PERFORMERS: JOHN CLARKE

by Peter Tatchell (reprinted from LAUGH magazine #6, 1993)

Barry Humphries has called him Australia’s best humorist. In recent years he’s become that continent’s leading satirist through his weekly appearances on the top-rated television programmes A Current Affair and The 7:30 Report, where he’s able to expose the hypocrisy and incompetence of the country’s leading public figures with a wit that more often than not goes straight for the jugular.

For most of his life Clarke has battled authority and its intrinsic pomposity. Born in Palmerston North,New Zealandin 1948, by the time he’d reached secondary school the teaching staff had discerned him a troublemaker and he was expelled for an indiscretion before completing his course. As a result, he was unable to proceed to university by way of a scholarship and was forced to spend the better part of a year working as a shearer to help pay for his tertiary education.

It wasn’t long before he realized the lectures and tutorials weren’t motivating him towards a career path, and instead Clarke found an interest in student revues, both as a writer and a performer. His only theatrical background had been occasional appearances with his mother’s amateur dramatic group as a child, but he was confident he could relate to his audience and write the sort of material he (as one of them) would like to see up on stage.

Before long, Clarke and his fellow performers were engaged to present their productions outside the university as well, and get paid for their efforts. On one occasion the troupe found itself employed at a ski lodge and the subject of a rowdy welcome by its customers. The revelers were soon brought down to earth by a few acidic Clarke barbs, and the performance enjoyed a more successful response as a result.

By 1971, he’d developed his “Fred Dagg” character and took part in a stage presentation called The Brian Edwards Show, highlights of which were released on LP. He’d also been given a job by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, not as a performer or writer, but as a program selector. It was his function to view overseas offerings and recommend those he thought worthy of screening by the NZBC. He soon realized his choices were being overlooked by the bureaucrats higher up the ladder, and a nasty dose of boredom inspired a series of caustic comments and the occasional prank, none of which were appreciated by his employers. Eventually, Clarke and the NZBC parted company with his file bearing an annotation that he was under no circumstances to work for them again.

Now in his early twenties and with no specific career goal, John Clarke decided to head for Britain and though his two years there were mostly frustrating and impecunious, it did result in a brief film appearance and an encouraging shove from one Barry Humphries. In 1972 Humphries and director Bruce Beresford were making a movie version of The Adventures Of Barry McKenzie and Clarke was one of a number of antipodeans offered minor roles in the production. Though most of his scenes (and he’d been encouraged to improvise bits) ended on the cutting room floor, Humphries noted a definite comedic talent in the New Zealander and suggested he concentrate his efforts on writing and performing.

Clarke returned toNew Zealand soon after and developed his Fred Dagg alter-ego in short segments on television (in much the same way Paul Hogan first appeared to Australian audiences). Before long, the character became a firm favourite with viewers throughout the country, and stage appearances were sellouts. By the mid-seventies, Clarke had become New Zealand’s most successful performer, though his satirical remarks were not finding favour with politicians on either side of the House.

In 1975 a selection of the Fred Dagg routines originally aired on Radio Windy were rerecorded for Clarke’s first solo LP Fred Dagg’s Greatest Hits. Engineers at EMI were amazed at the speed with which the session was completed, and the company’s executives were more than delighted with the sales figures the disc was soon amassing. The venture wasn’t totally trouble-free however, as one of the tracks – a medley of popular song hits performed with the backing of farmyard sounds – incurred the wrath of several copyright holders and a revised version of the record had to be issued. In this, the offending routine was replaced by two short monologue pieces.

By 1977, Clarke decided to venture back on to the big screen, and in the space of four days filmed a short subject Dagg Day Afternoon. Financial support for the production was provided by various sponsors who were given screen exposure for their products in return for their cash. Despite its shoestring budget, the enterprise proved a success.

Later that year, he made a far more important career move, and decided he’d gone about as far as he could in New Zealand and headed across the Tasman to try his luck in Australia. Soon after, he was invited to contribute segments to ABC Radio and was eventually heard every week on The Science Show expounding his views on such topics as real estate, advertising and education. Clarke was also commenting on the leading players in the political scene and by the end of the decade a certain department head suggested he’d be wise to concentrate his efforts in less controversial areas. Unwilling to being muzzled by the broadcasting bureaucracy, he refused to modify his offerings and all of a sudden found there was no longer a budget allocation for his employment.

