The Emergence of Modern Mass Culture in the 1920s: (I) Public Radio

Cinema, Media & Communications, Popular Culture

In 1920 the American public was enraptured with the still relatively new medium of film and with the growing phenomenon of movie stars – silent films were all the rage with people from all strata of society. But technological breakthroughs were already opening up new choices for consumers of mainstream entertainment in the US and the wider world.

Early radio days
That same year, 1920, following on the pioneering breakthroughs in Marconi and Tesla and a host of other contributors to the development of radio[1], the first federal licence was granted in the US to radio station KDKA (owned by the Westinghouse Company) in Pittsburgh, Pa. KDKA started with sport, broadcasting prize fights and Major League Baseball.

Early radio activities in the US were intended as a public service, not-for-profit, RCA (Radio Corporation of America) was formed as a government-sanctioned radio monopoly. RCA with David Sarnoff the instrumental figure in the company But with big business (including newspapers) making an investment in the novel form of communication with the singular purpose of making a financial ‘killing’ from it, this was destined eventually to ride roughshod over the altruistic public service function.

AD for Atwater Kent Receiver
The Corporatisation of radio
Big business interests in the US was taking account of the brand new medium. Corporate America wanted in on the action and was looking for ways to make radio pay¤ … advertising was the key. Radio broadcasting had moved from the pre-1920s phase of inventor/entrepreneurs like de Forest (see below) and Aubrey Fessenden⌻ and amateur operators to profit-conscious organisations in the vanguard. The first radio ad appeared in 1923 on station WEAF in New York. In a familiar pattern of oligarchic business expansion, many of the existing stations coalesced into networks, big players like RCA (later morphing into giant NBC – National Broadcasting) and its rival network, CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System), who were able to secure the top advertising revenue returns on their commercial stations. By 1930 nine out of ten US radio stations were selling advertising time[2].

Table 1 (below) illustrates how the number of US radio stations rose exponentially from a very low base in 1921:

Year№ of Stations
1921 5
1923556
1927681
1940765
Source: CH Sterling & JM Kittross, Stay Tuned: A History of American Broadcasting (1978)

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Table 2 (below) illustrates a similar growth in the revenue dollar from US radio:

YearAdvertising Revenue of radio stations
1927$4.8million
1930$40.5million
1940$215.6million
Source: CH Sterling & JM Kittross, Stay Tuned: A History of American Broadcasting (1978)

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Federal Communications Commission (emblem)
Chaotic airwaves rule OK!
In the early days reception wasn’t great with the majority of listeners relying on very basic, home-made crystal sets (the eventual advent of amplifying receivers addressed some of the shortcomings). But the listeners were blighted by recurring problems with the on air broadcasts … the stations’ frequencies were continually being interrupted by other radio transmitters who would suddenly cut in on them in the middle of a program[3]. Stations regularly ran experimental programs which were a mishmash of hits and misses. The airwaves were a haphazard free-for-all until measures were taken to regulate the industry in 1927 with the Radio Act. The Act empowered the Federal Radio Commission to reallocate radio frequencies into a geographical zonal system with licenses, time of operation, station power and wavelength to be equally allocated. This system however worked less than perfectly[4].

A revolution in home entertainment
Within a few short years the stations got their acts together and with improved technology and more receivers available, the American population embraced the mass media of radio. People would hold invite friends over for “radio parties” in their homes. Teenage and adolescent listeners would tune in and dance to jazz programs (the music de jour of the 20s). Radio quickly became a central part of American lives. From fairly limited offerings at first, eg, music, reading the latest news items✥, sporting broadcasts, stations started to offer quality and variety … radio shows had become the go-to form of entertainment – detective serials, westerns, comedies, romances, children’s shows, were all very popularly received. The soap opera✾ (drama serials containing multiple characters with intertwined, often emotionally fraught lives), the one significant invention of radio, became the staple cultural diet of many listeners[5].

