John Clarke's family links to Gisborne

Beloved satirist and actor died in Victoria on Sunday.

Beloved satirist and actor died in Victoria on Sunday.

John Clarke in his earlier days as Fred Dagg.
WHAT A KICK IN THE GUTS, TREV: Comedian John Clarke passed away over the weekend from natural causes while bushwalking (tramping) in Victoria. Remembered fondly on both sides of the Tasman, he began his career in the 1970s with Taihape farmer character, Fred Dagg, before moving to Australia to star in Sydney Olympic Games parody The Games and weekly ABC show Clarke and Dawe with Bryan Dawe.

SATIRIST John Clarke, best known here for his persona Fred Dagg, had strong Gisborne connections. Clarke died on Sunday in Australia. He was 68.

Described as the man who invented humour in New Zealand in the 1970s, he brought Fred Dagg, the black-singleted, gumboot-wearing farmer to life.

He died of natural causes while hiking in Grampians National Park in Victoria.

His mother Neva Clarke McKenna was born and grew up in Gisborne. She married Ted Clarke, of Wellington, at her parents home in Sievwright Lane in 1947.

In a DVD of John Clarke’s Fred Dagg career, the credits include an appreciation of his uncles, Ernie Langford (who farmed at Matawhero) and Bill Aitken (who owned the general store at Te Karaka).

They were married to his mother’s sisters, Alva and Brownie (nee Morrison), and family members believe the uncles’ humour influenced the young townie who visited from down south during school holidays.

Alva Langford is still alive, and four of John Clarke’s first cousins live in Gisborne.

Clarke enjoyed success as an author, actor, editor and screenwriter.

by New Zealand Herald staff reporters

MELBOURNE — Legendary comedian John Clarke died taking photos of birds on a bushwalk with family and friends.

The 68-year-old, who moved to Australia in the late 1970s but is still fondly remembered for his creation Fred Dagg, collapsed and died of natural causes while hiking in the Grampians National Park, Victoria on Sunday.

A family spokesperson said: “John died doing one of the things he loved the most, taking photos of birds in beautiful bushland with his wife and friends. He is forever in our hearts.

“We are aware of what he has meant to so many for so many years, throughout the world but especially in Australia and New Zealand. We are very grateful for all expressions of sympathy and love which John would have greatly appreciated.”

Prime Minister Bill English tweeted his sadness for the comedian, while Labour leader Andrew Little said he was devastated by Mr Clarke’s death.

“He taught us to laugh at ourselves and more importantly laugh at our politicians.”

Clad in gumboots and a black singlet, Dagg was played with such conviction that to many New Zealanders, he was a real person.

Greener pastures

But when Mr Clarke relocated to Australia in search of creative greener pastures in the late 1970s, he took his cherished Kiwi icon with him.

He left with a sense of disillusionment stemming from a run-in with the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC).

“In a place the size of New Zealand there is only one game in town and if you are not allowed to do it, what can you do?” Mr Clarke said in a Listener interview in 1990.

“I dealt with directors who thought they were comic geniuses and regarded me as a hired hand.

“I have never had those problems in Australia.”

After settling in Melbourne, Mr Clarke became such a hit on Australian television that cross-dressing comic Barry Humphries described Mr Clarke as “Australia’s best humorist”.

Mr Clarke became known to many Australians for his five-minute satirical spots on Channel Nine’s Friday news programme A Current Affair, the first of which appeared in 1989.

He also co-wrote ABCTV’s The Fast Lane from 1983-85, as well as co-writing and appearing in ABCTV’s The Gillies Report from 1985-86.

Mr Clarke’s film credits include Lonely Hearts (1981), Footrot Flats (1985), A Matter of Convenience (1987), Blood Oath (1989) and Death In Brunswick (1990).

Mr Clarke was born in Palmerston North in 1948. He went to primary school in Palmerston North before going to Wellington’s Scots College, after which he spent 14 months working on a shearing gang.

“My teachers mistook my indolence for rebellion and I was often caned. At one stage I held the world record. When I left secondary school I knew roughly what I knew when I left primary school plus how to shave,” Mr Clarke said.

In between time spent on a law degree and Bachelor of Arts, completing neither, he performed in satirical revues while at Victoria University in Wellington.

On the revues he worked with “some very talented people” including Ginette McDonald, Tom Scott and “a brilliantly funny young man, Paul Holmes”.

After a year at the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, he was bored and went to London.

