Barry McKenzie speaks! BARRY CROCKER interviewed
[Phone interview mid-2003, previously unpublished]
Andrew:What would you prefer, Mister Crocker or Barry?
Barry! Oh shit no, Mister Crocker sounds like my father – and he’s dead! Scary.
So do you know the reason why the second film has been not on video before?
Well basically it was shot on widescreen. And video doesn’t do letterboxing very good, but DVD does, you see. So they’ve been waiting – well, I think they LOST it, they forgot they had it! And then the company in Melbourne dug it out, and we’re away. And it’s got some marvellous other footage on it too, because it’s got all the early interviews from that time with Humphries and myself. I did a narration on one of the tracks and Humphries has done one on another track. So I think all the bits and pieces are just as much fun as the actual movie!
Fantastic! So have you had to do a few interviews this time round?
A couple so far, but I think it’s going to build more when it actually hits the stores and everything. Because I’m pushing my ‘Banjo’ at the time, so I’ve got lots of things… my book is coming out in October. So lots of things, I’m talking about everything.
So your book, your autobiography?
Yeah, coming out on Pan MacMillan in October. So it’s all go.
Did you think back in the Seventies that the films would last as long as they have?
I didn’t really think about it. I was glad to have made them, because making films, you know there’s some sort of celluloid footprint left in the annals of Australian cinema. There’s a bit like that. But I had no idea they’d still be – as I say in my book, there’s something magic about this, the Barry McKenzie thing. Because of all the thousands of movies that have been made since that one – that was the first Australian picture to make a million dollars in Australia, and the first Australian picture in 35 years to make a profit! But t the time, I didn’t think of this, but there’s something magic, some magic ingredient, because here we are, thirty years later, people are still talking about us, still want to talk about it. They had a big full page in the Telegraph here today, about how the thirty year anniversary was celebrated in England. And you think of all the other movies, far superior to Barry McKenzie, but we clicked somewhere. Each generation finds it, and continues the legend, I suppose. So there’s something about it that works. Don’t ask me what it is, because if I knew I’d do it again!
It must have been the time, it must have been that magical period…
Oh yeah, it certainly was. But the factors are still going today, so that some of the magic is… I guess it’s part of the Gough Whitlam thing too, you know. The change in Australia where we kind of found our voice a bit. So I suppose that all goes together.
And it’s quite possibly the first movie that actually pokes fun at the national identity.
In a sense yeah, it holds the mirror up, you know. We got a lot of flack at the time. But as both Humphries and me said, “It’s a comedy. It’s supposed to be funny, we’re not being serious.” It’s like saying all Englishmen were Alf Garnett, you know. But it was terrific and I still enjoy it just as much. The fact young kids come up to me today and call me Bazza – it’s good!
How did you get cast for the role?
Oh, I think Humphries – in his drinking days – saw me doing comedy on Sydney television, 1966. And in 1967 we had a lunch, and he suggested that he’d like me to play that part of the character he’d drawn in the last couple of years with Nicholas Garland in London for ‘Private Eye’. And so I said yeah, but then of course nothing happened for six years. Humphries had to clean himself up and get sober, and then Bruce Beresford came on board and Philip Adams and it all came to fruition. But it wasn’t easy, because there were no Australian films being made - it just wasn’t on. The ones that were made were soon relegated to the dusty shelves of the archives, you know. So we made a lot of noise with Bazza. And it went on.
Had you seen the comic strip at the time?
No! No, it was all new to me, because it was banned in Australia.
Oh yeah, it was ‘too rude’, the comic strip was banned here. So it was only in London. Of course, not only the Australians loved it, but all the English people did. That’s why the film was even more successful in England than Australia. They’d all been following Bazza for two years in the comic strip!
So I suppose ex-patriate Australians would have…
But not only that, all the English loved him too. Because he was a stereotype and they could send him up and criticise him and all that.
But it pokes more fun, I think, at the English. And then in the sequel – oh God – at just about everyone else.
Oh yeah, the Communists and all that…
It’s just an absolute free for all.
