Still a Bullpitt artist
BLUSTERING bigot Ted Bullpitt caused quite a stir in ’ 80s sitcom Kingswood Country.
But his alter ego, actor Ross Higgins, says behind the scenes it was Colin McEwan, who played Ted’s brother Bob, who was the real troublemaker.
‘‘He used to do the most frightful things to me,’’ Higgins, 78, says of prankster McEwan who died of liver cancer three years ago at the age of 64.
‘‘He used to come in and ruffle my hair when I was sitting with my back to him and it used to irritate me so much that they wrote it into the show.’’
McEwan also reportedly once faked a heart attack in front of his horrified castmates.
‘‘He did the most outrageous, dreadful things and you couldn’t get annoyed with him,’’ Higgins says. ‘‘He was one of those lovely people that could get away with murder, but then time ran out for poor old Col and that was it.’’
Ted, on the other hand, refused to let time catch up with him.
Racist, sexist and fiercely protective of his beloved Holden Kingswood car, he was objectionable in nearly every way.
His Italian son-in-law was a ‘‘bloody wog’’, his own son was a ‘‘randy little bugger’’ and if anyone dared ask to borrow his prized possession he’d bark: ‘‘You’re not taking the Kingswood.’’
Higgins admits he did worry about Ted’s controversial views, but says the quality of the writing and years of performing live on radio, which helped hone Higgins’ comic delivery, meant Ted was largely harmless.
‘‘A few times I had things (to say) that I worried about because they got a little bit close to the mark, but we got around it,’’ he says. ‘‘I think it’s the way you say a thing. It’s the way you present something (that makes it funny rather than offensive).
‘‘(Ted) was politically incorrect, but then I think being politically incorrect is very small cheese compared with some of the other things you see now on television.
‘‘Comedy today — I can get myself into trouble here, but I’ll try not to — comedy today, I don’t think, is all that clever.
‘‘Perhaps I’m missing out. I don’t know. When I see the standup (comedians) sometimes on TV I think ‘Who was your writer?’ ’’
Kingswood, which ran just short of 90 episodes, continues to get laughs on DVD and in re-runs on pay-TV’s FOX Classics channel.
Higgins says he’s surprised Ted’s famous catchphrases such as ‘‘pickle me grandmother’’ and ‘‘grumblebum’’ are entertaining a new generation of viewers.
‘‘People will say ‘I used to watch and enjoy it and now my kids are watching it’. It’s amazing that they find it amusing even after all this time.’’
BUT Ted Bullpitt isn’t the only iconic Australian character to which Higgins can lay claim. He has also supplied the voice of Mortein’s Louie the Fly since 1957.
‘‘Fifty-one years later and it’s still going,’’ he says. ‘‘We just did a whole new lot of ads last week.
‘‘He’s pretty much the same way as I created him originally. He’s always got a gangster voice and that sudden sort of threat about him, but of course he gets killed every episode and comes back the following one. Half his luck.’’
Higgins has been one of the country’s most resilient performers having enjoyed success in radio, theatre, music and television.
‘‘There’s a lot of luck attached to everything,’’ he says. ‘‘I guess you’ve got to have some talent too, to back it up, but really there’s a lot of luck attached to being in the right place at the right time.
‘‘I love the business.’’
Ross Higgins still loves his Kingswood Country character.