Gunston was a satirical TV character performed by
Australian actor Garry McDonald.
Norman Gunston was originally conceived by comedy
writer Wendy Skelcher and first appeared as a minor
character in the second series of the cult Australian
TV comedy series The Aunty Jack Show in 1973, in which
he was portrayed as a gormless TV reporter from the
NSW regional city of Wollongong. The Gunston character
made enough of an impression for him to be revived
in a subsequent comedy mini-series made by the Aunty
Jack team, Wollongong The Brave (1974), in which he
starred in a satirical mock documentary Norman Gunston:
The Golden Weeks. His segments as Norman in What's
On In Wollongong became one of the most popular parts
of the Aunty Jack Show, and Norman appeared on the
Aunty Jack Sings Wollongong album along with McDonald's
other character, Kid Eager.
In his later and most famous incarnation, Gunston
had evolved to become the unlikely host of his own
national TV variety show, The Norman Gunston Show,
which premiered with a live broadcast on Australian
Broadcasting Corporation on May 18, 1975. Dubbed "the
little Aussie bleeder", (a play on the term "Aussie
battler"), he satirised parochial Australian
culture, media "personalities", and egocentric
talk show hosts.
a faltering start, the Norman Gunston show rapidly
gained a huge national audience and the series became
the pre-eminent Australian TV comedy program of its
day, with McDonald winning a Gold Logie (the Australian
equivalent of an Emmy Award) and scoring several pop
hits. He is, notably, the only Logie recipient who
has received the award in the name of his character,
rather than in his own name.
to McDonald, the Gunston character and his show were
initially devised as a parody of an (unintentionally
bad) late-night Sydney TV variety show of the early
1970s hosted by expatriate American club entertainer
club performers and TV interviewers of the time, Gunston
dressed in an ill-fitting blue lurex tuxedo jacket
(wrongly buttoned); the fly on his trousers was habitually
left undone, with the shirt-tail poking out of the
zip. Gunston also adopted an "up and over"
Comb over hairstyle to partially cover his bald head.
He also had small pieces of tissue paper applied to
his pasty-pale white face to cover supposed shaving
cuts. This comic device led to one hilarious exchange
with visiting American actress Sally Struthers - noting
Norman's apparent shaving cuts, she kindly suggested
that perhaps Gunston should try an electric razor;
the nonplussed Norman replied "Uh, I do"
- at which point Struthers collapsed in a fit of laughter.
performed subversive TV interviews with many celebrities
including Paul McCartney where he said to Linda McCartney:
'That's funny, you don't look Japanese.' (referencing
Yoko Ono), Mick Jagger, Warren Beatty, Charlton
Heston, and Muhammad Ali. Perhaps Norman's most well
known interview was with Keith Moon at Charlton stadium
in 1976. Moon famously ended his brief encounter with
Norman by tipping Vodka over his head.
"ambush" interview technique pioneered by
McDonald - founded on McDonald's considerable improvisational
skills and precise comic timing wherein the actor
creates a fully-rounded and often highly plausible
character who is pretending to be stupid to throw
their otherwise media-savvy subjects off guard. This
technique has recently been revived with considerable
success (with no apparent credit to Garry McDonald)
by the British comic Sasha Baron Cohen with his characters
Ali G and Borat.
sheer good luck, Gunston was immortalised in Australian
political history when, on the morning of 11 November
1975, McDonald and his film crew - who happened to
be in Canberra at the time - found out that the Labor
government led by Gough Whitlam had just been dismissed
by the Governor-General Sir John Kerr. On hearing
the news, McDonald and his crew raced to Parliament
House, where they were able to film McDonald (as Gunston)
briefly addressing the assembled crowd, only moments
before Whitlam and the Governor-General's press secretary
appeared for the reading of the now-famous proclamation
announcing Whitlam's dismissal.
1976, ABC television aired a third season of The Norman
Gunston Show. By this stage, increased production
budgets afforded Gunston more opportunities for overseas
interviews, including Malcolm Muggeridge, Michael
Caine, John Sturges, Glenda Jackson, John Stonehouse,
and Rudolph Nureyev. One memorable encounter with
Frank Zappa ended with Zappa and Norman duetting respectively
on guitar and harmonica in a spontaneous blues jam
(McDonald is in fact a proficient harmonica player).
