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Allstars pull plug on a brilliant career - by Sue Williams (11/04/94)

The Doug Anthony All Stars have made it. And now they're quitting. When they started performing as a trio in Melbourne, the Doug Anthony Allstars attracted between 10 and 12 people to each show. Today, they can't walk down the streets of Glasgow, much less Melbourne, without groups of five-year-olds hanging on to their ankles. By any definition of success, they've made it. With TV shows in Australia and Britain - sometimes running at the same time - the irreverent, noisy, pathologically naughty bunch of boys have become as much a part of the international alternative comedy circuit as French and Saunders, Clary and Jelly, and Fanny the inimitable Wonderdog.

Now, however, their days are numbered. The Doug Anthony All Stars are to go the same way as their namesake. From the middle of next month, their career will be no more. Only the memories, occasionally pleasant, frequently irritating, will remain. "No, no, no comebacks," says Richard Fidler firmly. " There's nothing to be gained by hanging on and getting wheeled out from time to time in the old farts category. We're letting the thing come to a natural end. It's better this way. Believe us."

After ten years on the road, on record, CD, radio, TV and in print, the Allstars have finally decided to call it a day. At the end of their current national tour, at the Regal Theatre in Perth on December 17, they will send a fond, sad, undoubtably rather raucous farewell to their fans and go their separate ways. Each is adamant there is no animosity, purely a parting based on the mutually exclusive plans of each member. Tim Ferguson, 31, wants to stay home with his family more in Melbourne. Paul McDermott, 32, wants to go to New York to concentrate on his music career. Fidler, 29, wants to return to Britain, where he intends to become heavily involved in a fledging CD-ROM business.

The three have come a long way since they sat in a shop doorway in Melbourne, protesting to the passers-by that they'd won the Best Fringe Act Award at the Adelaide Festival and deserved more than turned backs and departing heels. In their native Canberra, where they met as students, they'd enjoyed the phenomenon of as many as 200 early-risers queuing in front of their busking patch half an hour before each scheduled Saturday morning appearance. Melbourne proved a much tougher city to crack. Once Melbourne came under their spell, however, they went from strength to strength.

They've played before crowds of up to 9000 at the Edinburgh Festival, while most other acts make do with between 9 and 11, they've appeared regularly on Australian and British TV and, in a coup that each agrees was their crowning glory, they were picked to entertain the crowds at the festival to celebrate the Barcelona Olympics. It was memorable in more ways than one. "Only 10 per cent of them turned out to be English speakers,: says McDermott. "So we ended up doing the song I f--- Dogs. The English people ended up pissing themselves, while all the Spanish audience just smiled, swayed in time to the music and tapped their feet. It was extraordinary."

Another of the trio's proudest moments was the night they went on the British TV show Friday Night Live, compered by Ben Elton, sang the Neighbours theme song and then caused public uproar among an ungrateful British public by revealing that Daphne was going to get killed in the show six months down the line. Then there was the time they starred in a short film,The Edinburgh Years, which promptly sunk without a trace. Ans their 50-week run of doing live Australian TV on the Big Gig and their final reward of an ABC series to themselves, the extraordinarily anarchic DAAS Kapital. "They've been crucially important in the development of Australian comedy," says Neil Pigot, who worked with the group at their genesis.

"Up until them, comedy was dominated by the joke-tellers, the story-tellers and the impersonators. Then they came on to the scene and no one knew how to deal with them. They were fresh, innovative and new and suddenly a whole generation of Australian comics realised they could go out and be Australian. "They didn't have to be hangovers from vaudeville like Lucky Grills or tell smutty jokes like Ugly Dave Gray. They directly contributed to shows like Wogs Out of Work, Fast forward and the quick, non-sensical satire of D Gen, a sort of extension of the Python tradition, but very much in an Australian context."