By 1929 radio was reaching 10,000,000 American households. One of the most popular programs was Amos ‘n Andy, a form of audio entertainment which unfortunately also served to disseminate racial and cultural stereotypes (in this case reinforcing a derogatory view of African-Americans). When the phonogram invented earlier by Thomas Edison, was commercialised, the proliferation of record players in homes alongside radio sets gave Americans a “new world” of home entertainment[6].

Other countries in the western world rapidly followed America’s lead in the spread of the AM radio phenomena[7], one that would grip and enthrall listeners world-wide until the commercial introduction of public television in the 50s would eventually assume that mantle of shaping or reshaping mass communications.

“Welles-storm”

PostScript: Radio ‘pyrotechnics’ – The ‘invasion’ of America
There has been no better illustration of the sheer, mind-bending power of radio than enfant terrible and soon-to-be Hollywood directorial luminary Orson Welles’s 1938 broadcast on national radio. Welles’s performance of The War of the Worlds (by Sc-Fi pioneer writer HG Wells) spooked the nation (or at least the one-fifth of the over one million listeners to the program who were thrown into a panic by the calamitous ‘news’!) … the radio audience were fooled into believing that they were hearing a live report of an actual invasion of Earth by spaceship-transported Martians[8].

╼╾╼╾╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾
❈ the involvement of leading newspapers in the new medium was interesting considering that radio early on was promoted as “the newspapers that come through your walls”
¤ the development pattern was different in Europe – in Britain the government agency, BBC (established in 1922) was the guiding light for public radio’s progress
⌻ undertook pioneering work in laying the foundations of AM (amplitude modulation) radio
✥ the delivery of ‘instant’ news through the air waves was a transformation for “Joe and Joan Public” who no longer had to wait to the next day to read about the latest events in their daily newspapers
✾ so named because it was the norm for soap companies to sponsor this type of day and popular evening radio programs (Scott, ‘History of the Radio Industry’)

[1] it would be remiss here not to single out the pioneering contribution of Lee de Forest whose invention of the Audion vacuum tube most possible live radio broadcasting, an amplifier and transmitter which was the “key component of all radio, telephone, radar, film, television and computer systems before the invention of the transistor in 1947” (‘Lee de Forest American Inventor’, Encylopedia Brittannica (RE Fielding), www.brittannica.com
[2] CE Scott, ‘The History of the Radio Industry in the United States to 1940’, www.eh.com
‘History: 1920s’, Advertising Age, 15-Sep-2003, www.adage.com
[3] ‘The growth of radio in the 1920s’, (Mortal Journey), (08-Apr-2011), www.mortaljourney.com; ‘Emergence of Radio in the 1920s and its Cultural Significance’, www.xroads.virginia.org
[4] ‘Federal Radio Commission’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org
[5] Mortal Journey, loc.cit.; ‘The Formation of Modern American Mass Culture’, Digital History, www.digitalhistory.ut.edu; ‘Soap opera’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org
[6] Mortal Journey, op.cit.. Edison’s phonograph paved the way for the eventual development of sound technology for films
[7] later, in the 1930s, advances spearheaded by Edward H Armstrong led to the invention of FM (frequency modulation) radio – which prompted a backlash by Sarnoff and RCA and the breakout of an “AM Vs FM war”, ‘FM broadcasting in the United States’,
Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org
[8] B Lenthall, Radio’s America: the Great Depression and the Rise of Modern Mass Culture. The Story of the Century, (2007), www.press.uchicago.edu

Foundations of Basic Brewing: Beer’s Formative Role in the Making of Western Civilisation

Archaeology, Pre-history, Social History

If you delve into the story of beer’s prehistoric origins, you are instantly struck that its trajectory parallels that of another contemporary alcoholic beverage, wine. Just as with wine, drinking beer❈ was perceived from the earliest times not only to have an euphoric effect on consumers, but to contain tangible nutritional and medicinal properties.

