Friday, 2 December 2011

TV's original nasty judge - Bernard King

In 1970's Australian Bernard King invented the nasty TV judge. Decades before Red Symons, Piers Morgan and Simon Cowell, Bernard pioneered the acerbic comment, the withering criticism, the derisive stare, and he was better, nastier, funnier, bitchier... than all of them put together.

He was flamboyantly and openly gay, a celebrity chef, and also had a long association with variety entertainment.

Pot of Gold and it's successor, Potluck were a TV talent quests with none of the production values or high ambitions of todays idol making mega-searches. Bernard and 2 others sat behind a plyboard desk and watched whoever turned up perform in a space cleared on the studio floor. There were no auditions, no celebrity mentors, no singing coaches, no backing singers or back-up dancers, no choreographers, stylists or pyrotechnics. Only one person had to believe the contestant was worthy - the contestant!

They sang pop, country, opera and god-awful musical comedy. There were ballet dancers, jazz ballet dancers, disco dancers not to mention untaught and sometimes, untapped tap dancers.

Many of the acts were bad enough to be funny, except for the comedians, who were never funny. Nor were the magicians ever magical.

Bernard was renowned for his bitchy quips and low scores.

"You're giving me 2?" one teenage boy asked incredulously.
"Yes," said Bernard, "2... for your shoes - they're beautifully polished. Did you shine them, or your mum?"
"My mum"
Bernard scowled and scribbled out the 2 on his score card and replaced it with a zero.
"Well, we can't go giving you points your Mum earnt. What a shame I can't mark you on the shoes because I certainly can't give you anything for the singing - I couldn't call you a singer."
The boy was gobsmacked. "You call yourself a judge?"
Bernard retrieved his card and pen. He paused, looked at the boy... and crossed out the zero.
"Unable to take constructive criticism - minus 2"

A Contestant/Victim.

One young man's greatest asset was his astonishing self confidence.

Bernard: Do you have a particular ambition young man?

Contestant: A very big one. I'm going to become a legend.        
Bernard: So how many singing lessons will you be taking?                                        
Contestant: I'm going to be an entertainer. I'm going to make movies.                                                              
Bernard: Are you? And in how many years do you expect to achieve this...                                                         
Contestant: (smiling proudly) I'll be a millionaire by the time I'm 30.
Bernard: Yes....(pauses)....I suppose in this crowded and confused world there's room for yet another dithering, shambling mess...modern entertainment is so perverse. If you find a gimmick, there might be a gimmick you could add to the little you have to offer. Stripping might do it!

 My all time favourite was a lady in her 50's who impersonated Carmen Miranda, the Latino movie star noted for her colourful ruffled dresses and headdresses piled high with feathers, flowers and just about anything else she could balance on her head - bananas, grapes, pineapples, parrots - anything...
Much was made in the introduction of the performer's charity work. She apparently brightened the day of the elderly by performing her impersonation free at retirement villages.

The music started. She flung one arm above her head and another out to the camera, fingers curled like some demented vampiric flamenco dancer and screeched.

"Ay-ye, Ay-ye, Ay-ye, Ay-ye, Ay-ye, Ay-ye like ye very much"
 Her presence established, she stampeded toward the camera.
 " Ay-ye, Ay-ye, Ay-ye, Ay-ye, Ay-ye, Ay-ye think you're grand
You see that when I feel your touch..."

She continued her gallop at the camera until the operator realised she was not going to stop and he and his machine must retreat. The camera lurched backward and she followed. The camera slowed - she did not! The camera took off backward again, this time with a violent wobble, a wobble explained when electric cables came into view on the studio floor. I waited breathlessly for her to wade through the mess of cables in her high heels, but sadly, as suddenly and erratically as she'd advanced, she began dancing backward toward the intended performance space, gesturing impatiently for the camera to follow.

And never for a moment did the screeching falter.
"Ay-ye, Ay-ye, Ay-ye, Ay-ye, Ay-ye, Ay-ye..."
Twice more she advanced on the camera. Each time the camera's retreat became smoother.

The song ended with her inconveniently beyond the bounds of the set but she serenely struck her final pose, teeth and gums bared menacingly at the still intact camera lense, and through it, the home viewers, daring them not to applaud in their living rooms across the length and breadth of the country.
The camera swung to the judging panel. Bernard picked up his pen.

Bernard: So you donate your time to perform in old folks homes?
Contestant: "Yes" She was very pleased with the recognition of her own benevolence.
Bernard: "Do you have any shows coming up?"
Contestant: "Yes - quite a few"
Bernard: " Can you tell me the dates and where you'll be doing this?"
She proudly rattled off a list of times and places and Bernard carefully wrote them down on his pad. Once the list was complete Bernard read from it, repeating the details of her upcoming performances.

Finally, his victim blissfully oblivious to the coming storm, Bernard attacked.

"I want everyone who is watching to note these times and places and check if you have loved ones in those places.
If you do... get them out now. What a terrible way to treat our elderly Australians. People who have worked hard, and some even fought, to make this country great - only to have their retirement ruined by a visit from this terrible woman.
Can you imagine being stuck there in a wheelchair, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and suddenly out of nowhere, shattering the peace and tranquility of your twilight years, you are attacked by this..."


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