In 1964, a woman who couldn’t sing, couldn’t dance and couldn’t act was nonetheless deemed qualified to host and perform in an Australian television variety program because she was, well, British.
A black-and-white clip of season one, episode one of Channel Seven’s satirical The Mavis Bramston Show features the eponymous Mavis, all bouffant hair and a song at the ready, being asked by an interviewer if she is looking forward to visiting Australia.
“Oh rather,” she exclaims, all plummy, “I hear it’s absolutely dinky. I simply adore that wide-open thing.
Of course, they have such lovely warm audiences.”
Playing this dried-up, obsequious British personality feted via Australia’s cultural cringe was comic actor Noeline Brown, who had actually grown up in working-class Stanmore in Sydney’s inner west.
The daughter of a staunch unionist who was absent for much of her childhood – he was away riding trains, delivering sacks of mail for Australia’s travelling post office – Brown and her two brothers were raised by a mother stricken with tuberculosis.
Brown would soon take off briefly, herself, to try her luck on the UK stage, being the only cast member not contracted to The Mavis Bramston Show, despite playing its namesake.
But she would find the attitude and the lack of good theatre roles no less sexist in Britain – one London dinner party luvvie claimed she was only pretending to be Australian.
So she returned, resuming a regular place in the Bramston hit, which presaged a healthy turnover of home-grown television comedies that thumbed noses at the cultural colonisers.
It was on a radio show called Chuck Chunder of the Space Patrol that she met the impressively moustachioed “double- and triple-denim” clad writer Tony Sattler, who was moved to reminisce years later:
“I first realised I was reasonably attracted to Noeline by a swelling in the pants, actually. And that’s generally a pretty good barometer of human feeling, I find.”
They married, and teamed up for the mid-1970s comedy sketch hit The Naked Vicar Show, and formed a lifelong friendship with Melbourne’s TV king the late Graham Kennedy, with Brown a permanent fixture on panel show Blankety Blanks, hosted by the anarchic Kennedy.