Clay tablet – Sumerians drinking beer through elongated bent straws
The consensus among historians is that the production of beer probably started in Western Asia, more exactly in the ancient lands of Mesopotamia. Dating its beginnings is hard to say with precision, the best evidence lies in discoveries of ancient drinking vessels and utensils. The earliest such artifacts are possibly some 7,000-year-old pottery jars with traces of beer substances that were found in Iran (Persia), and a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet of people drinking a beer-like beverage through reed straws[1]. Another finding, a tablet recording a poem written in the 19th century BCE in honour of the Sumerian goddess of beer, Ninkasi, also represents the first known recipe for the craft of brewing beer[2].

Bread or beer – what came first?
In the beginning there was the domestication of cereal grains, the transition from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists … well not quite the beginning, this occurred (very roughly) 10,000-year-ago in the Neolithic period. The precedence of cereal grains is incontrovertible. What the next step was is not so black-and-white. The conventional wisdom has been that the cultivation of cereals was undertaken for the production of food. The grain would permit crops such as emmer wheat, einkorn wheat and barley to be grown … this led to the baking of bread and other food items.

Beer came about, according to this view, by association with bread, possibly by accident. A likely explanation for this might entail a situation where a farmer or a baker samples water in which bread had been sitting for some period of time. The water having undergone spontaneous fermentation, the natural spoilage of the germinated grain created a beer substance. The sampler liked the taste and it caught on, and thus a beer culture was born[3].

Beer the conduit for permanent human settlement?
But did humankind get serious about crop cultivation solely to produce flour for bread-making, this theory is still the orthodox view but a body of research over recent decades suggests that the earth’s grains were possibly domesticated for beer before they were for bread. This counter-view has its genesis in the early 1950s with two scholars, Robert J Braidwood and Jonathan D Sauer. It was anthropologist Braidwood who posed the question “Did man once live by bread alone?” As a result of research on a site in Jarmo (present-day Iraq) Braidwood hypothesised the earliest farming of wheat and barley was more to do with the taste that had been acquired for beer. Botanist Sauer proposed that “thrist rather than hunger may have been the stimulus behind the origin of small grain agriculture”. Beer being a “palatable and nutritious beverage” (was a) “greater stimulant” for the cereal producers[4]. The desire for the beverage according to this view was the lever that prompted humans to begin forming permanent settlements[5].

Building on this argument, Katz and Voight in the 1980s argued that beer had a dual appeal in antiquity: people enjoyed “the altered state of awareness” that sufficient intake of beer engendered, and at the same time they benefitted from beer’s nutritional superiority to every other food in their diet aside from animal proteins[6]

Recent anthropological studies conducted in Mexico support the contention that beer took primacy over bread. Teosinte, the ancestral grass of modern maize common to Meso-America, was much more suited to beer making than for making corn flour for bread or tortillas. Mexican farmers only managed to domesticate the grass into the diet staple maize much later[7].

First draughts: Sumer, Mesopotamia and the Levant
Although the Greeks traced the genesis of beer to Ancient Egypt, the general consensus of scholars would attribute its origins, based on clear archaeological evidence, to Mesopotamia, and more specifically, mainly to sites in modern-day Iraq. Recent research from Simon Fraser University (Canada) suggests the importance of the brewing of beer to Natufian culture (the Levant) in the Late Epi-Paleolithic period (around 10,000-9,500 BCE[8]. The Godin Tepe (“Grand Mound”) site (Tepe Gawra settlement) in Northern Iraq is one of the oldest in the world to yield evidence of beer production and consumption.

Chinese rice-beer brewmasters
As is the case with the origin of wine, the Orient has thrown up a worthy contender for the mantle of the first known instance of the brewing of beer. Recently a team in Jiahu (Yellow River Valley), Northern China, found pottery residues of a 5,400 to 4,900 year-old⊛ beer made from rice, barley and other grains[9]. Just as the Chinese used rice in their beer, other early brewers experimented with different materials aside from wheat and barley – rye in Thracian beer (as did the Russians later to make kvass), date palms and pomegranates in Babylon. Excavations at a 2,500-year-old Celtic site in Eberdingen-Hochdorf (Germany) unearthed the remnants of beer mixtures which had added the ingredients henbane, mugwort and carrot seeds to a base of barley malt[10].

