For 28 years Hey Hey it’s Saturday was like an old friend inside our television sets.
“It was just one of those shows that was so easy to watch and so user-friendly,” John Blackman says. “When it was taken off air back in 1999 it left a huge void. Not only in my bank account but in the viewing public’s psyche. It was like a friend had died, and wasn’t going to be there anymore. There was a period of mourning there for a while.”
As he prepares for two live to air reunion specials, the ‘voice’ behind Hey Hey spoke with TV Tonight about the show’s incredible run and what viewers can expect from its revival, 10 years after its exit -a move he says was driven more by dollars than sense.
“Powers much greater than us had much better ideas about what should be shown on a Saturday night between 6:30 and 8:30 and quite frankly they never ever successfully replaced Hey Hey it’s Saturday. They had a series of all sorts of shows but none of them were ever Hey Hey because it was so unique,” he says.
The show’s bizarre mix of personalities, animated characters, seemingly ‘under-produced’ segments and A-list guests made for comfortable, spontaneous live television.
“If you watched Hey Hey it’s Saturday you’d know that whoever was going to be in town would be on it. Especially overseas artists who were in Australia. They made a beeline for Hey Hey because it was the only programme, really, where they could get national exposure for their concert.
“The publicists would say ‘You’ve got to get on Hey Hey it’s Saturday, it’s the only show in town.’ A bit like Rove at the moment. But our demographic was 8 to 80.”
Now after repeated hopes of reviving the show, it will become a reality for two shows, on a Tuesday night*.
“What were they thinking!” he laughs.
Blackman says despite some cynical opinions the team were pushed to reform, he is delighted to be back with the show.
“Every interview I’ve ever done I get asked ‘Is Daryl standing behind you with a gun at your head?’ No! I’m my own man!”
Likening the show to ‘pulling on an old sock’ he does concede to nervous anticipation.
“But I was full of nervous anticipation before every show. If I didn’t get some sort of laugh in the first two or three minutes it was always going to be a shocking show as far as I was concerned.
“So my biggest worry is the first 2 or 3 minutes. After that it will be just coasting, I guess.”
Returning to the show, in its original GTV9 studio, are Daryl Somers, Blackman, Wilbur Wilde, Red Symons, Russell Gilbert, Livinia Nixon, Molly Meldrum (there are more conflicting reports on this), Dickie Knee and Plucka Duck. Even cartoonist Andrew Fyfe, longtime producer Pam Barnes and floor manager ‘Lucky’ Phil Lambert are back.
Blackman expects all his voice characters to make an appearance.
“No doubt Daryl will evoke the memory of The Angel, Mrs Mac, Charlie Who, Alfred Deskmike, Norman Neumann, all of those characters. Daryl used to say I was the man of a thousand voices -but not really. I’ve got about 4 or 5 I do. So it’s a bit of a misnomer really. But I’m sure they’ll all be there.”
So far he has begun promo shoots and photo sessions with some of the old cast. He isn’t too fazed by the fact that he hasn’t had to turn up for many meetings yet.
“That was always the case in the 28 years of the show. I never actually went to any meetings. Because you can’t prepare spontaneity,” he explains.
At one of those shoots he did catch up with Ossie Ostrich, via his handler Ernie Carroll. For the reunion, Ossie is set to make ‘an appearance.’
“Ossie showed up at one of the photographic sessions, and as you know he lives in a case. I said to Ernie ‘Can we have a look at him?’ And there was little Ossie sitting there, with one eye looking up at us, all scrunched up. It was quite emotional actually.
“I said to Ernie, ‘Have you had him in the case all this time?’ and he said ‘Don’t forget I left the show 5 years before it finished.’ So he’s been in the case for 15 years and hasn’t changed a bit.”
Plucka Duck will be played by ‘Sim’ who took over from his original Plucka, Mark McGann. Sim will also double as the ‘Dickie wrangler.’ Audio guru Murray Tregonning will also be replaced by his successor.
“Murray has become an audio mogul. He’s got offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Paris, Rome and Auckland. He’s way too busy to come back to the show. But Lindsay Ray who took over from Murray, the ‘sorcerer’s apprentice,’ I think will hopefully be back doing sound effects and audio.”
Audience favourite Jackie MacDonald, now a mother of two, is yet to say yes.
“Jackie spends most of her life getting up at a sparrow’s fart mucking out stables and floating around horses all over the countryside to gymkhanas and God knows what. But last time I spoke to her it was very much a state of flux. She hasn’t said ‘no,’ so we’re hoping she’ll come on board as well.”
Having run for 28 years, the show accrued not just its legion of fans, but its share of gossip-mongering as well. In particular there have been suggestions that relations behind the scenes were vastly different to those seen on air within its tight ensemble. Blackman was pragmatic when the issue was raised.
“Like any family, and I regard Hey Hey as a family, we had squabbles,” he concedes. “I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t say we didn’t have our fair share of family squabbles. But the minute that red light went on we were all professional enough not to let it get in the way of our performance or let the audience know. But they were just that. They were just squabbles.
“But people try and build it up into something bigger,” he insists. “There are some journalists going around saying we all hated each other, which is not really true. We occasionally had our differences of opinion, which we kept to ourselves. But I don’t think there was ever a time when you read anything adverse about Hey Hey it’s Saturday.”
Except perhaps for the brief, and now infamous era of Denise Drysdale as sidekick?
“Denise was a great performer but there was another agenda there. There was somebody else pulling some strings behind the scenes,” he politely admits.
For a show that ended its run when expenses were cited as being too high, it is somewhat ironic that the cash-strapped Nine Network now turns to the same show as an audience, and hopefully revenue, drawcard. But the team couldn’t be happier, nor the 200,000 Facebook devotees who have rallied for its return.
If they get their way the show could become a permanent feature on Nine’s schedule. For that to happen it will take not one, but two, impressive shows.
“We’re assuming that for Hey Hey it’s not Saturday on Tuesday there will be big curiosity factor tuning in and we better be good. We better be able to deliver the goods that we promised,” says Blackman.
“And then we’ve got to back it up a week later.”
* Updated: Hey Hey It’s Saturday: The Reunion airs live 7:30pm Wednesday September 30 & October 7 on Nine.