John Clarke (satirist)

John Morrison Clarke (29 July 1948 – 9 April 2017) was a New Zealand-born comedian, writer, and satirist. He was born in Palmerston North, New Zealand, and lived in Australia from the late 1970s. He was a highly regarded actor and writer whose work appeared on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in both radio and television and also in print.

John Clarke
John Morrison Clarke

(1948-07-29)29 July 1948
Palmerston North, New Zealand
Died9 April 2017(2017-04-09) (aged 68)
Grampians, Victoria, Australia
  • Satirist
  • writer
  • actor
  • comedian

Early life and career

Clarke was born on 29 July 1948 in Palmerston North, New Zealand.[1] He first became known during the mid to late 1970s for portraying a laconic farmer called Fred Dagg on stage, film and television. Gumboot and singlet-clad, Dagg had seven sons all named "Trev".[2] Clarke also recorded a series of records and cassettes and published several books as Dagg. Over forty years after its release, the first Fred Dagg album, Fred Dagg's Greatest Hits (1976), remains one of New Zealand's biggest selling records. Some of his earliest appearances as Fred Dagg in the Australian media were on the ABC's The Science Show and Dagg later made regular radio appearances on 2JJ until the station moved to FM and was renamed 2JJJ in 1980. An LP of some 2JJ sketches, The Fred Dagg Tapes, was released in 1979.[3]

In 1984 Clarke was part of the Australian ABC TV series The Gillies Report, starring Max Gillies. Among the highlights of this satire were Clarke's straight-faced reports on the fictional sport of "farnarkeling" and the exploits of Australia's farnarkeling champion, Dave Sorenson.[4]


In 1972, he made his first film appearance in The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, a film about an expatriate Australian in London.[5] Even as an extra, the film's makers, Bruce Beresford and Barry Humphries instantly recognised his talent; "he was terribly funny and terribly real".[6] In 1974 he wrote and appeared (as Ken) in Buck House a New Zealand comedy TV series set in a student flat.[3]

In 1982, he was nominated for an AFI award for co-writing the acclaimed Paul Cox film Lonely Hearts.[7] He also co-wrote the mini-series Anzacs[8] and provided the voice of Wal Footrot in the feature-length animated film, Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale (1986), based on the comic strips by Murray Ball.[9] Towards the end of the 1980s, he featured in a number of other films, and began to be known for his political satire.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Clarke featured in several films, including Never Say Die, alongside New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison, Death in Brunswick, alongside another New Zealand actor, Sam Neill, and Blood Oath (released in some countries as Prisoners of the Sun).[10]

Mock interviews

In 1989, along with collaborator Bryan Dawe, Clarke introduced weekly satirical mock interviews to television, and these short pieces became a regular and popular segment of the Nine Network current affairs programme A Current Affair.[1]

Each segment addressed a topical issue, with Dawe acting as the interviewer, while Clarke assumed the persona of a politician or other figure, who typically tries to avoid directly answering any of Dawe's questions. Unusually for the genre, Clarke never attempted to directly mimic the voice, manner or appearance of his subject. This feature set the segments apart from the typical approach to this form of satire, including Clarke's earlier series The Gillies Report (1985–86).[5]

The pair continued to do mock interviews for A Current Affair until 1997, satirising a range of figures including Paul Keating, Alexander Downer, George Bush, and Alan Bond. After a break, the pair reappeared on ABC TV's The 7.30 Report in a similar format.[1] In 2013 the mock interviews became an eponymous program, Clarke and Dawe, which screened on ABC TV. The interviews were broadcast weekly on ABCTV and were made available online on both the ABC and on YouTube and for retail sale.[11][12] This format of mock interviews was continued by John Bird and John Fortune on the British TV show Bremner, Bird and Fortune from 1999 onwards.