Beer, a healthy option?
The Mesopotamians and Ancient Egyptians believed that beer had health benefits. The brewing process involved in producing beer killed off any inherent bacteria and viruses, this made drinking beer preferable to water which retained various pollutants that made it unsafe by comparison. It was also nutritionally advantageous – providing much-needed carbohydrates, proteins and minerals. The Ancient Egyptians moreover thought that sage and thyme contained anti-cancer properties and integrated these herbs into their beers. Positive medicinal effects in ancient beer included the essential amino acid lysine and the brews were high in B-vitamin content. The Egyptians identified the existence of some 100 remedies in beer. Further south on the Nile the Ancient Nubians 2,000 years ago infused their beers with antibiotic medicine, tetracycline[11].

Ancient Egyptian brewster making beer
A heavenly brew
Beer in ancient times was integrated into mythology and religion, thus elevating its status. It was part of the Sumerian “god myth” with Babylonians believing that beer was “a gift from the gods’ – or more precisely the ‘goddesses’ (Ninkasi – the ancient Sumerian titular goddess of beer). Egyptians associated their main goddesses, Hathor and Heqet, with the creation and consumption of beer (zytum¤), as was Tenenet (or Tjenenyet) who was the “Goddess of Beer and Childbirth” … beer was an integral part of the religious festivals and state occasions of Ancient Egypt (for which ‘special’ beer brews were produced)[12].

Wine Vs Beer
Ancient Greeks and Romans were generally less enamoured with beer than other ancient civilisations – although each still produced the beverage. In both societies wine was the preferred drink and one that bestowed social status. The great Ancient Greek philosophers and historians (eg, Xenophon in Anabasis) derided beer as a low-class drink for ‘Barbarians’. An indicator of the Greeks’ low opinion of beer as a beverage was that they exported it to Mediterranean ports as an aid to craftsmen to soften ivory in the making of jewellery[13]. A common perception concerning Ancient Egypt is that whilst the lower echelon of society drank beer (the “poor man’s” liquor), the upper strata right up to the Pharaohs drank wine only which was much more expensive. It would appear though that, to the contrary, beer was a staple in the diet of all Egyptians regardless of class, the Pharaohs included[14].

PostScript I: Women – the original home brewers
Sumerian society was structured around the home, the men hunted and the women collected and prepared the ingredients for eating and drinking. Within the domain of the home the first beers were brewed – by women! Women brewers in Sumeria were often also priestesses and thus held in high social esteem. When Babylon eclipsed the Sumerian Empire Babylonian women also enjoyed a similar prestige – having the right to divorce and own a business and property, and to work as brewsters (professional female brewers) and as tavern keepers (and as well as bakers)◘[15]. Early beer making elsewhere was also the preserve of (elite) women! eg, the indigenous Wari (Sp: Huari) society in the Andes in Southern Peru that flourished before the rise of the Inca Empire[16].

Beer brewing and the product’s distribution and sale remained women’s work until brewing moved away from the home when beer-making took on a commercial-scale of activity. By the Industrial Revolution the brewing of beer had been fully taken over by men[17] .

The Mesopotamian symbol for beer

PostScript II: The world according to beer
In 2011 a documentary, How Beer Saved the World, screened on the Discovery Channel. The film, once you get past the irritatingly over-the-top, megaphonic introduction, makes a reasoned case for beer’s fundamental role in shaping the world as we know it. A battery of scientists and anthropologists take turns explaining the breadth of the ancient (and the modern) world’s debt to beer – eg, it fuelled the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza (workers were paid in beer۞); it prompted the invention of mathematics and the world’s first form of writing, Cuneiform (the film argues that arithmetic and writing was necessary to account for beer’s production and distribution); it contributed to the modern process of pasteurisation. It also reinforces the view that barley was grown for beer before bread, and that the brewed beverage came about by accident.

╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼
❈ with the seemingly inexorable onslaught on the market of craft beers today, brewers are sifting increasingly exotic and sometimes weirder ingredients into their brew concoctions (so much so that lentil beer for instance seems almost a mild deviation from orthodoxy). For the ancient pioneers of beer-making though the basics comprised water, barley (or similar grain, eg, emmer, malt), yeast, but not hops … this last naturally growing plant ingredient was somewhat of a late-comer added to the composition of beer, it seems that the human cultivation of hops came much later (ca. AD 12th century), ‘The Short and Bitter History of Hops’, (D Martorana, Philly Beer Scene, Apr/May 2010), www.beerscenemag.com
⊛ early Yangshou period, flourished c.5000BCE
¤ the honey-flavoured Hqt or Heqet was the most popular of the beer brews in Ancient Egypt
◘ this brings us back to the beer or bread debate – was beer-making an offshoot of bread-making or vice versa? Evidence from Ancient Egypt doesn’t resolve this question, but we do know that specially made bread was the basis for some of the beer brewed (beer loaves); also in Sumeria bippar (twice-baked barley bread) was used in the brewing of beer, Hornsey, loc.cit
۞ each one received a daily allowance up to one gallon of low-alcohol beer

[1] ‘History of the word Beer’, (Beer100.com Your place for everything Beer), [NDP] www.beer100.com
[2] ‘Discover the Oldest Beer Recipe in History from Ancient Sumerian, 1800 B.C.’, (Open Culture), 03-Mar-2015, www.openculture.com
[3] B Mauk, ‘When was beer invented?’, (Live Science), 18-Jan-2013, www.livescience.com
[4] JW Arthur, ‘Beer through the Ages: The Role of Beer in Shaping Our Past and Current Worlds’, Anthropology Now, 6(2), Sept 2014), www.jstor.org; D Spector,’How Beer Created Civilisation’, Business Insider Australia, 27-Dec-2013www.businessinsider.com.au
[5] although the “beer first” thesis has enjoyed a vogue, some scholars reject the argument wholly, eg, Paul Mangledorf: “Man cannot live on beer alone … Are we to believe that the foundations of Western Civilization were laid by an ill-fed people living in a perpetual state of partial intoxication?”; [6] Spectorloc.cit.
[7] JP Kahn, ‘How Beer Gave Us Civilisation’, The New York Times, 15-Mar-2013, www.mobile.nytimes.com
[8] ‘What Was Brewing in the Natufian? An Archaeological Assessment of Brewing Technology in the Epipaleolithic’, Hayden, B, Canuel, N & Shanse, J. J. Archaeol Method Theory (2013), 20:102. Doi:10/1007/s10816-011-9127-y
[9] J Wang et al, ‘Revealing a 5,000-year-old beer recipe’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (113:201601466), 23-May-2016, www.pnas.org
[10] B Bower, ‘2,550-Year-Old Celtic Beer Recipe Resurrected’, (Science News), 17-Jan-2011, www.wired.com
[11] C Seawright, ‘Ancient Egyptian Alcohol: Beer, Wine and the Festival of Drunkenness’, 02-Jan-2013, www.thekeep.org; ‘Wiki History of Beer’, (Wikipedia), www.em.n.wikipedia.org; S Webb, ‘Did Beer create civilisation?’, Daily Mail (Aust), 21-Dec-2013, www.dailymail.co.uk
[12] SH Katz & MM Voight, ‘Bread and Beer: The Early Use of Cereals in the Human Diet’, www.penn.museum/bread.pdf; IS Hornsey, A History of Beer and Brewing (2003)
[13] Hornsey, ibid.; JJ Mark, ‘Beer in the Ancient World’, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 02-Mar-2011, www.ancient.eu
[14] ‘Ancient Egypt Online’, www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/index.html
[15] T Nurin, ‘How Women Brewers Saved the World’, 21-Apr-2016, www.bearandbrewing.com
[16] RR Britt, ‘Elite Women Made Beer in Pre-Incan Culture’, (Live Science), 14-Nov-2005, www.livescience.com
[17] ‘Women in Brewing’, (Wikipedia), www.em.n.wikipedia.org

