Cyril Kennedy AO (15 February 1934 – 25 May 2005) was an
Australian entertainer and variety performer, as well as a personality
and star of radio, theatre, television and film. He was often called
"Gra Gra" (pronounced "gray-gray"). Honoured as an Officer of the
Order of Australia, he was a six-time recipient of the Gold Logie,
including the Logie Hall of Fame award, and won the Star of the Year
Award in 1959. He is the most awarded star of Australian television.
He was often referred to as "The King" or the "King of Australian
television". He was best known for his collaborations with Australian
Bert Newton and American-born television personality Don
1 Early life
1.3 After school
2 Radio career
3UZ and "Nicky"
2.2 Other radio
2.3 RS Playhouse
2.4 2Day FM
3 Television career
3.2 Comedic style
3.3 Sam Chisholm
Graham Kennedy Show
3.6 Power Without Glory
3.7 Blankety Blanks
3.8 The Blainey View
3.9 Eleven AM
3.10 Graham Kennedy's News Show
3.11 Coast to Coast
3.12 Harry M. Miller
3.13 Graham Kennedy's Funniest Home Videos
3.14 35 Years of Television
3.15 Last television appearance
3.16 Logie awards
4 Film career
5 Personal life
Derryn Hinch controversy
10.1 Telemovie The King
12 Further reading
13 External links
Kennedy was born in Camden Street, Balaclava to Cyril William Kennedy
and Mary Austen Kennedy (née Scott). Kennedy's mother, who was 18
years old at the time of his birth, was employed at a local picture
theatre. His father worked variously as an engineer and handyman,
mowed lawns and washed cars. In 1939 he joined the RAAF as an air
gunner. Kennedy's first home was a "small, crowded duplex" at 32
Nelson Street, Balaclava. A 20 cm diameter plaque was placed on
the property by the City of Port Phillip, coincidentally in the week
of Kennedy's death.
When Kennedy was two years old, his parents moved to Carlisle Street,
St Kilda, for two years. His parents divorced shortly before World
War II and Kennedy was largely raised by his grandparents, "Pop"
Kennedy (who had been an electrician at Melbourne's Tivoli, Royal and
Bijou theatres) and "Grandma Scott", to whom he remained
particularly close until her death. Kennedy later said that he had:
often wished his mother and father had never married. 'I wasn't
enamoured of either of them [...] they betrayed me [...] divorce is
not too much fun for a little nine-year-old [...]
After Kennedy's death, an article in
The Bulletin by his friend and
John Mangos recorded that:
... he would sometimes talk about the violent arguments between his
parents, how he gravitated to his grandmother's bosom, his two uncles
("one fought the Germans, the other fought the Japs") and how one of
them took liberties with the boy. Graham never resented him, claiming
he equated it with affection.
Kennedy was educated firstly at Euston College (which no longer
exists) on the corner of Chapel and Carlisle streets, secondly at
Caulfield North Central School (now Caulfield Junior College) and
Melbourne High School, South Yarra.
In 1977, Kennedy chaired a project to raise funds for improvements at
Melbourne High which raised more than $100,000 in its first year.
During a school break in 1949, Kennedy worked in his uncle's
hairdressing shop at 475 Collins Street, where he met clients who
worked in the same building for the
Radio Australia shortwave service
of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. He was offered, and
accepted, a job as a news runner from Collins Street to the ABC
studios in Lonsdale Street. Shortly thereafter he joined radio station
3UZ, working in the station's record library.
3UZ and "Nicky"
Melbourne's most popular commercial radio personality was arguably
Clifford "Nicky" Nicholls Whitta. A radio performer since 1932, he
presented a popular housewives' programme, as well as "Chatterbox
Corner" with his wife Nancy Lee (Kathleen Lindgren).
In an era when Australian radio announcers routinely adopted false
British accents and a "hard sell" approach to
advertisements, Whitta's authentic Australian voice and irreverent
attitude towards his sponsors made him the idol of his audience. By
the early 1950s a newspaper survey found that more than 70 per cent of
Melbourne housewives tuned into his show.
In his foreword to Nancy Lee's book Being a Chum Was Fun (1979)
About 40 years ago, when I was a snow haired six year old, I can
remember being totally captivated by a grown man pretending to be a
naughty little boy on 3AW's children session called "Chatterbox
Corner". His name was Clifford Whitta, and he was to become the most
important man in my life. Years later I was even more fascinated with
this man when he conducted a breakfast program and let the boy who
played his records actually talk on the air with him.
Nicholls moved from
3UZ (where Kennedy was working), bringing
with him his teenage panel operators Alf "Alfie Boy" Thesinger and
Russell Archer. However, eighteen-year-olds, Thesinger and Archer were
"called up" (conscripted) for National Service. Nancy Lee's book
I asked Nicky, "Have you decided on anyone to help you in the session
yet?" When I heard the chosen one was to be young Graham, I was
surprised. "Oh, no, not Graham! [...] he's a nice boy, but he can't
talk." Nick said, "Mum, leave him to me."
Nicky became father-figure, personal friend and mentor to Kennedy, and
the two built an extraordinary on-air rapport. Kennedy wrote:
Being straight man to one of the greatest entertainers of our time was
not all that easy. We were not always chums. He would spend weeks not
talking to me (except on air) for something I had unknowingly said or
done. Once he even suspended me from the programme for some trivial
matter. [...] I worked with him until his sudden death in 1956. I
never stopped being a fan. I did not realise then that I had been
prepared for another career on another electrical medium: the most
potent communication device of the century.
Nicky died on 8 September 1956.
By May 1957, Kennedy was appearing on television, but also presented a
3AK morning radio programme with
Bert Newton in 1961–1962, which
later originated from a studio built at Kennedy's home in Olivers
In 1970 he worked at 3XY; from June to December 1975 he appeared on a
3LO drivetime program with Richard Combe; from September to November
1976 was on 3DB with Denis Scanlan; in 1977 he returned to DB to cover
Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II
Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II live from London.
Kennedy recorded eight thirty-minute radio comedies for the ABC under
the title Graham Kennedy's RS Playhouse. Written by
Gary Reilly and
Tony Sattler (who together wrote the television programs Kingswood
Country and The Naked Vicar Show), the shows were broadcast between 11
August and 23 September 1979.