The interviews have been compiled into books and CD releases. Great Interviews of the 20th Century won the ARIA Award for Best Australian Comedy Album in 1991.[13] The Annual Report won the same award in 1992 and Secret Men's Business was nominated in 1997.[14][15]

Later career

Clarke had a commercial success in 1998, when he co-wrote (with Ross Stevenson) and starred (with Dawe and Gina Riley) in The Games, a mockumentary about the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG).[5] In 2001, Billy Connolly starred in a film based on Clarke's screenplay The Man Who Sued God (re-written by Don Watson).[16] In 2002 Clarke appeared in a villainous role in the movie Crackerjack[17] and as a comedy club owner in the award-winning telemovie Roy Hollsdotter Live.[18] After a quiet period, he re-emerged in 2004, adapting Melbourne author Shane Maloney's Murray Whelan series for film. This resulted in two films, Stiff and The Brush-Off, both starring David Wenham and Mick Molloy. Clarke directed Stiff himself and made a cameo appearance in The Brush-Off, which was directed by his old friend Sam Neill.[19]

Clarke was the author of several books, notably two mock compilations of Australian poetry, and The Tournament, a book describing a fictional tennis tournament involving many philosophical and literary figures of the twentieth century.[20]

During the 1980s, Clarke was an influential Board member of Film Victoria.[21]

In 2004 he was the recipient of the Byron Kennedy Award, "for his works of sustained excellence and for the inspiration he presents to all of us in his roles as poet, playwright, actor, author, director and producer."[22]

Clarke was inducted into the Logies Hall of Fame in 2008.[23] The Logie was presented to him by long-time collaborator and friend Bryan Dawe.[24] At the ARIA Music Awards of 2017 his posthumous album, Clarke's Classics, won a trophy for Best Comedy Release in October of that year.[25]

Death and legacy

Clarke died of a heart attack on a bush track leading up Mount Abrupt [26] in the Grampians National Park in the Australian state of Victoria.[27][28][29] Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten, and New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English paid tribute to his role as a political satirist, Turnbull saying: "His satire served a noble purpose. It spoke truth to power. It made our democracy richer and stronger. It kept politicians on their toes."[27] Clarke's work was presented on ABC radio and television over a period of nearly 30 years. In tribute to him and his work, the ABC repeated many pieces after his death, including his guest presentation for ABC Classic FM from October 2016 and the three-part documentary Sporting Nation, repeated on ABC television. ABC television also screened a program containing tributes from Dawe and other friends, politicians, colleagues and comedians entitled John Clarke: Thanks for your Time.[30] Many episodes of Clarke & Dawe were re-released online and interviews repeated on ABC Radio.[12][31][32][33] Comedian and fellow New Zealander Tony Martin delivered a tribute to Clarke at the 2017 Logie Awards.[34]

Clarke and Dagg are the subject of an academic study and journal. [35]



  • Fred Dagg's Year (1975)[36]
  • The Thoughts of chairman Fred (1976)[36]
  • The Fred Dagg Careers Advisory Bureau (1978)[41]
  • The Fred Dagg Scripts (1981)[42]
  • Daggshead Revisited (1982)[43]
  • The Complete Book of Australian Verse (1989)[41]
  • A Complete Dagg (1989)[43]
  • Great Interviews of the Twentieth Century (1990)[43]
  • A Royal Commission into the Australian Economy (1991) (with Ross Stevenson)[43]
  • More Great Interviews (1992). St Leonards, N.S.W., Allen and Unwin. ISBN 1-86373-268-3
  • The Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse (1994) ISBN 9781921922152
  • A Dagg at My Table (1996)[44]
  • Still the Two (1997)[45]
  • The Games (1999) (with Ross Stevenson)[3]
  • The Games II: Sharing the Blame (2000) (with Ross Stevenson) ISBN 9780733309595
  • The Tournament (2002) ISBN 9781921776786
  • The Howard Miracle (2003) ISBN 9781877008856
  • The 7.56 report (2006) ISBN 9781921776816
  • The Catastrophe Continues: Selected Interviews (2008) ISBN 9781921351938


  • Fred Dagg's Greatest Hits (1975)
  • Fred Dagg Live (1976)
  • The Fred Dagg Tapes (1979)
  • Various - The Gillies Report: The Songs (1985) - vocals and lyrics for various songs
  • John Clarke & Bryan Dawe - Great Interviews Of The Twentieth Century (1990)
  • John Clarke & Bryan Dawe - The Annual Report (1991)
  • John Clarke & Bryan Dawe - Secret Men's Business (1996)
  • The Even More Complete Book Of Australian Verse (2013)


