In some parts of the world insulting and abusing people in front of small children is frowned upon but in ‘90s Australia not only was it considered entertainment, it also sometimes meant you got your own kids’ TV show.
Agro’s Cartoon Connection first aired in 1989 featuring the aggressively hostile puppet Agro alongside co-host Ann-Maree Biggar.
Known for his provocative sense of humour and often surprisingly lewd comments, Agro’s popularity was back in a time when a lot of the content being presented probably still wasn’t acceptable but people didn't complain about stuff as much. The result was a show kids loved.
Ann-Maree was a friendly, bubbly co-host who would bear the brunt of Agro’s taunts including bluntly offensive remarks on her weight, appearance and intelligence. She would also constantly jump around yelping, leading to insinuations about what was really happening beneath the desk.
In a recent interview Agro puppeteer, Jamie Dunn, explained, “Everyone used to think I was touching her up under the desk.”
Yes, we did think that.Fortunately Dunn had the good sense not to stop talking at this point of the interview, going on to explain, “…But I would tap her ankle and she would jump as though there had been a problem. It wasn’t as bad as it seemed. It was just part of the show.”
Why it was fine to let children think someone was being inappropriately touched on the bits, I’m not sure but at least this sort of explains some things, like why Dunn is not currently in prison.
In 1996 Teresa Livingstone took over as host, putting an end to the deviant undertones Agro shared with Ann-Maree and replacing them with brand new ones.
Teresa and Agro enjoyed another fun but slightly discomfiting onscreen relationship for a children’s show, summed up well by this clip in which Teresa belly-dances while the character Gibbo does some mildly racist singing.
The show’s support cast also included Holly Brisley, (who would later find fame playing ‘Woman In Restaurant’ in The Matrix: Reloaded), and Crikey The Clown.
Crikey was an angry, belligerent clown a bit like Krusty from The Simpsons but with slightly different clothes.
Crikey would appear in the studio or on location where he would harass people and be generally unpleasant.
Here he is trying to make an uncomfortable young girl dance.
And here is a picture of what would happen if you tried this stuff with no clown costume or film crew.
Crikey would also undertake stunts suggested by viewers. Here he is eating a sardine, banana, strawberry jam and tomato sauce sandwich.
And here is Teresa trying not to throw-up after watching him do it.
The show wasn’t all workplace bullying and people trying not to vomit. Wildlife expert Ranger Stacey would sometimes appear to present her segment ‘On The Wild Side’. Usually Ranger Stacey would talk about an animal she had brought in but indicative of the show’s tone, not only is she introduced in the clip below as “Australia’s cutest bush bimbo,” she also spends the whole segment being forced to awkwardly sing and dance to The Village People’s YMCA for some reason.
This qualified as 4 minutes of entertaining television in the 90s somehow
While the harassment and deviant misconduct were funny to a 9 year old, or were at least captivatingly horrifying, the main reason I watched was the cartoons.
The consistently changing line-up included The Smurfs, He-Man, Ninja Turtles, GI-Joe, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Quickdraw McGraw, Sailor Moon, Samurai Pizza Cats and Scooby Doo among many others.
Some might consider the choice of cartoons strange or often surprisingly outdated even 20 years ago but the lack of competition meant the alternative for kids was to not watch TV, so producers really didn't have to try too hard. The result was an eclectic mix and while I’m not certain of the selection parameters, it seemed that as long as the cartoon wasn’t educational, it was in! (Although I maintain the healthy body image lessons in He-Man and She-Ra are as relevant now as they ever were.)
There were also competitions I consistently entered and never won, and a letters segment I wrote to multiple times without success. Annoyingly they only ever seemed to open packages containing gifts viewers had sent in. Not prepared to send in anything of value, I once tried to circumvent this issue by sending my letter in a large Postpak in the hope they would open it on air thinking it contained some kind of present. When they realised it was just a piece of paper in a giant parcel, it would be too late to not read it out. Not having worked in the television industry at the time, I didn't realise that producers most likely pre-opened letters before the show. This no doubt hurt my chances as my letters contained mostly swears by that point.
The show was hugely popular with kids, winning 7 consecutive Logies for most popular children’s program and making Agro and the cast household names. It also spawned a wide variety of merchandise including Agro show bags, lunch boxes, a Gameboy game, fish fingers, an ice cream, a fleet of mobile pet shampoo vans and an album featuring a cover of children’s classic Shaddap You Face.
Agro developed into an extremely marketable brand but it is unfair to suggest he became a soulless corporate entity with no regard for children’s wellbeing. Agro was well known for generously supporting children’s charities, working on various fundraising telethons, and here he is giving a much needed publicity boost to little battler the hamburger:
Agro’s Cartoon Connection continued its peerless success from 1989-1995 until finally being faced with stiff competition from network TEN’s rival cartoon show Cheez TV. With its young, hip hosts and fresh cartoons, Cheez TV provided the first real challenge to Agro’s morning ratings dominance. Agro was more than up to the test, gracefully plummeting in the ratings and being cancelled shortly after.
After Cartoon Connection, Agro’s legacy continued via a radio career in Brisbane and occasional television appearances including co-hosting the short-lived revival of dating show Perfect Match.
It has been a few years since he has been a regular on Australian television and a return seems unlikely. Certainly in children’s television where questionable conduct isn't deemed as funny as it used to be and, if anything, seems to be resulting in more prison sentences than ever.
This clip of highlights and outtakes demonstrates why the show was so great but walked such a fine line of acceptability. It is fair to say the clip is not safe for work and if there is anyone who doesn’t want to hear Agro swear or watch him commit a variety of acts bordering on assault, perhaps watch some other inferior children’s show.
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