This interview originally appeared in May 1981, to publicise the play 'Sleep Never Rusts' and the EP 'The Universe is Big'.
Axed from the air but bouncing back
on stage and vinyl
For many Sydney people, the average working/waking day flushed with the immortal words, "It's all cisterns go!"
Geoff Kelso, Lance Curtis, Ken Matthews and Steve Johnson are the creators, contrivers and contorters of Dr Poo, a two minute, five day a week radio series that ran for nearly two years on 2JJ.
Dr Poo evolved from ideas submitted to Give 'em Heaps, an ABC TV show, in 1978.
"We were writing a series of bushranger scripts about Zen Hall, Ned Jelly and Captain Thunderbox – a bushranger who hid in a pay toilet. An early settler busting for a leak sees this toilet, rushes up, puts his money in the slot, but the door is locked. There's a hideous laugh from within as the toilet gets up and runs away." Geoff Kelso admits that Thunderbox didn't get far, but it did start him thinking about 2001, toilets and other monoliths. "As soon as we came up with the name 'Dr Poo' we went through all the main elements of Dr Who and perverted them."
Dr Poo is a Time and Toilet Lord from the planet, Galah Free. Wearing "incredibly tight pants", the Doctor travels through Time and Space in the trusty TURDIS accompanied by his beautiful assistant Dana and Dennis, the Denim Cat.
"The Doctor started out being a much older and exaggerated voice than he is now… he's a bit more Peter O'Toole now. Dana Sock is from a suburb in Sydney, Fibro Park West. She's incredibly stupid – your stereotype dolly bird – but the element in her that came to the full was that she can punch people out. Dana has an amazing right hook. She also refuses to take a lot of the shit that the Doctor deals out… Dennis the Denim Cat is a version of Dr Who's K9. Someone suggested that the Doctor should have a mechanical dog called U-Rine, but Dennis just happened in one episode… and he says it all in one meow… Kevin the Announcer completes the foursome. He didn't want to do the Dr Poo radio serial because he thought it crass…. he objects to it sometimes and throws the whole storyline off beam by doing introductions that have nothing to do with the adventure… and the Doctor has to hit him."
The Dreks are the first villains the Doctor encounters. They are chemical toilets that fire prunes and Laxettes into people. "They are really disgusting little units that invade Sydney. They've got a septic tank that they drill down through the Domain to the Eastern Suburbs Railway and go all the way to Bondi Junction to attack Bondi Beach. Because swimming at Bondi is just like going through the motions…"
According to Lance Curtis, Lavdros, the creator of the Dreks is "the most disgusting organism in the universe – half man, half toilet." Then there's Dr Wee, "an inscrutable Chinese villain… and Captain Nemoss of the S.S. Nautilegs who hates civilisation… One of the great bug-bears of Dr Poo is a real bureaucrat, Gonzalis, from the Department of Time and Space." Gonzalis Frogmoisture is forever telling the Doctor the episode is too long, the adventure too disgusting, or, that a certain form has not been filled out. Dr Poo also visits many horrible planets, such as K-Tel Derado, the plastic planet melted by the only pure thing left in the universe – the ABC news theme.
Geoff: "The writing style that Ken, Steve and I developed was such that we'd go off on a tangent that we really enjoyed… we thought 'blow it, we'll try and break as many rules as possible'… in a two minute radio serial you can get away with it, just do a string of puns and then have a bit of action, so the audience is going wince, wince, 'oh no' – but it wasn't long enough for them to ring up and say, 'that's terrible!'"
"One thing we were wary of was making the series too topical… in some cases we were, because there'd be an event we just couldn't avoid – such as an election… At one stage Kevin was being so naughty the Doctor sent him packing so then he had to audition for new announcers. We auditioned Jimmy Carter, Leonid Brezhnev, John Wayne and the entire population of China. Then Malcolm Fraser just took over… the speech was all about how everyone had to tighten their belts and do less laughing because the Standard Australian Joke had been devalued through excessive laughter…"
"We never improvised in the studio, there was no adlibbing unless one of us made a mistake… in Dr Poo there's a lot of mangling of the English language and sometimes one of us would remangle a word we already had mangled and it would be even funnier so we'd leave it in."