He wasn’t idle for long though. Phillip Adams asked for his help with the script for a forthcoming feature film Lonely Hearts, and he also wrote a savage lampoon of the Australian film industry under the title of Block Buster. Unfortunately, this latter effort has yet to go before the cameras. Though Adams considers it brilliant he suspects the very motion picture types it satirizes would be less than enthusiastic to see their likenesses up on the big screen.

One project which did see the light of day was a television series called The Fast Lane, devised by Clarke and Andrew Knight and centring on the activities of a couple of none-too-successful private eyes. More akin to Minder than the traditional cop shows, it was screened by the ABC in early 1985.

By then, Clarke was performing again, also on ABC television in the groundbreaking Gillies Report which allowed him to take aim at the various political targets he’d been warned off five years earlier on radio. He also gave a weekly report on the little known sport of ‘farnarkeling’, though at times no one on the set knew exactly what he’d be saying until the very moment of the recording.

Two series with Gillies convinced ABC radio to once again open their portals to Clarke’s talents and he and Bryan Dawe (then head of their comedy unit) developed a mock interview format where notable public figures would be quizzed on issues of the day. The sketches made no attempt at impersonation, but relied on the cleverness of their wordplays to achieve their satirical goal.

By 1989, the idea had been transferred to television’s A Current Affair on the Nine Network where Clarke and Dawe created a Friday night niche for themselves before switching the segment to the ABC’s 7:30 Report a decade later.

Clarke has also continued in other spheres of the Australian entertainment scene … he and Andrew Knight contributed four of the scripts for the second series of The Fast Lane in late 1987, and on the performing side he provided one of the voices for the movie adaptation of the comic strip Footrot Flats. He also had a role in the Barry Humphries feature film Les Patterson Saves the World.

On television he’s appeared in the short film Man And Boy and the feature length Matter Of Convenience and took one of the lead roles in the cinema release Death In Brunswick. And with lawyer-cum-radio personality Ross Stevenson he co-authored A Royal Commission into the Australian Economy which was performed at the 1992 Melbourne Comedy Festival. In 1997 Clarke hosted a four part Quantum documentary series The Problem with Men.

When Sydneywas announced as host city for the 2000 Olympic Games, Clarke and Stevenson decided the planning of the event was ripe for satire. The resultant TV series The Games poked fun at the power plays and ineptitude of behind-the scenes organisers and the two seasons (screened on the A.B.C.) were enormously successful.

As the new century began, John’s writing talents provided the screenplay for the popular Billy Connolly film The Man Who Sued God and a novel called The Tournament about a fictional tennis event.

A decade later his various comedic projects continue to delight fans across the nation, many of whom regularly tune to ABC television at 7:56pm every Thursday to catch his weekly satirical offering, as they have done for over twenty years.

 

Television

The Gillies Report
Series 1: ABC-TV November 5 to December 17 1984 (7 episodes)
Series 2: ABC-TV March 6 to April 17 1985 (7 episodes)

The Games
Series 1: ABC-TV August 17 to November 9 1998 (13 episodes)
Series 2: ABC-TV June 19 to September 11 2000 (13 episodes)

 

Recordings

The Brian Edwards Show
HMV LP HSDM 1017  
contains two John Clarke tracks:
You Would Have Laughed
In Newsview Tonight

The Royal Wedding Stakes/My Husband and I
Polydor single 2069 041

Fred Dagg’s Greatest Hits
EMI LP DAGG 1
The Ascent Of Man
Medley
Sportsman Of The Year
21st Speech
Farmers
Petrol And How To Get It
Larry Loves Barry
Solar Energy
Hamlet
Traditional Air
We Don’ t Know How Lucky We Are
The Good Samurai
Cricket
Exams
Phone Call*
Opera
Sleeping Trouble
Driving Lessons
A Child’s Guide To The Universe
The National Anthem
(* originally titled You Would Have Laughed)

Fred Dagg’s Greatest Hits
EMI DAGG 2, EMC 2553 (LP) revised version of DAGG 1
with Medley track replaced by
Cooking With Dagg and Understanding The Economy
(* the offending Medley track may be heard on the double-LP Antipodean Atrocities … ABC/Festival L 459 5 I 12)

Fred Dagg Live
EMI LP DAGG 3
Prologue
Memoirs Of A Dagg
Strangers In The Night
We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are
Heartbreak Hotel
She Taught Me How To Yodel
A Classical Interlude
Only You
The Flea Race
Save The Last Dance For Me
Gumboots
Leftovers
Folk Songs
Taken from a 1976 live concert at the Christchurch Town Hall.