The episode titles were:
"The Birthday Boy"
"Because He's My Brother"
"You Only Live Once"
"Sunday Morning Fever"
"The Chocolate Milkman"
"Mad Jack's Dentist"
"The Good Morning Show"
Sattler and his wife (actress Noeline Brown) were two of Kennedy's
In 1980 Kennedy became a ten percent shareholder in Sydney radio
2Day FM and from 24 May 1981 presented a computer-edited,
three-hour Sunday morning program of music and comedy.
Kennedy's first television appearance was in March 1957, representing
3UZ on a
Red Cross telethon. Viewing his performance on the
monitors, GTV-9's general manager
Colin Bednall and producer Norman
Spencer "... turned to one another without exchanging a word and shook
Main article: In
Bert Newton: "Hello, I'm Bert Newton."
Graham Kennedy: "Big deal."
Bednall and Spencer defied both the
GTV-9 boardroom and the first
sponsor (Philips) by choosing Kennedy, who began on a salary of 30
pounds for five one-hour evening shows per week to be called In
Melbourne Tonight (or IMT) which began on 6 May 1957. Thus the
23-year-old Kennedy began a career of which he later said that he was
"terrified for forty years". The show's theme song, "Gee, But
You're Swell", was written by
Abel Baer and Thomas Tobias in 1936.
Kennedy was not GTV-9's first choice – they had planned to use
3UZ personality John McMahon or 3DB's Dick Cranbourne. Despite
later reports that the programme's name had been intended to be The
Late Show, and that rival station
GTV-9 to the title by one
week, contemporary press reports from several weeks before the show's
debut list the title as "In
Melbourne Tonight". The program became
extremely popular, although Kennedy had his detractors. Kennedy was
quoted as saying:
Many women write to tell me that although their husbands may not like
me, they do. It appears from the mail that the women have the say on
what the household is watching. And we do remember that it is the
women who do the buying of products that we advertise. Bearing that in
mind we try and design our commercials for them.
IMT was devised as a copy of the American 'Tonight Show' format, with
the host presiding over sketches, introducing star artists and reading
advertisements live. His colleague
Bert Newton records in his
(Norman) Spencer was the mastermind of IMT; don't let anyone forget
that. Nothing happened on IMT that Norm did not approve personally
[...] Norman Spencer chose
Graham Kennedy as compère; Norm kept his
eye on the show from day to day; he pushed the buttons from the
control room which put the TV shots into viewers' homes at night; he
added the talent around Graham and he set up the organisation.
Spencer wielded other influence too. According to Hugh Stuckey, a
writer on the show, the producer placed Kennedy with a series of
attractive young women to displace rumours of Kennedy's homosexuality.
This was an era in which homosexuality was, well, horrifying. So every
now and again Kennedy had to be seen about in case any viewers thought
him the other persuasion. [...] It was cleverly manipulated – the
station had the media at its disposal. It was all to give Graham a
good old hetero image though he always seemed very unsexual.
By July 1959 the program was still popular in Melbourne. Recurring
Joff Ellen and Rosie Sturgess became regulars. Singer
Toni Lamond joined the cast. Attempts were made at this time to launch
Kennedy as a national personality.
Special Friday night editions of
IMT were produced under the title of
The Graham Kennedy Show and
recorded on videotape which had just come into use. After being
transmitted live in
Melbourne taped copies of the show would be
shipped to Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney for transmission there on
subsequent evenings. Producer Spencer observed there was critical
and popular resistance to Kennedy in Sydney. Queensland too had shown
suspicion to imports from down south trumpeted to Queenslanders as the
best in Australia while Queensland itself had apparently been left out
of this judgement.
The Graham Kennedy Show began in February 1960 but was not popular in
Sydney. The program was judged stilted compared to IMT itself; Kennedy
seemed much more subdued than usual, was tense, and the comedy was not
working. Critics in Sydney and Queensland disliked key components of
the show. Judged as a flop,
The Graham Kennedy Show in Sydney was
dropped by ATN7 after 13 weeks. The program however was immediately
picked up by TCN9 – its general manager
Ken G. Hall saw potential in
the program. After continued bad reviews its popularity increased in
Sydney. By July 1960 it had reached its twenty-fifth episode and had
the highest ratings in Australia.
Later in 1960 Kennedy faced opposition when
Sir Frank Packer bought
GTV-9. Unlike the previous owner, Packer interfered directly with the
Colin Bednall reported that
Packer hated Kennedy and forcefully articulated his desire to have him
removed from the IMT.
Packer had a phobia about homosexuals and he believed Kennedy to be
one. He insisted he could pick one a mile off.
Kennedy himself was aware that Packer "loathed" him:
Sir Frank did suspect that I and others were of that persuasion. I
mean if everyone in the television industry was fired because of that,
there would be few around! [...] I've been accused of everything. I've
been accused of being homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual and worst of
all asexual, which means you don't do anything. That's cruel.
Packer's arrival prompted the departure of IMT producer Norman
Spencer. IMT continued its run. Other regular performers on IMT were
Patti Newton and Philip Brady. In 1961 Kennedy described his
presentation of the program.
In the whole of the ten years I have been working on radio and
television, I have been working to a majority of women. I think women
prefer men to be well-mannered, so I always try to watch my manners.
They like men to be well dressed, so I do my best to observe this.
Others bring to my notice the fact that I sometimes make grammatical
errors in my speech; so, because of this, I try to watch my grammar
– but at the same time I bear in mind that it's more profitable for
me to be entertaining than to be perfect in my use of English.
By March 1961 the national show had been renamed Graham Kennedy's
Channel 9 Show and was finding quiet acceptance nationally. Even at
this time Kennedy admitted there were problems in the weekly national
We clam up and get tense. But I think the national show will improve
in the next few weeks. We want to include the best segments of IMT in
the national show. IMT is a lot more spontaneous than the national
show – we've run up to an hour overtime. We like to get the audience
to participate and if we can find someone interesting in the studio
audience we throw away our scripts and just adlib.
Kennedy by this stage did not always host IMT.
