COMICAL LIFE: Australian writer, actor and director Ian McFadyen.
COMICAL LIFE: Australian writer, actor and director Ian McFadyen.

Cruising into comedic retirement

REMEMBER Con the Fruiterer? "Couple a days...bewdiful."

He made the phrase famous and brought it into the Australian vernacular in the 1980s. There wasn't a person in the country who didn't laugh out loud every time Con spat into a bag, placed a few tomatoes in it and said "coupla days".

Con the Fruiterer, aka comedian Mark Michell, was just one of the many colourful characters of The Comedy Company, the 1980s fast-paced sketch comedy series than won the hearts of the country and launched many careers.

Ian McFadyen, actor, writer, author and creator of The Comedy Company remembers those years with nostalgia and even a sense of awe at how he and his colleagues managed to write so much original material every week.

"We came with the ideas fast," McFadyen, now 70, said.

"We had to come up with 45 minutes (of entertainment) every week. The key to it was a writers' meeting. We would sit down for two hours. I used to record the meeting on a cassette recorder and we would discuss ideas and sketches. When the cassette was half full, I'd turn it over and fill the other half. Then I'd go (out of the meeting) and edit it and there would be at least five or six sketches almost already written, just from the meeting. All I had to do was tidy it up. They were a talented lot."

That talented lot refers to Mark Michel, Mary-Anne Fahey, Glenn Robbins, Kym Gyngell and others who went on to become household names, many of who are still performing today.

"The show became almost like a sitcom for some of the characters, with on-going stories," McFadyen said. "Characters like Con the Fruiterer. He and his wife and children became their own sit-coms."

As for today's comedy, McFadyen says he misses sketch comedy, but does enjoy good British shows.

"The British have always been so good," he said. "They used to do those wonderful panel shows back in the day of radio, My Word, with Frank Muir. We are doing it a fair bit like that here now with Have You Been Paying Attention."

McFadyen, who now lives quietly in retirement in Brisbane with his wife Jo, has taken up the artist's palette, painting portraits of his friends. He believes there will be a surge in sales of art and craft products all over the country as baby boomers like himself, embrace retirement and take up creative hobbies.

"I used to do painting a bit when I was a teenager, dropped it for 40 years, and about 10 years ago I started painting again," he said. "I found I'd improved without having done anything in the meantime. My wife Jo is a painter, not as an earner; you are lucky if you can cover the cost of the materials. I started doing portraits of my friends just to see their reaction. I did one of Mark Mitchell as an entry to the Archibald Prize."

Artistic pursuits are not the only things in McFadyen's life. He has been invited to host a comedy-themed cruise in August to the British Isles stopping in Edinburgh for the iconic Edinburgh Comedy Fringe Festival.

"I am looking forward to it," he said. "I have sent people to the Edinburgh Festival, but I've never been myself. I've never been to Scotland. It's exciting. Obviously, I'll be with people on the cruise in my own age bracket and upwards and that's alright with me. I will be able to indulge my love of the comedy I grew up with in the '50s; the classic stuff. We are going through the (cruise) program now, the main part looking at comedy suitable for that age group to enjoy."

McFadyen will host a series of talks on board the cruise ship and escort passengers on shore excursions, with emphasis on carefully chosen events at the Edinburgh Festival.

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