(track details unknown)
EMI single Freds One

Gumboots Song/Save The Last Dance For Me
EMI single Freds Two

Fred Dagg’s Big Single
EMI EP FEP 1
Soundtrack items from rhe 1977 short film Dagg Day Afternoon.
It’s Not A Bad Day For It
A Rational Approach
Gumboots March
Parliamentary Broadcast
A Bit Of A Song
$6 Million Ram

The Fred Dagg Tapes
Festival LP L 37148, CD D 19742
Real Estate
Money For Judgement
Government Department
Escapees
Bob And Malcolm
A Full Public Statement
John Citizen
An Honest Man
The Meaning Of Life
Advertising
Uranium
Novelist
Standing Orders
The Truth Of The Pudding
Stock Exchange Report
Education
The Socratic Paradox

The Gillies Report – The Songs
ABC/Festival LP L38427, cassette C 38427
Gillies Report Theme
Introduction To Lange Song
Lange Song
Labor Election Commercial: We’re Insufferable
Farnarkeling Song*
Maralinga Or Wise After The Event*
The Conventionally Powered Ship Venus*
Shout
”Il Dismissale” An Opera In 2 Acts By Gian-Carlo Trimbole*
New South Wales: The Musical*
Introduction To Menzies Song
I’m Glad I’m Not Alive Anymore
Christmas Carol*
(* John Clarke is featured on these tracks)

Shout/The Farnarkeling Song
ABC/Festival single K-9686
(* John Clarke is featured on the B-side)

Swim Between The Flags
Festival LP L 38874, cassette C 38874, CD D 19752
Coastal Surveillance
Kevin Grey’s Elegy
Sunhat Dispute Widens
Obviousness (R. A. C. V. Milne)
Farnarkeling Report
The Miracle Of Advertising
Kubla Khan’t (Coleridge)
Farnarkeling Update
Interview With Bob Hawke, Prime Minister Of Australia
A Child’s Christmas In Warrnambool (Dylan Thompson)
Banking
The Dog’s Breakfast (R.A.C.V. Milne)
Contraceptive Vending Machines
Interview With John Howard, Leader Of The Liberal Party
Winter Union Chaos
Lines Composed About Halfway Across Pyrmont Bridge (Wordsworth)
The Bicentennial
Interview With Joh Bjelke- Petersen, Premier Of Queensland for 20 Years
(with Bryan Dawe as the Interviewer)

Great Interviews Of The Twentieth Century
WEA LP 903172169-1, CD 903112769-Z, cassette 903112169-4
Concerning The Economy
The Idea Of A University
Matters Of State
A Great Man
Australia – U.S. Relations
The 1989 Ashes Series
All Stand Please
The Tradition Continues
Grace Under Pressure
On Corporate Matters
Election 1990
The Liberals Rampant
A Mystery Explained
Party Unity
A Triumph Of Organisation
A Tragic Loss
The Consumption Tax Debate
The Gallipoli Experience
A Valuable Contribution
Complete Rooster-Up
Concerning His Prostate Operation
The State Of Victoria
The Cambodian Refugee Question
The Annual Premiers’ Conference
The Killer
(with Bryan Dawe as the Interviewer, from A Current Affair)

The Annual Report
Warner Bros./Mana Music CD 90317599
Religious Instruction
A Working Class Boy
The Banking Inquiry
Attracting The Green Vote
Trouble With Stamps
On The Vital Matter Of Trade
The Crossword
Protecting The Environment
Our Man in Dublin
Our Man In Perth
Our Man In Wonderland
On The Waterfront
A Couple Of Bucks
The Challenge
A Very Brilliant Man
Standing Ovation
Defending The Faith
The Front Fell Off
Consumption Tax
I’d Rather Not Discuss It
The Big Question
A Message From Spain
(with Bryan Dawe as the Interviewer, from A Current Affair)