I don’t know how much you remember about the second one, it’s politically incorrect, but it’s so innocent that…
Yeah, well, referring to Chinese people as the Pekineses…
Yeah – we attacked the frogs – the French – the English and the Communists, right-wing poofters… ALL of them, we had a go at everyone. But as I said, it’s so innocent really. And we hired it out – there’s a guy, hired it out from a similar magazine to ‘Private Eye’ in Sydney here. He hired it, we hired the Chauvel Theatre for one evening. And absolutely packed out. It was all to do with his magazine – packed out, we had all celebrities and things come along there. I hadn’t heard laughs like that – people were just roaring! And I thought, “Shit, it’s got legs this old bugger.” Then the Melbourne company found it, and it’s coming out this month.
Really, just about every line in that film’s a gem.
And it’s really hard for a sequel to come close to the original, but…
What happened in Australia at the time was, because we’d been such a success, everyone started investing in Australian films. And of course, all the press and everything got on to these new productions, which were very classy. Like Picnic At Hanging Rock, etcetara. And so they said, “Wow, we’ve had enough of all that Alvin Purple and Bazza, let’s get on to some real serious filmmaking now.” And so we were neglected a bit. We could have had it come out six months after the first one, it would have been – but coming out a year later was just that little bridge too late, you know? But anyway, I think it’s going to have another successful run this time round.
In the early Seventies, there was very much that cultural cringe.
I guess you would have experienced that first hand.
Yep. I was one of those Pommies over there in the sixties, that would travel around with his duffel coat and desert boots and did all that. Hung around Earls Court and you know, I was there, I used to sing in the Overseas Visitors Club and I stayed in, my digs were in a place called Kangaroo House, you know.
Yeah! It’s wonderful isn’t it, but it’s true.
So you spent a few years preparing for the role!
Yeah! I mean, I was there in the Sixties. And I arrived in ’64, I was there for a year, and did all that stuff, with the Beatles… so I was ready for it. But I did have the desert boots, and I did have the duffel coat. With the wooden toggles and all that.
How did the Poms treat you, as a bit of a curiosity?
Well, I think… yes, I think they just, they didn’t take any notice of you at all really! It was only after ‘Bazza’ came out that there was a bit of interest in Australians in a sense. The only Australian they’d been interested in was Donald Bradman or someone like that! There weren’t any – I think people might have known that Dick Bentley was an Australian, but they looked on him as an Englishman. There wasn’t a great deal of impact from Australians. I mean, there were a lot of Australians there, but they became English.
The Seekers and people like that?
Well, no. The Seekers were all right, they were Australian – they came later.
But they appeared very English themselves.
Yes, they were in the mould of the English. But no, later on we stirred up a whole possum’s nest, you see. But initially – listen, when we made the first picture, we wanted Australian extras. So we got all the Australian actors in, and they all had English accents! Totally hopeless for us! You couldn’t say [thick Ozzie accent] “shove a prawn on the barbie,” because the bloke’d say [posh Pommie accent] “oh, would you shove a prawn on the barbie?” I’d say, “No, no, do it Australian, can you do it Australian?” “Oh yes, I come from Sydney.” They’d all had to learn how to be English, you see, so they were hopeless. So we just had to go out and get real Australian backpackers or whatever they were then, and they came in and [REALLY thick Aussie accent] “spoke like Ozztraylians.” And one of those guys was John Clarke! Who came along for the free beer. And we thought he was very funny, naturally. He wasn’t in show business then. And both Humphries and myself encouraged him to go on with it, to write some more lines and be funny. You probably wouldn’t notice him in the first picture, because he had a Bazza hat on, and a big big Viva Zapata moustache! But he had several lines in that crowd, and he sounded Australian. And so that was where that went.
Not bad for a Kiwi!
Yeah! And he went back and created Fred Dagg. And the rest as they say is history!
I guess Beresford was very shrewd, I think, in putting that film together. Because, apart from filling it with such amazing comedic talent like Spike Milligan and Peter Cook, it really looks like he wrung some amazing production values out of what I guess would have been a very small budget.