Bert Newton hosted on
Monday nights. Then a September 1961 reshuffle had
Toni Lamond host
Monday nights and Newton hosted only on Thursday nights. Kennedy took
occasional nights off to be replaced by Fred Parslow, Jimmy Hannan,
and Philip Brady. Despite resistance from network executives to the
varied hosting line-up, the ratings remained strong.
In January 1962 the national Graham Kennedy's Channel 9 Show was
cancelled and replaced by The Channel 9 Show hosted by Bert
Newton. Kennedy continued to fine-tune his IMT performances.
Kennedy had a strong understanding of key technical elements of
television and perfected his comic timing, and watched the lenses on
the TV cameras, adjusting his performance depending on whether he was
in a wide shot or a close up. Compilation highlight programs of
IMT segments were screened in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide in
May 1963 under the title The Best of Kennedy. The Best of Kennedy
continued until December 1963. On IMT,
Noel Ferrier was appointed
the new Friday night host. Also in 1963 writer Mike McColl-Jones
joined. Kennedy had often disliked having writers on the program, was
reluctant for them to be publicly acknowledged, and often ignored all
their material. In the case of McColl-Jones, Kennedy seemed to like
him and his comedy material, which was apparently the key requirement
by which Kennedy would use a writer's material. McColl-Jones continued
as a writer on the series for several years. Also in 1963 Ernie
Carroll joined the writing team. Kennedy had apparently relaxed his
attitude towards writers by this stage and seemed happy to use their
material with few complaints.
Bert Newton abruptly disappeared from the program. It was not
publicly acknowledged at the time but he had suffered a nervous
breakdown. After a long absence he returned to appear on the Monday,
Tuesday and Wednesday evening episodes. On 14 June 1965 IMT reached
its 2,000th instalment and more people watched the show per capita
then any other television program in the world.
By this stage
Fred Parslow was well established on the program's
writing team and was a confidante of Kennedy's.
When he was really down, depressed about things. A relationship had
failed. He rang me in a terrible state and asked me to go down to his
house in Frankston. Joan, my wife, said you better go. He sounded
really desperate. There wasn't much he could do for such a long time.
Of course, when he did start to get brave, he was too old for going
around and picking up what he might enjoy. He was the first of our
mega stars; there seem to be mega stars everywhere now. In those days,
living in such a Sleepy Hollow like Melbourne, he found his life
terribly, terribly difficult. And you can understand in those days.
The times have changed. It's almost compulsory to be homosexual
On 7 July 1965 Kennedy appeared on a then-innovative live split-screen
link with Don Lane, the host of Sydney Tonight, via the recently
completed co-axial cable linking
Melbourne and Sydney. Starting late
September 1966, IMT itself would be transmitted in Sydney via the
co-axial cable. This coincided with a cameo in the film They're a
Weird Mob in which Kennedy plays himself. Like the film's protagonist,
Kennedy in the film finds Sydney to be a city somewhat unwelcoming
towards migrants from anywhere. By early December 1966 ratings for
Kennedy's show were strong in Sydney. There was an increase from one
IMT episode a week in Sydney, to two, with a Monday night broadcast
added that month.
By 1968 there was a regular roster of IMT guest hosts, including Bert
Newton, Tim Evans, Bobby Limb, Don Lane, Kevin Sanders, and Michael
Preston. The announcement of Kennedy's intention to leave IMT was
made in October 1969 and he left the show on the expiration of his
contract 23 December 1969. His final episode features newsreader Sir
Eric Pearce placing on his head a crown made by the Channel Nine prop
department in the style of that worn by Henry IV, symbolising
Kennedy's reign as King of Australian television.
In 2007, the crown (which a private collector had recognised at a junk
Bowral NSW, and purchased for $5) was auctioned for more than
$17,000 to a producer of the Seven Network's Sunrise programme.
Kennedy deliberately pushed the boundaries of acceptability in a staid
era. Inspired by stage comedians such as Roy Rene, his style was
bawdy, irreverent, iconoclastic, often smutty, sometimes deliberately
camp, and laden with innuendo and double-entendre. He regularly
overstepped the boundaries of accepted "good taste", once telling a
fan "There are no limits, love, there are no limits."
Journalist Megan Gressor described Kennedy's style as having "...
mongrel roots – a hybrid of vaudeville, slapstick and endless
suggestiveness, plus a subliminal subversiveness all his own. It seems
almost pantomimic to modern eyes, but Kennedy was a product of simpler
times. And more complex. His was an act predicated upon repression;
naughtiness loses its point in a world without taboos, where anything
goes. It wouldn't work today, when people don't just say "fuck" on
television, they do it."
Drawing on his radio experience with Nicky (who had routinely "sent
up" advertisers), Kennedy transformed the live commercials from what
would have otherwise been dull pro-forma obligations into a unique
comedic art form. On one famous occasion, a scheduled 20-second ad
spot for an aspirin product was spun out into 33 minutes of improvised
Newton has written:
The blood would drain from the face of
Pelaco shirt-wearing executives
in television, advertising and business until they realised that
instead of televisual suicide, this skinny little wiseguy was
commercial gold. And then they liked his brand of humour a lot.
A commercial I shared with Graham, Raoul Merton ('of comfort you're
certain when you wear Raoul Merton') changed the footwear buying
habits of men.
Gerald Stone recounts in his book Compulsive Viewing that a "cocky
young salesman" visited the IMT set hoping for an extra plug for his
employer's product. The young salesman was Sam Chisholm, who later
became a senior executive for variously the Packer and Murdoch media
empires. A May 2005 interview with Chisholm records:
Sam Chisholm: I was working for Johnson's wax at the time, and I don't
think he believed my ...
Graham Davis: Sales pitch.
Sam Chisholm: Assertions about this product. So I said, "I'll go and
polish your floors and prove it to you." Which I did.
Graham Davis: Over at his home?
Sam Chisholm: Absolutely.
Graham Davis: You got down on your hands and knees at his home?
Sam Chisholm: Yep. I started off as his housekeeper and ended up being
Kennedy requested a "reject" dog from the
Jack Davey Memorial Guide
Dog Centre and was given a
Labrador Retriever which he named "Rover".