As the jam concluded, McDonald threw in a witty musical
quote from the well-known ABC news theme, an action
which also gave a clever nod to Zappa's well-known
proclivity for inserting musical quotes such as TV
themes into his work.
November 1976, a specially prepared 45 minute UK Gunston
TV special was screened on BBC2 TV. Some of Gunston's
guests on the show included Diana Dors and Tony Greig.
the third and final ABC TV season finished in late
1976, Gunston was popular enough to approach commercial
TV networks. In particular, the Seven Network showed
interest in producing another Norman Gunston series.
Because of McDonald's other commitments, the series
didn't commence production until early 1978.
1977, Norman Gunston was included in the ABC TV series,
The Garry McDonald Show. Other characters were also
played by McDonald, including Harry Butler ala (Harry
Butler in the wild), and Mo McCackie.
Channel 7 years
In 1978, the Australian Seven Network aired another
Norman Gunston series, which continued over an 18
month period till 1979. Ten 60 minute episodes were
produced by John Eastway and ATN7. Highlights of this
series were also screened on UK Channel 4 TV from
November to December, 1982.
February and March 1981, Channel 7 aired a program
called Gunston's Australia, which intended to show
the Gunston character approaching the end of his shelf
life. Wearing a safari jacket and shorts, Gunston
travelled around outback Australia, interfering and
adventuring in high and low places in his usual cack-handed
manner. This series was later screened from February
to March 1983 on UK Channel 4 TV.
1985, a 2-hour video was released titled, The Gunston
Tapes. This was a compilation of interviews and comic
sketches from the first, second and third 1975-1976
ABC TV series. McDonald also temporarily revived the
Gunston character for the purpose of narrating the
February and March 1993, McDonald revived the Gunston
character for the channel 7 network. However, by the
time the series premiered he was suffering from severe
depression, hence the series was prematurely cut short.
After leaving the series, Garry McDonald suffered
a much-publicized nervous breakdown. A 3-set DVD compilation
of the 1993 series was subsequently released in 2003.
the late 1990s, Foxtel cable TV screened all 24 episodes
from the first, second, and third 1975-1976 ABC Norman
Gunston Show. This was the first time the series had
been aired since the late 1970s.
single record releases sold sufficiently well to enter
the Australian top 40 charts. Parody tributes included
Punk rock (I might be a Punk but I love ya baby),
Sherbet (Howzat), ABBA (Salute to ABBA), KISS (KISS
Army), Boz Scaggs (Nylon Degrees), and Billy Ray Cyrus
(Achy Breaky Heart).
1976, Gunston released an album titled The Popular
Ballad Animal, which covered both contemporary and
classic era compositions, several of which Norman
has performed on his show, including his theme song,
"I Who Have Nothing". In particular, notable
tracks include Gunston's bizarre but inspired interpretations
of Liza Minnelli's "Liza With a Z", David
Gates' "If", Tom Jones' "Delilah",
Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns",
"Jailhouse Rock", "Piano Man",
"Vesti La Giubba", "A little love and
understanding", "Daddy what if?", and
the Judy Garland classic "Over the Rainbow".
1978, Gunston released another covers album titled
Nylon Degrees. His next album was released in 1984
with the title of Join The Dots, which included out-takes
and previously unreleased rare recordings.
Mother and Son years
McDonald's partnership with writer Geoffrey Atherden
continued very successfully in the 1980s when Atherden
wrote the award-winning sitcom Mother and Son. It
starred veteran actress Ruth Cracknell as Maggie Beare,
a dotty pensioner being cared for by her long-suffering
younger son Arthur (McDonald). Loosely based on the
cult Carl Reiner comedy feature Where's Poppa?, the
series was very successful in Australia, was repeated
many times, and has become one of the best-loved Australian
TV comedies of its time. It also enabled McDonald
to escape, at least to some extent, from being typecast
Norman Gunston is the only fictional person to
win the prestigious Gold Logie. (Credit:
Man Australia does not represent Garry