The Aunty Jack Show was one of Australia’s earliest and best loved TV Logie Award winning comedy series. Starring a motor-cycling tranvestite boxer, it ran from 1972 to 1973 on Australia’s national broadcaster ABC-TV and attained an instant cult status that persists to this present day.
The main character Aunty Jack was a unique comic creation, an obese, moustachioed, gravel-voiced transvestite, part trucker and part pantomime dame who habitually solved any problem by knocking people unconscious or threatening to ‘rip their bloody arms off’.
Visually, she was unmistakable, dressed in a huge, tent-like blue velvet dress, football socks, workboots, and a golden boxing glove on her right hand. She rode everywhere on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and referred to everyone as “me little lovelies”
Under threat of having their “bloody arms ripped off” if they didn’t, Australians of the early seventies had little option but to tune in each week to their favourite Aunt.
The Aunty Jack Show starred Grahame Bond as Aunty Jack, (partly inspired by his overbearing Uncle Jack, whom he disliked as a child) Rory O’Donoghue as Thin Arthur, John Derum as Narrator Neville, Garry McDonald as Kid Eager and Sandy Macgregor as Flange Desire.
Although frequently compared to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the Aunty Jack character in fact made her appearance well before Python was screened in Australia, although the two teams evidently shared the same love of surreal humour.
Aunty Jack was created for a proposed ABC Radio children’s radio series, “The Aunty Jack Show”. It was intended to replace the long-running children’s radio series “The Argonauts Club”, which was about to be cancelled. The new series never went to air because ABC executives felt that the Aunty Jack character and some of Grahame’s songs were “inappropriate” for young listeners.
The Aunty Jack character made her TV debut in “Aunty Jack’s Travelling Show”, an episode of ABC-TV’s The Comedy Game, broadcast in late 1971. “Aunty Jack’s Travelling Show” convinced the ABC to commission a short series, to be screened weekly.
“The Aunty Jack Show” premiered on 16 November 1972 and became an immediate cult hit with younger audiences, although it was poorly received by critics. . Some viewers found it too confronting, and according to Murphy, the ABC received hundreds of calls after the first episode, complaining about the violence, the “bad language” and especially about the drag aspect of the Aunty Jack character.
The adverse reaction was reportedly strong enough for the ABC to seriously consider taking the series off the air, but it is generally reported that impassioned pleas from the children of certain ABC executives saved the show from being cancelled.
This would not be the team’s last such run-in with management, however, and the tensions between the creative and bureaucratic elements in the ABC eventually came to a head with the infamous The Off Show in 1977.
Two series of “The Aunty Jack Show” were made in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The first series comprised seven episodes, the second six episodes. There were also two specials, one aired 8 June 1973 before the second series began in the fall, and a second aired in 1975. Each episode was built around a central theme.
Bond killed off the show at the end of the second season by having Aunty Jack die of a heart attack, Nevertheless, the cast returned for a special two years later to mark the inauguration of colour television in Australia on 1 March 1975. The special beat ABC’s commercial rivals by beginning 3 minutes early, at 11:57 pm 28 March 1975 in black and white and then wiping to colour at midnight.
The album Aunty Jack Sings Wollongong was released in 1974. The single and theme song from the series Farewell Aunty Jack reached Number 1 and stayed in the Australian music charts for 22 weeks. The popularity of the series led to a one-off TV special, “Aunty Jack Rox On”, a concert tour. It was the first single to debut in Australia at Number 1, and also the first Australian single in picture-disc form, reputedly being the first disc of its kind in the world.
Although fans long hoped that the show might be released on home video, it was more than thirty years after the show’s first screening until this took place. Although there have been a number of reasons suggested, it is generally accepted that the major stumbling block was a long-running disagreement between Bond and the ABC, stemming from Bond and O’Donoghue’s resentment over the presumed loss of several “Aunty Jack” episodes and the “Off Show” incident. Since Bond and O’Donoghue controlled the rights for all the original music featured in the series, their refusal to release them effectively kept the series off home video until 2005.
Although (according to Bond) the original master tapes for three episodes were erased, all the original film footage shot for the missing episodes had survived and with the assistance of the National Archives of Australia the footage was located and restored, enabling the missing episodes to be reconstructed. The long awaited release of the complete Series 1 on DVD took place in December 2005, and the complete Series 2 followed in April 2006
Aunty Jack returned in early 2006 in a live stage show titled “The Aunty Jack Show and Tell”, starring Grahame Bond and Rory O’Donoghue. As well as Aunty Jack and Thin Arthur, the show featured the singing tramps Neil and Errol, Country and Eastern music exponents the Farrelly Brothers, the Ri Fol Tit Men and bodgie butcher and meat artist Kev Kavanagh.
Aunty Jack and her cast of characters, Thin Arthur, Narrator Neville and Flange Desire brought a newsense of humour to our screens – irreverent, bizarre, full of original music (a rarity for a comedy series)and uniquely Australian.