Rover was sometimes brought into the studio to assist with
advertisements for Pal dog food. One night the dog showed no interest
whatsoever in the product, which Kennedy then himself proceeded to eat
with apparent relish, straight from the can – or so it seemed.
Rover also achieved television immortality by relieving himself –
live to air – upon one of the huge cameras. The studio audience
collapsed in hysterics, but the duration and urgency of Rover's
impressively hydraulic performance might have led some cynics to
question just how impromptu the event really was.
Biographer Blundell quotes Ernie Carroll:
Pal dog food, with Rover [...] was time consuming [...] once we fed
him all afternoon so that when he came out to do the commercial he
didn't want to touch the Pal dog food. He was already full of it.
[...] on another occasion they had him drink before the show, big
drinks. So when he came out, he peed all over the camera and all
around the set [...] Even those seemingly innocent dog manoeuvres were
Kennedy was exasperated for decades by questions about "whatever
happened to Rover". As late as 1989, on Graham Kennedy's News Hour
(see below), he answered a viewer's question couched in exactly those
words with the withering reply "... he was a dog. What do you think
In early June 2005, on the
3AW programme Nightline with Philip Brady
and Bruce Mansfield, Patti (McGrath) Newton stated that her father had
often looked after Rover when he appeared at GTV-9. It seems that
Kennedy had become increasingly irritated with retrieving Rover from
the pound and so, when Patti's father's dog died, Rover went on to a
long and happy life at the McGrath (senior) household.
Graham Kennedy Show
Main article: The
Graham Kennedy Show
After specials on 15 November 1971 and 2 March 1972, Kennedy returned
to regular television with
The Graham Kennedy Show on 19 September
1972. This series lasted until late 1973. In 1974, when Kennedy
claimed he wanted a rest, Nine allegedly paid him not to sign with
another network. It was
Frank Packer who paid Kennedy $50,000 to do
nothing, as he was fearful he would work for someone else. Kennedy
said in 1978:
It wasn't a retainer. It was $50,000 not to work. Sir Frank didn't
know it but I had no intention of working.
The Graham Kennedy Show resumed in March 1975, and was Kennedy's first
series in colour.
Memorable, and controversial, moments, included the "crow call"
controversy where, on 3 March 1975, Kennedy imitated a crow call
("faaaaaark") highly reminiscent of the word "fuck". This led the
Australian Broadcasting Control Board to request that Kennedy "show
cause" why he should not be removed from the airwaves. Kennedy
replied that he could not show cause, suggesting that the
Board take action to limit his appearances, while hinting at legal
action should they do so. Rather than removing him, the ABCB
banned Kennedy from appearing live, forcing him to pre-record the show
Another notable moment was from 17 April 1975, when Kennedy attacked
Senator Doug McClelland, the then Minister for the Media, over local
content issues. His comments were edited, and a voiceover recorded by
the general manager was inserted saying that Kennedy had made a
"cowardly attack on a Labor Minister who was unable to defend
Following the McClelland incident, Kennedy parted company with the
Nine Network, but later returned.
Power Without Glory
Kennedy appeared as Clive Parker in an episode of the 26-part ABC
drama Power Without Glory, which began on 21 June 1976.
He returned to television in 1977 for what is now
Network Ten to host
a comedy game show, Blankety Blanks. It dominated early evening
television over two seasons, between 7 February 1977 and 15 September
1978. The show featured friends from his earlier days including
Noeline Brown, Barry Creyton, Noel Ferrier, Ugly Dave Gray, Carol Raye
and Stuart Wagstaff. It was only after the show became a ratings
success and the network's most profitable program that it revealed
Kennedy was paid an unprecedented $1 million per season.
In 1979, "The King" became King of
Moomba complete with his famous
motorised desk, the second Melbourne-born recipient after Newton.
The Blainey View
In 1982 Kennedy provided the voice-over narration for a ten-episode
ABC historical documentary The Blainey View.
Kennedy appeared as the host of Channel Seven's morning news program
Eleven AM in 1983 and again – for eight weeks – in 1984.
Graham Kennedy's News Show
Nearly 60, Kennedy accepted an offer from the Nine Network's managing
Sam Chisholm to present Graham Kennedy's News Show from
Sydney, to air five nights a week at 10:30 pm against Clive
Robertson's Newsworld on the Seven Network. Five trial programmes
were recorded but never broadcast.
Kennedy initially "pulled the plug" and withdrew from the show but
returned (see Harry M. Miller, below). Kennedy's contract stipulated
that his co-presenter would be sports commentator Ken Sutcliffe.
Kennedy's writers, who worked from a production cottage at the corner
of Scott Street and Artarmon Road included Jim Pike, Tim Evans, Larry
Burns, and Ken Stirling. Blundell records:
They worked in the back room shooting out gags over typewriters and
word processors, united in their hatred of the 'Little Guy', as they
also called him."
The writers also referred to Kennedy as "the little buggle-eyed
bastard",. However, they admired his talent. Jim Pike said, ".. I
hate him, but he is the best there is".
Kennedy defied convention with remarks which were tasteless, and yet
hilarious. Pointing out the irony of how a news show gets good ratings
he said it would be helpful for his show's ratings if the Pope's
aircraft were to fly into a mountain while it was full of orphans. He
also remarked that Queen Elizabeth II "didn't have bad breasts ... for
a woman of her age" and mocked 17 October 1989, San Francisco Loma
Prieta earthquake with a re-creation on the set.
After a slightly heavy woman was caught for streaking at a cricket
match, Graham explained on air that they would run the footage but had
to cover certain offending parts of her body with black. The clip he
played was all black, except for a single spot that revealed her pubic
He also reprised the "Chum Song" from
Melbourne radio days, saying
that it originated in a 1920s children's newspaper column in Scotland.
In Nancy Lee's book Being a Chum Was Fun she writes:
The Chum Song, I believe, was written and recorded originally by Jack
Hilton for a Scottish Newsboys Club.
The lyrics of the chorus are:
Being a chum is fun,
That is why I'm one;
Always smiling, always gay,
Chummy at work,
(and) chummy at play -
Laugh away your worries,
Don't be sad or glum;
And everyone will know that you're a
Chum, chum, chum!
Sutcliffe would "corpse", with tears in his eyes, unable to continue;
this became so frequent that Kennedy managed to coin a catchphrase, "I
love it when he cries".
Kennedy called Sutcliffe "Two Dogs" after delivering a joke ending
with the tag "Why do you ask, Two Dogs Rooting?"
Graham Kennedy's News Show was a rarity in that it was a live news
show that had a studio audience. Five nights a week for most of the
year, audiences lined up at 10:30 at night just to see Kennedy do his
magic in the flesh. Often the funniest parts of the show were in the
commercial breaks when Kennedy would come down and join the audience
for a chat. He always made a point of telling them a particularly
crude joke that was timed so they got the punchline just a second
before the show was back on air.
Coast to Coast
On 13 February 1989 the show became Coast to Coast, with Nine
John Mangos replacing Sutcliffe, and ran until 8
Harry M. Miller
Harry M. Miller as his agent. According to biographer
Blundell, Kennedy believed that Miller was to donate his commission of
$2500 per week to the
Wayside Chapel for Kennedy's appearance on
Graham Kennedy's News Show.
Miller later sued Kennedy for "wrongful termination and for a 20 per
cent commission on his 1989 gross earnings." During the court case
Miller "painted a picture of his client of twenty years as a
late-night drunk in the habit of sending demanding faxes while under
the influence." Justice Brownie found against Miller, and ordered
him to pay $75,699 and costs.
Graham Kennedy's Funniest Home Videos
Kennedy's last series was Graham Kennedy's Funniest Home Video Show
which was broadcast between 29 March and 15 November 1990 on the Nine
35 Years of Television
Kennedy presented the introduction segment to the
Nine Network special
35 Years of Television in 1991. The segment covered the very early
days of television variety, including his own In
Last television appearance
Kennedy's last television appearance was in February 1994 in an
interview for Ray Martin Presents Graham Kennedy's Sixtieth. Believing
that Martin had ambushed him by departing from a pre-agreed list of
questions, Kennedy ensured that much of the interview was unusable for
broadcast by peppering his responses with obscenities.
John Mangos wrote:
He (Kennedy) later explained the experience in a piece for
TV Week in
an article called 'In his own words'.
"Ray Martin and I had worked together before, and he well knows that
if I have the questions in advance, he'll get a better interview.
Everyone knows this – politicians in particular. Ray duly faxed the
questions to me, but on the morning of the recording changed them. I
was bewildered by this (I think a researcher let him down). I
terminated the interview when I didn't know what he was talking about
and went upstairs to lunch."
It was a critical turning point in his career. He vowed never to do
Ray Martin denied any ill intent, saying "We faxed a series of general
topics, but it was clear at the outset that much would depend on the
general run of the interview [...] An ambush was not on the agenda
[...] He had no complaints. There was never a suggestion that he was
Graham Kennedy coined the name
Logie Award in 1960, after the inventor
of television, John Logie Baird.
Kennedy received many Logies, including:
5 Gold Logies for the Most Popular Personality on Australian
Television (1960, 1967, 1969, 1974, and 1978).
He also won the "
TV Week Awards' Star of the Year" award at the
inaugural presentation in 1959, and this is sometimes counted as his
first Gold Logie, which would give him 6 in total
Logie Award – the Star of the Decade in 1967
a Hall of Fame
Logie Award in 1998. He did not attend the ceremony;
the award was accepted on his behalf by Bert Newton.
Kennedy appeared in a number of films, ranging from brief cameos to
leading roles. They include:
They're a Weird Mob (1966) (cameo as himself)
The Box (1975) (supporting role as himself)
Don's Party (1976)
The Odd Angry Shot
The Odd Angry Shot (1979)
The Club (1980)
Silent Reach (1982) (telemovie)
The Return of Captain Invincible
The Return of Captain Invincible (1982) (cameo)
The Killing Fields (1984)
Travelling North (1987)
He also had a cameo in On the Beach (1959) which was not used.
Being a period of that era of the 1950's I think being gay must have
been pretty harsh for Graham. I can imagine...everybody knew, nobody
cared, but I think it was such a time when you didn't talk about
issues that were personal, and I think that made him much more
secretive and reclusive, and I think that was probably quite a tough
thing for him... — Susan Gaye Anderson
Kennedy himself never publicly acknowledged that he was gay, but his
homosexuality was considered an open secret within the Australian
In the 1960s
Bob Dyer described him as "probably the loneliest young
man in Australia."
Melbourne newspapers reported that Kennedy was engaged to
28-year-old Australian singer Lana Cantrell, who became a successful
New York lawyer.
Many years later, Kennedy wrote to a newspaper that a photographer,
taking pictures of Miss Cantrell and him leaving a restaurant together
asked if he could "hint at a romance". The following Sunday a poster
proclaimed "GRAHAM AND LANA TO WED". His former housekeeper, Mrs
Devona Fox, in the 2009 television documentary The Real Graham
Kennedy, produced by Bob Phillips, one of the producers from Kennedy's
breakthrough Channel 9 program In
Melbourne Tonight, is quoted as
Graham always told me right early on that he would never get married.
He told me that his life was devastated when his parents split up, and
he said straight out, "Mrs Fox, I'll never get married", so I never
expected anything more of him than what did happen. Even when Lana
Cantrell came into the scene I was puzzled and I did say to him why
all this, and of course we all know it was good publicity. Lana came
to the house and I had to go up, and have it all cleaned, ready for
her and her party to come one Sunday night. And then on the Monday
night, this great big announcement was going to be made that he was
supposed to be engaged to Lana Cantrell. Well, the ratings went
through the roof...
In his 2006 book King and I: My Life with Graham Kennedy, published by
celebrity agent Anthony Zammit, broadcaster
Rob Astbury stated that
Kennedy and he had been lovers. Kennedy is portrayed as homosexual in
the 2007 biopic The King.
He was a Freemason.
In 1991 Kennedy retired to a rural property at Canyonleigh, near
Bowral in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, near his friends
Tony Sattler and Noeline Brown, where his main companions were two
Clydesdale horses named Dave and Sarah, and Henry, a Golden Retriever.