Yep. Oh it was minute – it wouldn’t even buy the lunches today on a picture. Two hundred and forty thousand dollars! But look at the people we had working on it – we had Don McAlpine as cinematographer. Academy Award winner now, made about fifty big pictures. Gail Tattersall was the assistant cameraman, there was Jane Scott, who produced Shine, she was associate producer, there was John Scott, who’s been editor on big blockbusters… and so the line goes down. There was Richard Brendan, who became a producer. All these incredible technical people as well, all starting off. So we all grew together. And a lot of good things came out of those two pictures.
Just having someone like Peter Cook in there – well, I suppose he WAS ‘Private Eye’!
And Humphries got him in there. But he was drinking badly in those days, and we could only use him in the mornings. Because the delirium tremors would set in after lunch. And it was a bit sad. I was a big fan of Peter’s. And I never really got to know him, or speak to him, because I think it was quite an ask for him just to get through the lines, which would seem to be difficult for him. I know that Barry was talking to him a lot. I think that probably – I mentioned this in my book – where I thought they were just being pals, I got a feeling that Barry might have been trying to talk him into joining Alcoholics Anonymous. Because Barry had been down that road and survived. But I think – well, Peter never did, and by the time he was 58 he was dead.
Well, it’s quite a shock that he lasted as long as he did.
Yeah. But it was a sad thing. And I never really got to know him, like I got to know Spike. Spike was a huge hero of mine, but we could talk. I could talk with Spike and hang out with him. And we became good mates. So that was a bit sad as far as Peter went. But they were all good people. Dick Bentley was lovely, made great mates with Dick, and he was in the second film as well. It was a lovely time, you know.
As you said before, the second film didn’t do as well as the first.
No, it didn’t. It did well enough, but it wasn’t the big success, or didn’t make as much noise, as the first one did. Because that was quite shocking – to everyone really! The first film, the critics hated it. There wasn’t one good review. They said it’s an 8mm mismash, it’s the unfunniest picture ever made, the worst film ever to have graced the screens of Australian cinema… oh, they spewed. And the public said, up you, and were lining up around the block. It played like - which is so much better than today’s films – I mean, we played like seven and eight months in Sydney and Melbourne, and came back for re-runs of it. I mean, it was enormous! Now, I want to see a film, if I don’t go in the first two weeks, its gone before I know it. So what the critics hated, the public loved.
And Phillip Adams managed to piece the budget together, didn’t he?
Yeah, he got it all together. He had a few mates in the Australian Film Institute. That was the first film they financed, you see. And they didn’t know what they were financing, really. I think when Barry Humphries got on the plane, one of the executives came up to him and said, “Now I hope there’s no language in it, or any colloquialisms.” And Barry just looked at him like, “What?! Yeah, of course, no mate, trust us!” It’s all in my book, when they came over to check on us. Because someone said, “I don’t think they’re making the film you think they’re making!” And they came over, and Phillip Adams kept them out of our way. And they never saw anything. They were there for about ten days I think, and did a lot of shopping at Harrod’s, got drunk a lot, and came home and said yes. And I think they were more shocked than anyone else when the film was a success. Because everyone said, “What a marvelous thought! How did you crack onto that! We would never have thought…” Cos all the people they tried to get investment from, all read it – I got a lovely letter from Reg Golsworthy, who said it was impossible and this film would never make it, and it was hopeless, don’t even try. And also the other lovely line that Phillip Adams told me when he took it around to Roadshow – “Would you distribute it?” And they said, they had a look at it, and they said, “Do you know our advice to you?” And he said, “What?” And they said, “Burn it!” And so none of the majors would touch it. It was only through Phillip noticing one of the independents in Melbourne had been running Ryan’s Daughter for about six months to three people a session or something, because they couldn’t get product. He went in there and did a deal, and of course, as they said, the rest is history, once again.
Wow. I suppose that would have been just before Alvin Purple hit it really big.
Oh yeah, we were before Alvin. Alvin came after us. I think they saw that, they were already in the throes of writing it when they heard about how ours was going to be. So Alvin made a lot of noise too, you see. But I think that didn’t help the second picture for Bazza, too, because a coupe of Alvins came out, they made them very quickly and got them out, did well with them. You can make all sorts of reasons, but the second picture – Australian movies today would like to do as well as that one did! But however, it wasn’t as big as the first one. So most people sort of forgot it. And then the fact that it was never seen on the video format. And there you have it.
