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The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - CONTENTS - Phillip Adams

Dunno about the Pharaoh’s Curse, but beware of Phillip’s. Its power be­came ev­i­dent when guest af­ter guest died within weeks of an in­ter­view. They’d shuf­fle off this mor­tal coil, join the choir in­vis­i­ble and all the other terms de­ployed for the dreaded dead­ings in the Ro­get’s roll-call of the Dead Par­rot sketch. Bereft of life, rest­ing in peace, we had a pan­demic of ex-guests.

Arthurs seemed par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble. Af­ter a rev­er­en­tial chat with my favourite play­wright and life­long hero Arthur Miller… he died. Af­ter so­cial in­ter­course with Arthur C. Clarke, Kubrick’s col­lab­o­ra­tor on the Space Odyssey movies… he died. Ditto Arthur Schlesinger, of­fi­cial his­to­rian for Kennedy’s Camelot. We chat­ted, he died.

Mor­ris West. Colleen McCul­lough. Man­ning Clark. Nugget Coombs. Brett White­ley. Don Dun­stan. Word got around and guests got harder to get. Par­tic­u­larly ones called Arthur. Fi­nally we were forced to make house calls and some tried to die be­fore I knocked on the door. On ar­riv­ing at the Har­vard man­sion of John Ken­neth Gal­braith, I found them cart­ing him out on a stretcher. JKG ral­lied and we did the in­ter­view later – but a few months af­ter that, he was dead too. OK, he was 97, but that was only an ex­cuse.

Due to the fact that most peo­ple worth talk­ing to were no longer talk­ing, I came up with a pro­gram called Dead Peo­ple, in which I’d con­verse with past-tense per­sons. Work­ing with Peter Faiman of Croc­o­dile Dundee no­to­ri­ety, we en­vis­aged a chat show where, for ex­am­ple, you’d have Hitler, Churchill, Stalin and Roo­sevelt sit­ting talk­ing to me about World War II. Or Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mal­colm X dis­cussing the fight for hu­man rights (Nel­son Man­dela was still alive). Or in lighter mood I’d have Chap­lin, W.C. Fields, Shake­speare and Os­car Wilde dis­cussing com­edy – with Mar­cel Marceau mim­ing amus­ing si­lences. I looked for­ward to say­ing, “Be quiet, Hitler! Stalin’s talk­ing.”

The other trick for the show? Every word they’d ut­ter they’d ac­tu­ally have writ­ten or said. It was on the record. We did an ex­per­i­ment on Late Night Live with Adolf Hitler sit­ting in the stu­dio, tak­ing the min­i­mal­ist John Clarke ap­proach. No German ac­cent, just a mat­ter-of-fact con­ver­sa­tional tone. Stripped of all that Nurem­berg the­atri­cal­ity, he seemed even more mon­strous and chill­ing.

Peter wasn’t sure about the look for TV, but in the end we favoured look-a-lik­ing the fa­mous or no­to­ri­ous guests, get­ting a dop­pel­ganger for Hitler, art­fully made-up ac­tors for Churchill, Stalin, Roo­sevelt. And the show could run for years, decades, with the ranks of the de­parted for­ever grow­ing.

These days we could cast Man­dela or the re­cent pan­theon of Aus­tralia’s RIP PMs. Imag­ine a Dead Peo­ple episode star­ring Whit­lam, Fraser and Kerr ar­gu­ing about the coup. Or Nixon, LBJ and JFK on pres­i­den­tial power. I’d like one on in­va­sions of Iraq with Christo­pher Hitchens, Ge­orge H. Bush, Sad­dam Hus­sein and a mil­lion dead peo­ple. You get a hint of my idea in Ar­mando Ian­nucci’s mas­ter­piece The Death of Stalin, in which 90 per cent of the wild im­prob­a­bil­i­ties ac­tu­ally oc­curred, the film trans­form­ing his­tor­i­cal events into political satire.

But our timing was out. Our pitches fell on deaf ears – or ears turn­ing to hear about that ap­proach­ing mis­nomer, re­al­ity tele­vi­sion. No one was in­ter­ested in our most daz­zlingly orig­i­nal con­cept, even though our un­re­al­ity tele­vi­sion was far, far more real. So Dead Peo­ple joined the choir in­vis­i­ble, along with the dead par­rot.

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