In 1982, the newly-launched 'Channel 4' set out to widen British viewers' horizons by screening two Australian comedy imports: 'The Paul Hogan Show' and 'The Norman Gunston Show'.
The former, a straight copy of 'The Benny Hill Show', was more accessible to U.K. audiences ( and paved the way for the comic's 'Fosters' lager adverts and 'Crocodile Dundee' movie ). However I personally found the latter to be the funnier of the two.
So who was 'Norman Gunston'? He was the creation of talented comic Garry McDonald. Sheltering behind a fictitious comic character as Barry Humphries did with 'Dame Edna Everage', McDonald gave us no less than the worst talk show host of all time. Stan Laurel-like Norman had slicked back hair and a face full of toilet paper dabs where he had nicked himself shaving. He interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, such as Charlton Heston, Lee Marvin, Burt Reynolds, and James Garner, often making a fool of himself by asking the most ridiculous questions. He famously told Reynolds; "You were great in 'Deliverance'. I loved the bit where you played the banjo.".
To Mick Jagger he said: "I was a big fan of yours when you were in 'The Beatles'". The German movie actress Elke Sommer was bombarded with questions about Rod Stewart, Gunston obviously having confused her with Swedish Britt Ekland ( who had had a well-publicised affair with the rock star ).
When Warren Beatty flew to Australia to promote a film, Gunston asked him what he thought of the local girls. "I've only just got here!", the star thundered. Gunston shot back: "What about the stewardesses on the plane? Have you tried one of those yet?". Beatty was speechless.
'The Norman Gunston Show' was not Britain's first exposure to the Aussie comic. Six years earlier, the B.B.C. gave him a one-off special. Quite a lot of critics, including Margaret Forwood of 'The Sun' liked him ( I loved his disaster movie cakes! ), but British audiences failed to see the joke.
Things hadn't changed much when Channel 4 threw him a lifeline. Hilary Kingsley, television critic of 'The Daily Mirror', expressed her appreciation for Gunston in a spoof letter. "Dear Norman...", it began, "Loved the interviews. Want more. But please come to Britain to make your next show. Your Aussie producers are hopeless. Those scenes of you stuck at the top of a fireman's pole were as amusing as finding a dead kangaroo on your doorstep.". It is certainly true that Gunston was not as amusing away from his talk-show studio.
Following a series called 'Norman Gunston's Australia', he was effectively grounded for good. It was a pity in a way as he was more original than Hogan, and can now be regarded as the prototype for Steve Coogan's 'Alan Partridge' and Paul Kaye's 'Dennis Pennis'.
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