10 Apr 2017

NZ satirist John Clarke has died, aged 68

7:06 pm on 10 April 2017

Well-known New Zealand satirist, comedian and writer John Clarke has died, aged 68.

Clarke was bushwalking in Victoria over the weekend when he died.

Clarke was a man of diverse talents - a comedian, actor and writer of television, film and stage musicals.

For thousands of New Zealanders, he was, and will always be, the typical Kiwi, Fred Dagg.

Born in Palmerston North, he was educated in Wellington. He began his comic career at Victoria University in the late 1960s with a talented group including Sam Neill, Paul Holmes and Ginette McDonald.

Alter ego Fred Dagg made his first appearance on New Zealand television in 1973 and quickly captured the public imagination.

Wearing a black singlet, shorts and gumboots, and with six sons all called Trev, Fred Dagg became a cultural icon, and phrases like "get in behind" and "that'll be the phone" entered the language.

The Gumboot Song was a huge hit and became an unofficial national anthem.

John Clarke

John Clarke Photo: Supplied

Despite his popularity, Fred Dagg was forced off the screen in 1977 for being too political with his satire, and Clarke moved to Melbourne with his Australian wife Helen.

A new Australian version of Fred Dagg appeared for a time before Clarke as himself developed a regular political satire slot on A Current Affair.

He continued to work on TV and film scripts, and starred with Sam Neill in the movie Death in Brunswick.

In 1996 he published A Dagg At My Table, a collection of his writings, which became a bestseller on both sides of the Tasman.

For 27 years, Clarke has appeared on Australian television conducting mock interviews and skewering politicians with his comedy partner, Bryan Dawe.

He co-wrote the multi-award winning mockumentary The Games, about the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, which aired in 1999 and 2000.

He also co-wrote stage musicals The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and Little Ragged Blossom.

Clarke returned to New Zealand TV screens in 1997, after an absence of 20 years, hosting a series on male sexuality.

Clarke is survived by his wife, two children and two grandchildren.

'Just a legend'

Old friend Tom Scott said Clarke's death had come as a complete shock and was "terribly sad".

Scott said Clarke was one of his comedy heroes: "He was just a legend".

He also described him as a "pioneer" in his industry.

"He had tremendous stage presence, tremendous comic timing. He was a celebrated figure."

Tributes have also begun to flow on Twitter:

Watch some of Clarke's greatest video hits here:

In 1998, a remake of his song, We Don't Know How Lucky We Are, went to number one on the singles charts.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs