Robert Hughes is going to jail for some time, the same week Rolf Harris is on trial. It is a season of revealing the evil in our most innocuous entertainers. It’s not Nick Cave or Marilyn Manson or some other transgressive entertainer who turned out to be paedophiles, but the star of Hey Dad!, one of Australia’s most sentimental and bland sitcoms.Before he was the star of Hey Dad!, Robert Hughes was the ranger in The New Adventures of Blinky Bill (1984-1987), the live-action puppet version which, despite the name, came before the more well-known animated version. I loved that show in early primary school; it was repeated each year, it seemed, and I didn’t tire of it. Robert Hughes was a kind, paternal presence on the show, at least in my memory. Appropriately, in one episode, Mrs Magpie has to reassess the character of her late husband, when it’s revealed he was a thief. The show, will, of course, never be re-broadcast now, nor released on DVD. It will moulder in the archives, along with Hey Dad!, consigned to an unspoken category of texts, which if not censored are now effectively banned, outcast texts. The ABC came up with an innovative (if slightly Stalinist) solution to this problem when The Collectors presenter Andy Muirhead was convicted of child pornography; they edited him out of the show, recycling segments which did not feature him with new introductions. Of course, in this digital world, it is hard for anything to be completely off-bounds, and you can find VHS recordings of Hey Dad! and Blinky Bill on YouTube. You can watch them again, trying to take yourself back to the 1980s. Just like you can still listen to “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport”. But you must do so with new knowledge of things behind the scenes. It’s hard enough to recapture what was special about most popular entertainment of the past; it will become impossible when you know the once beloved face is a predator. What will happen to all the traces of Rolf Harris? His painting of the queen? His painting of the now-demolished nineteenth century Bassendean homestead for which the Perth suburb is named, built by my ancestor Peter Broun, and displayed with pride by the council? At our recent library booksale, there Rolf was, peeking out on the cover of all sorts of mediocre gift-type books of past decades. Perhaps the sorters will start consigning him straight to the bin. * An appendix: it was a nasty coincidence that the week the television star was arrested was the week Robert Hughes, the critic, died. I wonder if, in the fog of the future, they will be confused very often in the minds of future generations? It would be unfair to the late Hughes if they were.
No more Blinky Bill: outcast texts and the fall of innocuous entertainers
17 Saturday May 2014