Kennedy's health declined during the 1990s. He was diabetic, and a
heavy smoker and drinker. Throughout his illnesses, his friends Tony
Noeline Brown rallied to his aid.
On 18 December 2001 his housekeeper found him unconscious and
dehydrated. Sattler said "Between the diabetes and the booze, there's
not much left of him", adding that the death of Kennedy's dog Henry
was "the final trigger".
On 14 June 2002 Kennedy was found unconscious at the foot of the
stairs at his home, suffering a broken leg and skull with suspected
His Canyonleigh property was sold, and he moved into a townhouse and
later a nursing home.
Despite a career of high earnings, press reports said that his
financial situation was, while not disastrous, insufficient to fund
his ongoing care. Having made millions for the Packer family
interests, he believed that "the Packers will always look after me".
According to Graeme Blundell's biography, Tony Sattler:
[...]spent several days ringing Kerry Packer's office [...] Nursing
was going to cost $3000 a week. 'We could cope for several years but
not longer. [...] After three days Di Stone, Mr Packer's personal
assistant, called Sattler back: 'Mr Packer has considered his plight.
Unfortunately, he is unable to assist.
[...] Sattler received a phone call from [...] an 'unnamed
businessman' — [...] ten minutes later there was a call from
Graham's bank to tell Sattler that $150,000 had been deposited in the
ailing comedian's account.
On 27 May 2005,
Noeline Brown confirmed that the benefactor was Sam
However, Kennedy's will reportedly left a seven-figure sum to the
Sydney City Mission.
On 2 February 2004, The Daily Telegraph said:
The king of Australian TV
Graham Kennedy will celebrate his 70th
birthday next weekend with a few close friends. The low-key affair is
expected to be at the Kenilworth Nursing Home at
Bowral where Kennedy
has lived since taking a nasty tumble a few years ago. Physically he's
not in terrific shape. He can't walk any more and gets around in a
wheelchair as a result of the diabetes and the years of heavy smoking.
Actor Graeme Blundell, who had worked with Kennedy on the movie The
Odd Angry Shot, published a biography of Kennedy, King: The Life and
Graham Kennedy (McMillan, 2003). A newspaper report stated
that Kennedy "passed on his best wishes but declined to be involved
'for no particular reason [...] other than he believes he has a
limited memory of many of the facts of his life'." The book, which
was completed before Kennedy's death, ends with "Graham read them
[chapters of an early draft] ... asked if he wished to read any more,
Graham Kennedy said. 'I know how it ends.'"
In 2001 Kennedy's friend and Coast to Coast colleague, John Mangos,
was reported as saying:
I can say to his beloved fans that they won't see Graham again. He
won't appear publicly again; he is in his twilight. He has made a
personal decision to disappear quietly into the sunset.
On 25 May 2005, aged 71, Kennedy died at the Kenilworth Nursing Home,
Bowral, from complications from pneumonia.
John Mangos wrote in The Bulletin:
A week before his 69th birthday, he was bedridden and infirm. His
wasted and frail, aching body could take no more. I paid a short and
emotional visit. Still, the ashtray was by his bedside next to a radio
tuned to ABC Radio National. I leaned over to kiss him on the forehead
and he whispered, 'Don't get too close, it hurts'.
He also wrote:
I was often asked if he had cancer or AIDS. In fact at 67, he had
diabetes, some rheumatism, the odd creaky joint, a healthy capacity to
whinge and the usual symptoms connected with smoking and drinking. But
by now the horses were gone and the dog had died. He was eating less
and drinking more. One night, he fell down the stairs. He was
discovered the next morning on the floor by his housekeeper. He was
rushed to the local hospital where pneumonia in one lung was treated
effectively and efficiently, a fracture near his hip was repaired and
he was diagnosed with brain damage. We were to learn he had
Korsakoff's syndrome (an alcohol-related condition) and we decided to
keep it private.
Korsakoff's syndrome is a form of amnesia seen in chronic alcoholics;
briefly stated, victims eat too little and drink too much.
Derryn Hinch controversy
After his death, controversial Melbourne-based
3AW radio broadcaster
Derryn Hinch alleged that Kennedy had died from an AIDS-related
disease. This was strenuously denied by his friends and carers Noeline
Brown and Tony Sattler, and as a result Kennedy's biographer Graeme
Blundell then published Kennedy's medical records, including a recent
negative HIV test, to disprove this allegation. Hinch fought back
saying he didn't say Kennedy had AIDS, but that he was homosexual, had
symptoms similar to those of Kaposi's Sarcoma, and died of pneumonia,
thus implying Kennedy's death was AIDS-related.
Tony Sattler offered the
Nine Network the right to televise the
funeral but it declined, claiming it could not justify the cost of the
outside broadcast. The
Seven Network accepted, and gave coverage free
of charge to the Nine Network. Hence, the one-hour funeral service was
aired simultaneously across both Seven and Nine Networks.
Stuart Wagstaff presented the funeral, which was attended by many of
Kennedy's friends, colleagues and associates on the morning of 31 May
2005 in a small community theatre in the town of Mittagong.
Wagstaff's eulogy alluded to the claims made by
Derryn Hinch about the
cause of Kennedy's death:
Delivering a eulogy for a close friend and for someone who was so much
admired is never a happy occasion. Though I must confess I would be
quite happy to deliver a eulogy for a certain media personality who's
tried the second Kennedy assassination of our time... and
Kennedy had never explicitly stated that he was homosexual, but at his
funeral, his friends were at last free to make jokes, in a friendly
The Age of 26 June 2005 reported
John Mangos as saying that he "knew
Kennedy wanted his ashes scattered at sea. And that wish was carried
out." This was confirmed in a report in The Sydney Morning Herald
which stated that Kennedy's ashes were scattered in the sea at Kiama
attended by a group which included "Noeline Brown, Tony Sattler, John
Mangos, Stuart Wagstaff, Kennedy's former housekeeper Sally
Baker-Beall and her husband John, and old friends Christine and
Graham Kennedy at Waterfront City,
Four of Graham Kennedy's television shows were named in the program 50
Years 50 Shows which counted-down the top 50 Australian TV shows of
all time, as decided by ratings data and the opinions of 100
television industry professionals, on the
Nine Network on 25 September
2005. Kennedy's In
Melbourne Tonight topped the poll, Power Without
Glory (15th), Blankety Blanks (20th), and Coast to Coast (42nd).