  1. Boland, Michaela (11 April 2017). "John Clarke: from Fred Dagg to mentor of comedians". The Australian. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  2. Clarke, John (1976). The Thoughts of Chairman Fred. Wellington: Fourth Estate Books. p. 26.
  3. "John Clarke, the man behind New Zealand cultural icon Fred Dagg, has died". 11 April 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  4. Clarke, John (2012). A Dagg at My Table: Selected Writings. Text Publishing. pp. 69–74. ISBN 1921776773.
  5. Meade, Amanda (10 April 2017). "John Clarke, satirist and comedian, dies aged 68". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  6. Moran, Rob; Carmody, Broede; Quinn, Karl (10 April 2017). "John Clarke's 'incalculable gift' for sarcasm deserved 'Nobel Prize', say friends, comedians". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  7. "Renowned satirist John Clarke dead at 68". 10 April 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  8. Edwards, Paul M. (2016). World War I on Film: English Language Releases through 2014. McFarland. p. 37. ISBN 9781476620633.
  9. Martin, Helen; Edwards, Sam (1997). New Zealand Film, 1912–1996. Oxford University Press. p. 126. ISBN 9780195583366.
  10. Moran, Albert; Vieth, Errol (2009). The A to Z of Australian and New Zealand Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. 304. ISBN 9780810863477.
  11. "Clarke & Dawe (Home page)". ABCNews.
  12. "John Clarke dies: Your favourite Clarke and Dawe sketches". ABCNews. 11 April 2017. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  13. Aria Awards 1991 Archived 8 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 23 July 2009.
  14. Aria Awards 1992 Archived 26 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 23 July 2009.
  15. Aria Awards 1997 Archived 22 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 23 July 2009.
  16. "Beloved Kiwi comedian John Clarke dies". 10 April 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  17. Stratton, David (10 April 2017). "Review: 'Crackerjack'". Variety. Retrieved 30 October 2002.
  18. Kuipers, Richard (28 October 2003). "Review: 'Roy Hollsdotter Live'". Variety. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  19. Craven, Peter (19 June 2004). "Murray Whelan Series: articles". The Age. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  20. Taylor, DJ (28 June 2003). "Review: The Tournament by John Clarke". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  21. "Vale John Clarke". Film Victoria. 10 April 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  22. "The Byron Kennedy Award" (PDF). Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  23. TV Week Logies Awards 2008 Archived 20 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 23 July 2009.
  24. Thomsen, Simon (10 April 2017). "John Clarke, one of Australia's funniest men, has died". Business Insider Australia. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  25. "2017 ARIA Awards Nominated Artists Revealed". Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). 10 October 2017. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  27. "Satirist John Clarke, of Clarke and Dawe fame, dies aged 68". ABC News. 10 April 2017.
  28. Staff writers (10 April 2017). "Renowned satirist John Clarke dead at 68". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  29. Meade, Amanda (10 April 2017). "John Clarke, satirist and comedian, dies aged 68". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  30. "John Clarke: Thanks for your time". ABCTV.
  31. Donovan, Samantha (10 April 2017). "A tribute to the much loved satirist John Clarke".
  32. Ferguson, Zoe (10 April 2017). "Ross Stevenson, co-writer on The Games, reflects on John Clarke's legacy". The World Today.
  33. "Overnights" (15 April 2017). "A tribute to John Clarke".
  35. "Late comedian John Clarke and his muchloved alter-ego Fred Dagg subject of major academic study". Stuff (Fairfax). 18 August 2019.
  36. Robinson, Roger; Wattie, Nelson, eds. (1998). The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature. Oxford University Press. p. 107. ISBN 9780195583489.
  37. "Fred Dagg creator John Clarke dies at 68". NZ Herald. 10 April 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  38. Moran, Albert; Keating, Chris (2009). The A to Z of Australian Radio and Television. Scarecrow Press. p. 90. ISBN 9780810870222.
  39. Kuipers, Richard (28 October 2003). "Review: 'Roy Hollsdotter Live'". Variety. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  40. Buckmaster, Luke (18 October 2015). "A Month of Sundays review – schleppy tale of Adelaide real-estate". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  41. Donnelly, Marea (10 April 2017). "Much-loved satirist John Clarke was a Dagg with sharp wit". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  42. Australian Book Review, Issues 38-47. National Book Council (Australia). 1982. p. 31.
  43. Who's Who of Australian Writers. D.W. Thorpe. 1991. p. 97. ISBN 9780909532819.
  44. Clarke, John (1998), A Dagg at my table : selected writings, Text Publishing, ISBN 978-1-875847-67-9
  45. Pearce, Suzannah (2007). Who's who in Australia. Herald and Weekly Times. p. 457.
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