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.

17 Responses

  1. If anything this trip down memory lane will emphasize the lack of live, variety television on the small screen. Commercial television nowadays is interested in producing pseudo reality garbage or another panel talking boring fest masquerading as entertainment. I’m so thankful I lived in an era watching the likes of Hey Hey with its international guests, Molly introducing us to new music, Red Faces and well just silly nonsense which put a smile on my face.

  2. Brilliant TV, I grew up with this show….never offensive always funny, the show heightened that Aussies could take the p**s out of each other, and laugh about it. This was classic Aussie TV, unfortunately some sensitive people took the show personally and forgot, that it was a comedy show to laugh along with

  3. I was watching anyway but knowing Jacki is zooming in is the icing on the cake.
    David I wish you had a section where we could guess the ratings for premier episodes, events and where a series will level out at. I’m always curious to hear what you and other people think a show will rate.
    My guess is (cities not regional) 1.1 million.
    And I hope then we get a relaunch of Hey Hey in 2022.

  4. Looking forward to seeing this. Bit sad to hear about Ossie’s helper, Ernie though.

    I’m wondering about those like Dickie Knee too as I think his helper John Blackman has voice issues. If it this was something like Muppets\Sesame Street they’d get soundalikes but not so sure with this especially considering they’re not currently constant characters.

    Maybe only Plucka will be the only character able to appear in person due to the fact he doesn’t speak.

      1. It will be interesting to see John Blackman. Last time I saw him I think he needed an operation and couldn’t speak as he used to but I don’t know if he recovered as I haven’t seen new things from him since.

  5. I’m really looking forward to this. I know people like to bag Daryl, but he really was a great host and it was a wonderful show (except for the last few years when it became a little formulaic and self-satisfied).

  6. and they wonder why free to air tv is dead. this doesn’t belong on tv, wouldn’t waste my time on this racist rubbish. the way they treated Kamahl amongst others is something that I, along with just about everyone I know, will never forget.

      1. Absolutely, so sick of the constant negativity about the show, it was the time, if you look hard enough at anything in the past you’ll find a lot you don’t like

        Good chance for the haters to relax and maybe read a book instead

  7. Cannot wait…

    Totally agree with what was mentioned about lack of interest about history of TV…only ones that sorta do it is late night filler clip shows is Nine where they do clips of interviews from Don Lane, Midday..etc

    Wish the networks would do more throwback history..

    Yes I know that Nine and Seven have put old eps of shows up on their streaming platforms but there is a lot that could go up.

    Interesting that it goes for 1hr and 51mins as per Foxtel IQ Tv Guide…strange time allocation

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