Daryl: “I couldn’t have had a better mentor”
As Hey Hey marks its 50th Anniversary, Daryl Somers reflects on its origins and the man who gave him a TV career.
EXCLUSIVE: It’s easy to think of Hey Hey It’s Saturday as the madcap variety show with a buoyant host, feathered sidekick, international celebrities and amateur talent acts.
Who could forget an out-of-control ducksuit, a heckling head-on-stick or a barrelful of frozen chickens?
For a generation of Australians, it was a Saturday night ritual, catching the show while dressing up for a big night out at Chasers or the local Blue Light Disco.
And before that it was a kid’s Saturday morning show of cartoons and competitions, but with Daryl Somers and Ernie Carroll at the helm it detoured into improvised chaos, breaking the ‘fourth wall,’ turning its crew into reluctant stars, making segments out of nothing and becoming appointment television.
In its primetime glory Hey Hey was also the first Australian show to be invited to broadcast from the Warner Bros lot in Hollywood. There were shows from Disney World in Florida and it opened Movie World on the Gold Coast. The Americans couldn’t believe 2 hours of Live TV was done without a script, decades before ‘Unscripted TV’ became a genre.
This Sunday on the retrospective Hey Hey It’s 50 Years, Daryl Somers will recall the show’s origins.
“I do pay my dues to Ernie Carroll. I couldn’t have had a better mentor for all the tea in China. He was wonderful and nurtured my career. I also give credit to Jim McKay Sr., who was the program manager at Channel Nine for many years. He was the man that started Hey Hey,” he tells TV Tonight.
“I’ve never really before gotten into the history of how we started and I thought, ‘After 50 years, I should cover that.’
“Some people might be interested in it. I don’t know. But we’ll find out.”
The 50 years special, which Somers notes was first raised with Nine in 2020, will oddly screen on Seven due to Somers’ association with Dancing with the Stars.
Filmed during COVID conditions at NEP Studios South Melbourne, it includes guest appearances from Wilbur Wilde, John Blackman and ‘poet laureate Raymond J. Bartholomew’ (aka Brian Nankervis).
There are also video messages from numerous Hey Hey regulars.
“There’s Molly, there’s Red, I was hoping to have Russell (Gilbert) but I don’t think he was quite up to it. I’ll try and catch up with him when I come back. But I put a tribute in there with Russell and some of the funny sketches that he has done.
“We are only scratching the surface”
“We have messages from artists over the years that have been on the show. We are only scratching the surface of the shows over the 30 years, but it will provide lots of memories for people who go way back with the show, and those that were more recent.”
There’s also a ‘zoom’ chat with much-loved longtime co-host, Jacki MacDonald.
“She couldn’t fly down, naturally. But it was so lovely to talk to ‘Jac’. We still talk reasonably regularly. 15 seconds in, we’re laughing hysterically because she says the most wonderful things -whether she means to come out with them or not, half the time. It’s just hysterical. We continue our friendship for all these years, and it’s really, really lovely.
“So many famous people we just couldn’t fit into the show”
“There’s large snippets, a couple of numbers, footage and flashes… there’s a shot of Kamahl but that’s all we can do -there’s so many famous people we just couldn’t fit into the show.
“I said to Seven, ‘If you wanted a series we could provide it, because I’ve left so much on the cutting room floor, it’s ridiculous!'”
Ossie Ostrich, created by the great Ernie Carroll, will also be seen in retrospective clips, but Somers remains close to his mentor.
“Ernie is in a retirement village now. It was difficult to see him because of the COVID stuff, but I saw him on May 26 on his 92nd birthday. He was with his partner Miffy who used to do commercials on Graham’s IMT.
“He’s fading gracefully”
“We went to lunch with them, with Ernie’s daughter and son at Mt. Eliza pub. It was joyous and sad at the same time. He’s still got the where-with-all, but he’s fading gracefully. I’m going to ring the retirement village to make sure that they’re watching on Sunday night.”
Hey Hey it’s Saturday ran from 1971 – 1999 (with time off for good behaviour in 1978) and returned in 2010 following two reunion shows, one of which attracted controversy for a ‘blackface’ skit for which Somers would later apologise. Like other comedy shows of its era, not all of Hey Hey has aged well, but there are 3 decades of material to cram into a 90 minute special, edited largely by Ian Carmichael.
Somers has also spent much of the past decade digitising analogue shows for a subscription-based heyhey.tv streaming site he is relaunching.
“We’re going to provide around 800 digitised Hey Hey episodes that people will be able to relive. They go behind a paywall to see these shows in full, and there will be free stuff there as well.”
Now aged 70, Somers laments the lack of interest in television history, but is grateful to Seven for the primetime celebration.
“Free to Air I’ve found weren’t that interested in history”
“Free to Air I’ve found weren’t that interested in history. When Hey Hey finished at the end of 99, Peter McGauran who was Federal Arts Minister asked me if I would go on to the Advisory Board of Screen Sound, which was our National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra,” he recalls.
“I said, ‘I don’t think I’m a boardroom sort of person’. But he said ‘I think you’d come up with different ideas, making people more aware of the archives.’
“It took me three and a half years to get my head around the Charter.”
Hey Hey It’s 50 Years airs 7pm Sunday on Seven.