"Kaptain Kremmin, which Kenny Everett did on radio then on television had an enormous amount of production… but Dr Poo, being an ABC production did not have those sorts of facilities. Sometimes we were lucky if there was an 8 track machine working."
A number or radio stations have been interested in the Dr Poo series, but tend to back off as they find it too "offensive" or "erratic". Lance explains, "the commercial stations don't want to offend their sponsors and the ABC doesn't want to offend anybody."
Geoff: "Chuck Chunda is pretty tame in comparison to Dr Poo… we got a letter from one man who objected to Dr Poo on the grounds of blasphemy. We did one episode in which God dies – NEWSFLASH: 'God is dead, he passed away peacefully in his slippers, survived by a son and a bloody great load of angels'…"
Although Dr Poo has only been aired in Sydney, its fan club boasts almost 10,000 members, swamping the national Kiss Army.
Lance: "There seems to be no consistency. It ranges from barristers, doctors, plumbers, kids…"
Geoff: "Five to fifty year olds… one television executive we know of..." Lance: "We just hear amazing stories all the time…"
Dr Poo was axed from 2JJJ-FM in mid-January.
Lance: "Marius Webb had been voted back in as co-ordinator… there'd been a directive down the line from the ABC – get ratings or we'll take your licence away… On January 17th, the breakfast announcer, Doug Mulray said at the end of his show, 'Well that's the last breakfast show, bye bye', and there was no Dr Poo that morning…" And that was the first Kelso, Curtis, Matthews and Johnson heard of Dr Poo being taken off air.
"Geoff was in Perth so he came back on the Wednesday and we waited for some sort of word… and eventually Geoff went in… Steve Johnson went into see Marius Webb but got very little satisfaction…" Geoff: "I think that it was about two weeks later we actually sat down with Marius one Sunday night to talk about it…" Five episodes of a thirty part serial had gone to air. The Dr Poo team asked that the remaining story be edited together as a way of "winding up the series and saying goodbye to the fans", but this was flatly refused. Geoff: "There's a compilation there, because it appears that Marius went into the press a couple of times and talked about the comedy writers who 'left', or the reports seemed to have indicated that we left Triple Jay to work on Willesee – that wasn't the case. We were hired on the Mike Willesee show about a week after Dr Poo was taken off the air. I think Lance and I decided to do it because we'd suddenly lost our incomes…"
John Clarke, affectionately known to most as Fred Dagg, is another surprised victim of Triple Jay's "new" programming.
Geoff: "We saw him in Melbourne in April… He was very aggro, understandably too, really pissed off… He said he wasn't told, and still hadn't been told, so was writing a letter to Talbot Duckmanton asking him for the ABC to send official notification that his services were no longer required."
Kelso and Curtis found working for Willesee, "stifling." Lance: "He had this crazy idea of doing satirical comedy at 7 o'clock on national television. He was talking about shows like Not the 9 O'clock News… At the beginning he was getting right involved with the writing and direction of sketches… he had no hope… it was a desperate attempt. The first show was a deliberate attempt to get headlines with a lot of really tasteless stuff – jokes about smoking tampons – the stuff that got people irate… which is fair enough if you're a TV executive, I suppose… but from there he just back-peddled. Whatever the ratings said he'd bow to, so he just softened the whole thing down… then he didn't really get behind it anymore… it was sinking ship time. Geoff and I were doing stuff that never went to air because it was too offensive."
One such skit was based on the exhumation of Frank Nugan's body. Two NSW policemen opened a lumpy, green garbage bag to discover the contents were that of Juanita Neilson, not Nugan. Their caps quickly covered the camera lens.
