John Clarke 1948-2017

I’d just pulled into a parking space about an hour ago when the terrible truth dawned – I was listening to someone (Tom Scott, as it turned out) talking about John Clarke in the past tense.

And they played We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are and I sat there with tears rolling down my face. (The lyrics were included in a ‘best New Zealand poetry’ collection a couple of decades ago.)

I never met John Clarke, but he did take the time to hand write a letter to a young fan after Fred Dagg took off on New Zealand television in the 1970s – I was 12 or 13 and he was only 10 years older, which means more to me now than it did then. Then, he was simply a ‘grown up’ like almost everyone else around me. Now, I realise he was only young himself and didn’t have to take, or make, the time to be polite to a child. But he did.

He hadn’t flown for years, after a bad experience, and so his adopted homeland of Australia got all his later work and charm. But he still loved New Zealand. Read an (early) obituary here.

Here’s a magically rural New Zealand medley of songs by Fred Dagg, John’s wildly successful comic creation:

Fred, in case you’ve never met him, farmed somewhere around Taihape and had six sons all named Trev. His first appearance on New Zealand television was in 1974 on what was the otherwise serious farming show, Country Calendar (still going strong today).

One of the peaks of John Clarke’s success was The Games, a television series also starring Bryan Dawe and Gina Riley as the slightly chaotic, cynical and inept team bringing the Olympic Games to Sydney for 2000. It was, simply, genius. Watch, for instance, the clip (4:56) where they work out how to solve a major political problem (the Australian prime minister at the time was John Howard) with a moving, and sincere, apology to the Aboriginal people:

John Clarke voiced Wal Footrot in the much-loved 1986 animated movie Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale. Footrot Flats comic strip creator Murray Ball died on March 12.

Keep your gumboots on and God speed, you two.