Indeed, their shows were unlike anything audiences, both live and watching TV, had ever seen before. Aggressive, confrontational and often shocking, they confused and baffled, outraged and annoyed. One pub gig in London was attended by a crowd of right-wing skinheads who believed them to be sympathetic to their cause because of their fondness for uniforms and short haircuts. One woman accused Ferguson of being anti-feminist after his turn complaining of being a woman trapped in a man's body - he insists the politically correct joke went straight over her head. There were complaints when McDermott leapt off stage and cut a woman's hair and the gang routinely went among their audience stealing handbags.

"They challenged all the classic concepts of what comedy is all about," says Pigot, who left the group to pursue an acting career and more recently to produce a diary and calendar celebrating the Australian spirit of Changi. "They'd really offend people by invading their personal space. Suddenly comedy was no longer something people could stand back and laugh at, it was something they were involved in and could be a victim of. They added an intellectual side to comedy and a social, introspective side. As a result of them, we have more incisive comedy, people like Jimeoin for example, rather than all those superficial comics who have gone by the wayside."

Head of ABC comedy Ted Robinson, who put the Allstars on TV, believes their contribution was even more important overseas, raising the profile of Australian comedy to heights never before imagined. It was their unique mix of rock and roll, theatre and cabaret that did it. "No one in Australia really appreciates how big they were in Britain and how eager television stations were to sign them up for their own series,: says Robinson. "The British were blown away by the enormous energy and anarchy of the Allstars but they were completely unaware how television-literate they were too. They couldn't believe that either. "I think they've certainly influenced a whole generation of younger kids. They are growing up seeing how different the group is in terms of aggression, verve and their musicality. They could be so outrageous and rude and energetic, then they'd turn on a dime and do an emotional piece of music. They're amazing."

Ferguson, an accomplished actor who has also studied opera, is likely to continue to do more work for the ABC, with a few projects already under discussion. He also plans to write a book of political satire, and his experience as an Independent Glamour candidate in the 1990 federal election has whetted his appetit for office. Anyone, he believes, can become a West Australian senator. Why not have a go in the free time he'll have left after the final curtain? "Of course this tour, to a certain extent, is tinged with a bit of sadness, and finishing is always a bit poignant, but there's also the excitement of going solo,: he says. "Ten years on the road is more than enough payment for the good things that the Australian people have thrown back at us. "After a while, my family seen to be far better looking that Paul or Richard were. As an aesthete, they just started to grate after a while. I'm sure we'll be replaced by someone stronger and most certainly funnier when we bugger off. There’s a lot of avant-garde stuff happening in Australia hat's quite anarchic in its own way."

For McDermott, a talented musician who led a band playing thrash metal before the Allstars took over his life, the break-up means a chance to spend much more time on his music. It's still possible he'll do the odd gig with Fidler for the Channel 4 show Late Licence but he will be spending more time in the US. Fidler, a gifted artist, has a job waiting in Britain with an interactive media company. "I have mixed feelings about the end of the Allstars. Of course I'm sad but we had a pretty good run," he says. "We've been a lot more successful than I ever thought we would be. Things turned out well for us both here and in England. But we've explored every avenue of creativity for a group in Australia.

It's time to move out of the way for others to come forward." Pigot agrees : "All good things must come to an end. A thing like the Allstars has a limited life and it has perhaps now fulfilled its purpose and we're all much better off as a result. But once they have extinguished the reasons for doing something, there's very ; little point in continuing to do it. If they continued, they could so easily have become a self-parody of themselves." It's time? Robinson couldn't disagree more strongly. "I think it's really sad. It's like the bands that quit before they've really capitalised and cashed in on all the groundwork they've been going. It's something about the pressure cooker of being in that intense environment for the past few years. "It's always wise to get out before people tell you to get out but it's sad they haven't had the pay-off. One of the greatest joys of the Allstars was that they took the piss out of themselves as much as out of everyone else. Today, there's too much programming that takes itself far too seriously. Australian TV will be all the poorer without the Allstars."

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