1 9 5 7 – 1 9 7 0 (Australia)
1 9 9 6 – 1 9 9 8 (Australia)
Australian variety show In Melbourne Tonight debuted on GTV9 in 1957 and quickly became a way of life in Melbourne.
A kind of Antipodean Johnny Carson, Graham Kennedy hosted the five-night-a-week show (earning $10 a night), even hosting the show from his sickbed when he was ill. IMT followed the popular American format with guests, comedians, dancers and banter between Kennedy and his straight-man sidekick, Bert Newton.
Production on the show was rough, the show was unscripted, and the guest acts would never set the London Palladium on fire. The show was live, and the combination of an inexperienced crew and lack of rehearsals created every element of chaos imaginable.
In the early days, sets fell down on performers (on a number of occasions for the popular girl next door, Elaine McKenna), dogs wandered in off the streets of Richmond and joined in with the ballet, fog machines went berserk, elephants disgraced themselves, and Rover – Graham’s “wonder dog” – established the record for the longest pee on television.
But IMT was local, and there was a kind of unsophisticated charm about it – and people watched it in droves.
These were the days of on-air advertising spots where the host of the programme would read out a promotional blurb or actually demonstrate a product live on air. Most simply got on with it. But Graham Kennedy decided the advertorials were something that should get the Kennedy treatment.
His twist on the spots became legendary. In a live advert for Pal dog food, he brought his own dog, Rover, onto the set to eat the food. Rover ignored the food before heading off around the studio, finishing up by urinating on one of the studio cameras.
Kennedy also seemed to have a particular aversion to Raoul Merton shoes. One time, he ended up in a fight with Newton, the pair flinging shoes at each other. In 1960, he attacked Merton again, proclaiming, “If it weren’t for Raoul Merton shoes, my feet would not be in the condition they are now. Truly, it’s only because of Raoul Merton that I have ingrown toenails, for instance”.
Perhaps the oddest one was for Colvan Potato Chips. Looking at the packet, he appeared to take great umbrage to how empty it appeared and commented, “Well, it’s got nearly a quarter of a potato in it . . . and they’ve got the hide to charge twenty cents. Now that’s terrible”.
By 1965 In Melbourne Tonight had become the longest-running Australian TV show, airing in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, and on country channels as Kevin Sanders Presents the Best of IMT.
Graham Kennedy signed off from In Melbourne Tonight on 23 December 1969 after 12 years.
On his final show, he was given a crown symbolising his reign as king of Australian television (pictured at left).
Kennedy said at the time; “I was 23 when I started this thing and I’ll be 36 in February. That is a lot of one’s life in the entertainment business, especially in the one medium.”
The show continued the following year with four hosts, each on a different night of the week: Ugly Dave Gray (Mondays), Stuart Wagstaff (Tuesdays), Bert Newton (Wednesdays) and Jimmy Hannan (Thursdays).
The show was gradually scaled back from four nights a week to three, then two, until the end came in 1970.
IMT won 43 Logies, including four Gold Logies for Graham Kennedy.
In 1996, the format was revived under the title IMT, hosted by former Ol’ 55 singer Frankie J Holden (pictured) with Denise Drysdale in the all-important barrel girl role, and screened as a Monday-night variety show. The show ran until 27 November 1998.
A diabetic and a heavy smoker and drinker, Graham Kennedy’s health declined during the 1990s. In June 2002, he was found unconscious at his home, suffering a broken leg and skull with suspected brain damage.
He was moved into the Kenilworth Nursing Home at Bowral (south of Sydney), where he died on 25 May 2005 from complications arising from pneumonia. He was 71.
Ugly Dave Gray
Frankie J Holden