direct quote from a newspaper article.|
|Mark Webber||"The DNF maestro", "DNF Specialist", "DNF Hero"||An acronym derived from the perception that the Formula One driver earned numerous "DNF" (did not finish) race results early in his Formula One career due to collisions or mechanical breakdowns.|
|Shane Webcke||BigPond||Taken from Webcke (Web-key) to Website and Australia's largest internet service provider Telstra Big Pond.|
|Karrie Webb||The Funnel||A reference to the Sydney Funnel Web Spider.|
|Tiger Woods||The man they call Tiger||A reference to sports reporter Tim Webster, who has a habit of constantly introducing sporting celebrities using the term "the man they call (first name)".|
|Kevan Gosper||Lord Gosper||A reference to Gosper's overly officious and self-righteous nature when it comes to matters concerning sport, particularly the Olympics .|
Another perennial aspect of their comedy is the overweening egotism and impossible achievements of "Rampaging" Roy Slaven, a character who was probably inspired by sports broadcaster and former rugby league player Rex Mossop, who was famous for his outspoken opinions and hilarious tautologies.
Roy will often begin his commentaries sotto voce as a mocking parody of Sydney radio announcer Alan Jones, but often finishes screaming at the top of his lungs. By his own account, Slaven has represented Australia in every known sport for most of the 20th century, has ridden in every Melbourne Cup (and won most of them) on his ageless mount Rooting King, is on intimate terms with every major sports, TV, music and film personality in modern history, as well as being a close personal friend of many top racehorses and greyhounds.
Roy's tales of sporting achievement are mixed with reminiscences of his youth in Lithgow, his membership of the rambunctious Lithgow Shamrocks rugby league team, and his formative relationship with mentor and coach 'Grassy' Grannell. Doyle gives a strong scatological edge to the Slaven character and Roy's commentaries and recollections often include hilarious anecdotes about celebrities or teammates who were stricken by attacks of vomiting and diarrhoea—invariably referred to by the quaint Australian term "gastric".
Other memorable Slaven recollections have included the assistance he gave to music star Cher during her bout with chronic fatigue syndrome—which included a daily regimen in which Slaven tied Cher to the back of a car and dragged her behind it for several kilometres—and his revelation that American film actress Kim Basinger planned to buy her home town, rename it "Basingerville" and rebuild it as a showpiece of modern sanitary technology where, thanks to a transparent sewerage system, residents could follow their effluent all the way from toilet to outfall.
State of Origin commentaries
Besides This Sporting Life, Roy and HG also provide radio commentary for Australian rugby league's three annual State of Origin series matches, as well as the NRL and AFL grand finals (dubbed the "Festival of the Boot", parts one and two).
At the opening of each State of Origin match (and the Grand Finals) Roy and HG traditionally drown out the obligatory rendition of the Australian national anthem—typically performed at the actual event by a minor Australian music celebrity—by playing the lugubrious country-and-western song "I Thank You", recorded in 1969 by former boxing champion Lionel Rose.
The choice of this song seems to have been inspired by several interconnected satirical motives—the appalling standard of Rose's vocal performance, the cliched sentimentality of the lyrics ("When a boy becomes a man, he must do the best he can"), the inherent violence associated with the former boxer, Rose, and the ironic satire implicit in the phenomenon of a former sports champion (with a very poor singing voice) attempting to establish a career in popular music by recording a prosaic genre love song written by a faded 1960s pop star (Johnny Young).
The duo, particularly Slaven's, commentary often features sensationalist over-reactions to the game at hand, such as calling for entire teams of players to be sacked after losses, or even questioning whether certain teams will ever win another match in the future. The commentary is also notable for its overly biased support of whichever team is winning, and the calling of every player on the field by their Roy & HG-assigned nicknames.
On many occasions, the opening minutes of their 'call' have featured Roy's scathing comments on the various celebrities he has encountered at the match, and his vociferous denunciation of the often hilariously bad pre-match and half-time "entertainment", which regularly feature massed displays by large groups of "kiddies" with "ballooowens" (balloons) and stilted performances by imported has-been stars like Billy Idol and Tina Turner, whose only real connection to The Game is the hefty paycheque they receive from the NSWRL for their brief appearances.
As well as performing 'This Sporting Life' on radio, Doyle and Pickhaver successfully transferred the concept and characters to television. Over the last ten years they have hosted a range of TV incarnations of the TSL format. The huge popularity of one of these, The Dream with Roy and HG, took Roy & HG's unique comedy style to thousands of Australians who had never listened to the radio show or watched the ABC series.
- 1993: Tool talk and wise cracks with Roy and HG, a collection of highlights taken from the programme 
- 1993: Pound for Pound
- 1993: The Lifetime of Rampaging Roy Slaven
Recognition at Australian Comedy Awards
In November 2003, This Sporting Life was named Outstanding Networked Radio Comedy Performance at the inaugural Australian Comedy Awards in Melbourne. 
Move to Triple M
On 3 December 2008 Triple J announced that Roy and HG would be leaving the ABC after 22 years on air. In a press statement, Triple J manager Linda Bracken said:
- "They are more than a radio programme, they have become their own radio comedy genre. It's been a joy and a privilege to work with them."
Although HG Nelson had announced at the end of the previous week's show that they would return on Sunday 7 December for the last programme of the year, it did not go ahead as scheduled and was replaced by a music shift.
Roy and HG began broadcasting on Triple M on 12 January 2008, with a show called The Life to be presented during drive time at 4pm to 7pm every Monday and Friday on all Triple M stations, excluding Adelaide. Like This Sporting Life, it is a sport/comedy show, and also uses some phases from TSL.
- National Film and Sound Archive: Sounds of Australia.
- Marr, Jim (12-08-2000). "Workers Online (Issue 81) Satire". Labor Council of NSW. Retrieved 2009-04-15.
- Slaven, Roy (1990). This is the south coast news and I'm Paul Murphy. Bill Leak (illus). Crows Nest, N.S.W.: ABC Enterprises.
- Slaven, Roy; Nelson, H.G. (1993). Tool talk and wise cracks with Roy and HG. New South Wales: ABC. pp. Audiobook cassette. ISBN 0-642-17785-6.
- Slaven, Roy; Nelson (1995). Roy & HG present Allan Border: cricket's first saint.. H.G. Triple J: ABC. pp. 1 CD. ISBN 0-642-17819-4.
- "Two gongs for Roy and HG". The Sydney Morning Herald. 27 November 2003. Retrieved 2009-04-04.
- news.com.au, Entertainment (03-12-2008). "HG Nelson and Roy Slaven leave Triple J for Triple M". News Limited. Retrieved 2009-04-13.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Dec. 2008
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