Graham Kennedy


Graham Kennedy : biography

15 February 1934 – 25 May 2005

In Melbourne Tonight (IMT)

Bednall and Spencer defied both the GTV-9 boardroom and the first sponsor (Philips) by choosing Kennedy, who began on a salary of 30 pounds for five one-hour evening shows per week to be called In Melbourne Tonight (or IMT) which began on 6 May 1957. Thus the 23-year old Kennedy began a career of which he later said that he was "terrified for forty years".Stone (2000), p.93 "’I was terrified for forty years is what I can tell you about my career’, he says now, confirming the stories told of him having to steel his nerves before almost every performance. ‘Well, out of the thousands of television shows and radio shows, once or twice I was quite comfortable, but mostly I was frightened.’" The show’s theme song, "Gee, But You’re Swell", was written by Abel Baer and Thomas Tobias in 1936.

Kennedy was not GTV-9’s first choice – they had planned to use either 3UZ personality John McMahon or 3DB’s Dick Cranbourne. The programme’s name had been intended to be ‘The Late Show’, but rival station HSV-7 beat them to that title by one week. The program became extremely popular, although Kennedy had his detractors. Kennedy was quoted as saying:

Many women write to tell me that although their husbands may not like me, they do. It appears from the mail that the women have the say on what the household is watching. And we do remember that it is the women who do the buying of products that we advertise. Bearing that in mind we try and design our commercials for them.Blundell (2003), p. 216

IMT was devised as a copy of the American ‘Tonight Show’ format, with the host presiding over sketches, introducing star artists and reading advertisements live. His colleague Bert Newton records in his autobiography:

(Norman) Spencer was the mastermind of IMT; don’t let anyone forget that. Nothing happened on IMT that Norm did not approve personally […] Norman Spencer chose Graham Kennedy as compère; Norm kept his eye on the show from day to day; he pushed the buttons from the control room which put the TV shots into viewers’ homes at night; he added the talent around Graham and he set up the organisation.

Spencer wielded other influence too. According to Hugh Stuckey, a writer on the show, the producer placed Kennedy with a series of attractive young women to displace rumours of Kennedy’s homosexuality.

This was an era in which homosexuality was, well, horrifying. So every now and again Kennedy had to be seen about in case any viewers thought him the other persuasion. […] It was cleverly manipulated – the station had the media at its disposal. It was all to give Graham a good old hetero image though he always seemed very unsexual.Blundell (2003), p. 161

By July 1959 the program was still popular in Melbourne. Recurring comedy players Joff Ellen and Rosie Sturgess became regulars. Singer Toni Lamond joined the cast. Attempts were made at this time to launch Kennedy as a national personality. Special Friday night editions of IMT were produced under the title of The Graham Kennedy Show and recorded on videotape which had just come into use. After being transmitted live in Melbourne taped copies of the show would be shipped to Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney for transmission there on subsequent evenings.Blundell (2003), p. 185-6 Producer Spencer observed there was critical and popular resistance to Kennedy in Sydney. Queensland too had shown suspicion to imports from down south trumpeted to Queenslanders as the best in Australia while Queensland itself had apparently been left out of this judgement.Blundell (2003), p. 186-7

The Graham Kennedy Show began in February 1960 but was not popular in Sydney. The program was judged stilted compared to IMT itself; Kennedy seemed much more subdued than usual, was tense, and the comedy was not working. Critics in Sydney and Queensland disliked key components of the show.Blundell (2003), p. 188-90 Judged as a flop, The Graham Kennedy Show in Sydney was dropped by ATN7 after 13 weeks. The program however was immediately picked up by TCN9 – its general manager Ken G. Hall saw potential in the program. After continued bad reviews its popularity increased in Sydney. By July 1960 it had reached its twenty-fifth episode and had the highest ratings in Australia.Blundell (2003), p. 1892-3