The Dagg Years – ABC Soundtracks
ABC cassette ISBN 0 &2 530394
New Parliament
Lubradagg
Unemployment
Farnarkeling 1
Farnarkeling 2
U.S. Air Force
Broadcasting
Security
Farnarkeling 3
Farnarkeling 4
1980 Olympics
Hayden On Charles For G. G.
A Nuclear Waste
Farnarkeling 5
Farnarkeling 6
Queensland Nepotism
Taxation
Interview With Prince Charles
Overseas Investment
Interview With Meryl Streep
Crash Of ’87
Budget Of ’88
Interview With David Hill
(the interviewer is played by Bryan Dawe)

The Complete Book of Australian Verse
ABC cassette ISBN O &21291314
John Clarke (and a number of others) read a selection of original poetry

Hazchem
Laughing Stock cassette LAFC A 7
Reading At The Adelaide Festival Writer’s Week (April 1992):
Wordsworth
Leigh Hunt
Longfellow
W.B. Yeats
R.A.C.N. Milne
Kahlihiji Bran
William Esther Williams
T.S. Elliot
Dorothy Parkinson
Ogden Gnash
Margaret Attwood
Dylan Thompson
Selections from A Current Affair:
Concerning The Economy
The Idea Of A University
On Corporate Matters
A Mystery Explained
A Valuable Contribution
Concerning His Prostate Operation
The Killer
Trouble With Stamps
The Crossword
A Very Brilliant Man
Protecting The Environment
On The Waterfront
The Front Fell Off

Secret Men’s Business
Sony/Columbia CD 487108-2
Autobiography – Bob Hawke
Straight Answer – Paul Keating
Labor in Power – Hawke and Keating
Leader of the Liberal Party – Alexander Downer
Leader of the Liberal Party – John Howard
Can’t Recall – Alan Bond
Global Warming – Senator Faulkner
Pacific Tests – Jack Chiraq
The Story So Far – Martin Ferguson
A Modest Proposal – Solomon Lew
A Retrospective – Alan Bond
Adult Themes – Paul Keating
A Noble Mind – John Howard
Farewell Shot – Paul Keating
On Parade – Jeff Kennett
Concern for Others – Peter Costello
Dealing with Interviewer Who is Thick – Senator Hill
Dealing with Interviewer Who is Impertinent – Jeff Kennett
Understanding the IR Miracle – Peter Reith
Gun Debate Splitting Nationals – John Howard and Tim Fischer
Dealing with Interviewer Who Doesn’t Understand History – Alexander Downer
The ABC’s Luck Continues – Bob  Mansfield
Great Expectations – Our Men at the Olympics
Waltzing Malida – Bob Carr
The Health System – John  Howard
The Hospital System – Jeff Kennett
Australia Fails to Get on the UN Security Council – John Howard
It’s Yours – Christopher Skase
Born Follower of Men – John Howard

Anthology
Sony/Columbia CD 489885-2
Medley
21st Speech
We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are
Solar Energy
The Phone Call
Hamlet
Memoirs
Flea Race
Parliamentary Broadcast
Real Estate
The Meaning of Life
Education
Farnarkeleing (i)
Farnarkeleing (ii)
Farnarkeleing (iii)
Farnarkeleing (iv)
Farnarkeleing (v)
Farnarkeleing (vi)
Protecting the Environment
The Frost Fell Off
Announcement of All Black Team
Leader of the Liberal Party, Alexander Downer
Can’t Recall – Alan Bond
Pacific Tests – Jack Chiraq
A Retrospective – Alan Bond
It’s Yours – Christopher Skase
Star of Wonder

The Games
ABC CD 0 642 55637 7
The 100 Metres Track
New Technology and Y2K
J’Accuse

The Games – The Best Games Ever
ABC 2CD 0 642 55777 2
Land Claim
Inquiry
Strike
Immigration
Solar
The End

The Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse
CD
John Clarke (and a number of others) read a selection of original poetry

 

