Hey It's Saturday, a variety program, began as a Saturday morning
children's show, but like other children's shows in Australia, developed
a curious adult following and has become a durable feature of Australian
television history. Now programmed on Saturday nights from 6:30
to 8:30, it has been a consistent ratings winner for Network Nine,
outlasting every challenge the other networks have thrown at it.
Television variety like Hey Hey emerges from Australia's
robust history of music hall, vaudeville, and revue, on the stage
and in radio. Vaudeville featured singers, dancers, comedians, acrobats,
magicians, ventriloquists, male and female impersonators, and animal
acts. In revue a thin story-line was used to connect a series of
comedy-sequences, backed by song and dance numbers. It included
an orchestra, ballet and show girls, and a commedienne. But the
comedian was always the star of the show.
such traditions great comedians, such as George Wallace and the
legendary "Mo" (Roy Rene), emerged before the days of television.
Australia's greatest TV comedian, Graham Kennedy, in his long-running
variety program In Melbourne Tonight, adapted such vaudeville
traditions for television, where they continued to thrive in specifically
televisual terms. The compere of Hey Hey It's Saturday is
Darryl Somers, a comedian who is perhaps the successor to Graham
Kennedy on Australian television. While he may not be so much a
king of comedy, he remains a noteworthy lord of misrule. One of
Kennedy's writers at In Melbourne Tonight, Ernie Carroll,
provides another connection to the earlier tradition. He became
the producer of Hey Hey and also the arm and voice for its resident
puppet figure, Ossie Ostrich, retained from the children's show
Hey differs from 19th and 20th century vaudeville in not having
show girls or animal acts. It did for a period have a character
called Animal, who silently wandered about the set, a walking icon
of a crazy world, purely visual signifier of the ludic, of a world
upside-down. The show does continue vaudeville and revue tradition
in having an orchestra (a rock band) and, for a long period, a resident
commedienne, Jacky MacDonald. Jacky portrayed an apparent naif,
telling sly risqué jokes with wide innocent eyes.
Darryl Somers, with Ossie Ostrich sitting beside him, guides the
show, Hey Hey is decentred comedy, dispersed through the
various figures and performers, who often include the production
crew. The show also contains various (changing) segments. "Media
Watch" presents mistakes in TV commercials, or funny items, usually
taken from the provincial press. "Red Faces" offers amateur acts.
"Ad Nauseum" invents a quiz show with questions about TV ads. "What
Cheeses Me Off" is a complaints column, and "Beat It" a music quiz.
Hey uses all the technical and audiovisual resources of TV itself
to make everyone and everything in the show part of the comedy.
We rarely see John Blackman, for example. But he is a regular off-screen
voice doing impersonations, being ironic and sarcastic about guest
acts and cast members, or making dry jokes and performing "insult
comedy". This visual "absence" is countered by the highly visual
cartoon jokes flashed on the screen at any moment. When "Media Watch"
speculates on possible mistakes in TV commercials, a camera may
suddenly focus on a producer. Surrounded by cameras and cords, he
holds a mic, and says what he thinks, though he will earn derision
if the others think he gets it wrong. Puppet Ossie Ostrich will
comment on everything dryly and ironically. Little Dickie the other
puppet (a blue head held on a stick, and a rasping voice provided
by John Blackman), might suddenly rush forward and be rude about
someone or something. In turn, in one show Ossie commented of Little
Dickie that his stick has "terminal white ant".
show revels in the festive abuse that Bakhtin saw as a feature of
carnival in early modern Europe. In a society where, he suggested,
people were "usually divided by the barriers of caste, property,
professions, and age," festive abuse overturned hierarchy in social
relations, creating an atmosphere of equality, freedom, and familiarity--Hey
Hey Hey all is chaos and anarchy, the reverse of structured
sequences guided by straightperson and chief comedian. Darryl Somers
as compere is, instead, a relatively still space across which all
the mad traffic of jokes, the different comic contributions and
voices, traverse and clash and comment on each other. If he maintains
an ongoing program he is never a central voice of authority, a ringmaster.
His strength is in his alertness to what is going on about him as
much as in his own comic contributions.
Traditional stage variety entertainment thrived on familiarity and
audience involvement. Similarly, Hey Hey actively draws on
the vast and intimate knowledge that its audience (in the studio
and at home) has of the media, of the rest of popular commercial
TV. Like Monty Python's Flying Circus in the early 1970s,
Hey Hey is variety for the electronic age. The media are often the
material for the comedy: parodying Lotto in "Chook Lotto", the media
in "Media Watch", talent shows in "Red Faces", or testing knowledge
of pop music in "Beat It".
Hey Hey It's Saturday
Photo courtesy of TCN Channel Four
by the studio audience is always encouraged. If, for example, a
show is declared a 1960s or a Science Fiction night, Darryl and
Jacky and Ossie wear extravagant uniforms and masks. But the audience
also dress up--a touch of the masks and disguises of carnival of
old, taking people out of their ordinary life and circumstances.
In "Red Faces," perennially one of Hey Hey's most popular
segments, the audience may override Red's gong if it likes an act.
in Hey Hey there is an extreme self-reflexivity; we see camera
people with their cameras and crew with mikes and cords going everywhere.
For television culture, this builds on a very long tradition of
self-reflexivity in popular culture and theatre. The festive abuse
of Hey Hey reminds us that a great deal of popular culture,
from carnival in early modern Europe to music hall and vaudeville
in the 19th century and into the 20th, featured parody and self-parody.
This was more than a way of mocking received attitudes and official
wisdom. It was a philosophical mode, a cosmology, a way of questioning
all claims to absolute truth--including its own. To the degree that
our own "wisdom" is drawn from and dependent upon the media Hey
Hey It's Saturday suggests we should look on that knowledge
with a wary eye.
"Ozzie Ostrich"/Ernie Carroll
Bob Phillips, Pam Barnes
October 1971-September 1973 Saturday 8:30-11:30 A.M. October
1973-December 1977 Saturday 8:00-11:00 A.M. March 1979-December
1983 Saturday 8:00-11:00 A.M.
HEY HEY IT'S SATURDAY NIGHT
March 1984-May 1985
Saturday 9:30-12:00 P.M.
Title Reverts to HEY HEY IT'S SATURDAY
June 1985- Saturday
Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University
John. "In Defence of Popular TV: Carnivalesque V. Left Pessimism."
Continuum (Murdoch, Western Australia), 1988.
Celestine. "National Vaudeville." In, Love, Harold, editor. The
Australian Stage. Sydney, Australia: New South Wales University
Turner, Graeme. "Transgressive TV: From In Melbourne Tonight
to Perfect Match." In, Tulloch, John, and Graeme Turner, editors.
Australian Television: Programs, Pleasures and Politics. Sydney,
Australia: Allen and Unwin, 1989.
Python's Flying Circus