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Postscript to Fat Cat

Posted by ken On August - 6 - 2011

Children’s television in Perth has had many memorable local presenters from Rolf Harris to Fat Cat. Even though the Cat was mute, he had plenty of character and was immensely popular.

Some of the TVW children’s presenters over the years that come to mind include: Rolf Harris, Carolyn Noble, Gary Carvolth, Jan Bedford, Jim Atkinson, Colm O’Doherty, Taffy the Lion (John Cousins), Trina Brown, Sandy Baker, Marie Van Maaren, Judy Thompson, Keith Geary, Debbie Allanson, Alison Carroll, Gabrielle Hammond, Keith McDonald and Sharon Dale. With many of them being the side kick to Fat Cat.


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Yvette Mooney, Trina Williams (Brown), Percy Penguin, Simon Reeve, Sandy Baker (Palmer), Fat Cat and Carolyn Tannock (Noble) celebrating TVW’s 50th Anniversary


In later years, political correctness seemed to have an impact on children’s TV, with people questioning Fat Cat’s gender, or lack of one, and also objecting to Humphrey B. Bear not wearing trousers. Enid Blyton’s Noddy even came under the hammer, over matters which would never enter a young person’s mind. The Three Stooges, Tom and Jerry and the Coyote and the Roadrunner were deemed too violent, despite a legend of fans dating back decades, and in some cases, generations. Yesteryear’s sensibilities became this year’s hidden agenda of racism, sexism and extremism. Noddy and Big Ears were perceived as a case of pedophilia, the Golliwog was considered derogatory and the slapstick comedy of the silent movie, vaudeville and early animated cartoons became viewed as harmful rather than humorous. The new attitudes caused content of this nature to be culled from the kids viewing schedule, but it didn’t stop at that, as the station mascots got a going over too.

Very memorable was the cheeky rapport between Agro (Jamie Dunn) and Anne-Maree Biggar on Agro’s Cartoon Connection. Not only did they entertain the kids but they entertained the parents too. Not only were they political incorrect but the show was laced with considerable innuendo. It got such that the show consistently out rated Steve Liebmann and Elizabeth Hayes presenting the Today show. It also won 7 consecutive Logie Awards for Most Popular Children’s Program from 1991 to 1997.


Anne Marie Biggar and Agro

WA TV History
The cheeky rapport between Agro (Jamie Dunn) and Anne-Maree Biggar on Agro’s Cartoon Connection.


Now Entertainment is apparently not enough, as the government demands that children’s shows be educational as well. Not that this was not the case, as from the earliest days Children’s Channel Seven included segments on pets, hobbies, nature studies and much more… and that was before there were rules dictating this.

The Children’s Television Standards 2009 (CTS) require commercial television licensees to broadcast a variety of quality television programs made specifically for them, including Australian drama and non-drama programs, and to provide for the protection of children from possible harmful effects of television.

Doubt that anyone in their wildest dreams would accuse Fat Cat of being in anyway harmful to children, yet he was a casualty of many of the changes that have taken place.

Fortunately, Fat Cat still appears on Perth television screens as the mascot of Seven Perth’s highly successful Telethon fundraising, and regularly says goodnight to children on television at 7.30pm each evening.

Parents over the years have relied on Fat Cat to get their children to bed and different segments were made for different occasions, such as Fat Cat putting his gifts under the Christmas tree, and so on. Its become an institution in Western Australia, as the popular character still goes to bed at that time.


Fat Cat says Goodnight

WA TV History
Fat Cat still appears on Perth television screens where he regularly says goodnight to children on at 7.30pm each evening, as Sandy Baker (Palmer) Fat Cat’s first on-air companion explains.


Well known TV personalities Sandy Baker and Keith Geary provided a wonderful insight into the life of Fat Cat at his animators funeral on Thursday July 4th, 2011. As sad as the occasion was for family, friends and colleagues, it was very much a celebration of Reg Whiteman’s life.


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Here is a transcript of Keith Geary’s Eulogy, which not only brought a smile to the face but also a tear to the eyes…


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Keith Geary


I just want to go to Mount Buffalo, it’s a winter playground all covered with snow. They are the words to a song Macca (Keith McDonald) actually wrote, many years ago after a trip that we did to the Victorian alps. Now Reg was always up for anything, but we were under time constraints, so it was decided that someone else would have to do the Fat Cat skiing. But the real thing in it for me was that after we got down from the mountain, he came up to me and he had a smile on his face, as wide as his grin, and he said, ‘Wasn’t Fat Cat Good’. Because for him, what it was all about, and why he was able to live in the shadows for twenty years, was for him and for us, Fat Cat was a real person, he was an entity in his own right. So for Reggie, it was all about making sure that Fat Cat was absolutely 100 per cent spot on the whole time.


He was the star, and he was the hero, and we were the second bananas, and happy to do so.


To say he was up for everything at times was just nuts. I had an idea once that we would hitch Fat Cat underneath the helicopter and fly it around town as Super Cat. And Reggie said to me, ‘Would I have to hang on or would I have a harness.’ I said that it would probably be a good idea just to put the suit up there instead. But he was game, there’s no question about it.


Not only that, but in one case we went water skiing, because out at Bonney’s, out at Baldavis they had a punt where you could put a bar out outside of the boat, and we made some special shoes that went over the skis, and what ever age he was then, Fat cat went skiing. He was absolutely fantastic. 


His boat driving skills were not that terrific I would have to say. We were in the Katherine River of the Northern Territory and he was driving the tour boat and he hit a tree and I went overboard into the crocodile infested river.


