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  Issue No 81 Official Organ of LaborNet 08 December 2000  




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Roy Slaven on the Rampage

By Jim Marr

John Doyle's history of the ABC stretches back to a 1958 evening in Lithgow on which he was "scared shitless" by Blackboard on Mr Squiggle.


He saw his first television program through the snow that invariably accompanied such habit-forming moments, courtesy of a black and white set loaned to the family by an uncle Ray.

Thirty-two years later Doyle has conquered the strange medium that crackled into his life that night and he is happy to talk about the organisation that nurtured his success, giving birth to his alter ego, Rampaging Roy Slaven, and inseparable mate, HG Nelson.

No matter how history regards Doyle, now moving into drama, or what Greig Pickhaver achieves in the future, to millions of Australians they will always be Roy and HG, especially after the smash Olympic success of The Dream.

Could the pair have ridden Roy and HG's coat-tails without the ABC? Doyle's response is simple, if long-winded.

"No, no, no, no, no," he insists.

"We started with This Sporting Life and what we did was anti-commercial. We modelled it, in the early days, on the John Laws show, constant self-promotion and constant promotion of products that were your own.

"It was a parody and there was no home for such a show anywhere else but the ABC.

"The ABC is the only place you could expect to be allowed to exploit the foibles of commercial radio and it does have foibles - the ABA (Australian Broadcasting Authority) inquiry was emphatic testimony to that."

Doyle, who has been around ABC radio and television for 15 years without ever being on staff, is scathing about claims that the national broadcaster is inherently biased. On the contrary, he argues, the ABC is the only broadcasting organisation that can afford not to be.

"The fact about commercial broadcasting is that you have to pay the piper. Advertising works, look at the cigarette companies for goodness sake."

The last line is delivered as he stubs one out and rummages for the next.

"That's why it is vital the ABC remains independent and commercial free," he continues.

"Being unbiased means you are going to antagonise whatever Government is in power. Personally, I would be disappointed if it wasn't annoying the Government, I doubt it would be fulfilling its role."

His personal view of ABC staffers is that they see their work as a vocation, driven by commitment more than money, much like those he mixed with in an earlier incarnation as a school teacher.

One criticism of the national broadcaster he will sign up for is that it is seriously under-funded and he has his own solution to that.

Doyle argues that big beneficiaries of ABC excellence are commercial radio and television operators who pick up, not just honed performers, but highly-trained production and technical people.

In the short-term, he contends, commercial networks could pay levies ear-marked for the ABC.

Not that John Doyle, Roy Slaven and the ABC have always been on the same wave-length.

As a jobbing actor, looking to make ends meet he applied for an announcer's job at ABC Radio Newcastle in 1975, then six years later auditioned in Sydney. Both overtures met with polite rejections.

The break didn't come until 1985 when he and fellow drama faculty graduate Pickhaver were appearing in support roles to children on the SBS's Five Times Dizzy.

Pickhaver had a five-minute Friday morning slot on the ABC's Triple J station. It was a sporting rant and he wanted a sidekick to spin off the theme.

Rampaging Roy Slaven was born as the pair schemed in the SBS caravan.

"Basically, it was what gave me the shits about sport that week," Doyle recalls. "Nobody really questioned the strident nature of the editorials so they became particularly strident. There was probably a fair bit of defamation in there."

A year later Pickhaver hit upon the idea of calling State of Origin "live" from the television.

It was a landmark career move - the genesis of HG the caller and Roy the expert comments man that is still central to their act.

"Roy is lucky enough to have represented Australia in a number of disciplines," Doyle explains, "he is qualified to give insights into what it is like being out there, to provide expertise.

"It is not a difficult mask to wear because most males can imagine themselves pulling on the Australian No 6 rugby league jersey and not making a complete goose of themselves, or sending down six cunning deliveries that might sniff out a wicket.

"We've all done it - in our minds."

Three weeks after their Origin debut Triple J contracted them to four-hour stints every weekend under the This Sporting Life banner. Sixteen years later the cult show still goes to air every Sunday afternoon.

Doyle the rookie appreciated "complete editorial freedom" not to mention an expert producer, Mark Kennedy, who still holds the operation together.

This Sporting Life had a three-series television spin-off made on the cheap.