Australia Day honours of 26 January 2006, Kennedy was
posthumously appointed an Officer of the
Order of Australia
Order of Australia (AO), for
"service to the entertainment industry as an actor, comedian and
presenter significantly influencing the development of the radio,
television and film industries in Australia, and to the
community". The award was made effective from 5 May 2005.
Telemovie The King
A telemovie examining Kennedy's life titled The King began filming in
December 2006. It stars Stephen Curry as Kennedy and Stephen Hall as
Bert Newton, with Garry McDonald, Shaun Micallef, Steve Bisley, Jane
Allsop as Noeline Brown, Beau Brady, Leo Taylor as Sir Frank Packer,
and Bernard Curry as John Wesley.
The project, which cost $2.1 million, premiered on 20 May 2007 on TV1
(becoming the highest-rating drama to be shown on pay-TV) to heavy
criticism by Kennedy's friends. Tony Sattler and his wife, actress
Noeline Brown, Kennedy's closest friends, said they were mortified by
the movie. "The film was obsessed with his homosexuality. I don't
think people cared about that....He was Australia's most famous,
successful entertainer but how much do we see of that in the film? We
see fuck all of it." The
Nine Network screened the film on 27
August 2007 .
^ Blundell, Graeme (2003). King: The Life and Comedy of Graham
Kennedy. Sydney: Pan Macmillan. ISBN 0-7329-1165-6.
^ a b Blundell (2003), p. 9
^ a b Blundell (2003), p. 11
^ "St Kilda Historical Society newsletter" (PDF). July 2005. Archived
from the original (PDF) on 11 August 2007. Retrieved 17 May
^ Blundell (2003), p. 351
^ a b c d Mangos, John (7 June 2005). "The King and I". The Bulletin.
NineMSN.com. p. 31. Archived from the original on 19 June 2005.
Retrieved 4 February 2008.
^ "The Lost Schools of St Kilda". SKHS.org.au. Archived from the
original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 17 May 2007.
Melbourne High School Old Boys' Association obituary". Archived
from the original on 25 March 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 28. The MHSOBA obituary records that his report
card states "[...] he was employed by
Radio Australia (Short-wave
Division) at 475 Collins Street
Melbourne after leaving school.
However, during 4th form at
Melbourne High School, he worked as a
messenger at the ABC on Wednesday nights from 5 pm to
^ Lee, Nancy (1979). Being a Chum was Fun: the Story of Nancy Lee.
Melbourne: Listen & Learn Productions.
^ Lee, Nancy (1979), p. 149.
^ Lee, Nancy (1979), foreword by GK. Elided text: "'But it was more
than worthwhile putting up with his various moods and it must be
remembered that he in turn was putting up with a very gauche seventeen
year old. And of course, he taught me so much: how to use radio not
just be on it. He took me under his wing and became a surrogate
father. I spend many happy times with him and his family at his house
in Ivanhoe. They were very special occasions for me. I baby sat for
him and Kathy a few times.'
^ Blundell (2003), pp. 350–351
^ Stone, Gerald (2000). Compulsive Viewing: The inside story that
rocked the TV industry. Victoria: Penguin Books.
ISBN 0-14-029817-7. "'When a full face of Kennedy alone
came on the monitor, Spencer and I turned to one another without
exchanging a word and shook hands. At the time, we were in desperate
need of talent. At a glance, you could see that this boy on camera,
with his cheap haircut and popping eyes, had gone to endless pains
rehearsing his act and also had outstanding ability. When we talked to
Kennedy he made no attempt at playing hard to get. He was busting to
get into television.'"
^ Stone (2000), p.93 "'I was terrified for forty years is what I can
tell you about my career', he says now, confirming the stories told of
him having to steel his nerves before almost every performance. 'Well,
out of the thousands of television shows and radio shows, once or
twice I was quite comfortable, but mostly I was frightened.'"
^ Blundell (2003), p. 216
^ Newton, Bert (1977). Bert! Bert Newton's Own Story. Toorak,
Victoria: Garry Sparkes & Associates. pp. 91–93.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 161
^ Blundell (2003), p. 185-6
^ Blundell (2003), p. 186-7
^ Blundell (2003), p. 188-90
^ Blundell (2003), p. 1892-3
^ Stone (2000), quoting from "an unpublished memoir now lodged with
the National Library in Canberra" by Colin Bednall. Also quoted in
Blundell (2003), p. 196
^ Stone (2000), p. 83; quoted in Blundell (2003), p. 196-7
^ Blundell (2003), p. 215.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 218.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 227-8.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 232.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 223.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 244.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 239-42.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 245-8.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 250.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 254-5.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 257.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 269.
^ Blundell (2003), p. 273.
^ Kennedy's crown fetches $17K news.com.au, 23 April 2007
^ Blundell (2003), p. 379
^ "King of comedy, fears of a clown": Megan Gressor, Sydney Morning
Herald, 26 April 2003
^ Newton, Bert (1977). Op Cit, p. 91
^ Davis, Graham. "50 years of television, Part two (transcript)".
Sunday. NineMSN. Archived from the original on 27 August 2006.
TV Week magazine, 11 March 1978 – "Graham Hasn't Conquered Those
Jitters" by Ben Mitchell pp58-59
^ "Kennedy faces a total ban on TV".
The Age (Melbourne). 1975-03-05.
Retrieved 23 December 2014.
^ "Kennedy case to be heard on Tuesday". The Sydney Morning Herald.
1975-03-12. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
^ "Order to Kennedy producer - threat to two TV shows". The Sydney
Morning Herald. 1975-03-07. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
^ "Court threat by Kennedy". The Sydney Morning Herald. 1975-03-11.
Retrieved 23 December 2014.
^ "TV and radio ban on 'live' Kennedy". The Sydney Morning Herald.
1975-03-19. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
Mike McColl-Jones (2008).
