John K. Watts – the “Know All” who became a legend
Some people are only a legend in their mind, whereas John K. Watts became a true legend in his lifetime, based on his worthy sporting pursuits and his marvellously merry and humour filled persona. He didn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story, though many tales were based on real happenings, others were just good fun, whichever the case, they were all very entertaining.
The one time carpenter, policeman, WAFL and VFL footballer and Perth radio and television star, John K. Watts was born John Albert Watts on 21 January 1937 and later added the ‘K’ to convey “Know All”, for he is famous for his boasting and love of telling gags, many at his own expense. He was found at all the football club’s social events entertaining everyone with his stand up routine or “belting” out a tune on the piano. He wrote the East Perth, Swan Districts and Geelong Football Club theme songs. Entertaining qualities that would prove valuable in his future career.
John K. says that,
“I’ve got the biggest joke library in Australia… perhaps anywhere. I keep writing gags. I love telling gags and to keep in a happy frame of mind.
John K. Watts – the “Know All” who became a legend
WA TV History
Some people are only a legend in their mind, whereas John K. Watts became a true legend in his lifetime. Courtesy of Seven’s Today Tonight.
John was educated at Maylands State School along with another football legend Graham Farmer.
His father was a policeman and great gag teller, but unfortunately contracted tuberculosis and spent several years in the Worroloo Sanatorium during the war years, so his Mum went to work and John sold newspapers for a while at the Roxy Gardens in Maylands, at 240 Guildford Road, which is now a Coles supermarket. Meanwhile, during those early days, whilst John was busy out front selling papers, it was possible for the adventurous boys of the district to open the back of the men’s toilet, push the pan aside and crawl in through the hole, replace the pan and so gain free entry to the pictures at the Roxy.
He started playing football at a young age with Bayswater Junior Football Club and went by tram with his grandfather to watch East Perth play football at Perth Oval. His father was very good friend of Mick Cronin, the then East Perth coach.
After playing a few reserves matches, Watts debuted for the Royals on a half back flank against Subiaco at the age of 17 in 1954. Watts played 166 games as East Perth’s fullback from 1954-1962.
Though he began work as an apprentice carpenter, at age 19 he followed the family tradition and joined the Police Force in 1956. His father was a police superintendent and other members of the family (Charlie, Les, Bobby and Vickie) were members of the force. All he heard about was the depression growing up as a child, and the police force was considered a steady job.
Jack Sheedy was appointed East Perth playing coach for the 1956 season, following which they won 14 out of 19 home and away matches that season, to head the ladder going into the finals. It was also fifty years since the club joined the league (or association as it was then known), and to commemorate this the club opened a new brick grandstand at Perth Oval.
Royals were the outstanding side in the competition, reaching the grand final for wins in 1956, 1958 and 1959, with John K Watts a part of these Premiership Teams along with Graham “Polly” Farmer.
The well built six foot three and fourteen stone Watts played twelve games for Western Australia as the State full back. In one State game against Victoria John remarked that,
“They beat us by twenty nine goals. When the ball sailed through for another point for them. I was out on the flank as the goal ump reached for his flags, with the ball lying on the turf behind him. I shouted out to him: ‘Hey, ump, how about getting the pill for me, I’m buggered.’
‘Stuff the ball, how about giving me a hand with these *#@# flags, my bloody arms are dropping off’, came the reply.”
After one successful premiership, the East Perth Football Club doctor Mick Lekias was walking around the change-rooms and questioned John as to what that was on the back of his neck? John said, “I don’t look around there pal.” He said, “Check with your mother and see how long you’ve had it.” His mother advised that he was not born with it, and it worked out that he had a melanoma, a malignant tumour associated with skin cancer. In such cases, the chance of a cure is greatest when the tumour is discovered while it is still small and thin, and can be entirely removed surgically. Mick’s brother John was a cancer specialist at St John of Gods and the police doctor both had a look at it and he was quickly admitted to hospital, where it was excised out.
After the 1962 season, John received good offers from St Kilda, Essendon, and Geelong.
In 1963 Watts was selected to play for the VFL for Geelong Football Club along with lifelong friend Farmer. He played 52 Games for Geelong, the most memorable being Geelong’s Premiership Team winning the 1963 VFL Grand Final
The same year, John wrote the club’s theme song as a replacement for the very quaint lyrics of their previous version. Earlier he had written the East Perth and the Swan Districts songs.
According to John, at Geelong… Sam Newman, who he played with, was the quietest guy – wouldn’t say boo!
“He always liked a gag and Polly would say. ‘Aye Sam come over here, Wattsy’s got a gag to tell you’. And you’d tell it to him on Friday, he would laugh Monday, because that’s when he would get it.”
