The night The Life of Brian was dropped from the TV schedule

(One of my favourite articles I’ve written, which I initiated when I’d sat down to watch one of my favourite movies, The Life of Brian, on a Monday night, but it wasn’t on! Living in conservative Queensland, I suspected something might have been afoot, so I rang the TV station the next day and uncovered the following story. This story was published in a regional daily newspaper, The Maryborough Chronicle.)

TV movie gets the axe after protest by religious groups


TWO scheduled programs have been dropped by commercial television station SEQ8 due to lobbying by religious groups for their removal.

A cartoon series, Dungeons and Dragons, has been removed until it has been examined by a panel of experts.

Also, the Monty Python move, The Life of Brian, was scheduled for 9.30pm on Monday but was replaced with a “cops and robbers” drama, Stigma, after a petition was received from Christians in Monto.

“The petition, of 22 signatures, came from Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Seventh Day Adventists,” said SEQ’s program manager, Mrs Jan Daniel.

SEQ’s programming decisions are made by the program manager, the general manager and the station manager.

She said the petition said the movie was offensive to Christians and “felt it wasn’t good for young people to watch”.

“We had a phone call from Hervey Bay, a pastor in Gin Gin also rang to protest, and there were a few phone calls from Bundaberg, plus the petition,” Mrs Daniel said.

She said this was the first time SEQ had dropped programs due to protests from the public.

“We’ve had about a dozen calls from people complaining about The Life of Brian not going to air; a couple from Nambour, one from Gympie, and about 11 from Maryborough,” Mrs Daniel said.

The axing is significant at this time, as the country ratings survey ends in the first week of June, and The Life of Brian has been a proven ratings winner in other capital cities.

“In Brisbane, it rated higher than Gone With the Wind,” Mrs Daniel said.

The children’s cartoon, Dungeons and Dragons, was removed on May 11, after religious groups claimed it encouraged children to worship the occult.

A segment on State Affair highlighted that by continuously playing the D and D board game, children could feel inclined to perform acts of violence or commit suicide.

Mrs Daniel said that a panel of six people, including a pastor, a parent, one of the children who wrote in to complain about the show being taken off air (12 letters from the show’s fans were received at SEQ), a librarian, a psychologist, and a person from SEQ, would meet during the next fortnight to compare Dungeons and Dragons with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (another favourite with children, which hasn’t received any complaints).

“We also got a complaint about an episode of The Woody Woodpecker Show screened on May 17, which a viewer considered overly violent,” Mrs Daniel said.

Every phone call or letter received from viewed (with name and address) must be fully documented by SEQ to comply with the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal’s regulations.

She said that The Life of Brian had been scheduled for 9.30pm, later than the usual 8.30pm start for movies, due to the nature of the film.

“We put it on later, so if people didn’t want to watch it, they could turn their television sets off.”

She said that no complaints had been received from Maryborough or the Sunshine Coast.

There are 275,000 people, according to the latest census figures, in SEQ’s viewing area.

“Surprisingly, we didn’t get any complaints about Porky’s,” Mrs Daniel said.

Porky’s was screened last Saturday at 10.15pm, following The Empire Strikes Back. A renowned sex comedy, it was described in the television guide as portraying “The exploits of six over-heated young men bound together by their obsession for girls”. It was heavily modified.

The Baptist pastor at Monto, Mr Noel Nicholls, said he had hired a videotape of The Life of Brian before he organised the petition.

“I was warned by an assistant at the store that the video was ‘blasphemous’,” Mr Nicholls said. He said that the crucifixion scene was particularly offensive, and “made a huge joke of Christianity”.

“I would think the Christian public would be most offended by this. Some of it is obviously just comedy, but often there are tones of underlying blasphemy by subtle association with the life of Christ,” Mr Nicholls said.

He said the opening scene mocked the nativity of Christ. There were many takeoffs of Christ’s teachings, and the language was “foul”. When questioned about the replacement program, Stigma, which is a story about a policeman who received a medal for bravery in a shootout, and the sex comedy Porky’s, Mr Nicholls said it was up to the individual to choose their own viewing.

“There are a lot of  unwholesome films, but I don’t have the time to monitor these. It’s the individual’s responsibility to choose what they are going to watch.

