Early days of TV…Kids…Greer and Cheap Laughs

Sunday 8 April 2012

Easter Sunday and I’ve just returned from a great brunch with my younger daughter (the one that doesn’t live in Paris), her partner, my two granddaughters and my younger son (the one that isn’t currently in South America).

Watching Olivia (3) and Hannah (18 months) once again set me thinking how inextricably my life has been bound up with kids!

Living in a small country town as a teenager meant chancing your arm at whatever was needed and I seemed to get the jobs that required marshalling, quelling, inspiring or chasing after mobs of kids…but at least it helped to prepare me for what lay ahead!

Death Defying Theatre!

Of course I wrote a letter to every country television station in the land when they started to pop up in the early 60s and couldn’t believe my luck when I scored an audition for GMV-6 Shepparton!  The fact that I was in a collision between my Taxi and a truck on the way to the audition did not deter me…though if I’d stopped to look in a mirror, it may have. There I was with two black eyes, a busted nose and bits of glass from the luckless windscreen in my hair, telling the CEO that I was the perfect person to make his station hit the high charts of success!

Miraculously he was a man of good humour!  He looked at me keenly and said: ‘if you’ve got the guts to come in here looking for a glamorous TV job looking like that…I have no choice but to give it to you!

And that is how I found myself from Day 1 learning to help run a television station with jobs that ranged from Booth Announcing, Running Telecine, Reading the News, Spruiking Ads, Writing a Women’s Show, Interviewing Visiting Celebrities and…OH! YES… ‘could you do a Kids’ Show?’

This was 1962, the era of instant TV…no choice… all local content went to air LIVE!
This meant that every afternoon I sat on a haybale surrounded by 50 kids…happy kids, sad kids, nervous kids, troubled kids… and everything I said and everything THEY said (remember that bit!) went to air live!

Yes!  Death Defying Theatre! But it was the best apprenticeship I could have had for learning not only to understand how to talk to kids…but how to avoid the worst pitfall of all…the Cheap Laugh!

I was reminded of this a couple of weeks back when I watched one of our famous Feminists, Germaine Greer undo a great deal of her excellent work in advancing the cause of equal rights for women.  On our national broadcasting station she mocked our female Prime Minister for the size of her derriere…for what reason?  I can only assume it was a rush of blood to the head when the opportunity for a quick, cheap laugh at someone else’s expense came her way!

I had such an opportunity in 1962…at the expense of a child!

With large, grave eyes…he looked up at me from his haybale and said…(and remember this is LIVE TO AIR)… ‘Nancy, do you have any babies?’

In my very best ABC-trained voice, I replied almost too quickly, ‘No Derrick, I don’t have any babies’ and prepared to change the subject by looking very quickly at someone else!  But Derrick persisted: ‘Why not?’ he challenged. ‘Well’, I replied rather loftily, ‘because I’m not married!’ And before I could move the mic in any direction up or down - anywhere but near his mouth, he exclaimed proudly; ‘Neither was my sister!

Remember this was in 1962 when babies born ‘out of wedlock’ to single mums was rather frowned upon!  I wanted to shriek with laughter because the delivery of the line was as perfect as any comedian could have dreamed of. But Derrick was no comedian, he was a dear little boy who had overheard some news in his home that he wanted to share.  And there were family members watching this who may or may not have felt humiliated…I couldn’t take that chance.

Oh yes…the Cheap Laugh!  Almost as effective as the Cheap Label!  Our target may well have a thick skin but I’m talking about children, here.  How often as a Drama teacher did I come across a young adult labeled in childhood as ‘clumsy’, ‘stupid’ ‘lazy’, ‘pathetic’ et al not just once but relentlessly until the child took it on and re-enacted it…squashing the glorious natural qualities of imagination, confidence and enthusiasm out of recognition and the realm of possibility!

Even in 1980 when playing with her best friend in Alice Springs, my eldest child asked me: 'what did that man mean when he told Janey to act white?'

Yes…let us stop and think before we score a laugh or a moment of triumph at someone else’s expense! We may never know or understand the extent of the damage we do…eh Ms Greer?


  1. It is indeed a funny world we live in. I tell my family that we have to always put up a front in public and be well behaved. Clean our thoughts as it will spill-over in our speech. But in private, things are different. Though not much different I am afraid in a household of young children.

    Sadly, the people at the forefront of broadcast (including politicians), do not guard their words and let sensitivity out of the trap. They must somehow realise that TV and Mainstream Media reaches far and wide - and in most instances will boomerang the author one way or another in the most opportune moment, and almost usually in the most awkward of occasions.

    I must add your Grandchildren is so adorable! If not mistaken, my sister's kids have exactly the same PJs!

    1. Very wise words Kerry! Thank you for taking the time to comment and I shall pass on your compliment to my granddaughters' mother...she'll be thrilled1