They broadened into Club Buggery, picked up by Anglia Television for two seasons of a British version.

It was an experience but Doyle and Pickhaver found British television sterile, limiting and, most of all, pre-recorded. It was sanitised for the viewer whereas they worked best with a live audience and room to manoeuvre.

When ABC television turned down their proposal for a show featuring Roy and HG as "seriously corrupt" detectives and Channel Seven were looking for a daily wrap to their Olympic coverage the timing proved fortuitous for all concerned.

The Dream was the undisputed highpoint of Seven's Olympic coverage and brought the comic duo a whole new audience.

Industry insiders say it was so successful that any future Olympic broadcaster will attempt to duplicate the irreverent daily review.

It is rumoured that American giant NBC has already held informal discussions with the pair.

But Doyle isn't counting his greenbacks.

"If you think the Brits are sanitised then you would have to say the Americans make TV in a laboratory," he says.

It pretty much comes back to his Olympic creation, Fatso the Big-Arsed Wombat, retitled the Fat-Arsed Wombat by popular demand - a protest against the crass commercialism of official mascots "Syd, Ollie and Dickhead" that resonated with viewers.

"I am sure that like me people got the shits when they realised the best seats at every venue were empty because they were owned by sponsors who didn't even bother to turn up," Doyle explained.

"Australians love anarchy and when you get something that takes itself as seriously as the Olympic movement ..."

He's off, talking enthusiastically about just one element of Australian culture that has been sustained by a national broadcaster free from the demands of advertisers and politicians.


CPSU activists and other ABC supporters are mobilising to:

o defend the editorial integrity of the ABC

o oppose commercialisation

o secure better funding

If you would like to be involved in this campaign, contact your local CPSU office or e-mail [email protected]

Members are also encouraged to put their views on the ABC to their local MP.

For more information visit and the Friends of the ABC site


*    Visit the CPSU

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 81 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Back to Work
After a stretch of unemployment following the 1996 election, former Keating Minister Robert Tickner is now helping others find work.
*  Media: Reality Check
Aiden White, head of the international journalists' union, argues that online journalism presents a new set of challenges for organising.
*  Economics: In the Same Boat
In an unprecedented move, a coalition of industry, community and trade union groups have joined forces to address long-trerm unemployment.
*  International: Nepalese Hotel Workers Ask for Support
Hotel workers in the small Himalayan nation of Nepal have finally decided to vent their anger and call a general strike for Monday - over a 21 year old dispute.
*  Unions: Speaking in Tongues
Labor Council's Mark Morey outlines the successful campaign by local government workers for a community language allowance.
*  History: Fighting Words
The anti-conscription campaign of 1914-18 tore the ALP apart; but this was not the first time the labour movement took a militantly anti-war stance.
*  Politics: A New Socialism
In an extract from his new book, political economist Frank Stilwell argues the need for a new radicalism to counter the Third Way
*  Satire: Roy Slaven on the Rampage
John Doyle's history of the ABC stretches back to a 1958 evening in Lithgow on which he was "scared shitless" by Blackboard on Mr Squiggle.
*  Review: Mauled in the Bear Pit
Vengeance may be sweet but it is always made better when you are able to write a book about yourself that also provides the opportunity to dump a bucket load on those who undertook your removal.

»  Vale Cliff Dolan: A Lifelong Commitment
»  Bussies Buck Up Over Lane Cheats
»  Tassie Brings Home the Bacon on Call Centres
»  Howard Sinks Merchant Navy
»  Rural Line Drawn on Telstra
»  Don't Rain on our Family Picnic Day
»  ACTU Living Wage Case Begins
»  National Action Hits Manufacturing Sector
»  TWU Calls For Mayor to be Charged
»  Workers Blow Whistle on Secret Melbourne IT Sell-Off
»  Help Us Win a Gong!
»  Reith Sacked Over Telecard Affair
»  2001: A Tipster's Odyssey

»  The Soapbox
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  Mike Dwyer to Address South Coast Council
»  Media and Police Versus Protestors
»  City Council Conspires to Compress Comrades?
»  Labor's Education Sell-Out
»  McGuiness Defended
»  Is Costa a Sandwich Short of a Picnic Basket?

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