“I couldn’t believe it was the same Sammy Newman that was later on the Nine Footy Show.”
Sam Newman’s mother and father both worked at Geelong Grammar as teachers, so he came from quite good stock.
In 1966, Watts moved to Tasmania to Captain/Coach the Hobart Football Club. In his first year he led them to a premiership.
During his football career, Wattsie was the only player to boast three premierships for three different teams in three states (East Perth, Geelong and Hobart).
In 1968, John retired from football.
After leaving football, Watts went on to have a successful career in radio and television. Over 30 years he worked for various Perth television and radio stations.
In the late 1960’s, there was a two minute segment on Channel 7 every Friday night previewing the weekend games and giving his tips, where for example, after putting out the good word on Subiaco to win on Saturday, he would wrap up by saying, “It will be Subiaco for sure, and if it isn’t them it will be West Perth.”
Then if West Perth won he would boast that he was right again.. “I told you it was West Perth.”
Former Channel Seven news studio director Gordon McColl reminisces that the Seven news editor Darcy Farrell would write some points which John would deliver with his usual flair. The late Bob Cribb was his producer.
Darcy reports that Bob was ahead of his time in recognising the great comedy talent of John Watts,
“Bob produced the J K Watts segments and became Wattsie’s manager. To this day, I’m still not sure who benefited the most: Wattsie or Cribbie?”
It was a different era back then for WAFL level football. The Weekend News on Saturdays carried all the WAFL scores and summaries on the centre green pages from the games just completed. There was also the West Australian, Sunday Times, Sunday Independent, Western Mail and Daily News back then, including the Westside Football paper on Thursdays. After the home games it was jam packed and standing room only in the Club house. Even after an away game, one had to race back to the Club to hopefully grab a table to order a meal. They didn’t skimp on the food and always very reasonable prices too.
Now people can access their footy news on an iPhone or an android after downloading a newspaper application to check The West online, Perth Now and WA Today.
In 1978, Bob Hope jumped at the opportunity to have the Channel Seven crew and facilities free of charge to produce his annual NBC special. Seven Chief Executive Max Bostock explains that Bob was always looking for ways to save a buck. He thought of the title BOB HOPE DOWN UNDER, and from the remotest Capital in the world, had something going for it. Particularly if it cost him nothing for travel, accommodation etc. Seven arranged contra with Qantas and local hotels and the deal was done. Bob was joined by Florence Henderson, Charo, Barbara Eden, Mary Anne Davidson, The Four Kinsmen, Australian singing sensation Kamahl, and Miss Australia Gloria Krope for 90 minutes of comedy and variety from the Perth Entertainment Centre. Through the late Brian Treasure, who was a great mate of John’s, he was asked to submit thirty or forty odd jokes for Bob Hope, of which he used about twenty to make a local reference. Though John emphasised that he didn’t have anything to do with the Balga gag.
In 1973, George Chapman put JK on air to do the 6PM breakfast show with Barry Martin, who had been working at 6KY as a disc jockey. Together they formed a unique partnership which made them the highest rating breakfast session from 1973 to 1978. Averaging 40 per cent in their ratings.
They took 300 listeners on a flight over Perth in a Boeing jet and packed the Perth Entertainment Centre out with an almost free Christmas Show, for a gold coin for charity, with the Will Upson Big Band and Lionel York.
Watts later went on to own an interest in a radio station and several of Perth’s hotels.
The dynamic duo then swapped stations to continue their mischief on 6PR.
The 6PR “Football World” panel show also included Wattsy and was broadcast on Saturday mornings. It was recorded every Friday afternoon at various pubs around town and replayed the next morning on radio.
Although politically incorrect and often controversial for its time, Watts always maintained that it “was all in good fun”. His jokes often pointed fun at other sporting codes, politicians, other footballers including Mal Brown and himself.
An example which made Watts and Martin popular with Perth audiences, yet alienated a number of indigenous listeners was a regular feature of 6PR’s morning program for a number of years until 1988, this was a ‘comic’ character named ‘King Billy Cokebottle’. This was a white Australian comedian who told jokes in the guise of an aborigine. Complaints were made about the character, claiming it epitomised the kind of happy-go-lucky black fool who served as the butt of racist humour. Others considered it a form of harmless satire, with a likeable caricature lampooning the cultural elements of a primitive and impoverished people who are living on the edge of civilisation.
When the comedian was banned from the Crown Casino in 2002 he explained his situation…
“I have an Aboriginal grandson . . . and my Aboriginal friends know what I am about. I don’t tell jokes about Aboriginals, I tell the jokes as an Aboriginal. I am not putting down Aboriginals.”
