Director Sunny Amey and playwright Roger Hall remember the great John Clarke (1948 - 2017).

There have been so many tributes paid to John Clarke, both for his personal qualities and his memorable professional work. He is truly an icon of comedy.

He cut, or may be sharpened, his teeth at Downstage in the early seventies in the brilliant late night reviews, Knickers, Knackers, and Knockers. I'm not sure he was was around for Knipples in 1973. His acme was certainly Knackers with the talented John Banas, Paul Holmes, Ross Jolly and Ginette McDonald. These reviews were the most exciting and original theatre I saw when I returned from Britain to run Downstage, then at the Star Boating Shed. Queues for admission at 10pm, stretched to the St Johns Ambulance building, and were equally long when we moved to the Hannah Playhouse.

John was also a good straight actor. He played the title role in The Dragon, a play for children; and a banished lord in the Forest of Arden in the opening production of As You Like It with equal aplomb. All a spring board to Fred Dagg and his remarkable career.

John was the son of Neva Clarke McKenna, a woman of great character, who served overseas, in Italy, during World War 2. She is featured in Gaylene Preston's film and book War Stories. Although much of John's life and career was spent in Australia, he will always be a much loved and respected New Zealander.

Sunny Amey [Originally published in The Dominion Post 13 April 2017]


I was hugely involved with a show called One in Five at Victoria University (produced it, performed in it, wrote a lot of it along with Dave Smith and John himself). It was a last-minute substitute for a cancelled Capping Show and the traditional large cast was replaced with just five:  Cathy Downes, Helene Wong, Dave Smith, me, and … John Clarke.

To say it was a hit is an understatement – a rare show where everything and everyone clicked. Dave Smith impersonated the entire National Band by himself; I impersonated Holyoake for about the hundredth time; Cathy and Helene sang Stand By Your Man (as The Two Easy Pieces), and were school girls on crossing patrol. John, as John Rowles, flung his head back once too often in mid-song and toppled backwards to the ground. But – and here is the point for this tribute – in this show Fred Dagg seems to have begun kicking in the womb as revealed in two sketches. John wrote and performed a long solo phone conversation talking to a Trev about a party he and his mates had had and in the process wrecked whichever house it was … It  brought the house down. The Dagg voice was there, and almost all of the persona.

I wrote a sketch about a farmer who phones Town and Around about finding a couple of dead sheep in his paddock. Could they send a camera team? (Later, it is revealed that he’d shot the sheep himself so he could meet Relda Familton.) John strode on stage in black singlet, shorts, hat, and gumboots, carrying a blunderbuss. He didn’t have to say a word. People were laughing fit to bust. Dagg was on his way.

Roger Hall on Fred Dagg's early days at Victoria University