Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Graham Cyril Kennedy (born 15 February 1934) is an Australian television performer. Born in Melbourne he grew up in suburban Balaclava and was educated at Caulfield North Central School and then Melbourne High School . His parents divorced shortly before World War 2, and he was raised by his grandmother.
Leaving the ABC, he moved to radio station 3UZ , initially in the record library and later as panel operator for popular radio personality "Nicky" (Cliff Nicholls , real name Clifford Whitta), his first mentor. Nicholls, who had been broadcasting since 1932, presented a hugely popular housewife's programme, as well as "Chum's Club" with his wife Nancy Lee (real name Kathleen Lindgren ). Nicky's typically Australian voice and his distinctive mannermanner of 'panning' live-to-air advertisements made him the idol of listeners, and was a major influence on Kennedy, who would become famous for the using same approach on his own TV show.
Nicholls put the young boy to air with him on 3UZ as his sidekick. He died in 1956, and Kennedy was then briefly partnered by "Happy Hammond ". By the 1960s Kennedy was appearing on television (see below), but also presented a 3AK morning radio program with Bert Newton, which later originated from a studio built at Kennedy's home in Oliver's Hill , Frankston.
In the late 1970's he appeared on a 3LO drivetime program with Richard Coombe . Kennedy also recorded a series of thirty-minute radio comedies for the ABC under the title "Graham Kennedy's RS Playhouse ", written by Gary Reilly and Tony Sattler . The "RS" in the title is from the surnames of Reilly and Sattler, but also has another connotation in Australian English.
These programmes included:
- Because He's My Brother
- Birthday Boy
- Chocolate Milkman
- Good Morning Show
- Mad Jack's Dentist
- Prawn Broker
- Sunday Morning Fever
- You Only Live Once
Reilly and Sattler, who wrote the successful television programs "Kingswood Country" and "The Naked Vicar Show", have been compared to the English writing duo Galton and Simpson, best known for "Hancock's Half Hour" and "Steptoe and Son".
Sattler and his wife, actress Noeline Brown , became close friends with Kennedy.
In Melbourne Tonight (IMT)
When television came to Melbourne in 1957, Kennedy was chosen to present a Tonight show , In Melbourne Tonight (IMT) for GTV-9. Only 23 years old, and with no knowledge or experience of television, he began a 40-year career, throughout which he held the title of the "King" of Australian television. Speaking of his TV career in later years , Kennedy said "I was terrified for forty years".
Kennedy was not GTV-9's first choice - they had planned to use either 3UZ personality John McMahon or 3DB's Dick Cranbourne . Producer Norman Spencer defied the wishes of the first sponsor (Philips) by choosing Kennedy. The programme's name had been intended to be "The Late Show", but rival station HSV-7 beat them to that name by one week. Kennedy also faced constant hostility from the Nine Network's homophobic boss, Sir Frank Packer, who knew that Kennedy was homosexual and reportedly wanted him sacked. Kennedy's sexual orientation was kept secret from the public throughout his career.
Kennedy on television was bawdy, irreverent and iconoclastic. In "live" advertisements, he would mock and scorn the sponsor's product. His colleague Bert Newton records in his book "Bert! Bert Newton's own story" (pub. Garry Sparkes & Associates, Toorak, Victoria, Australia; ISBN 0 908081-24-3):
- "The blood would drain from the face of Pelaco shirt-wearing executives in television, advertising and business until they realised that instead of televisual suicide, this skinny little wiseguy was commercial gold. And then they liked his brand of humour a lot." (p. 91)
- "A commercial I shared with Graham, Raoul Merton ('of comfort you're certain when you wear Raoul Merton') changed the footwear buying habits of men." (p. 91)
Newton also writes:
- "(Norman) Spencer was the mastermind of IMT; don't let anyone forget that. Nothing happened on IMT that Norm did not approve personally [...] Norman Spencer chose Graham Kennedy as compere; Norm kept his eye on the show from day to day; he pushed the buttons from the control room which put the TV shots into viewers' homes at night; he added the talent around Graham and he set up the organisation." (p. 93)
IMT was devised as a copy of the American 'Tonight Show' format, with the host presiding over sketches, introducing star turns and reading advertisements live, but Kennedy transformed the live reads into a unique comedic art form, deriding the sponsor's products and extending the advertisements to the point of absurdity -- on one famous occasion, a scheduled 20-second ad. spot was spun out into over twenty minutes of improvised comedy. Foretelling the future of TV, the live IMT commercials were sometimes more entertaining than the show itself.
As well as his grounding in the 'post-modern' radio comedy of Nicky Clifford, Kennedy's style had roots in English music hall and especially in vaudeville. His the often smutty, sometimes camp, and innuendo and double-entendre laden style was undoubtedly influenced by the famous Australian stage comedian Roy "Mo" Rene .
His labrador dog Rover was sometimes brought into the studio to assist with advertisements for a brand of canned dog food. In what was undoubtedly a "setup", the dog one night showed no interest whatsoever in the product, which Kennedy then himself proceeded to eat with apparent relish, straight from the can - or so it seemed.
