Thursday, 27 May 2010

A National Joke

Someone told me once that whenever Geelong Grammar School advertises for a new headmaster they get dozens of fantastic applications, mostly from people at Britain's major private schools. To work out who to choose, they go through all the usual procedures - interviews, references et cetera - and then, when they've whittled the candidates down to two or three, they give them the gate test (not to be confused with the squeaking gate, [which I suppose has to be amended anyway, in the light of events - now you'd have to include a scenario where a Lib Dem {dressed rather like Terry Jones when he plays a housewife - apron, rollers under scarf and so forth} stands by the window with an oil can in one hand, holding back the lace curtains with the other. He peers at the nextdoor neighbour's and gestures with the can. 'I really think I should go and fix that gate,' he says. Meanwhile behind him in a comfortable leather armchair sits his Tory partner. He has his slippers on and The Telegraph spread out in front of him. 'No, no, darling, just leave well alone,' he replies, without glancing up.])

Anyway, the gate test involves taking each of the short-listed headmasterly candidates out to lunch at a country parent's house, which is down a dirt track that involves several closed gates. The results, apparently, have often been surprising. Over the years numerous otherwise excellent candidates have made no effort to get out and open any of the gates, just staying in their seat each time the car draws to a halt. Of course, no-one ever explains to them that they are expected to get out and help or that they are being tested. They return to England none the wiser and eventually an envelope containing a polite, 'thanks but no thanks' letter arrives on their mat.

For a long time Australia had a similar secret test for foreign celebrities. It came in the form of Norman Gunston, an exceptionally gormless journalist with a comb-over and little bits of lavatory paper dotted about his face to patch up shaving cuts. He was the invention of an actor called Garry McDonald and he preceded spoof artists such as Ali G by decades. Norman Gunston would turn up at airport press conferences and fire questions at jet-lagged stars - here he is ambushing Warren Beatty. He would somehow con publicists into allowing him into hotel rooms to interview their charges - here he is with Mick Jagger, who comes out of the thing very badly, even stooping to argue about who has sold the most records (Gunston claims to have sold 15 LPs altogether, including 12 in Malta). He would persuade unsuspecting agents in Hollywood to let him talk to their clients - here he is with a TV actress called Sally Struthers.

It was a national joke we played on the world and all too often what was revealed was an idol's pomposity and lack of humour. Sadly, even some revered Australians didn't emerge from the Gunston test particularly well (Bob Hawke, to name no names).

If being interviewed by Gunston were part of a process to choose headmaster of Australia, for me it would be a close run thing between Sally Struthers and Frank Zappa (his interview with Gunston is at the very end of this post). Perhaps I've missed someone, but from what I have seen they appear to be the only Gunston test candidates to have done really well.


  1. Not surprising that Oz had an 'Ali G' type character years ago, considering your country's prediliction for the pruning of 'tall poppies'

  2. I used to love Norman Gunston's character - he was way ahead of his time.

  3. Thank you for this insight into Australian life. I am not necessarily much the wiser, but Google shall leap to my rescue as always.

  4. Worm - it makes us stronger
    Nurse - I gather he ended up having a breakdown; I was wondering if he was in the Gimcrack Hospital, recovering thanks to your tender ministrations
    Madame - I originally wanted this blog to help me work out why being born both Australian and English is often surprisingly confusing, so you'll probably get more of the same here before too long (and remain, like me, pretty much none the wiser - but with any luck occasionally wringing a laugh out of things, thanks to the likes of Gunston, along the way).