This story ran in The Age as ‘My Week’ on 27th February 1999.
My Saturday night was the same as Mal Walden’s, which will be disappointing news for The Late Report publicity people trying to promote me as a cutting edge, canvas sneaker wearing member of Generation X. We were both there for the opening night of the MTC’s The Judas Kiss, a play about Oscar Wilde and his relationships around the time of his trial.
Oscar’s wit and command of language were such that everyone had to titter knowingly at everything he said or run the risk of looking stupid. For the first half I was tittering with the best of them, a double entendre here, a play on words there, but after a dixie of ice-cream and a beer at interval, I slumped in my chair and fell silent.
My overall impression of the play was that it was overacted, although it’s just as likely that it was a brilliant portrayal of one of the century’s great real-life over-actors. Whatever the case, at curtain call the audience went berserk, people actually shouting ‘Bravo! Bravo!’ at the top of their lungs. If there was overacting taking place on the stage it was nothing compared to what was happening in the stalls.
I awoke at 5.50 am, determined to fulfil my two day old ambition of attending the International Airshow at Avalon. By 8.00 I was eating an orange eggy substance in an on-site catering tent, trying to coax a story out of a 77 year old flying ace called Bob Hoover.
Bob had a Tennessee accent, a yellow Evil Keneval jumpsuit, a crooked blonde moustache and had survived seventeen aeroplane crashes – enough to convince me that he would make a good subject. ‘Bob Hoover is the greatest pilot alive today’ the fans told me while they waited for an autograph. ‘Bob Hoover is the pilot’s pilot’.
Nobody ever said that Bob Hoover was the interviewer’s interviewee. The story was a nightmare from the outset. I would ask a stupid question like whether you get sick of seeing your life flash before your eyes when you’re seeing it for the seventeenth time. Bob would look down at his eggs in disgust. I’d try and lighten the mood by talking about Top Gun. Bob told me that one of his friends died during the filming.
At 3.00pm, I finally gave up on Bob, and tried to do a salvage story on a Swedish man who walked on the wings of a biplane. By sundown, I was spinning around in circles at Avalon campground making aeroplane noises with a group of ten-year-olds.
It was only after we completed a couple of simulation passes as F18 fighter jets that my producer quietly tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that this was not Simon Townsend’s Wonder World, and I was not Jonathon Coleman.
The day of the show. I arrived early at channel seven for a date with a Furby, a small, mechanised talking toy set to redefine the levels of hate human beings can feel towards inanmate objects. The idea witth Furbies is that they are born speaking their native language of Furbish, but if you devote yourself to them about 23 hours per day, they slowly pick up English.
After a full day with the toy, the Furby could yawn and say the word ‘boring’, raising the very real possibility that we would be heckled by our own mechanical guest. I was desperate for the off-switch that wasn’t there, and it took an emergency battery removal with an industrial length screwdriver to avert Australia’s first act of Furbicide.
I spent the half hour before the show sitting in my dressing room eating lollies and thinking how cool it was to have a dressing room. Sure, it also doubled as the men’s toilet which guaranteed a steady stream of traffic, but my name was printed up there next to the ‘MENS’ sign. It was incredible. In twelve months I’d gone from commercial law to show biz, and if I weren’t spending quality time with an unconscious toy and a bowl of jubes, there could have been delusions of grandeur.
My first appearance on the show was in a taped piece on Tatts officials, and my immediate thought was how much I missed the theatre goers from Saturday night. What wouldn’t I do for some gentle tittering now. The odd ‘Bravo’ perhaps. Mal Walden could even be handy for some advice on how to read the auto cue without my eyes roaming to the extremities of my head.
It was sickening, nerve-wracking stuff, the nadir coming when I blurted out for the second week in a row that I have an interest in grammar. I really have to stop doing that.
Everyone was happy with the show. The network, the production team, callers from the general public – the consensus was that we’d improved considerably between show one and show two. And although we’d been beaten in the ratings, our people were confident that if we looked at the figures long enough we could find a demographic in which we’d done really well.
By afternoon, the focus was well and truly on next week. The Furby, so important, so nurtured just twenty four hours previously, now lay abandoned in the corner. Spat out in the television process. If I could speak Furbish I might have thanked it for giving me two minutes of material, explained that it was over now and that I had to design some birdman wings. But my Furbish being what it is, it battled rejection alone – learning about this tough TV world.