At 4 pm on the afternoon of February 25 1971, Aussie kids settled in front of the tele to watch the John-Michael Howson scripted Adventure Island. Howson also co-starred as the dim-witted Clown alongside Brian Crossley as Mrs Flower Potts.
Scroll down to watch an episode of Adventure Island.
It was pre-historic Drag Queen Storytime without the modern-day hysteria about the Rainbow Cult shoving their agenda down people’s throats and indoctrinating children. Not that there was much of a rainbow. Australian television remained black and white until 1975. Imported American TV shows like Batman boasted in their credits ‘Filmed in Glorious Technicolor’. But here in Australia, we watched in 15 glorious shades of grey.
God, we had it tough back then. Four channels in the capital cities and, out in the sticks where I lived, just two. And no remote controls. Changing channels meant getting out of your chair, walking to the TV and turning a dial. Kids of today don’t know how easy they have it. We suffered. God, we suffered.
Television channels also shut for the night around 11 pm in those days. Usually following a five-minute religious program hosted by alternating men — never women — of the cloth. Some of those sermonisers went onto later fame as prison inmates.
John-Michael Howson returned home to Australia in the mid-sixties following a successful career reporting on fashion and writing comedy scripts in London. Following Adventure Island, he became a familiar presence on Australian television screens as the showbiz reporter for the Mike Walsh Show. Although not ‘out’, he was notoriously camp. Camp showbusiness personalities contributed to raising LGBTIQ+ visibility in those days despite some people’s modern-day complaints about stereotyping. Camp guys and butch dykes helped pave the path to acceptance.
But some, in those innocent times, had no idea. The lighting person for a drag show I worked in was a former member of a straight cross-dresser’s club called the Seahorse Association. Narelle, as he was known, was driven out of the club by members who disapproved of any fraternisation with homosexuals, transexuals, bisexuals, drag queens or any similarly disreputable characters.
Narelle was something of an innocent. When he remarked at rehearsals one day that John-Michael Howson was surely gay, we mischievous drag queens immediately denied it.
“He’s married with seven children,” we insisted.
“Wow,” he exclaimed in wonderment, “You’d never think it.”
“Don’t judge, Narelle,” we chastised.
He cottoned on a couple of years later. Occasionally, under the influence of alcohol, we would advise him that Mr and Mrs Howson were again proud parents. But apparently, three pregnancies in two years was stretching it.
But back to Adventure Island. The show was high-camp Panto, set in the Kingdom of Diddley-Dum-Diddley. Mrs Flower Potts owned the local general store. I can’t remember now for the life of me if we realised as kids she was a man in a frock.
In September 1972, the ABC announced the axing of the show despite ever-increasing audiences. Questions were asked in parliament. Mothers wrote angry letters to the papers asking how they would explain the demise of the characters to their 4-year-olds.
Although the national broadcaster justified replacing the local programming with the American Sesame Street as cost-saving, some suspected otherwise. The McMahon Liberal government was headed for an almost inevitable electoral defeat. The government was tired and the Labor Party’s groundbreaking It’s Time campaign captured the nation’s imagination. The producer of Adventure Island also played a role in the Labor advertising campaign. The axing of the show was retribution, some claimed. Political skullduggery.
Despite protests, the show was consigned to history. But not before one newspaper correspondent raised the spectre of the dreaded gay agenda. Mrs Colleen Combe wrote to the Canberra Times hinting at the pernicious influence of Mrs Flower Potts on young minds.
“We of the working class have unsophisticated views of social roles and we do not like to have our children entertained by drag queens.”