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The true story of an Australian icon

When an iconic Australian figure went on national tour in Oz, she attracted larger crowds than the contemporaneous tours of the Queen Mother and then-US President, Lyndon Johnson combined.

Was it Kylie Minogue? Nicole Kidman? Dame Edna? Er, no, try Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.

The phenomenon of the crime-busting marsupial was mapped in last night's Skippy: Australia's First Superstar. At its height, the Oz TV export aired in 128 countries and attracted 30 million viewers a week, despite its fantastical plot and unlikely protagonist.

You see, it turns out kangaroos are "dumber than sheep", a shortcoming that the programme-makers blithely disregarded when they gave the wily kangaroo the ability to fly helicopters, play the drums and make phone calls.

This was pre-CGI, mind, so Skippy's astounding manual dexterity was owed to paws on a stick and some novel puppeteering, while the trademark 'tchk-tchk' sound effects, another example of artistic license, came courtesy of a narrator.

As for Skippy's lip movements, try rubber hands, crushed biscuits and great deal of patience; and to stop the kangaroo bolting into the bush, pop her in a hessian sack so that she's dazed and confused come her big scene. Hey, it worked with Lassie, Mr Ed and Flipper.

Incidentally, the bottle-nosed dolphin was the inspiration for Skippy. Co-producer Lee Robinson visited the US and came back touting a TV series he wanted to "adapt" (read: reproduce) for Australian audiences.

According to the makers, there were up to 10 Skippys on the casting couch at one time, few queried the gender of the kangaroo, which was widely believed to be male. Not so: the hero of the cult programme was actually a heroine.

It's hard to picture a leading lady in what was a mostly male cast. It wasn't until episode nine that a recurring female role was introduced in Liza Goddard. But the blatant sexism continued, on set and off.

A female crew member revealed: "The guys were tough to the woman. They put us down constantly." She should have followed the old film adage: never work with children and animals.

The makers of the Brit Awards disobeyed that very advice last night and bore the consequences. The behaviour of the stars couldn't be tamed by host Peter Kay, whose juvenile routine went down like a lead balloon.

Lily Allen told him to "f*** off" after he encouraged her to leave the stage by blasting a horn. Noel Gallagher flung his microphone and award into the audience, prompting Kay to call him a "k***head". It was perhaps Kay's only redeeming moment. He lumbered through the show like a Butlin's redcoat. He should have tried the hessian sack trick.

Bryne's Stars

Skippy: Australia's First Superstar ***

The Brit Awards 2010 ****


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