John Clarke, A Satirist for All (Australian) Seasons: To Daggdom and Beyond

Biographical, Cinema, Media & Communications, Performing arts, Popular Culture, Society & Culture, Sport

John Clarke: Trail-blazing Parodist, Lodestar, Daggstar

John Morrison Clarke died, most unexpectedly, in the Victorian wilderness a day-and-a-half ago. An ordinary looking man with an ordinary (unremarkable and yet distinctive) voice, but an ‘Everyman’ with a towering gift for communicating parody and travesty!

John Clarke, born and raised in Palmerston North, New Zealand, but domicile in Melbourne, Australia, for the last 40 years, was a uniquely talented satirist, TV comedian, comic writer and actor. The word ‘genius’ gets carelessly tossed around way too much these days, but in appraising the oeuvre of Mr John Clarke it finds a true home.

Whilst in New Zealand Clarke developed and refined the character of Fred Dagg, a stereotypical, blunt-speaking farmer from the North Island, with long straggly hair and perpetually clad in a black singlet and gumboots. Fred Dagg got Clark’s idiosyncratic brand of humour into the spotlight of New Zealand television. By 1977 Clark had outgrown both NZ and (so it seemed) Fred Dagg and moved to the bigger canvas of Australia❈. Clarke wasn’t quite done with Fred Dagg – in Australia Fred resurfaced as a real estate ‘expert’ with his guide for would-be home buyers providing the “good oil” on avoiding the pitfalls inherent in the spiel of property agents – as the following “bullshit-busting” sampler of his trenchant wit testifies:

A “cottage” is a caravan with the wheels taken off.

“Genuine reason for selling” means the house is for sale.

“Rarely can we offer” means the house is for sale.

“Superbly presented delightful charmer” doesn’t mean anything really, but it’s probably still for sale.

“Privacy, taste, charm, space, freedom, quiet, away from it all location in much sought-after cul-de-sac situation” means that it’s not only built down a hole, it’s built at the very far end of the hole.

“A panoramic, breathtaking, or magnificent view” is an indication that the house has windows, and if the view is “unique”, there’s probably only one window.

Fred Dagg AKA John Clarke was no admirer of the realty and property game and the proclivity of estate agents to be “fast and loose with the truth”, and he gave us the following memorable job description of what they really do:

“The function of the agent basically is to add to the price of the article without actually producing anything”.

(and how to recognise a real estate agent)
“If you’ve got gold teeth and laugh-lines around your pockets, you’re through to the semis without dropping a set”.

There was so much to the creative output of Clarke comma J, and so much variety too … screenplays, film acting, radio, stage work, television, songs, books. Clarke’s art didn’t fit into any one particular mould, he was, to use Martin Luther’s expression, an “irregular planet”, always inventing, moving on and reinventing, exploring something new that had piqued his interest.

My personal favourite John Clarke nugget of gold is the Complete Book of Australian Verse⌖. These are a series of recordings in which Clarke audaciously and imaginatively reinvented the “Canon of Great British Poets”, relocating it to regional and outback Australia. Clarke ‘discovered’ the existence of an Aussie poet “laureate-hood” comprising “dinky-di” Australian poetry ‘greats’ with names like ‘Shagger’ Tennyson, ‘Stumpy’ Byron V.C, ‘Gavin’ Milton and “Fifteen Bobsworth” Longfellow⊛.

