KENNEDY, GRAHAM (1934–2005)
Entertainer Graham Kennedy, who died in Bowral, New South Wales, and was posthumously appointed AO, is remembered as ‘Mr Melbourne’ by the generations who grew up with him in that city. The rest of Australia called him the ‘King’. For 30 years, he was Australia’s biggest show business star. He reigned over local television as a talk-show host, game-show presenter, satirist and commentator, and as a fine actor when he moved into film.
Reared in Melbourne’s inner-city Balaclava, he joined radio after leaving school in the early 1950s, becoming a turntable operator stooge to 3UZ’s Clifford Nicholls ‘Nicky’ Whitta. Successfully, they clowned together, tilting at Melbourne’s sacred cows. They provided a controlled anarchy in a 1950s culture of conformity, but something warned Kennedy about television, the coming of which Australians regarded with awe. He prepared himself by having his teeth fixed.
The oyster-eyed Kennedy was hired by Melbourne’s fledgling GTV9 in 1957 with imitations of the American Tonight Show of Steve Allen in mind. But that initial source of inspiration would never curb the local kid’s style. The only similarity was that Kennedy sat at a desk for most of the time—which he did, on and off, for the next 30 or so years, hosting In Melbourne Tonight (IMT) , The Graham Kennedy Show (with sidekick Bert Newton), Blankety Blanks and Graham Kennedy’s Coast to Coast, where he created a hybrid form of often-confronting television with his raucous, sometimes vicious, blending of vaudeville and current affairs, and the way he parodied and often belittled the commercials on the show.
After he tired of IMT in 1969, Kennedy ventured into acting in films, with appearances including Don’s Party (1976), The Odd Angry Shot (1979), The Club (1980) and Travelling North (1986). He returned to television with The Graham Kennedy Show in 1972. Following his famous crow call (‘faaak’) in 1975, he was forced to pre-record his show and he soon quit GTV9.
It was Kennedy who suggested the name ‘Logie’ for the annual television awards and he was the recipient of several Gold and Silver Logie Awards himself. In person, he was quiet, scholarly, reticent and self-deprecating. He once said: ‘I don’t classify myself as a comedian, though sometimes I’m funny. I can’t sing and I can’t dance. But I can talk. A famous person once said about me that I didn’t do anything on TV but I did it damned well.’
REF: G. Blundell, King (2003).