The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) is celebrating the life and work of ‘The King’ of Australian television, Graham Kennedy, with a new online exhibition featuring memorable, rare and personal clips, as well as tributes and artefacts that span his more than four-decade long career across radio, television and film.
The boy from Balaclava, Graham Kennedy was one of Australia’s most beloved television stars. He shot to fame in Australian living rooms with In Melbourne Tonight 60 years ago, on 6 May 1957. He would depart the show 12 years later in 1969 as ‘The King’ of Australian TV.
His loveable antics as a presenter, comedian and actor were displayed across a 40-year career: from his early days on live variety television with riotous comedy sketches and an enduring partnership with Bert Newton on In Melbourne Tonight (IMT) and The Graham Kennedy Show; through to top-rating game show Blankety Blanks and later, current affairs program Coast to Coast.
“It is wonderful to bring the prodigious talent and life of Graham Cyril Kennedy, our first Australian TV star, to both a new generation and to those who already knew and loved him,” said NFSA Television Curator Helen Tully. “This exhibition enables us to take a glimpse into Graham’s world and allows his voice to guide us across his journey in radio, film and television – the communication media of the 20th century.”
As an icon of the Australian entertainment industry, Kennedy’s colleagues have praised his extraordinary talent. Patti Newton said: “IMT was a wonderful start to my adult working life. Graham was such a perfectionist, but everyone saw the genius in him. Bert always said he was the best editor of a script he’d ever known.” While Nine’s voice-over legend, Pete Smith said: “In performance Graham had a magic spark and those of us privileged to work with him benefitted from the warmth of his amazing talent.”
In Melbourne Tonight scriptwriter Mike McColl Jones said: “It didn’t take me long to realise that Graham had an aura that commanded respect from friends, workmates and strangers alike. He had those great ingredients that all superstars have – unpredictability and mystery!”
The NFSA pays tribute to the TV superstar with more than 75 rare items available online – from a half-smoked cigarette, rescued by an avid fan and kept safely in a small cardboard box since June 1958, through to his first filmed appearance – the newly restored 1956 Sennitt’s Ice Cream advertisement!
Highlights of the online interactive exhibition include: the crown and throne that symbolised his title of ‘The King’ of Australian television; fascinating artefacts from his personal life including handwritten and typed thank you letters to Mike & Val McColl Jones; and Wedgwood china courtesy of Qantas.
Also highlighted are key moments from In Melbourne Tonight (IMT) including: a young Graham singing a self-penned ditty commemorating the 500th edition of the show; a complete Wilson’s sketch; Graham flipping pancakes in a sponsored advertorial; and an excerpt from an unreleased 1969 interview with Graham explaining why he wanted to leave IMT.
The online exhibition also shows excerpts from a rarely seen 1977 episode of Blankety Blanks and a recording to the producers of the show giving tips to aid its improvement; intimate footage from a 1961 overseas working holiday to Europe and India together with a post trip interview with John Godson, Graham’s first TV interview; and long forgotten interviews with a roll call of Australian TV greats including Mike Walsh (1969), Bert Newton (1976), Ivan Hutchinson (1979), Mike Willesee (1981) and Don Lane (1983).
To mark the launch of Graham Kennedy: The King, the NFSA will host a mini-season of Kennedy on the big screen with two double features, featuring some of the star’s most memorable cinema roles: The Killing Fields + NFSA Restores: The Odd Angry Shot (Wednesday 24 May – 6.00pm), and Don’s Party + The Club (Friday 26 May – 6.30pm). Tickets are available online.
For more information and to view Graham Kennedy: The King online, visit: www.nfsa.gov.au for details.
Image: Graham Kennedy – photo courtesy of the NFSA