“I only object when a program ridicules the name of Jesus Christ. That is when we have to stand up and be counted,” Mr Nicholls said.

He said he appreciated that SEQ had listened to the public by refusing to screen the program.

The presbyterian minister at Monto, Mr John Witteveen, said that the film contained “gutter language”and made a mockery of Christianity and Judaism.

“Some parts of it were very funny and clever but there was no indication that it would be modified for television.

“I think that young people would be influenced by its attitude to Christianity. It’s hard enough already getting them interested,” Mr Witteveen said.

He said that the long term effects of the attitude shown in the film also had to be considered.

The Anglican priest at Monto, Mr Noel Gill, said that most people he had asked had already seen the film.

“It could be misleading to those people who aren’t strong in the faith,” he said.



Went to Meng Fei’s Q&A in Sydney

Saw Meng Fei tonight, of If You Are The One. Was great. I love the show’s hosts and having people round to watch it. He was very good, and joked that he might open a noodle shop here. I missed a lot in the translation. The Chinese-speaking audience picked up about three-times more jokes. Some fans had flown from Perth and Darwin. Australia’s one of the few countries that adds sub-titles, otherwise you have to know Mandarin to follow it.

Professor Wanning Sun, of UTS, said the dating scene had recently changed with economic reform and privatisation: before that, other people, such as bosses and supervisors, would tell employees who they should date. Elders would gather in parks with posters listing the qualities of their children so they could pair them off. Now, everyone has to find love themselves, so it’s a huge paradigm shift, which is why If You Are The One always stresses it’s “providing a service”.

Love the Chinese fans, they were hilarious, all rushed up to surround Meng Fei at the end. And LOTS of yummy food afterwards, all Aussie food, meat pies etc. It was a tourism event. A koala made an appearance. Western Syd uni campus is very nice.
Meng Fei’s appearance in Sydney He’s on at 1:08.

If You Are The One TV fest

Have held a couple of If You Are The One fests at mine. I’d watch a zillion episodes and edited them down savagely and we’d watch from 1pm to 7pm. So many heart-wrenching emotions!

About 7 guests turn up and we order tummy-filling Chinese food from Happy Chef.

I’d selected bits that reflected Chinese culture. So we got lots of zany stuff about not dating Westerners, choosing people on the basis of single or double eyelids, preferences for Asian women with fair skin (even to the point of the guy insisting the woman play sport at nighttime so she didn’t get a tan), comments on Westerners’ “three-dimensional” faces, their thoughts on the “one child policy” and the dating trials faced by female PhD students (any woman who studies too much finds it harder to get a date). Le Jia said Westerners would be arrested by making such racial distinctions, if saying that in America.

I like all their philosophical wisdom: Le Jia said to a young man: “You pay an unnecessary price for being too sharp.” Meng Fei: “When you get to a certain age, you’ll put on weight even if you drink water!” Everything Huang Han says is brilliant, especially about Aristotle: she’s very good at arguing the finer points with arrogant candidates.

Regarding the one-child policy, Le Jia and Meng Fei pointed out that couples didn’t need to have children, they could “devote their time to serving others and socialism”. Or they might want to “give love to children who don’t have parental love.” Huang Han says having a child shouldn’t be a filial duty, but should be done because the couple wants to have a child.

In Chinese society, it seems the most desirable traits are that women are pure and simple and men are sunny and carefree.

B made delicious coconut and lime cake, Ant brought Singapore orchids, Kris brought fortune cookies, and I provided Lychee tea, pork buns and shrimp and meat-flavoured crisps (recommended by Asian bloke at Asian supermarket).

I will be holding another IYATO fest for a special person who missed out, being overseas at the moment.

Bill Ranken

Cotton Ward and Bill Ranken
Cotton Ward and Bill Ranken 1992, housewarming party at Bondi flat.

Whenever four of us former Eastern Express staff get together every year or so for the past 25yrs, we always toast the inimitable Bill Ranken “who’ll outlive all of us!” we predicted. He was such a ball of positive and energy with an endless work ethic directed towards socialising. We’d worked with him 1990-94 when he reinvented himself as a Society Spy social writer as a “youthful” 60-year-old.

