The NZFC and the New Zealand screen industry are shocked and saddened to hear that comedian, writer and performer John Clarke has passed away.
While Clarke’s career was spent largely in Australia, to New Zealanders, he will always be Fred Dagg, the gumbooted, black-singleted, gentleman farmer who appeared regularly on stage and New Zealand television in the early 1970s. Dagg was so popular, he even had a film made about him, Dagg Day Afternoon, written by Clarke and directed by Geoff Murphy. His 1975 album, Fred Dagg’s Greatest Hits, remains one of New Zealand’s best selling records, featuring such hits as The Gumboot Song and We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are – both still sung routinely by primary school kids across the nation.
Frustrated by New Zealand broadcasting’s conservative administration, Clarke left New Zealand in 1977, taking Dagg with him.
His sense of humour proved just as popular across the Tasman, and Clarke wrote and performed on Australian radio and television. He was particularly adept at satire and sending up the powerful. He conducted satirical interviwews on ABC for 25 years, often impersonating politicians trying to give tricky questions the slip.
While Barry Humphries once described Clarke as “Australia’s best humourist”, Clarke was also much admired for his dramatic skills, writing and script-editing such Australian features as The Man Who Sued God (2000) and Crackerjack (2001), and television series Anzacs (1985). He co-wrote and acted in Paul Cox’s 1982 feature, Lonely Hearts and gave a memorable perfomance in John Ruane’s Death in Brunswick (1991) alongside fellow Kiwi, Sam Neill.
Clarke will probably be best remembered for The Games, a television series satirising the organising committee behind the Sydney Olympics. Clarke co-wrote and starred in the AFI Award-winning series which ran 1998-2000.
After leaving for Australia, Clarke was seen rarely on New Zealand screens, but provided the voice of Wal for the 1986 film Footrot Flats – The Dog’s Tale and more recently voiced Fred Dagg in episodes of bro’Town.
He will be much missed, and our thoughts and sympathy go out to his family.