Rover also achieved television immortality by relieving himself - live to air - upon one of the then huge television cameras, which must have seemed to him to be the nearest thing to a tree. The studio audience collapsed in hysterics, but the duration and urgency of Rover's impressively hydraulic performance might have lead some cynics to question just how impromptu the event really was.
For thirteen gruelling years, Kennedy ruled supreme as host of IMT and Australia's most popular TV personality. On IMT he working with a talented on-camera team that included Joff Ellen , Rosie Sturgess , Mary Hardy (the sister of celebrated author Frank Hardy) and Bert Newtown . Behind the scenes, IMT's stable of writers included Mike McColl-Jones and Ernie Carroll , the arm and voice behind Ozzie Ostrich ). They laboured for Kennedy, who with his cast and crew, made the long hours of preparation and rehearsal look effortless and spontaneous. Over a twelve year- period Kennedy created a unique style of Australian comedy that had few equals in its day. But the schedule was punishing -- IMT aired five nights a week and concurrently, for several years in the early Sixties, he and Newton also hosted the morning shift on Melbourne station 3AK, which had recently been purchased by GTV-9.
Kennedy finally quit IMT, exhausted, in 1969 and retired from TV for two years; in spite of his fame and fortune, he later described the period as "years of misery". In 1972 he returned with The Graham Kennedy Show , but this was abruptly cancelled in early 1975 after his famous "crow call" incident.
On the show of 5 March 1975 , Kennedy imitated a crow ("faaaaaark") during a live read of a Cedel Hairspray advert by annoucer Rosemary Margan . Apparently it was not the first time Kennedy had used the joke, but for some reason it attracted attention this time and Nine reportedly received hundreds of complaints, followed by a rash of newspaper headlines the next day. The incident was reported to the Broadcasting Control Board and as a result Kennedy was banned from performing live on TV for an indefinite period and was forced to pre-record the show on videotape.
Some have claimed that Kennedy deliberately engineered the crow-call incident so that the show would have to be pre-recorded, allowing him to get home earlier. Others suggest that he did it so that Nine would sack him. In 2002, in The Age, writer Jonathan Green reported that the crow-call segment was in fact pre-taped, not live, and that in fact the bad language controversy was probably just a pretext for other issues. Rival Nine personality Ernie Sigley , who presented his own variety show on different nights to Kennedy, has claimed the real reason Kennedy was axed was that his ratings were so poor compared to Sigley's.
Even in 1975, it would have been unlikely that the f-word itself would have been sufficient cause of itself to casuse the entire show to be axed. According to Age reporter Suzanne Carbone, the first known use of the expletive on Australian TV was in the Sixties, when Nine Adelaide evening news presenter Kevin Crease said "f***ing hell" during a mishap in a live advertisement on variety show Adelaide Tonight. Crease told The Age that "The audience fell off their chairs laughing," and that he was amazed no complaints were received, but although he feared he would be sacked, nothing happened.
According to Kennedy's biographer Graeme Blundell , it was actually another and much more political incident which led to Kennedy's final departure from Nine. A few weeks after the 'crow-call' incident, he quit (or was sacked) after the network took advantage of the pre-taping to censor out Kennedy's scathing attack on the then Media Minister, Senator Doug McClelland , for his failure to support local content regulations for TV.
Australian content on TV was a highly sensitive issue at this time. In the wake of the controversial McLean Report , the Whitlam government was taking major steps to open up the radio spectrum with the introduction of community broadcasting and the ABC's new rock station, Double Jay, but it had done nothing to address the low levels of local content on Australian TV. Aware of the media's crucial role in its own election in 1972, and understandably fearful of a backlash if it forced unpopular content quotas on the industry, the government steered well clear of any serious re-examination of the current structure and did little to increase levels of Australian content on TV
Understandably, the proposal to increase local content had long been advocated local producers, writers and actors, but it was bitterly opposed by the networks, who relied on being able to buy large blocks of American programming at a fraction of what it would have cost to produce similar shows locally. The problem was compunded by the Whitlam government's far-reaching 1973 decision to reduce tariffs across the board by 25% -- the first move towards today's controversial "free trade" policies. The immediate result of the tariff reduction was that overseas programming became even cheaper.
Also at this time, the networks were being targeted by the "TV - Make It Australian" campaign, which involved a number of prominent Australian actors and TV personalities including Kennedy and several leading actors from the popular police shows made by Crawford Productions , notably [[Gerard Kennedy] (actor)|Gerard Kennedy] and Charles "Bud" Tingwell. The successive cancellation of all three major Crawford Productions police shows (each broadcast on a different network) within months of each other during 1975 has been portrayed by Tingwell and others as an act of revenge by the networks for Crawford's active support for the campaign and the participation of its contract players. Following this logic, Blundell suggests that Kennedy too was a victim of the Nine's sensitivity about the local content issue. It has also been suggested that, with a federal election looming, Nine used the crow-call as a pretext to remove the politically vocal Kennedy, who was known to support the ALP.
Power Without Glory
1976 saw Kennedy as "Clive Parker" in the ABC drama "Power Without Glory ".
