I went to Victoria University in the late 1970s and graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Arts (Philosophy). I completed half of a law degree as well.

The picture below of John Clarke, the creator of Fred Dagg, as a student at Victoria University, the haircut and the style of jumper, reminds me of that era.

There is a Fred Dagg clip on-line entitled “More Fred Dagg” set in and around Lambton Quay, Wellington central. I worked in my grandfather’s law office there part-time in the 1970s and know the area well.

Wellington is New Zealand’s capital and where I grew up from age 3 to 16. Then the family moved to Auckland. In 1975 I studied at Otago University and in 1976, 1977 and 1979 at Victoria University.

John Clarke as Fred Dagg was very big and appreciated in New Zealand in the early 1970s. There were still characters around in rural New Zealand like Fred Dagg, and there still are today, but not so many. Cultural change and the Net has changed and “modernised” the world, and remote islands like New Zealand.

In 1950s to 1970s when I grew up, New Zealand seemed quite remote and cut off from the big world. This was before the days of cheap international travel and the Net. Before mobile phones, smart phones and iPads.

In a sense New Zealanders felt proud of Fred Dagg, even though he was a fictional character and even though he was something of a bogan. Bogan is an Australian term for ‘red neck’ or ‘country bumpkin’.

Fred Dagg somehow seemed more genuine than our politicians of the time like ‘Piggy’ Muldoon and Rowland.

And Fred Dagg was at times quite hilarious. Not in the more cultured and subtle style of say Peter Sellers, but to New Zealanders, Fred Dagg was magnificent and he was our own.

Nothing John Clarke did in Australia matched Fred Dagg. I guess John Clarke was ‘over’ Fred Dagg and didn’t want to be type-cast.

Anyway, Fred Dagg is very much a New Zealand 70s thing and a lot of the subtle references are only picked up by New Zealanders who lived through that period. Much of the humour is particularly New Zealand humour, which is different from Australian or American humour.

Australian’s have been exposed for many decades to American humour through sitcoms and American movies, whereas New Zealand in the 1970s was more influenced by British humour. There was a strong antipathy towards America and American movies and TV programs, back in the 1970s, post-Vietnam, and this has probably diminished since then. Although I can’t really comment accurately on this point, since I’ve lived in Australia since 1981, two years after John Clarke arrive here.


John Clarke: How I became a creative person

Friday 15 July 2016
John Clarke in the 1960s

“Comedian John Clarke, the man behind ‘The Games’, ‘Fred Dagg’ and ‘Clarke and Dawe’, looks back on his university days in New Zealand and how different his life has been to that of his parents.

After a pretty bleak and impoverishing secondary schooling, 1967 was the year I went to university.

Our generation had a glorious opportunity in relative terms, and I think we did understand that. I think we relished it.


I’d left school a bit early and I’d been working in a shearing gang for quite a while. It was glorious, it was just fantastic, I loved it, the smell of lanolin. I can’t walk into a wool shed without wanting to peel a couple of old ewes off and poke them down the chute.

But I went to university and I met a lot of very, very smart people my own age who were talented and interested in a huge range of things.

In my fairly limited world the walls came down and the windows opened. That year was the beginning of my interest in my own imagination and the creative capacities of all of us.

John Clarke in the 1970s

I think my parents’ generation were definitely aware that my generation had an opportunity that they had not had. At that age, my parents were living in a depression, which followed a war and preceded another one that they were going to have to go and risk their lives in.

Our generation had a glorious opportunity in relative terms, and I think we did understand that. I think we relished it.

I didn’t think of it as being a great opportunity to become a dentist or any of the things that were on the order board, I didn’t think of it in vocational terms, I just thought of it as an exhilarating and genuinely opening experience.

It was just fantastic fun, the social life was terrifically interesting and the creative life was around the social life. It wasn’t as if there was a venue for creative activity.

I was majoring in English and I didn’t need to write anything that came out of my own head or out of my own imagination.

They didn’t really want to know what I thought about any of the things we were reading, they wanted to know how successfully I could remember whatever [literary critic] F.R. Leavis thought, and I found that limiting. Our minds were on fire at that age.

It’s also the age at which in my parents’ generation, were being sent off to something that might be hideous that would certainly change their lives. It’s that age, rather than the particular place that I was in.

This is an edited excerpt of John Clarke’s interview with Jonathan Green on Sunday Extra.”