Graham Kennedy Treasures: Friends Remember
the King. Miegunyah Press. p. 49. ISBN 0522855458.
^ Craig Bellamy, Gordon Chisholm, Hilary Eriksen (17 February 2006).
Moomba: A festival for the people Archived 29 October 2009 at the
Wayback Machine.: pp. 17–22
^ Blundell (2003), p. 356
^ A life in showbusiness. Retrieved 29 June 2008.
^ Blundell (2003), pp. 369–372
^ Blundell (2003), p. 373
^ Blundell (2003), p. 371
^ Blundell (2003), p. 382
^ a b Blundell (2003), p. 383
^ Lee, Nancy (1979). Op Cit, p.67
^ Blundell (2003), p. 374
^ Blundell (2003), p. 387
^ Blundell (2003), p. 388
^ Blundell (2003), pps. 409, 410
^ "On The Beach". On the Beach. Retrieved 3 June 2007.
^ a b Real
Graham Kennedy – DVD. 2009. Event occurs
at[time needed]. Retrieved 25 October
2011. [better source needed]
^ Blundell (2003), p. 164
^ Blundell (2003), p. 361
^ "News". yourmovies.com.au. 2011. Retrieved 25 October
2011. [permanent dead link]
^ Famous &/or Notable Australian Freemasons[permanent dead link]
^ Blundell (2003), p. 418
^ Blundell (2003), p. 429
^ Blundell (2003), pps. 422–423
^ Medew, Julia (27 May 2005). "Kennedy's final farewell". The Age.
Melbourne. Retrieved 26 January 2008. 'Brown said Mr Chisholm,
who maintained a strong friendship with Kennedy from their Channel
Nine years, offered to pay his expenses when he needed round-the-clock
care. "For a long time, it looked as if all of Graham's money . . .
would disappear, because it's very expensive to look after someone 24
hours a day", Brown said."So
Sam Chisholm decided he would help Graham
out by supporting him for a year."'
^ "'Broke' Kennedy's big gift". The Age. Melbourne. 26 June 2005.
Retrieved 29 April 2007.
^ "Here's Graham". The Age. Melbourne. 3 May 2003. Retrieved 16
^ Fyfe, Melissa (10 November 2001). "The King is not dead". The Age.
Australia. Archived from the original on 10 November 2001.
^ "Australia's king of television dies". ABC-TV News. 25 May 2005.
Archived from the original on 2 June 2005.
^ "Last laugh for the King of TV". Herald Sun. Australia: News.com.au.
Archived from the original on 4 February 2008. Retrieved 26 January
^ "Classic variety hour farewell". The Age. Melbourne. 1 June 2005.
Retrieved 26 January 2008.
^ "Star jump". Spike / Sydney Morning Herald. 2 August 2005.
^ "Australian Government "It's an Honour" site". August 2007.
Retrieved 25 August 2007.
^ "Graham Kennedy's mates slam film". Herald Sun. Australia. 22 May
^ "The ABC of Aunty's role in Gra-Gra's film". The Age. Melbourne. 27
March 2007. Archived from the original on 3 February 2008. Retrieved
25 October 2011.
Blundell, Graeme (2003). King: The Life and Comedy of Graham Kennedy.
Sydney: Pan Macmillan. ISBN 0-7329-1165-6.
Newton, Bert (1977). Bert! Bert Newton's Own Story. Toorak, Victoria,
Australia: Garry Sparkes & Associates.
Stone, Gerald (2000). Compulsive Viewing: The inside story that rocked
the TV industry. Sydney: Penguin. ISBN 0-7329-1165-6.
Lee, Nancy (1979). Being a Chum was Fun: the Story of Nancy Lee.
Melbourne: Listen & Learn Productions.
Astbury, Rob (2006). King and I. Sydney: DNA Publishers.
Graham Kennedy biography (ABC)
ABC news obituary including video and audio links
Graham Kennedy at the National Film and Sound Archive
Laughterlog.com – Biography with list of radio, television and film
Graham Kennedy – includes rare early recordings of Whitta with
Blainey – The first inhabitants – Kennedy voiceover
Blainey – Bush medicine – Kennedy voiceover
Gold Logie Award for Best Personality on Australian Television
Graham Kennedy (1960)
Bob Dyer (1961)
Lorrae Desmond and
Tommy Hanlon, Jr. (1962)
Michael Charlton (1963)
Bobby Limb (1964)
Jimmy Hannan (1965)
Gordon Chater (1966)
Graham Kennedy and
Hazel Phillips (1967)
Brian Henderson (1968)
Graham Kennedy (1969)
Barry Crocker and
Maggie Tabberer (1970)
Gerard Kennedy and
Maggie Tabberer (1971)
Gerard Kennedy (1972)
Tony Barber (1973)
Graham Kennedy and Pat McDonald (1974)
Ernie Sigley and
Denise Drysdale (1975)
Norman Gunston and
Denise Drysdale (1976)
Don Lane and
Jeanne Little (1977)
Graham Kennedy (1978)
Bert Newton (1979)
Mike Walsh (1980)
Bert Newton (1981)
Bert Newton (1982)
Daryl Somers (1983)
Bert Newton (1984)
Rowena Wallace (1985)
Daryl Somers (1986)
Ray Martin (1987)
Kylie Minogue (1988)
Daryl Somers (1989)
Craig McLachlan (1990)
Steve Vizard (1991)
Jana Wendt (1992)
Ray Martin (1993)
Ray Martin (1994)
Ray Martin (1995)
Ray Martin (1996)
Lisa McCune (1997)
Lisa McCune (1998)
Lisa McCune (1999)
Lisa McCune (2000)
Georgie Parker (2001)
Georgie Parker (2002)
Rove McManus (2003)
Rove McManus (2004)
Rove McManus (2005)
John Wood (2006)
Kate Ritchie (2007)
Kate Ritchie (2008)
Rebecca Gibney (2009)
Ray Meagher (2010)
Karl Stefanovic (2011)
Hamish Blake (2012)
Asher Keddie (2013)
Scott Cam (2014)
Carrie Bickmore (2015)
Waleed Aly (2016)
Samuel Johnson (2017)