John Doyle (comedian)
Doyle was born in Lithgow, New South Wales in 1953 into a music-loving, Catholic household with three sisters and a brother. His mother was a business woman and father a railway fettler. He was an altar boy for a time but lost interest in Catholicism with the introduction of contemporary changes in the Mass among other things. Doyle graduated from the then Newcastle Teacher's College in 1973 with a Diploma of Teaching (Secondary English/History). He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Newcastle (NSW) in 1978, before joining the Hunter Valley Theatre Company. He continued to perform while teaching at Glendale High School near Newcastle. He resigned from teaching after seven years and moved to Sydney, where he worked with the Sydney Theatre Company.
Doyle commenced his radio career in 1986, when he and Greig Pickhaver created the characters of "Rampaging" Roy Slaven and HG Nelson. Loosely based on classic TV sporting commentators such as Rex Mossop, Doyle created Slaven as a larger-than-life persona, an utterly opinionated, impossibly talented "sporting everyman" who has represented Australia in every field, won innumerable Melbourne Cups on his ageless mount Rooting King, is on intimate terms with every sporting celebrity (including many top racehorses), as well as film and music stars, politicians and other leaders of society around the world, yet who retains the "common touch" and stands for Australian manhood, fairness, and honesty. Slaven is the name of a well known family from Doyle's home town, Lithgow.
Roy Slaven first appeared on Triple J's breakfast show every Friday during 1985. It was at this time that Doyle met Flinders University arts graduate Greig Pickhaver, while both actors were working as minor characters on an SBS TV series. Pickhaver had similar comedic skills and interests, and had also developed a sporting commentator character called "HG Nelson" while appearing on the Melbourne radio comedy program Punter To Punter in the early '80s. An amalgam of just about every Aussie sports commentator and race caller who ever lived, HG, like Roy, has seen and done it all and is utterly passionate about truth and honesty in sport.
The team of "Roy and HG" was born when This Sporting Life premiered on Triple J in early 1986. The four-hour (later three-hour) comedy show, improvised live, soon became a cult hit. Over that time Doyle and Pickhaver perfected a unique style that satirises the world of sport and the athletes, the entertainment scene and celebrity in general, in a manner that is simultaneously ruthless and affectionate. As well as their weekly radio show, the duo also made satirical radio "calls" of major annual sporting events including the rugby league State Of Origin series, the League and AFL Grand Finals (known as the Festivals of the Boot, Parts I and II) and the Melbourne Cup, as well as occasional outside broadcasts of TSL performed before live audiences.
For several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Doyle hosted the two-hour mid-afternoon shift on ABC radio station 2BL in Sydney, earning a loyal following among listeners and demonstrating that he was not only extremely knowledgeable on a huge range of subjects, but was also a superb interviewer. He took over many existing program segments and made them entirely his own, and his regular conversations with guests such as cooking expert Barbara Lowery, Sydney Opera House media liaison officer "Commodore" David Brown (whom he nicknamed "The Salty Sea Dog"), gardening expert Angus Stewart (nicknamed "The Doctor Of The Dirt"), pop music expert and "Sydney Morning Herald" journalist Bruce Elder (nicknamed "The Professor of Pop") and Sydney Morning Herald TV Guide editor Tony Squires, became regular highlights of the show.
Like Graham Kennedy, Doyle specialised in subtly (or blatantly) undercutting the "straight" presentation of such stock segments, and he often veered off on tangents that he found funny or diverting, or introduced ideas which he thought might be likely to get a "rise" from his guest. One memorable thread was his long-running obsession with the source of a supposed "mystery noise" that was reputedly disturbing patrons in the Opera House Concert Hall, and he regularly badgered long-suffering Opera House publicist David Brown for an explanation. The inadequacy of the women's toilets were also a frequent subject of discussion, or more correctly, interrogation, and the "whats on at the Opera House" segments stretched from around 10 minutes to a whole half hour, through most of which David Brown's characteristic laugh was a highlight.
Although his "Slavenesque" sense of humour often showed through on the 2BL shift, Doyle and Pickhaver were assiduous about keeping their real-life identities and the Roy and HG characters separate (they were rarely photographed) and although Pickhaver often appeared on The Afternoon Programme as HG Nelson, Doyle never performed overtly as Roy, or referred to him in any way. During this period Doyle kept up a hectic work schedule, presenting the Afternoon Programme two hours a day, Monday to Friday, as well as his regular four-hour stint on Saturdays on This Sporting Life and also, at one stage, the first weekly half-hour TV version of the show.
