Graham Kennedy, born 15 February 1934, reigned for many years as Australia’s King of Television. Despite never coming out, Gra Gra’s sexuality was an open secret for much of his career.
Graham Kennedy’s broadcast apprenticeship began while working in a Melbourne radio station record library. Popular radio broadcaster Clifford Whitta often chatted on-air with his panel operators. When both his operators were conscripted into the army after turning 18, Graham Kennedy replaced them.
He became a star of Melbourne radio and then television. But Graham Kennedy was gay, something neither media owners nor viewers were going to accept in the 1950s. His producers arranged for glamourous young starlets to accompany him to public events to protect his image.
Sir Frank Packer, one of the dictatorial media barons that have long blighted Australia’s media landscape, bought Channel 9 in 1960. The homophobic Packer claimed he could pick a homosexual from a mile off and his gaydar settled on Graham Kennedy. But the advertising revenue generated by the gay star protected him from Packer’s bigotry.
Graham Kennedy spoke later about Packer’s suspicion.
“Sir Frank did suspect that I and others were of that persuasion. I mean if everyone in the television industry was fired because of that, there would be few around! I’ve been accused of everything. I’ve been accused of being homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual and worst of all asexual, which means you don’t do anything. That’s cruel.”
1975 saw Graham Kennedy create one of Australian television’s most controversial and iconic moments. During a show that featured skits about a nun and priest having sex and homosexuality, Graham performed his celebrated crow call.
“Faaaark, faaaark, faaaaaa–ark.”
The alleged obscenity made nationwide headlines and the government broadcasting regulator threatened to ban him from television. In the end, they banned the King of Television from live TV, with all his future broadcasts pre-recorded.
A few years later, Graham Kennedy repeated the infamous crow call on Blankety Blanks. Sharing the same format as Snatch Game on RuPaul’s Drag Race — except consistently funny — Blankety Blanks pushed the boundaries of Australian broadcasting standards with unrelenting risque humour.
Yet, it became popular family viewing, broadcast between 7 and 8 pm Monday – Friday.
Graham Kennedy chose the guest celebrities himself with well-known gay personalities Stewart Wagstaff and Barry Creyton as regular panellists.
The show included numerous running gags including a character called Cyril, voiced by Graham Kennedy in a stereotypical gay comedy voice. Perhaps an in-joke. Cyril was Graham’s middle name.
Australia’s most awarded television personality retired from television around 1990. A heavy drinker and smoker all his adult life, suffered health issues in his final years.
Australia farewelled the King of Television in a one-hour funeral service aired simultaneously on both the Seven and Nine networks.
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