"It was an attempt to rebel against the stifling atmosphere… if you're going to do satire on the news it's got to go beyond the limits of good taste. Frank Muir maintains that comedy is based on fear. People always laugh at things because they are afraid…" Geoff said: "So it was a bit hard to write comedy in that situation because the real fear was that the programme wouldn't rate at all and everyone would lose their jobs. There was an amazing sense of anarchy while we were there…" Lance lasted six weeks with Willesee, Geoff, four.
Geoff Kelso is a NIDA graduate and Lance Curtis is a former NSW uni student. Geoff has "trodden the boards" of legitimate theatre in Perth and Sydney. "It's very restricting… I rang all the directors of the Nimrod early one morning and told them to go bite their bums and thought, 'well, that's fixed straight theatre for me', and it did."
In mid-1980 Kelso and Curtis joined forces with Al Ward and Dan Johnson for a night of "acoustic music and comedy".
"Sleep Never Rusts was an accident", says Dan Johnson, "we had one night at the Nimrod and turned away 150 people… so they gave us two more in September… then four weekends in November and broke every record they had there for the late night shows. So we did seventeen, counting Parramatta Gaol, which was a real weird show. We did a week in Melbourne… and plan to do the Last Laugh there for six weeks at the end of the year."
Sleep Never Rusts has just completed a successful season at the Warehouse in Adelaide and the "not untalented foursome" (one critic's description) will have a new show at the Nimrod in August.
Geoff: "It was out of desperation that we got together… there were no venues in Sydney that were going to offer us, as two separate duos, the kind of work we were after… so we just put the show together."
Al Ward believes, "It took a while to work out where to put the music and where to put the comedy… we've got the combination now. The way we did it at the Nimrod wasn't the best way." Dan: "In a live situation the funny thing always wins out… we can't spend too much time integrating it though…" Al: "If we dilute each others acts, then we weaken the show."
Together or individually, Al Ward and Dan Johnson have performed with Ry Cooder, Fairpost Convention, Jose Felicianto, Jesse Winchester, Ralph McTell, John Martyn and Bert Jansch.
Sleep Never Rusts satirises not only performers, but musical styles. Lance: "Wayne Simpson is into Pump Rock. He's from Yagoona… he used to live in Panania but they had to move because the rent went up. He has lots of brothers – including an elder twin brother, Craig… Wayne started out as an urban and western singer… he explores musical styles from a very provincial point of view… Craig writes songs on the train… Wayne would right now be working on his own form of antmusic using a magnifying glass." Al: "To satirise the genre you have to get to the roots of it because it's become very inbred and very boring. You've got to look at where it started… all these guys are copying Bowie and people like that and there's not much originality flying around and you can't satirise anything that's not original. You can satirise Bowie, but how do you satirise all the Bowie copyists?"
The not untalented foursome get at "the roots" by impersonating Dylan, Neil Young and the not too fortunate Anaemic Boy White. And, of course, there's Elvis.
Lance: "… that Elvis thing – it's having a go at all those Elvis impersonators that spring up in the clubs. They get up there in their spangly suits totally belying the fact he ended up the way he did. Geoff does the ultimate Elvis impersonation – he dies on stage."
Ward, Johnson, Kelso and Curtis are currently in Sydney mixing the Dr Poo EP which will be released on Result Records.
Geoff: "There's a song from Dr Poo, one from Dana, an instrumental from Dennis the Denim Cat and an all in bum fight called 'The Universe is Big'… so the Dr Poo characters become rock 'n' roll stars. We hope it will become a monster, cure leprosy, warts and all that."
There'll be a new album from Ward and Johnson too, and if the EP goes down well, Sebastian Chase of Result is looking towards a Dr Poo album.
Geoff: "Ram described the first Dr Poo album, Knees Ahoy! as the 'greatest waste of public money since the Vietnam War', so the next Dr Poo LP will be called, 'The Second Greatest Waste of Public Money Since the Vietnam War.'"
by B. B. McGloughan
from Roadrunner 1, Vol. 4 No. 4 May '81
Thanks to Warren Hillsdon for cutting out and keeping this article for nearly 30 years!