Performers till the end

Agro and Jamie still a partnership after all these years.

By Tania Phillips

They may be in their 70s now but Agro (arguably Australia’s most iconic puppet though a certain Ostrich or Man from the Moon might argue) and “the bald man under the table” Jamie Dunn are still partial to getting out and doing gigs.

“Where there’s a till there’s a way,” Agro laughed as we sat down for our phone interview about his shows at the Ipswich Civic Centre and Redland Performing Arts Centre in September. Yes, I interviewed a puppet, you do a lot of weird stuff in this job and this isn’t even the weirdest – and it’s Agro who wouldn’t want to interview the naughty puppet that could (and often did).

The show is hosted by another iconic Children’s television presenter, Ranger Stacey and is a stroll down memory lane and a chance to hear the naughtiest and funniest Aussie Showbiz stories behind the accidental puppet that became an Aussie icon (and scarily influenced a whole generation).

It will take you back more than 40 years to a time when Mt Cootha was a hive of televisual activity and Agro, Dunn and Jill were the kings and queen of Saturday morning cartoons before they moved into radio and conquered that medium too.

It’s a chance for Agro to get out of the bag in Jamie Dunn’s boot and make people laugh – something he’s still pretty good at.

“Yes yes I’m heading down to Redlands for a show I’ve never been to the Performing Arts Centre there but I’m looking forward to it,” Agro tells me.

“I will take you back in time, time, time – it’s a behind the scenes look at how I got started in this industry – rags to riches.

“But you’re still rags though right?” I quip.

“Yeah, exactly and I’m working with Ranger Stacey – now there’s a blast from the past.”

I derail the conversation, and mention that I’m good friends with his old partner in crime Jill, who might be the first thought when you think of a host for this gig. He laughs.

“I got offered to do a job in Mackay recently and because they wanted to look at that time, so I thought I’d send Jill a message, would you want to do a show,” he says.

“She sent me back – I’m a grandmother, I’ve got a good work life balance and not changing it.”

I laugh that sounds like the woman I met when she was asked to do a column for the paper I was working at.

“I met her in Toowoomba when she was working with a puppet called Ebeneezer the Dragon,” Agro explains.

“I remembered that and when I needed a cohost I told Channel Seven there was a girl up there who’d be great to work with but they made me audition with about six other people Tiffany Lamb and different ladies like that but I didn’t work very well with anyone but Jill – on purpose,” he adds in a cheeky conspiratorial voice, laughing uproariously.

“It will be hoot working with Ranger Stacey. She is exactly the same as Jill. For instance, this isn’t a kids show by any means, but back in the day I remember when a kid would say to Jill for instance – I’ve got a new bike. These days people would just say that’s good and walk on but Jill would stop and say and ask what colour is it? She just had a niceness about it and Ranger Stacey is exactly the same as that.”

And just like Agro (and the man under the desk) Stacey has been a huge part of the childhoods of those who grew up in the 80s and 90s.

“I may never be in children’s television again because of all the out-takes of Cartoon Connections that have gone around the world. They’ve had four and a half million hits from when I was a bit naughty at work,” he chuckles. The one of him working as a naked hand after a dog stole his puppet self seems to pop up more than any other.

“I can’t do that any more,” he says. “Mr Dunn can get down to get under the desk but he just can’t get back up again. And I’m sure seniors will understand that.”

Agro says the show will have a bit of everything.

“There’s a behind the scenes video from the past, there’s an interview with Ranger Stacey and I’m looking forward to that because Mr Dunn comes out and he’s known to be just a little cutting,” he says.

“The show is planned, but not planned……if you know what I mean. That was always the reason that Agro was so successful because it could go off to the right at the drop of the hat.”

Kids know when things are scripted so freewheeling a little is a good thing but particularly when something is live, there is a bit of an air of danger.

“Oh, yeah that’s my middle name,” he says in a sly voice.

“I am looking forward to Redlands and we have one in Ipswich as well on 22nd – a week before Redlands, it will be lovely, I’m looking forward to it, I really am.”

Does he get out much these days?

“Wherever there’s a till there’s a way,” he laughs and I don’t think I’m talking to Agro anymore.

“I don’t feel like retiring, I slowed down just a little bit but no, no not retiring. I was thinking about it because I’m 74 this month. I was thinking, what I would put on my headstone if something went wrong and that’s probably a reason to come to the show – come and watch me die on stage – at least I’ll be in a box already -. I was thinking I would put on my headstone “what a cracker of a life, I’ve had a beauty.”

VIP ticket holders will get a copy of Jamie Dunn’s autobiography and get a chance to meet the gang.

The meet and greet will take place immediately after the performance where guests will also be given an autographed book.

At the end of the show, all VIP ticket holders are asked to remain in their seat whilst the rest of the audience clears (and Agro suggests it’s worth the price of admission to watch the guy employed to help Mr Dunn up out of the box after the performance).

Each group will then be invited for a polaroid photo opportunity with Jamie Dunn and Agro. This will be provided to you on the night at no extra charge.

FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 22, 2023: IPSWICH CIVIC CENTRE – IPSWICH

BOOKINGS: www.ipswichciviccentre.com.au or phone venue box office: (07) 3810 6100

FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 29, 2023: REDLAND PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE – CLEVELAND

BOOKINGS: www.rpac.com.au or phone venue box office: (07) 3829 8131

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