Clarke’s sublime riff on these fictional masters of Australian poetry is incisively, deeply humorous, and both wise and pretentious-sounding at the same time! Absurdly funny stuff, especially when uttered in John’s wonderful flat, disinterested, monotone voice (“he was sentenced to three years jail for insulting a lobster in a Sydney restaurant”) … Clarke’s clinical dissection of Leader of the Opposition John Howard, to paraphrase playwright Simon Gray, “made me laugh so much that I was prepared to overlook its cruelty” – the poem entreating the future PM to change his vocation:

‘To a Howard’ by Rabbi Burns
Wee, sleekit, cowerin, tim’rous beastie,
I know tha’s probably doing thy bestie,
…………………….
Thou’ll try wi’ th’ gunnery up at the range,
Thou’ll no have much truible, thou’ve dun it afore,
Thou’s an expert for a’ that; look, ‘Wanted: Small Bore’.

With ‘A Child’s Christmas in Warrnambool’ Clarke produces a poetic tour de force by turning Dylan Thomas’ classic winter-scene ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ on it’s head, transforming it into a children’s nostalgic celebration of Australian summers past:

“The smell of insect repellant and eucalyptus and the distant constant bang of the flywire door”/”the fridge of imperishable memory”/”the wide brown bee-humming trout-fit sheep-rich two-horse country”/”some middle-order nephew skipping down the vowel-flattening pitch and putting the ball into the tent-flaps on the first bounce of puberty”.

The Complete Verse‘s eclectic compilation includes a coruscating if excruciating piece by “Sylvia Blath” which is both riotously funny and disturbingly harrowing at the same time. Clarke weaves into the poem Sylvia’s harangue of her dead father who “danced upon my cradle, as I Annexed the Sedatenland” and ends with an unexpected and wicked twist (a crossed-line channelling of Germaine Greer!!!): “Daddy Daddy I’m through, Hello? Germaine … I can hardly hear you, This is a very bad line.”

Since the 1990s Clarke had been an on-screen constant feature with his famous series of mock political interviews (“two-handers” with Bryan Dawe as the straight-man ‘innocently’ asking questions which were fodder for Clarke’s witty retorts) … the one-liners just rolling off Clarke’s golden and acerbic tongue, skewing high-profile politicians left, right and centre:

(pricking at the bluster of an overbearing state premier)
“I’m not interested in doing the most intelligent thing … I’m JEFF KENNETT!

Prime Minister Hawke’s robust and over-enthusiastic response to the question of how fit he was after a recent op:
(so fit that)
“I’m a danger to shipping!”

Clarke was a wordsmith that other satirists and comic writers in Australasia must have looked at with a mixture of admiration and envy … he simply had such a razor-sharp, punchy, economical and hilarious way with words.

And there was much more to John Clarke’s stellar CV – such as his ‘invention’ of the ‘sport’ of farnarkeling for The Gillies Report, and not to forget the manifold brilliant riffs on finance, business, the economy, the public service and the environment (“the front fell off (and) we towed the ship outside the environment”). Clarke was a trail-blazer in television comedy … his “on the money” take on the crazy, shambolic world of Olympics bureaucracy The Games was a template for other later projects which explored the thorny terrain of corporations and officialdom (such as Utopia) and it informed the BBC’s contribution to the 2012 London Olympics campaign.

John Clarke’s sudden, most untimely death leaves a Sydney Opera House-sized hole in Australian and New Zealand satire – and I shall never forget that voice – as with Billy Bragg’s, so distinctive, and as with Joe (Dragnet) Friday’s, so deadpan matter-of-fact … or his trademark mischievous grin and the sparkle in the eyes.

⚜⚜⚜
Vale John Clarke … thank you for entertaining and delighting us for so long and enriching the lives of so many people all the way from Palmerston North to Perth. John’s song lyrics were wrong in one respect … there are countless people in the two Trans-Tasman countries that he lived and worked in who do know “how lucky” they were to have him, albeit for too short a time✥.

╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼
❈ his unusual accent didn’t really fit the clipped English speech pattern of “Nu Zillunders” anyway
⌖ the success of which was followed up by the Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse
⊛ other Oz poet-luminaries include b.b.hummings, TS (Tabby Serious) Eliot, Ewen Coleridge, Ted Lear and many more
✥ one of the incomparable Fred Dagg’s best-known songs was entitled ‘We don’t know how lucky we are’