In the early 1990s, "Roy and HG" successfully transferred to ABC-TV; the first version, also called This Sporting Life, was moderately successful, but suffered from being essentially a TV "talking head" version of the radio show. They reinvented the concept by marrying it with a broad parody-cum-tribute of Australian variety entertainment. The result, Club Buggery ran for two series (one as The Channel Nine Show); it became a cult hit, and the duo won a Logie Award.
After moving to the commercial Seven Network in the late 1990s, they scored record TV ratings and gained international notoriety during the Sydney 2000 Olympics with their hit late-night Olympic commentary show The Dream. The show became so popular that the Australian Olympic Committee included the duo in the Closing Ceremony.
They have also appeared on the Seven Network with The Monday Dump and The Nation Dumps and have repeated their success with The Dream in two subsequent series commentating on the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The two have also appeared together on the television shows The Channel Nine Show and Planet Norwich.
Over the last decade Doyle has also developed a very successful parallel career as a writer of serious television drama. His first major effort as a TV dramatist was the highly acclaimed ABC-TV miniseries Changi, an adventurous exploration of the experiences of a group of young Australian soldiers interned in Changi POW camp during World War II.
The series was partly inspired by Hogan's Heroes and was originally conceived as a situation comedy; using the dramatic technique of magic realism, Doyle developed the script into a deeply moving yet often humorous examination of the experiences of young men at war and the effects it has on their later lives.
In 2003, he completed the drama series Marking Time, which examines contemporary racial and cultural tensions in Australian society, seen through the prism of an Australian country town and focusing on the relationship between two teenagers — an Anglo Celtic Australian boy named Hal and an Afghan refugee Muslim girl named Randa.
In 2006, Doyle appeared in "Two Men In A Tinnie", a documentary of his own making involving a trip down the Murray-Darling river system of Australia with his longtime friend, biologist Dr Tim Flannery. The program focuses on the degradation of the once mighty rivers and gives many different insights as to the causes. John and Tim reprised their collaboration in 2008 with "Two in the Top End" where they explored northern Australia and subsequently in 2012 with "Two on the Great Divide" where they traveled along the 3500km long Great Dividing Range.
In 2008, his play "Pig Iron People" was produced by Sydney Theatre Company at the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre.
- Nelson, H. G.; Slaven, Roy (1989). Pants off, this sporting life (paperback). Crows Nest, NSW: ABC Enterprises. p. 143. ISBN 0-642-12888-X.
- Slaven, Roy (1990). This is the south coast news and I'm Paul Murphy. Leak, Bill (illus). Crows Nest, NSW: ABC Enterprises.
- Nankervis, Brian; Slaven, R., Nelson, H. G. (1994). Boys and balls. St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. p. 257. ISBN 1-86373-738-3.
- Nelson, H. G.; Slaven, Roy; Mombassa, Reg (1996). Petrol, bait, ammo & ice. Pan Macmillan. p. 220.
- Doyle, John (2001). Changi. Sydney: ABC Books. p. 289. ISBN 0-7333-1036-2.
- Doyle, John; Flannery, Tim (2006). "Two men in a tinnie: with John Doyle and Tim Flannery". [videorecording] : DVD. Film Finance Corporation Australia Limited and Cordell Jigsaw Productions Pty Ltd. Retrieved 2009-04-09.
- Doyle, John (2008). The pig iron people. Strawberry Hills, NSW: Currency Press. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-86819-842-2.
Doyle's outstanding contribution to Australia's cultural scene, through theatre, radio and television was recognised with the granting of an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Newcastle in 2001. He delivered the 2005 Andrew Olle Media Lecture.
Doyle became a Member of the Order of Australia on 16 June 2010 for service to the media as a presenter and entertainer, and as a supporter of a range of charitable organisations, particularly the United Nations Children's Fund in Australia.
- Biographical cuttings on John Doyle, broadcaster and entertainer. National Library of Australia.
- Margaret Throsby interview with John Doyle, ABC Classical Radio, broadcast 17 November 2008
- Doyle, John (9 July 2006) (transcript). The Songlines Conversations. Interview with Gregg Borschmann. Big Ideas. ABC Radio National. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/bigideas/stories/2006/1681388.htm. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
- "John Patrick Doyle (search)". It's an Honour. Commonwealth of Australia. 16 June 2010. Retrieved 12 December 2010.