No more Blinky Bill: outcast texts and the fall of innocuous entertainers

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blinkybill

Robert Hughes is going to jail for some time, the same week Rolf Harris is on trial. It is a season of revealing the evil in our most innocuous entertainers. It’s not Nick Cave or Marilyn Manson or some other transgressive entertainer who turned out to be paedophiles, but the star of Hey Dad!, one of Australia’s most sentimental and bland sitcoms.

Before he was the star of Hey Dad!, Robert Hughes was the ranger in The New Adventures of Blinky Bill (1984-1987), the live-action puppet version which, despite the name, came before the more well-known animated version. I loved that show in early primary school; it was repeated each year, it seemed, and I didn’t tire of it. Robert Hughes was a kind, paternal presence on the show, at least in my memory. Appropriately, in one episode, Mrs Magpie has to reassess the character of her late husband, when it’s revealed he was a thief.
The show, will, of course, never be re-broadcast now, nor released on DVD. It will moulder in the archives, along with Hey Dad!, consigned to an unspoken category of texts, which if not censored are now effectively banned, outcast texts.
The ABC came up with an innovative (if slightly Stalinist) solution to this problem when The Collectors presenter Andy Muirhead was convicted of child pornography; they edited him out of the show, recycling segments which did not feature him with new introductions.
Of course, in this digital world, it is hard for anything to be completely off-bounds, and you can find VHS recordings of Hey Dad! and Blinky Bill on YouTube. You can watch them again, trying to take yourself back to the 1980s. Just like you can still listen to “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport”. But you must do so with new knowledge of things behind the scenes. It’s hard enough to recapture what was special about most popular entertainment of the past; it will become impossible when you know the once beloved face is a predator.
What will happen to all the traces of Rolf Harris? His painting of the queen? His painting of the now-demolished nineteenth century Bassendean homestead for which the Perth suburb is named, built by my ancestor Peter Broun, and displayed with pride by the council? At our recent library booksale, there Rolf was, peeking out on the cover of all sorts of mediocre gift-type books of past decades. Perhaps the sorters will start consigning him straight to the bin. 
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An appendix: it was a nasty coincidence that the week the television star was arrested was the week Robert Hughes, the critic, died. I wonder if, in the fog of the future, they will be confused very often in the minds of future generations? It would be unfair to the late Hughes if they were. 

5 thoughts on “No more Blinky Bill: outcast texts and the fall of innocuous entertainers

  1. Tim

    Hi Nathan!

    Always enjoy your blog.

    How do you see this played out in libraries? Will the ‘Learn to Draw with Rolf’ books start to disappear from shelves?

    I (respectfully) imagine Robert Hughes the critic getting grumpy in his grave about being associated at all with ‘Hey Dad’. He would been more of a ‘Comedy Company’ man ;-)

  2. Thanks for reading Tim. I think you’re right about Hughes the critic. The few remaining copies of Draw With Rolf will probably be weeded in the coming months, is my guess. Presumably the memorabilia in the Bassendean local studies collection will remain, but it will be looked at in a different light.

  3. LOL I think the banality of their work will ease it off the shelves with few regrets. It would be different if there were any element of artistic genius to be considered, That was the problem with the Henson controversy, though I am not suggesting that there was any criminality in his case. (See http://anzlitlovers.com/2008/11/20/the-henson-case-by-david-marr/)

    I remember feeling rather saddened by the revelations about the clowns Zig and Zag. (I can’t remember which one it was, which is unfair to the one who wasn’t involved, I know. The innocent tainted forever by the guilty). But the betrayal of my nostalgic childhood memories are nothing, compared to the betrayal of trust suffered by the victims. Nevertheless, my empathy for them should not obscure the issues that underlie the kind of voluntary censorship you describe.

    The issue you raise is important: attempts to banish Hitler, Osama Bin Laden et al – because they personify evil on an unimaginable scale – are motivated by fear rather than vengeance. Knowing that racism and religious fundamentalism still lurk is used as justification for suppressing anything that might foster renewed adulation, pilgrimages, revival movements etc. For the same reason, murderers whose motivation was fame, (e.g. the one who killed John Lennon, the mass murdered at Port Arthur) have generally been denied it by the media. There seems to be a ‘moral good’ that underlies the suppression. But will airbrushing *famous* predators away do anything to protect children? What is the the purpose of banishing these texts, other than a sense of revulsion towards their maker?

    What would we do if we discovered that Leonardo da Vinci was a sexual predator?

  4. Thanks, Lisa, for such a thoughtful response. You put your finger on one of my hesitations in writing about this – not obscuring the suffering of victims by complaining about the corruption of my childhood nostalgia. You’re right about the banality of these texts and that making them easier to let go of. Da Vinci or some other great artist would present a new dilemma and challenge!

    • I’m glad you did write about it; it’s an important issue to drag out into the public domain. I’d like someone like Peter Singer to tackle the philosophical issues that underlie these outcast texts, so that we as a body politic are quite clear about what we want to do about them and why we want to do it, unclouded by emotion.

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