Five points for John Clarke, also known as Fred Dagg, Trans-Tasman observer: incisive but no prick

The death of John Clarke, comedian and satirist, has brought forth some nice pieces of an obituarial bent. The present writer recalls snuffling with glee over Fred Dagg books and, a little later, chuckling at Farnarkling (a much more plausible fake sport than Quidditch). And then there was the show about the Sydney Olympics which was more subtle than Yes Minister and a forerunner of that recent show – the name escapes me – with the wonderful Celia Pacquola and some lesser lights. I didn’t see many of the Clarke and Dawe spots but those I took in were clever and well-observed.

Among those noting the passing of John Clarke:

  • Matthew Ricketson in Inside Story referred to Clarke’s ‘brilliance in adapting forms, especially media forms, for satiric purposes. This can be seen in his remoulding of staple journalistic forms, ranging from standard news reports to sports commentary and the interview.’
  • Tony Wright in Fairfax recalled ‘an intellect that made him the most acute humorist of his generation, certainly in Australia and his native New Zealand. He was, to both countries, a natural treasure.’
  • ‘He gave voice’, said Robert Phiddian in The Conversation, ‘to a brilliant antipodean acerbity that has always seemed a little old-fashioned in its moral and tonal dignity, and has been so pointedly timely because of that’.
  • Max Gillies in Guardian Australia said Clarke exemplified ‘[t]hose Anzac values of the sardonic viewpoint and the absurdist consciousness, together with a delight in their fanciful expression’. (Gillies meant Anzac in the sense of Trans-Tasman, rather than particularly khaki-clad.)
  • Finally, Jonathan Green gave perhaps the best send-off to Clarke and his many emanations by reprinting in Meanjin, beneath a short comment, a couple of Clarke’s recent essays for that venerable publication. The pieces, said Green, ‘were, in his typical way, superbly crafted and full of the luminescence of his unmatchable wit’.

For a site that observes and categorises history, it is important to note the historical contribution (or sometimes lack of it) of people like John Clarke. If I was composing an epitaph for Clarke it would necessarily include implied comparisons with other deceased ‘humorists’. The epitaph would go something like this: ‘He put the knife in without being a prick’.

A sixth article, from Patrick Stokes in The Conversation. Plus Jonathan Green and Richard Glover on the ABC.

David Stephens

11 April 2017 updated


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