I mentioned a story while I was talking to Russell Woolf on the radio the other day, but I would like to repeat it because it shows his tenacity and his flair, no one could wear the suit quite like Reggie. You could see him from 100 metres away, and I just saw Sandy laughing, and its absolutely true, he wore it in a way that no body else could and as no body else has ever done since, or ever will I don’t think.


So he decided to go paragliding. You’ve seen them down at the Narrows, and they put you in the harness, and they drag you around the river around the boat. Oh the good old days before occupational health and safety. I don’t know if we caused accidents on the freeway, but when you’ve got a six foot cat wearing size 29 shoes, being dragged around the river next to a major road, it could have been an issue. But what we forgot to tell him was to lift his toes up, when you’re coming in, and you didn’t, and he just went splat into the river and there was an enormous sort of splash, and we’re running into the river and it was a bit deeper than Cat. So we dragged him out, and there’s nothing like standing on the side of the freeway wringing out a soaking wet pussy, trying to get him back to life. It was a very Mrs Slocum moment.


But he was tough, you know. He was a very, very tough guy. And you had to be to be in that suit.


Sandy and Shaz would know, as well Macca would, and everyone who performed with him. In days in Western Australia where it was 40 plus, and he’s in a suit. Now it was hard enough for us, I don’t know how he did it. I could never have done it, and in my entire time, and I worked with him full time for ten years, and first performed with him in 1977 down at the Royal Show, I never actually put the head on, as I couldn’t even do that, let alone the body suit, the balaclava, the full fur suit and go out and do it. At the end of his career, he wasn’t a young man, he was older that I am now, and he was still going out and doing it and still dancing.


There’s two things I want to talk about to illustrate, in defence of Fat Cat. 


We went to Clontarf, and once a year the Jockey’s and Trainer’s Association used to do a fund raiser at Clontarf. It was held on the lawn out the back near the river and there’s all the marquees, and its stinking, its 42, and Channel Seven has generously supplied us, free of charge for the gig. So we go out there and go around all the stores and we’re about 45 minutes into this and I know I’m drenched and I know the Cat’s hot, so I said, look mate we’ve been here a fair bit so lets duck out between this row of tents, I can see stairs going up to the main building, lets do a runner. So we duck through the pony rides, and as we came through there’s a young chap who looks about 14 or 15, and he’s obviously too big to be a jockey, and he walks up to Fat Cat with an odd look on his face and says, ‘I don’t like you Fat Cat’, and he punches him in the head. Well that’s his first mistake. The head is made out of fibreglass, so the kid has suddenly got a fist that is not quite the same shape as it was. We both reacted, as if by instinct and I stood on the young man’s foot, so he couldn’t step backwards, and honestly Reggie delivered a short sharp right, that Danny Green would be proud of, and it connected with the kid. So his day is not going well. At that very precise moment of contact, a very large man comes around the corner on a horse, who bears a striking resemblance to the kid. We’re going Arrh Arrhh Arrhhh, and words like that. He walks up and smacks the kid around the back of the head, and says, ‘Don’t hit Fat Cat’, and says to Fat Cat, ‘You have a nice day Fat Cat’, and we bolted. I swear to God that it was the only time I heard Fat Cat laugh out loud.


On one other occasion, which signifies his complete dedication to the job, we used to do the Entertainment Centre every year for his birthday party, and it was enormous. It was the closest thing I ever got to being a rock star. It was a phenomenal amount of fun with more than 16 thousand people would come to Fat Cat’s birthday party. One year it was decided that we would always have a feature number for Reggie, a dance for Reggie to do because really he was the best dancer. So I don’t know if you ever saw a Robert Redford movie The Electric Horseman? In that film he’s in a suit on his horse, and they are both illuminated, dancing in the centre of the arena. So this is Fat Cat’s solo entry, dim the lights, in a pool of light dancing. In order to achieve this, in the days before LEDs (Light-emitting diodes), so we had a special battery pack made to run fairy lights. His big top hat is lit up, his cane was lit up and he looked fantastic, the dance went well and he come off to thunderous applause. I’m in the wings waiting for him because we’ve got a turn around, and get him back out on the stage, and on with the show. But as he gets into the wings, the head comes off, the suit comes down and a big cloud of smoke comes out from under the suit. The cats on fire. So I said to someone very quickly, ‘Somebody put the cat out’, then I went out on stage, thinking, ‘What happens now?’ If he doesn’t come back on, this show, which is only in the first half, has got a very serious problem. So I start busking with the audience, and furiously thinking whilst I can’t see anything thats happening. The stage manager is sitting on the front with a thousand mile stare, going, ‘Well I don’t know’. About a minute and a half later there’s a big cheer and out he walks on stage and the show goes on. He did that show, and the repeat performance, with second degree burns on his chest, because it was Fat Cat’s birthday party, and it was going to go on. He was going to go on.


Short Sighted Seymour, Thomas the Turtle, Monty Meany, Sunny Sandgroper, Percy and Fat Cat’s Mum, and all of us presenters, we all got to work with Reggie, and this is my last appearance with him and I thank him.    



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One Response to “Postscript to Fat Cat”

  1. Would like to thank Keith Macca for letting me know of Reg’s departure from our world. It is a sadder place without him in it. What a shining light he was in our world. He was one of the people that I was especially hoping was going to be there on that fabulous day in October at the TVW reunion and there he was…

    Judy Thompson and I found it hard to say goodbye to him, but thank God we were able to seem him one last time to share a kiss and hug, which throughout his life he gave in abundance.

    You always knew when Reg was in the building because you could hear his laughter drifting down the corridors… My greatest memories of Reg were the ones when I got to perform with Fat Cat… especially those unforgettable Telethons.. heralding the time for the kids to go to bed.

    Reg we were all the richer for knowing you and having you in our lives..
    Our memories of you will live in our hearts forever.

    Annette Purvis

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