“When I left my file said that I should not be employed under any circumstances whatsoever.”

From 1971-73, he “swanned around” Europe before returning convinced that New Zealand was ready for satirical innovation.

The Fred Dagg character was born and promulgated between 1973 and 1977 on radio, stage and screen, and became a huge hit.

SATIRIST John Clarke, best known here for his persona Fred Dagg, had strong Gisborne connections. Clarke died on Sunday in Australia. He was 68.

Described as the man who invented humour in New Zealand in the 1970s, he brought Fred Dagg, the black-singleted, gumboot-wearing farmer to life.

He died of natural causes while hiking in Grampians National Park in Victoria.

His mother Neva Clarke McKenna was born and grew up in Gisborne. She married Ted Clarke, of Wellington, at her parents home in Sievwright Lane in 1947.

In a DVD of John Clarke’s Fred Dagg career, the credits include an appreciation of his uncles, Ernie Langford (who farmed at Matawhero) and Bill Aitken (who owned the general store at Te Karaka).

They were married to his mother’s sisters, Alva and Brownie (nee Morrison), and family members believe the uncles’ humour influenced the young townie who visited from down south during school holidays.

Alva Langford is still alive, and four of John Clarke’s first cousins live in Gisborne.

Clarke enjoyed success as an author, actor, editor and screenwriter.

by New Zealand Herald staff reporters

MELBOURNE — Legendary comedian John Clarke died taking photos of birds on a bushwalk with family and friends.

The 68-year-old, who moved to Australia in the late 1970s but is still fondly remembered for his creation Fred Dagg, collapsed and died of natural causes while hiking in the Grampians National Park, Victoria on Sunday.

A family spokesperson said: “John died doing one of the things he loved the most, taking photos of birds in beautiful bushland with his wife and friends. He is forever in our hearts.

“We are aware of what he has meant to so many for so many years, throughout the world but especially in Australia and New Zealand. We are very grateful for all expressions of sympathy and love which John would have greatly appreciated.”

Prime Minister Bill English tweeted his sadness for the comedian, while Labour leader Andrew Little said he was devastated by Mr Clarke’s death.

“He taught us to laugh at ourselves and more importantly laugh at our politicians.”

Clad in gumboots and a black singlet, Dagg was played with such conviction that to many New Zealanders, he was a real person.

Greener pastures

But when Mr Clarke relocated to Australia in search of creative greener pastures in the late 1970s, he took his cherished Kiwi icon with him.

He left with a sense of disillusionment stemming from a run-in with the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC).

“In a place the size of New Zealand there is only one game in town and if you are not allowed to do it, what can you do?” Mr Clarke said in a Listener interview in 1990.

“I dealt with directors who thought they were comic geniuses and regarded me as a hired hand.

“I have never had those problems in Australia.”

After settling in Melbourne, Mr Clarke became such a hit on Australian television that cross-dressing comic Barry Humphries described Mr Clarke as “Australia’s best humorist”.

Mr Clarke became known to many Australians for his five-minute satirical spots on Channel Nine’s Friday news programme A Current Affair, the first of which appeared in 1989.

He also co-wrote ABCTV’s The Fast Lane from 1983-85, as well as co-writing and appearing in ABCTV’s The Gillies Report from 1985-86.

Mr Clarke’s film credits include Lonely Hearts (1981), Footrot Flats (1985), A Matter of Convenience (1987), Blood Oath (1989) and Death In Brunswick (1990).

Mr Clarke was born in Palmerston North in 1948. He went to primary school in Palmerston North before going to Wellington’s Scots College, after which he spent 14 months working on a shearing gang.

“My teachers mistook my indolence for rebellion and I was often caned. At one stage I held the world record. When I left secondary school I knew roughly what I knew when I left primary school plus how to shave,” Mr Clarke said.

In between time spent on a law degree and Bachelor of Arts, completing neither, he performed in satirical revues while at Victoria University in Wellington.

On the revues he worked with “some very talented people” including Ginette McDonald, Tom Scott and “a brilliantly funny young man, Paul Holmes”.

After a year at the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, he was bored and went to London.

“When I left my file said that I should not be employed under any circumstances whatsoever.”

From 1971-73, he “swanned around” Europe before returning convinced that New Zealand was ready for satirical innovation.

The Fred Dagg character was born and promulgated between 1973 and 1977 on radio, stage and screen, and became a huge hit.

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