Farewell Thin Arthur

Farewell Thin Arthur


As many of you will have heard, last Wednesday, December 13 sadly brought the passing of great Australian musician and comedic actor Rory O'Donoghue, best known to a generation of Australians as Aunty Jack's sidekick Thin Arthur.

In a brave and heartbreaking Facebook post, Roy's daughter Jessica has outlined the circumstances surrounding her father's passing:

"Thank you all for your lovely sentiments and expressions of love for Rory O'Donoghue. 

Many of you are asking what happened and how Dad died. We feel it’s important to share that Dad had suffered from severe depression and mental illness for many many years. He sadly took his own life while being treated in hospital. Dad had a long battle with his demons and despite his amazing life, talent and success, he was not able to overcome the illness that plagued him. 

We hope that by sharing this we can bring more awareness to the serious issue of mental illness and that we can support those in need. If only Dad could have read all your lovely words and thoughts. He touched so many people with his light and talent. He was surrounded by so much love, it’s such a tragedy that his illness prevented him from feeling it.

Your love and best wishes are deeply felt by all the family and very much appreciated."

Rory O'Donoghue, of course, was more than just the guy who portrayed one of the great Australian comedic characters and wrote and sung all the wonderful music on The Aunty Jack Show. He had a theatrical and musical life outside the show, beginning as a child in Sydney in the early rock'n'roll era playing guitar on the Coca-Cola Bottler's Club Radio Show. Rory's parents came from a theatrical background and Rory soon scored roles in professional productions of both Oliver and The Sound of Music. In his mid-teens, he joined Sydney band the Pogs, who released four singles for Festival's Leedon label across 1966 and 67. The raucous "The Pog's Theme" - the B-side to one of those singles - was included by Glenn A Baker in the classic mid-'70s garage band collection So You Wanna Be A Rock'nRoll Star and has since become something of a classic of the era. (The four Pogs singles - all 8 sides - together with their "Aboriginal Referendum Jingle (Vote Yes for Aborigines)", written and recorded in support of the "Yes" vote for the 1967 Australian referendum - were reissued in 2016 on the Playback Records' compilation I Want, Need, Love You!: Garage-Beat Nuggets from the Festival Vaults.)

The Pogs also played Sydney University’s famed Architecture revues, which is where, still in his teens, Rory first met and worked his longtime collaborator and future Aunty Jack creator Grahame Bond. An early collaborative work produced by Bond and O'Donoghue was the student theatre revue "The Great Wall of Porridge" in 1967. 

The Pogs developed into the heavily psychedelic Oak Apple Day, who released one single on Phillips in 1969, again with Rory on lead vocals. The A-side was a cover of the Traffic song "No Name, No Face"; the B-side was the terrific original tune "Oceans of Fire"

Rory was also booked as a session singer for a 1969 single entitled "Moonshot", a goofy and jokey single released to cash in on the moon landing. Released under the name Oak Apple Day with The Deadly Pair it was hardly Rory's finest moment but a bit of fun nonetheless.

Oak Apple Day broke up in 1970 and Rory went on to play jazz before joining The If who performed The Who’s rock opera Tommy at the Elizabethan Theatre in Sydney. He also recorded an odd one-off single - co-written by Grahame Bond - called "The Race" for Fable in 1970.

Rory also worked on the musical Jesus Christ Superstar - alongside Stevie Wright - before hooking up with Bond again for The Aunty Jack Show, which was first commissioned by the ABC as a Children's Radio show! Deemed inappropriate, the concept was developed for television, making its debut as Aunty Jack's Travelling Show, an episode of ABC-TV's The Comedy Game, in late 1971, before becoming The Aunty Jack Show.

The Aunty Jack Show ran for two seasons; the first on the ABC in '72 and '73. Of course, The Aunty Jack Show also introduced the world to Garry McDonald, who initially appeared as Kid Eager before developing the legendary character Norman Gunston. 

In ’73, Rory also found pop success playing the guitar solo on Kevin Johnson's epic hit "Rock 'N Roll (I Gave You The Best Years Of My Life)". At some point in these proceedings, he also formed the band Cool Bananas, who released one single for Alberts in 1973. Cool Bananas also featured in the 1973 ABC TV concert special Aunty Jack Rox On alongside Aunty Jack with guests including Rory's fellow Alberts' artists George Young, Bobbi Marchini and, working together for the first time since Superstar, Stevie Wright, on the eve of his solo career.

The axing of The Aunty Jack Show at the end of its '73 season (the last episode aired in November), led to the release of a single version of the show's theme song "Farewell Aunty Jack". It was one of the first picture discs released in Australia and it was hugely successful -- according to label historian Hank Facer, it was the first Australian single ever to enter the Australian charts at #1. It stayed at #1 for ten weeks, charted for 22 weeks and eventually sold over 100,000. 

Musically, "Farewell Aunty Jack" was much more than just the theme to a TV comedy show; it remains one of the great Australian pop singles of any era, and Rory sang it beautifully.

Rory and Grahame then put together a touring band called Aunty Jack & The 'Gong, and, together with Garry McDonald, eventually recorded the album Aunty Jack Sings Wollongong which featured the hit single, and adaptions of some of the best sketches from the TV series. 

The ABC famously brought back the team for the one-off special Aunty Jack Introduces Colour which aired 28 February 1975 and begun in B&W before changing to colour, and which was the first ever colour television broadcast in Australia.

Rory and Grahame found further success later in the decade with the show and album Boy’s Own Macbeth, and in 1981 they shared an AFI Award for Best Movie Score for the music in the film Fatty Finn. Rory also hosted Channel 9 kids show Razzle Dazzle. 

Whilst Rory's profile was somewhat diminished in subsequent decades, he remained active and musical.  His "Come On Aussie Come On" style interpretation of "Stairway to Heaven" was a highlight of Andrew Denton's ongoing presentation on The Money or The Gun throughout 1989 and 1990 of versions of the Zeppelin chestnut.

In 2012 Rory premiered a one-man show featuring songs from his various endeavors, going back to his childhood theatre performances, Superstar and of course Aunty Jack

A year or so earlier he'd started a YouTube channel and began posting numerous solo performance and tutorial videos that showed off his brilliance on both guitar and uke. He included theatre tunes, blues, jazz and many of his favourite tunes from the '60s, including numerous Beatles tunes and this wonderful version of the Kinks’ "Sunny Afternoon".

On December 29, 2016, the day after the passing of his old mate Stevie Wright, Rory posted a haunting version of the Vanda & Young tune that had become something of an epitaph for Stevie, "Hard Road". At the start of this year, on January 3, he posted on Facebook a cover of Bob Dylan's "Blowing in The Wind", commenting that the song had "even more relevance as we roll into 2017"

On Feb 10, Rory announced on Facebook that he was working on a new album and presented the first completed track, here. 

We believe Rory's last public performance took place Friday November 24 at Sydney's Gleebooks, launching Grahame Bond's new book. The pair performed a few tunes together, after which Rory told the Mediaweek website that it was the first time he and Grahame had performed together in a decade.  


Rory & Grahame Bond reunited for Graham's book launch, November 24 2017. Photo via www.mediaweek.com.au

Rory O'Donoghue was a singular talent whose work never failed to provide brightness in the world. By all reports, he was also the gentlest of men. I Like Your Old Stuff will remember him with love and affection.

-Dave Laing

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