Backwards Glance: Kingswood Country

Kingswood Country was a popular “Ugly Suburban Australian” sitcom back in the early 1980s.

It featured the bigoted Ted Bullpit and his wife Thelma, who lived in Wombat Crescent. The series also featured their feminist daughter Greta and her husband Bruno, their medical student son Craig, and a variety of other stereotypical characters. Ted loved his Holden Kingswood car, raised racing greyhounds, and had a ‘concrete Aboriginal’ statue in the garden.

The show spawned a fair few quotes that still have currency amongst my contemporaries. Probably the two most well known are “Bloody shambles, of course” (when someone asks how your day was), and “Money on the fridge” (when someone takes a beer). I could do without anyone imitating Ted’s habit of addressing Thelma as ‘Woman!”, and of shouting “Bloody wog!” when he’s irritated at Bruno. However, the Kingswood Country writers didn’t invent those. They reflected the very real way many white Australian men spoke at the time – a way that, sadly, hasn’t yet died out.

Many of the “jokes” in the show were racist, sexist, ableist, and homophobic in the extreme. But the point of the series, (however clumsily attempted), was to cast light on some of the tensions of the time by contrasting Ted’s prejudice and conservatism with a next generation that was moving (however jerkily) towards feminism and multiculturalism. Did it succeed?

Here is the title sequence:

Here’s a clip in which Ted and Thelma attend a marriage counsellor. Ted is under the impression he’s seeing a local councillor in order to get the sewage connected to their property.

Did you grow up watching Kingswood Country? Do you recall other Australian TV shows of the era that dealt with similar themes?

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism, media

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8 replies

  1. We watched Kingswood Country, and loved it. Although we didn’t get the full level of the nuances at the time, it was obvious that while we were meant to recognise with some affection the prejudiced patriarch, we were really meant to sympathise with the more progressive daughter and son-in-law as they struggled to keep the family peace – it was a conflict we were meant to know and understand.
    Like the British show which inspired it, Till Death Us Do Part (and the American spinoff, All In The Family), each of the irascible bigoted protagonists (Ted Bullpit, Alf Garnet, Archie Bunker) is, as you note, obsessed with how “the new politics” is threatening his conservative touchstones. I’m not sure entirely how successful these shows were at challenging conservative prejudices rather than giving the prejudiced a perceived champion – very much a mixed bag, I reckon.

  2. That’s Nolene Browne playing the councellor, isn’t it? She’s a very good, old-school comic. What struck me about this clip is that the delivery seemed more in the style of a sketch show than a sitcom. That is, punchlines delivered as undisguised punchlines, rather than pretend-ordinary-conversation style.
    I do think Ted was too much the petulent man-child for anyone to identify with or champion him, even back then. Nor was this one of those shows where the man-child gets to be the only comic, while the others (particularly the wife, in most recent incarnations of the genre) gets the boring straight-man role. Thelma got quite a lot of gags of her own, as far as I can recall (I was quite little when it was on). And the Greta-Bruno relationship must have been pretty progressive.

  3. Orlando: I think it is Noelene! She’s fabulous. I think the show was filmed in front of a live studio audience, so there is that sense of playing to the audience rather than the laugh track.
    As for Ted not being championed, however… we moved in different circles, I guess. While people might not clearly have said “Oh, I agree wholeheartedly with all of his political views”, there are sure people who would have happily said “Ted Bullpit, what a dead set legend”, and I’ve heard stuff like the “Bloody wog!” repeated and played for laughs plenty of times. Maybe check this out for a similar example. Satirical/sarcastic? Sooort of.

  4. I’m not familiar with many shows from that era, but I recognise the same sort of thing going on in Life on Mars (UK version) with the character of Gene Hunt — ostensibly we’re supposed to be aligned with Sam who is disgusted by Hunt’s misogyny, homophobia, racism, etc (even though Sam himself is ultimately more comfortable in 1973 than 2006), but it also allows a good portion of the audience to laugh with Hunt, not at him.

  5. Ah, thanks Tigtog. I’ve never seen this show, but reading the description, I thought “this sounds exactly like an Australian version of All in the Family” (which I believe you didn’t get in Australia, right? I’m pretty sure my husband has said he doesn’t know it). I wasn’t aware that All in the Family was a ripoff of a British show, though, seeing as how it’s so . . . American. Sounds like this show is incredibly Australian, too, though. Which I guess is the whole point. Very interesting stuff.
    I’ve never seen this particular show, though, so I guess I’ll just up, other than to say that when it came to Archie Bunker at least, I was never exactly convinced that the show was doing what it claimed to do. I think there are only so many racist (misogynist, etc.) jokes you can make with a laugh track behind them before the joke stops being on the racist.

  6. I wasn’t aware that All in the Family was a ripoff of a British show, though,

    Before the internet (and especially before Web 2.0) it was easier for networks to disguise just how much of their lineup was stolen from successful shows in other countries – everybody was doing it!
    We had Till Death Us Do Part shown on Aussie TV, so I think a lot of people realised the original source for the ‘sit’ part of the Kingswood County sitcom, but didn’t mind because it was adapted so well to the Australian situation.

  7. The Kingswood?

    UR NOT taking the Kingswood!!?!!!?!!111

    I just shampooed the sump!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. My dad used to think he was funny when he said “You’re not taking the Kingswood, I just shampooed the mudflaps” but I still wasn’t allowed to take the car. Mum and I would wait until he went to have a sleep and then she’d sneak me the keys.

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