In 1977 he returned to television for what is now the Ten Network to host a comedy game show, "Blankety Blanks ". It dominated early evening television for two years, and featured friends from his earlier days including Noeline Brown , Barry Creyton , Noel Ferrier , Ugly Dave Gray , Carol Raye and Stuart Wagstaff .
Graham Kennedy's News Hour and Coast to Coast
1988 saw him back on the Nine network with "Graham Kennedy's News Hour " (later "Coast to Coast"), in the unlikely role of newsreader, with Ken Sutcliffe and then John Mangos .
On the program he reprised a song which, he said, originated in a 1920's children's newspaper column in Scotland, and was used by Cliff "Nicky" Nicholls and wife Nancy Lee on their 3AW "Chatterbox Corner " program:
Being a chum is fun, That is why I'm one; Always smiling, always gay, Chummy at work, Chummy at play - Laugh away your worries, Don't be sad or glum; And everyone will know That you're a chum, chum, chum!
Kennedy defied convention with remarks which were outrageous tasteless, and yet hilarious. He said that it would be helpful for the show's ratings if the Pope's aircraft were to fly into a mountain; remarked that Queen Elizabeth II "didn't have bad breasts [...] for a woman of her age" and mocked the San Francisco earthquake with a recreation on the set.
Sutcliffe would "corpse", with tears in his eyes, unable to continue; this became so frequent that Kennedy managed to coin a catchphrase, "I love it when he cries" .
Graham Kennedy's Funniest Home Videos
His last programme was "Graham Kennedy's Funniest Home Videos " which began in 1990 on the Nine Network.
Last television appearance
He was interviewed by Ray Martin, later stating that he felt "ambushed" by Martin's probing into personal matters. This was to be his final television appearance. In 1998 he was honoured with a Hall Of Fame Logie. He did not attend the ceremony; the award was accepted on his behalf by Bert Newton.
Kennedy has appeared in a number of films, ranging from brief cameos to leading roles. They include:
- They're a Weird Mob (1968)
- The Odd Angry Shot (1978)
- The Club (1980)
- The Return of Captain Invincible (1982) (cameo)
- The Killing Fields (1983)
- Stanley (1983)
- Travelling North (1987)
He apparently also had a cameo in On the Beach (1959) which was not used.
In 1991 Kennedy retired, moving to a rural property at Canyonleigh , near Bowral in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, near to his friends Tony Sattler and Noelene Brown , where he kept Clydesdale horses and a golden retriever named Henry. He has never married, despite a brief and evidently hoax engagement to singer Lana Cantrell , now a New York lawyer. In the 1960's Bob Dyer described him as "probably the loneliest young man in Australia".
His health declined during the 1990s. A diabetic, and a heavy smoker and drinker, in 2001 Kennedy fell down stairs at his home, and suffered a broken leg and skull. Initial reports suggested that he suffered brain damage, but that appears not to have been the case. He sold his property and moved into a townhouse and later a nursing home. His old friend and former colleague Bert Newton visited him shortly after the accident, and friends Tony and Noelene Sattler rallied to his aid.
To the surprise of many, despite a career of high earnings, he never became rich, and it was stated in the press that his financial situation was, while not disastrous, insufficient to fund his care. Having made millions for the Packer family interests, he believed that "the Packers will always look after me". His confidence was misplaced, and despite a direct appeal by the Sattlers to Nine's current owner Kerry Packer, to assist financially with Kennedy's care, Packer (who is a billionaire) declined to contribute. Soon after this, according to Graeme Blundell, the sum of $150,000 was placed into Kennedy's bank account anonymously. It is believed to have come from former Nine executive Sam Chisholm , who rose from early beginnings promoting floor wax products on "In Melbourne Tonight" to become Channel Nine's network chief.
Kennedy's colleague on Coast to Coast, John Mangos, was reported in 2001 as having said:
- "I can say to his beloved fans that they won't see Graham again. He won't appear publicly again; he is in his twilight. He has made a personal decision to disappear quietly into the sunset."
On 2nd Feb. 2004, The Daily Telegraph Australia printed:
- The king of Australian TV Graham Kennedy will celebrate his 70th birthday next weekend with a few close friends. The low-key affair is expected to be at the Kenilworth Nursing Home at Bowral where Kennedy has lived since taking a nasty tumble a few years ago. Physically he's not in terrific shape. He can't walk any more and gets around in a wheelchair as a result of the diabetes and the years of heavy smoking."
Actor Graeme Blundell , who worked with Kennedy on the movies "The Odd Angry Shot" and "Don's Party" published a biography of Kennedy, "King: The Life and Comedy of Graham Kennedy" (McMillan, 2003). Although unauthorised, it was reported that Kennedy gave Blundell, via his agent, "best wishes for the book".
- Profile of Graham Kennedy
- Bio by John Docker at museum.tv
- King of comedy, fears of a clown
- How the King lost his voice
- TV king's tragedy
- The King is not dead
- The King Sells Up
- The two Grahams/Graemes
- Bluehaze Solutions. Includes audio and video clips
- Blankety Blanks
- Graham Kennedy biography (ABC)
- Noeline Brown's personal site
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