Australian Screen

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The Gunston Tapes (1975)

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The Liberal with a Labor face education content clip 1

Original classification rating: G. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

John Gorton had been dropped as prime minister by his own casting vote in 1971. Norman Gunston’s opening question for this interview is whether Gorton was considered by his own party to have been a great bloke or a dill. Gorton shows he’s a good bloke and takes it all in his stride.

Curator’s notes

John Gorton is a good sport for this 'in depth’ interview five years after his term as prime minister. Garry McDonald, the little Aussie bleeder, (a play on the Australian expression 'Aussie battler’) is hilarious as Norman Gunston with his inane grin and sleazy lurex suit. All three series were produced and directed by John Eastway, one of Australia’s top comedy director-producers who later produced Grass Roots for the ABC. Garry McDonald’s comic timing and wonderful adlibs steal the show. The hugely talented Bill Harding was the writer but McDonald always retained the capacity to use scripted moments from a previous interview if things changed and the conversation changed course.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows actor Garry McDonald in his role as inept interviewer Norman Gunston with a guest, former Australian Liberal prime minister John Gorton. It is an excerpt from the television series The Norman Gunston Show, recorded with a studio audience, and includes Gunston welcoming his guest and offering him refreshments before the interview. The set is a satirical imitation of ‘tonight show’ sets of the time. Gunston, in an ill-fitting shiny blue dinner jacket, appears to be ill at ease as he grimaces and grins at the camera. A relaxed Gorton answers his questions.

Educational value points

  • Norman Gunston, a unique Australian television character created by Garry McDonald, evolved into the host of his own ‘tonight show’ following his initial appearance as a hapless television interviewer on the Australian comedy series The Aunty Jack Show in 1973. Gunston, a satirical version of an egotistical but inept talk show host, interviewed numerous, often bemused, celebrities throughout the duration of The Norman Gunston Show (1975–93).
  • In this clip Garry McDonald (1948–) demonstrates his talent as a character actor in his role as Norman Gunston. His comic timing and ability to improvise helped to make the show a success. Although the show was scripted, McDonald would improvise in his role as Gunston, catching normally media-aware subjects off guard. His manner and appearance proclaimed him as a fool, enabling him to ask inane questions without causing offence.
  • Sir John Gorton (1911–2002), war hero and Australia’s nineteenth prime minister, was the guest on this episode of The Norman Gunston Show. His scarred features were the result of an aviation accident during the Second World War. His candour, evident here, may have contributed to his political demise. In March 1971 he cast the deciding vote against himself in a party-room vote of confidence in his leadership, and resigned as prime minister.
  • Gunston’s questions refer to the fact that Gorton’s principal political enemies had appeared to be those on his own side of politics. His progressive views had caused dissension within his own party, the Liberal Party. He was dismissed as defence minister in August 1971 after writing a series of newspaper articles titled ‘I did it my way’, and resigned from the Liberal Party in 1975, the year this interview was filmed.
  • The popularity of The Norman Gunston Show, screened by the ABC and Channel 7 between 1975 and 1993, lay in the appeal of the central character and the range of celebrities he interviewed. Gunston, whose humorous appearance was characterised by a comb-over, ill-fitting suit, shaving cuts and clown-like expressions, interviewed everyone from British prime minister 1979–90, Margaret Thatcher, to film stars, musicians, journalists and sport stars.
  • Gunston was a pioneer of the ‘ambush’ interview and, with an increased budget for the second series, was able to travel to the UK and the USA, where he interviewed international celebrities. Celebrities in those countries were often taken in by the character, with entertaining results. British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (1971–) has revived the technique through his characters Ali G and Borat.
  • The questions Gunston asked were often designed to puncture the inflated egos of those he interviewed or to undercut the reverence with which celebrities and other well-known people are treated by the media. An example of such a question, put to the former prime minister in this interview, is: ‘Who do you stand round with on the lawn at playtime?’
  • Australian actor Garry McDonald first made his name appearing in The Aunty Jack Show, before gaining nationwide fame for his portrayal of Norman Gunston. Since that time he has starred in comedic and serious roles on stage, television and in film including a starring role in the award-winning ABC series Mother and Son (1983–93).

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All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions. ALL rights are reserved.

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When you access ABC materials on australianscreen you agree that:

  1. You may download this clip to assist your information, criticism and review purposes in conjunction with viewing this website only;
  2. Downloading this clip for purposes other than criticism and review is Prohibited;
  3. Downloading for purposes other than non-commercial educational uses is Prohibited;
  4. Downloading this clip in association with any commercial purpose is Prohibited;

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