3 September 2003 | thekennelman
Can you see what it is yet?
In the 60's there were literally dozens of these variety entertainment shows. 'Val Doonican', 'Andy Williams', 'Morecambe and Wise', 'Sunday Night at the London Palladium' the list was seemingly endless. Every singer seemed to have their own show, as did every comedy team and they all followed much the same formula. There would be various acts: stand up comedians, singers, magicians (generally either aspiring unknowns, or old farts on their way out) interspaced with the odd monologue by the host. Of course there were also the obligatory dance sequences with overly-enthusiastic dance troupes smiling rather too widely and jumping rather too energetically. Standard 'Music Hall' (Vaudeville) fare, which is where British TV has its roots.
Rolf's wasn't that different except for a number of features which he presented himself, which were uniquely and brilliantly `Rolf.' The first was his musical slot, generally featuring a didgeridoo or wobble board in which he'd either belt out an aboriginal song or a cover of well known hit of the day. Every now and then for variety he'd sing one of own songs, 'Jake the Peg' or 'Two little Boys' were favourites that did well in the charts, and I think 'Tie me Kangaroo down, Sport' might even have topped them.
Then there were his 'Bush Tales' in which he'd gather selected members of the audience around him (in subdued lighting) and tell a tall tale, generally Aboriginal in origin. This would generally lead on to the highlight of the show - indeed Rolf's signature piece - where he'd paint a picture relating to the story he'd just told. Not some sketch or oil painting you understand but a big 'un. A canvas some twenty feet wide by eight or so tall would be wheeled onstage and Rolf would walk over to it still talking about the story.
On the floor by the canvas would be some tins of ordinary emulsion paint - perhaps three or four colours, and a handful of the sort of brushes you would use to whitewash a fence. With these improbable tools and materials Rolf would buzz to and fro dabbing apparently at random while humming or singing some meaningless tune. He had a knack of aspirating rhythmically and would sing while breathing in and out. This was all marvellous stuff for us kids and we lapped it up.
The pictures were crafted like a Murder Mystery as no-one could understand what was happening while he was doing it. The paints would drip, run, and seep into each other but none of this fazed Rolf. He would sweep away, almost painting in reverse as he added detail after detail with no form to the picture at all. This of course was all to add to the suspense as you strained to see what it would be.
Then finally, just near the end, he'd paint a crucial line joining two improbable blobs of colour up and suddenly you'd see it. There would be a mountain, or an old shack or a beautiful tree, it would seemingly appear as just a few extra brushstrokes made everything fall in to place. Every dab of paint after that now made sense as he completed the picture and stood back with lights dimmed except for a spot on the painting, and the studio audience would applaud, and generally we did at home too. With the camera on a wide shot to take in the whole picture you couldn't see the runs or other imperfections, and the picture as a whole was beautiful. I wonder what happened to them, as I can't imagine anyone getting something that size into their home. Marvellous stuff.
This is not the sort of show that would be released on DVD, or repeated on one of the satellite stations, so I guess all you've got is my description - I hope I did Rolf justice.