Australian Tumbleweeds on Howard on Menzies

It’s easy to be cynical about the term “event television”, largely because the event in question is usually a rose ceremony or some sport, but it’s hard to deny that Howard on Menzies has been an event. Love them or loathe them, Robert Menzies and his gushing admirer John Howard strode large across the Australian political stage in their days. And even now, little Johnny can’t catch the tram or walk through a university campus without being mobbed by selfie-seekers. If only Mad As Hell was on air now to parody it some more.

Shot more than a year ago, Howard on Menzies has sat on the shelf while we got our latest Liberal leadership spill and federal election out of the way, presumably to ensure Howard did a sit down with the current PM. In the meantime, we’ve been treated to a promotional campaign for this series that’s gone almost as long as the American Presidential campaign. Or at least it seems like that. When did Micallef start parodying it? June? That’s a long pre-promotion period for two hours of television.

You’re probably wondering why we’re talking about it. It’s not a comedy. Well, not an intentional one. Here’s our justification: since the days when TV’s top satirist was Max Gillies, John Howard has been a laughing stock. Little Johnny, geeky, baldy guy with a nasal voice, big glasses, and even bigger eyebrows. Your classic 1980’s friendless-nerd, dumped by his party only to rise again, defeat Paul Keating, and spend more than a decade as Prime Minister, providing endless material for the likes of Martin/Molloy, Clarke & Dawe, Shaun Micallef and numerous others. Put it this way, it was hard to watch Howard crapping on about Doc Evatt and “the Labor party” and not add one of the Get This’ Aaaaarrrggghhh’s.

When event television happens, or a major national event, we need and want our home-grown comedians to take the piss out of it. But where were they? Micallef’s on a break, Clarke & Dawe focused on other things, and even Charlie Pickering was nowhere to be seen. If you’re looking for an actual parody of some of this series’ many mock-able moments, you’ve (largely) had to do it yourself.

Here’s something we’d like to have seen: someone nailing exactly what it is that Rupert Murdoch looks like now he’s ditched the spectacles. A 1980’s Transformer? Darth Vader? Either way, he looks shockingly weird these days, and that’s even comparing him to fellow Howard on Menzies talking head Clive James, WHO’S DYING OF CANCER!!!

Speaking of Clive James, and for that matter, Barry Humphries and Thomas Keneally, since when have that generation of our cultural commentators been fans of Menzies? Didn’t most of them leave the country because the Menzies era was notoriously one that stifled creativity and new ideas? Are we alone in suspecting there was some rather tight editing of what they had to say?

Oh, and that bit where Howard pointed out that it was Menzies, not Whitlam who was responsible for free university education…uuummm…bullshit. The Menzies government may have dished out lots of scholarships, but Whitlam’s government abolished university fees altogether. So, yeah, this wasn’t exactly a dispassionate look at Sir Bob.

We did enjoy Howard’s poor TV presenting skills, though. And whoever came up with sticking him in front of a fisheye lens that made him look like his own Rubbery Figures puppet, we salute you! It’s the most laughs we’ve got out of a camera effect for ages.

So, yeah… Howard on Menzies was far from a comedy, but it wasn’t exactly lacking in laughs either. We just wish there was a crack squad of satirists on TV right now to amplify them.

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  • Tony Tea says:

    Odd, isn’t it. You’d think those Aussies who bailed out of Straya in the 50s would be lefties. But Barry Humphries, while relentlessly satirising his suburbia, has always been a conservative. And my dad was at uni with Clive James, but always maintained he was either apolitical or slightly right wing.

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    Baz and Clive have always been right of centre, but they were also interested in free expression…something that wasn’t exactly encouraged in the Menzies era.

  • William says:

    Has Clive James been right wing though? I can recall him making positive remarks about the ALP. I think regarding Keneally, Humphries and James they were just being fair, you can still give praise where praise is due, even if they are your opponents.

    What I’d be interested to know is, do the authors of this blog think Australian comedians should have made fun of the Whitlam documentary from a few years ago?

  • William says:

    Regarding my earlier post, I can’t find any source that corroborates my belief that Clive James has made positive remarks about the ALP. Apologies.

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    Should comedians have made fun of the Whitlam documentary? Yes.