Any Kiwi who remembers the 1970s and 1980s will have a soft spot in their heart for Fred Dagg, real name John Clarke. He was certainly a favourite of mine and I was sad when he went to Australia. Now, at only 68, we’ve lost this wonderful man forever. According to stuff.co.nz, John Clarke was hiking in the Grampians National Park in Victoria, Australia, on Sunday when he died of natural causes. There is no indication what “natural causes” means.
The phrase you’re most likely to hear is something like: “iconic Kiwi comedian” which describes him perfectly. Here is stuff.co.nz’s summary:
The character that Clarke is best known for in New Zealand is Fred Dagg. He was a larger than life Kiwi farmer who wasn’t quite real but who we all recognized nevertheless.
The name “Dagg” comes from sheep “dags”. Dags are an accumulation of sheep faeces, which are small pellets, in the wool around the anus and back legs of a sheep. They’re the origin of the Kiwi saying: “Rattle your dags”. That’s what we say to people when we want them to get a move on, or run more quickly.
There’s even an official “Dag Score” developed by the Ministry of Agriculture.
If a sheep’s dags get bad, a farmer brings them in for “dagging”. That’s like shearing, except they only shave off the area that’s affected by the dags.
Incidentally, sheep faeces are an excellent fertilizer for roses!
The Gumboots Song
One of the songs John Clarke created for the Fred Dagg character was ‘The Gumboot Song’, which I actually have on one of the mix CDs I keep in the car!
‘We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are’
Another iconic Clarke/Dagg song is ‘We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are’ about being born in New Zealand.
The ‘Flea Race’
This is another Dagg classic – the ‘Flea Race’. It was originally on TV, but I can’t find a version that has video as well as audio. It’s still great though.
It’s typical Kiwi humour. The phrase, “And don’t you worry about Daggy Boy” never fails to make me laugh out loud.
Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale
Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale is an iconic animated Kiwi movie of a comic strip of the same name. The strip was written and drawn by Murray Ball, who coincidentally died less than a month ago.
The main character in Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale, apart from Dog, is farmer Wal Footrot. So why have I gone off on this tangent? Well, it was John Clarke who did the voice for Wal.
Here’s a scene from the movie. Wal is teaching his niece and her friend Rangi to play rugby when they inform him an All Blacks selector is coming to the next game. Wal dreams that his skills on the field will lead to him getting a place in the All Blacks.
New Zealand was too small to support Clarke and he went to Australia in the 1980s. After that, his wonderful work became a part of their culture too. Unfortunately we didn’t see so much of him in New Zealand after that. A TV series that did play here though was a comedy he did about the arrangements for the Sydney Olympics. Although very different from the type of comedy he made for NZ television, The Games was nevertheless hilarious. Here’s part of an episode in the second series:
Fred Dagg and the Trevs
John Clarke will always be Fred Dagg to me though. The image of him sitting around the kitchen table in the Dagg farmhouse with the Trevs is one I’ll never forget.
All Dagg’s sons were given the name “Trev” to ensure no he didn’t get their names wrong! He was always quick to assure everyone that on the rare occasion confusion arose, it was a small price to pay!
The age of 68 is too young for anyone to die, and especially someone who still had so much to give. I’ll miss you John Clarke!
If you enjoyed reading this, please consider donating a dollar or two to help keep the site going. Thank you.
Fred Dagg has a special place in my family’s hearts because it was just after we arrived in New Zealand from the UK, so there are powerful associations for us.
Crap, that’s sad news. Wonderful comedian, what a dag! You didn’t mention his main gig since jumping the ditch, Clarke and Dawe, so here’s one of their last, followed by a classic!
And ‘We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are’ is a true kiwi anthem, featuring many celebrities of the day, for people watching from afar.
The “Gumboots” song sounds strangely familiar. This in turn is a parody of a traditional Scots song, The Wark o’ the Weavers.
I remember him from when I was growing up in Tasmania in the 1980s.
I did some great stuff. I remember him telling his “life story” once… He couldn’t find his birth certificate, but the hospital records noted for July 7 “the lady with gumboots in ward 7 had a baby.” The only other entry was noting her disappearance, and that the groundsman had reported his tractor was missing.
From his school years: the teacher says “I’ve got one apple in this hand, and two apples in the other hand. What have I got?” “Well if they came from our orchard, there’s a good chance you’ve got Dutch elm disease.”
This one of the Trevs is very sad. Comic genius.
You are correct, 68 is too young. Especially true if you are 67. His place in NZ history reminds me of another comedian in Hawaii by the name of Frank De Lima. I saw him during the 80s when I was living in Hawaii and he did night clubs for many years. Probably the best known local guy over there. Also, De Lima would be about the same age and still may be performing. Very local stuff that probably would not work in other places.
That first sentence is almost exactly what Jerry Coyne said. (Jerry’s 67 too.) Jerry was staying when John Clarke died and it was Jerry who first told me about it following an e-mail from another friend.