John Clarke

John Clarke made millions laugh countless times with his satirical take on politics and daily life.

How sad we are to hear of the sudden death of John Clarke. It seems impossible that this brilliant scallywag, someone who found life endlessly interesting and entertaining, just isn’t with us any more. It’s as if you woke up to hear there won’t be any more weather. There’s no public figure in Australia, none, who could be more of a loss to us. He is irreplaceable.

For overseas readers, John Clarke was a satirist with an unparallelled ear for spin, waffle and hypocrisy in all its forms. Politics is fertile ground for all this, and John made an art form of “interviews” with politicians. Unlike most political satirists, he didn’t try to mimic their looks or speech. Everything was delivered in his trademark laconic flat tones with a straight(ish) face  – all the more to shine a light on the idiocy and rank opportunism of what they said. He reassured us, weary of all their waffle, that there was still some sanity in the world. That we did notice that they were trying to pull the wool over our eyes, and it wasn’t working.

Above all he was a man intoxicated with the beauty and strangeness of language, high and low.  He delighted in the peculiar language of sport and in its rituals, introducing us to the sport of farnarkeling:

Farnarkeling is engaged in by two teams whose purpose is to arkle, and to prevent the other team from arkeling, using a flukem to propel a gonad through sets of posts situated at random around the periphery of a grommet. Arkeling is not permissible, however, from any position adjacent to the phlange (or leiderkrantz) or from within 15 yards of the wiffenwacker at the point where the shifting tube abuts the centre-line on either side of the 34 metre mark, measured from the valve at the back of the defending side’s transom-housing.

Sport and literature come together in his book The Tournament. All the great names in European literature, music, film, painting, theatre, philosophy and ballet arrive in Paris for a 36-day tennis tournament. Here you see Dali playing W.C. Fields, Picasso playing Stanislavski, Jean Rhys playing Gloria Swanson.  A.A. Milne and Enid Blyton, “Tony” Chekhov, and our favourite, Gertrude Stein, are there.  You can see some extracts in today’s other post.

For poetry lovers there’s The Even More Complete Book Of Australian Verse, featuring the very best Australian poets, including  Gavin Milton, Arnold Wordsworth, Sylvia Blath, Very Manly Hopkins and Dylan Thompson.

His mockumentary series The Games, made in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympic Games, satirises the corporatisation of sport, the monetarisation of national pride and the very expensive bumbling of government bureaucracy.  Here’s his own description of the series:

Nothing since has so perfectly caught the greatness that can be achieved if mutual respect and high personal standards are prevented from clouding the realities of getting the pig to market.

If you liked BBC series like Yes Minister and The Thick Of It, you’ll absolutely get The Games. 

What a man. What a loss.

Here’s a review from The Conversation that says it all:


5 thoughts on “John Clarke

  1. Yes, he’ll be sorely missed. I first heard him on the radio – one of his talks on political economy. He was mystified as to who, exactly, were the ‘petty bourgeoisie’. Clarke was so well read and gifted and hilariously funny.

    1. Yes to all of that. I’m amazed at the number of people of all kinds who are saying they feel as if they knew him and just can’t imagine the world without him. A nice little Leunig poem in The Age this morning.

    1. He was just a lovely man. Satirists can be bitter but he always did have that twinkle in his eye. He genuinely saw and loved the funny side of life. You’ll be interested to know, Leslie, that he died while out on a hike with his wife doing his favourite thing, taking pictures of birds.

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