At the time, the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Keith Hamilton pointed at that when the issue was raised at an Aboriginal Advancement League lunch, some Aboriginal elders said they were “happy enough” to listen to the comedian and saw him as “a bit of fun”. Meanwhile the comedian counts Aboriginal actor Ernie Dingo among his many fans.
Here’s an example of Cokebottle’s humour so that the reader may form their own opinion: King Billy Cokebottle (Goat)
Cokebottle was not the only casualty at the time to disappoint followers of raw Australian humour. In 1980, despite having a number of close friendships within the Indigenous communities of northern Australia, the Federal Anti-Discrimination Board accused the Bulletin and Sun-Herald cartoonist Eric Jolliff’s Saltbush Bill and Witchetty’s Tribe of racism in the way he portrayed Aboriginal people in his cartoons.
Meanwhile, reflecting on his decorated career, John listed winning the 1963 VFL Grand Final and his award-winning breakfast radio program among his fondest memories.
John has studied humour and been a humorist all his life and he has loved it. It has pulled him through the tragic moments such as the passing of his daughter Donna. She was working over at Rottnest and was in an unfortunate accident with a vehicle which rolled on top of her. Then his youngest daughter Vanessa has multiple sclerosis, which worries him considerably. In addition, his tavern in Maylands (The Cascades Tavern) burnt down more than once. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000 and then In November 2011, diagnosed with bone cancer.
Throughout all this, John has maintained a wonderful library of gags and has written for several comedians. He has always been more than willing to assist clubs in tributes and fundraising events, and his compering skills are always a guarantee that whatever event is planned will be a success.
There have been many happy moments such as when John was inducted into the West Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and The Wattsie and Martin 20-Year Reunion Show of 2010.
Meanwhile, this consummate entertainer, who turns 75 on January 21, is treating his most recent diagnosis in the same way he approaches each day with a bag full of gags.
“I’ve got over the initial shock, that lasted two days,” he said. “Every now and again I get a bit down, but I’m lucky because we talk about it and we think about it and then forget about it.”
A great example of John K Watts’ humour is the tribute he gave in 2008 when East Perth was celebrating the anniversary of two Premiership Teams, 1958 and 1978. As part of the celebration John wrote a profile about some of the 1958 Premiership players, which appeared in the East Perth newsletter “The Royals Mail”. Here are some of the best.
John K Watts
Perhaps the mighty Royals most devastating player. Could win a game off his own boot. Critics at the time bandied around words like Great, Fantastic, colossal, enormous, brilliant, but he preferred to be known simply as good old JK. During his career the taxi control board made him carry a sign on his famous East Perth number 28 jumper “Licensed to carry 17 passengers”. It was during this time that the Maylands Blind School used to regularly charter a bus on Tuesday and Thursday nights, down to Perth Oval, just so their members could hear him kick!
Graham Polly Farmer
The Greatest ruckman of all time. Mark, kick and handball to perfection, a great team man and supporter of all sports. His generosity knew no limits. During the 1962 Commonwealth Games, Collectors were going door to door seeking donations for the Olympic sized swimming pool at Beatty Park. Polly immediately gave them two buckets of water. His two latest books have won literary prizes – “The Polly Farmer Story” and “The Fear of Spending”
Jack Sheedy – Captain & Coach
Jack Sheedy (Mr Football) one of WA’s greatest. A relentless coach who didn’t know the meaning of defeat. Players found Jack easy to get along with once they learned how to worship him correctly. The difference between Jack and the Pope was, you only had to kiss the Pope’s ring. Jack used to say there is no “I” in team work, but there is in kiss my arse. At the players tea during one of the finals series, the players demanded to know if Jack was circumcised, because they reckoned there was no end to the prick.
A great Full Forward who immortalised the famous drop punt. A very mature player when he came to East Perth. It was revealed this was due to the, fact, that as a young bloke, he used to walk 10 miles too and from school in Adelaide, until he was in 3rd grade. Then he was old enough to get his driver’s license.
A very determined and consistent straight ahead player who never gave up. He was the sort of bloke who used to roll a smoke and get it half finished before anyone put a finger on him. His side step and straight left was as hard to pick, as a protestant at a catholic picnic.
Laurie could play anywhere – in the ruck, forward or back and was considered one of the Royals most versatile players. A great club man. On a publicity drive for the Red Cross, Laurie had his photo in The West Australian newspaper, donating blood in the East Perth club rooms after training. The following day an excited married couple from Dianella phoned the club wanting to thank Laurie for saving their pet galah.