Videos

The Gillies Report
ABC Video

The Best of Gillies
ABC Video

John Clarke and Bryan Dawe – The Video Collection
Warner Music/Mana Music 903 176129 -3 (1991)
from A Current Affair
The Idea Of A University
Concern For The Environment
On Corporate Matters
The Gathering Storm
The Liberals Rampant
The Gallipoli Experience
A Valuable Contribution
Concerning His Prostate Operation
Complete Rooster-Up
The Killer
The Privatisation Debate
See Me Afterwards
The Soul Of Discretion
Religious Instruction
A Working Class Boy
Trouble With Stamps
Attracting The Green Vote
The Crossword
Protecting The Environment
On The Waterfront
Our Man In Dublin
Our Man In Perth
Our Man In Wonderland
A Couple Of Bucks
A Very Brilliant Man
A Standing Ovation
The Front Fell Off
Consumption Tax
I’d Rather Not Discuss lt
The Big Question
A Message From Spain
The Bell Lap

Bananas in Electorates
Warner Music/Mana Music (1997)
a selection of segments from A Current Affair

 

DVDs

The Fred Dagg All-Purpose DVD
Astronought DVD ASTR0001 (2007)
The Dagg Sea Scrolls
Country Calendar (1974)
Selection of Fred Dagg items (1973-6)
Real Estate
Farnarkeling
Interview with John Clarke (2006)
Selection of Clarke/Dawe TV segments (since 1987) 

The Full Catastrophe
ABC 3DVD (2009)
disc 1: 104 segments (1989 to 2002)
disc 2: 112 segments (2002 to 2009)
disc 3: bonus features (Then and Now, Man and Boy, Bryan Dawe’s Photography, Farnarkeling, The Grass is Greener)

Tactical Response Unit
ABC DVD R-111288-9 (2010)
2 hours of segments from The 7:30 Report (with Bryan Dawe as the Interviewer)

Live From Canberra
ABC DVD (2011)
nearly 2 hours of segments from The 7:30 Report (with Bryan Dawe as the Interviewer)

The Games – series 1
ABC DVD

The Games – series 2
ABC DVD


Books

Fred Dagg’s Year
by John Clarke (1975)

The Thoughts of Chairman Fred
by John Clarke (1976)

The Fred Dagg Careers Advisory Bureau
by John Clarke (Fourth Estate Books, Wellington New Zealand, 1979)

The Fred Dagg Scripts
by John Clarke (Nelson, 1981)
A collection of 95 scripts, originally performed on ABC Radio between 1977 and 1981.

Daggshead Revisited
by John Clarke (Nelson, 1982)
A further 87 scripts, originally performed on ABC Radio.

The Gillies Report Scripts
including material by John Clarke (1986)

A Complete Dagg
by John Clarke (Allen & Unwin, 1989)
A collection of articles, scripts, interviews, etc.

The Complete Book Of Australian Verse
by John Clarke (Allen & Unwin, 1989)
An anthology of Australian poetry created by Clarke

Great Interviews Of The Twentieth Century
by John Clarke (Allen & Unwin, 1990)
A collection of 47 scripts, originally performed on the Nine Network’s A Current Affair with Bryan Dawe.

A Royal Commission Into The Australian Economy
by John Clarke and Ross Stevenson (Allen & Unwin, 1992)
Script of the production originally performed at the Universal Theatre, Melbourne for the 1992 Melbourne Comedy Festival.

More Great Interviews
by John Clarke (Allen & Unwin, 1992)
A further 44 scripts, originally performed on A Current Affair.

The Even More Complete Book Of Australian Verse
by John Clarke (Allen & Unwin, 1994)
An anthology of Australian poetry created by Clarke

A Dagg at My Table
by John Clarke (1996. Text Publishing, 1998)

Still the Two
by John Clarke (1997)
A selection of scripts originally performed on A Current Affair

The Games
by John Clarke and Ross Stevenson (1999)
Scripts from the first season of programmes

The Games II: Sharing the Blame
by John Clarke and Ross Stevenson (2000)
Scripts from the second season of programmes

The Tournament
novel by John Clarke (2002)

The Howard Miracle
by John Clarke (2003)
A selection of scripts originally performed on The 7:30 Report

The 7:56 Report
by John Clarke (2006)
A selection of scripts originally performed on The 7:30 Report

The Catastrophe Continues – 21 Years of Interviews
by John Clarke (2008)
A selection of scripts originally performed on The 7:30 Report

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