I thought a very strange appearance in the second film was Fiona Richmond.
Did you know who Fiona Richmond was at the time?
Oh, of course. She was the girlfriend of Paul Raymond, I think he’s the wealthiest man in England still, you know. Owned half of Soho. I’d worked for him, in cabaret in the sixties. So we all knew each other and everything. I’ve got a lovely picture of me and Fiona Richmond, sitting on her car. She had a yellow E-type Jag. And the number plate was ‘FU2’ (laughs). And about two years ago – there was a little piece in the paper, which I kept – that the licence plate had been sold for three hundred thousand pounds. She’s no longer with Paul Raymond. But oh yeah, she was in it. And Little Nell of course was in it – Little Nell, whose father was Alexander the journalist, what’s his first name – can’t think of it. Anyway. There’s all sorts of people in it, if you look. And Clive James of course!
I know! He’s great in it too.
I didn’t know who the hell he was at the time. He just had a notebook and he was writing everything all the time. And of course what he was writing was his hit books! I just thought he was another yobbo, one of Humphries’s yobbo mates! Always unshaven, always smelly and drinking beer all the time. I didn’t really take much notice of him at all.
Now he’s the quintessential Australian ex-pat abroad.
That’s it, yeah.
Any fond memories of the shoot on the second one?
Oh, the whole lot! We went to Paris for two weeks, and how can you not enjoy being in Paris? I think I put on about seven or eight pounds, I remember, at the time.
It must have been just a non-stop party.
It was! I mean, apart from the shooting, we’d shoot in the day. Humphries was in a good mood and we’d go out to naughty nightclubs at night, and we’d eat in great restaurants and have a marvellous time! And then shooting around Paris – it was a ball. I had a lovely time. And lots of fun things happened. Which I’m not going to tell you, because they’re all in my book! BUY THE BOOK! Yes, tell them all, buy the book for more stories!
And how was Gough talked into making an appearance?!
Well, Gough – I’d met him in 1971, before he came into power. And his wife Margaret was a huge fan of my television show, which was called ‘Sound of Music’ in those days. It was a music show. So that’s how I met him, and then of course he was a mate of Phillip Adams and Humphries, and I think that between the three of us, we all said, “It would be lovely to have you in the picture.” And of course, he knew the stuff of legends! And I think that scene where we all come out to meet him has been shown almost as much as the one where he says, “Long may the Queen” or – you know, that speech. So you now – he was the first Australian Prime Minister to appear in a feature film.
And the fact that he was the Prime Minister at the time... even more unreal!
Yes, oh yeah. And of course that’s when she became Dame. “Arise, DAME Edna!” (laughs)
I never thought about that! Oh my God!
So that was when he was made a Dame…when SHE was made a Dame, I should say.
By Australian royalty!
How did you prepare for the role of Bazza? Other than spending a lot of time in Earls Court?
Well, it was just innate in me. I came from working class people, and I knew Bazzas all my life. Working where I worked, apart from eventually getting into acting and singing and all that, I had worked on the wharf, and I shovelled cement...and I knew that guy. I just sort of, in my head I just became seventeen again, I just became him. It wasn’t a big task for me really. I didn't ‘angst’ over anything, I just put my mind back into those days, and became part of those guys.
Because he was a true innocent.
Oh sure. And a nice bloke really. Always stood up for his mates, and even tried to take his little sheila back, off the ‘naughty’ stage. All that stuff.
So I guess that’s how you could get away with saying the politically incorrect things that you did.
Oh sure. I think that was done with such... Bob Ellis who was at that screening, said, “It’s politically incorrect and absolutely marvellous, because it’s done with such an innocent tongue in cheek. He defies anyone to be offended by it.
I’m sure there was a long period, over the last thirty years, that you probably couldn't get away with -
Oh sure! I think of late it’s been a bit stupid, you know. But I think now people are beginning to wake up to it. This is why I think the timing could be right for this, you know. There might be an outcry – mind you, I hope there is! Cos then it makes press, and makes people go out and see what the noise is about.
And it slaps people around the face a bit, and makes them realise that you can actually have humour that isn’t so sanitised.