Bill Ranken in action
Bill Ranken at my flatwarming in a modest 2-bedder. No party was too small! He loved all of Sydney.

His forte was the relentless drive to go out, and everything was devoted to that aim. All we knew at the time was that he lived in a little studio flat, and used to jog every morning to keep trim. He was fitter than all of us and we were in our early 30s!  He knew all the socialites by their first names, and was very discreet. I’d have to try and interpret his laughter to my questions to get any gossip.

John Cotton Bill
Bill’s sometime social photographer, John Paoloni, me and Bill Ranken. At housewarming party.

We trained him in the gig: he had a photographer and wrote names in his notebook. Early on, he often lost his notebooks but soon realised the importance of getting all the names, or we wouldn’t use the photos. His opening sentences were always a bright splash of hyperbole: “There were more stars than in the galaxy …”
I subbed and laid out his social spreads for 4.5 years until the paper folded, and it was always a joy when he visited the office. He couldn’t really write, but he persevered in this profession anyway, knowing that taking photos and mingling were his strong points.

Bill Ranken not marrying kind
One of three parodies I wrote of Bill’s Society Spy page for the Eastern Express Christmas mag.

He was always gracious and never a snob. I was in my “punk” phase at the time, holding a “Flatmate from Hell” flatwarming party in Bondi and, of course, Bill said: “I’ll be there!” He came along on a Saturday night in his trademark suit and bow tie, his daily free rose from Carla Florist, Double Bay, in his lapel, and was his usual buoyant self, working the room.

As he got older, our admiration only increased, as it would be harder to fit into those young social circles and we knew he’d alienated some people with his shenanigans. But he was still up at the crack of dawn every day, jogging away, as tanned as ever, and out on the town every night: he just loved people, and helped out at the Wayside Chapel. He was an inspiring story of accepting who he was, his limitations, but still giving life everything he had, every day til he dropped.

One of three parodies of his Society Spy section I wrote for an Eastern Express Christmas mag.
One of three parodies of his Society Spy section I wrote for an Eastern Express Christmas mag.

Last time I bumped into him was on Oxford St, outside the Beauchamp Hotel, where he was bending down to tie his shoelace, then checking in a mirror to see he was looking polished. I said hi and he was as friendly as ever.

Now that he’s passed (into another ball of positive energy somewhere, I believe), we see his tragic back-story and it makes his humble choices even more amazing. He was worth $30million when he died, tied up in family land, which, though he was the eldest son, he encouraged other family members to take on. He would mention how he lost his eye and during the recuperation time he realised he wasn’t suited to the farming life.

Bill Ranken and Bubbles

More tragedies: his younger brother who took over the property died, and then his sister’s husband who took over was killed too. A year after this last death, Bill arrived at the Eastern Express, while going back and forth to help on the property as much as he could. He had a big heart. You can read elsewhere how he’d been a consort to Princess Margaret and a playboy in his younger years: but later, when he had no money to show, he still went out diligently, as he loved people and loved Sydney.

Fittingly, his last published words: “I’ve had a wonderful time. To the socialites of the eastern suburbs, I insist they all keep hosting fabulous parties.”

This song sums up Bill for me: formal, a bit nerdy, wholesome in his own way, ever-cheerful and sunny, add a dollop of old fashioned kindness. Oh, Darling, and Anything Goes!

And Music To Watch Girls By

One Thing – Bill stuck to the one thing he loved, socialising.

Vale Bill Ranken: the link,

Telegraph obituary

Sydney Morning Herald obituary

Continue reading Bill Ranken

Decriminalisation of drugs

David Marr gave a brilliant talk on decriminalisation of drugs at the Uni of Sydney. He was on a panel chatting about it, and the place was packed out. He said the best way for individuals to help with change is to publicly admit their drug experiences.

I’ve never had any, though H told me she put dope in a curry I ate once (without telling me at the time). I didn’t notice anything. I drove home OK. A couple of days later, I found out. Dunno if that confession will change the world. 😉

The panel said by the age of 40, 60 per cent of the Australian population had tried illegal drugs at least once. Marr said it was disgraceful how the threat of a criminal record and career ruination hung over the lives of those who like to pop a pill for a good time at a dance party on the weekend.