It took him four decades, but Mark Trevorrow is finally making his children’s television debut on ABC Kids Kangaroo beach.
Trevorrow, best known for his inimitable Bob Downe creation, is the voice of koala pop star Russell, joining Rupert Degas as one of two fathers to Frizzy (Eliza Hynes).
In the double-episode season finale, the cadets are super excited to welcome their parents, but when they can’t hear a water safety demonstration, the lifeguards-in-training face their biggest emergency yet.
“I love how parents are such a bunch of jerks,” says Trevorrow TV tonight.
“Russell is an aspiring pop star. I don’t know if she’s really a star. I think he may have appeared once on Countdown with much less success.
“What I love about the show is that it’s co-produced by Lifesaving Australia. So all the beach safety stuff is so incredibly spot on. Each episode gets 2 million views. It is actually the second highest rated children’s show they have after Blue.”
While Kangaroo beach marks his first children’s television show, Trevorrow is no stranger to performing for family audiences, as his alter ego, Bob Downe.
“Kids love Bob, because he’s just a silly clown,” she explains.
“I have shows where people bring their kids. Like, literally like nine month olds sitting on the floor, looking up, mesmerized the whole time. I’m great with preschoolers.
Yet Trevorrow’s irony does not escape the fact that while Russell is just one of many parents, for many years as a gay performer, he has struggled to find work in Australian television.
“Next year Bob Downe’s character will be 40 years old. There wasn’t even a scenario for a six-foot-tall fat skinny guy. Those were the days of being told not to be too gay, by gay directors, producers and agents. He’s been fucked! remember.
“But now there’s a gay man cast to play a gay father in an animated preschool TV show. Things have really, really changed in the most profound and wonderful way.
“The public hated me. The crew hated me”
While he performed quite successfully in stand-up comedy as Bob Downe, television wasn’t always kind, as he recalls in an appearance on Hey hey it’s Saturday in 1987.
“The public hated me. The crew hated me. Everyone hated me,” she recalls.
“I was introduced to Donny Osmond in the Channel Nine corridor on Bendigo Street in Richmond. He was back then with that leather suit, that ‘Soldier of Fortune’ look. I was in my bathing suit and Donny looked me up and down and withdrew his hand. He refused to shake my hand. He was just humiliating.
She adds, “They weren’t in a hurry to book me again.”
Of course, while Bob Downe was never really out back then, it still caused ripples.
“She was kind of a showbiz queen. That’s the only way you can play it,” she agrees.
“It was really smart. Everyone knew he was a gay to do it. But slowly over the years I’ve done more and more and now it’s just me. Bob is me in a wig, which I love.
In 1988 Trevorrow had to travel to Edinburgh after being overlooked to appear in a comedy showcase ‘OzNost’ alongside Gina Riley, Wendy Harmer and Magda Szubanski, despite it being organized by the management of Last Laugh where he was selling plays.
“I was not included in the group because I was not considered good enough. What other reason could there be, if not homophobia? My mother and father were so outraged that they gave me money to go. I went and blew them all out of the water. I’ve had complete acceptance from the television people since my first show in Edinburgh. I did a lot more TV work in the UK at the time than in Australia.
In the UK he would continue to host his own shows, Bob Downe all over Britainlate night show Bob Downe Under on LWT, The Bob Downe special for ITV plus regular appearances on Long live Cabaret with Doug Anthony All Stars Stars and Lily Savage.
His Australian TV shows wouldn’t come until he got home.
“The first thing I got myself here was the Foxtel series The Bob Downe Show in 1999-2000 and a pop culture history show The way we were introducing myself as me on ABC. And then another show out of 10 called Fabulous, famous and forgotten,” he says.
“And it was called a show on Foxtel that I did with Denise Drysdale Karaoke-doakey.
“There was immediate acceptance by British television”
“There was immediate acceptance by British television at a time when I couldn’t be arrested by Australian TV.”
Trevorrow continues to perform across the country in a variety of shows including Long live Bob Vegas, Jazzyp&o cruises, Sing straight AND Adelaide tonight returning to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival with television industry doyen Anne Wills.
Even though such casting was taboo during her early years, she welcomes it Kangaroo beach‘s approach to diverse families simply as part of its larger storytelling.
“They want it to be shown as just another part of the diversity of contemporary Australia”
“This is what they want. They want it to be shown as just another part of the diversity of contemporary Australia,” she explains.
“You start out as a pioneering gay entertainer and then it goes mainstream. And now I can’t get any work because Joel Creasey is getting all the work I’m supposed to get!
Sometimes it can be hard to tell if Trevorrow is talking seriously or with a twinkle in his eye.
“He said dripping with contempt! He’s fabulous. Rhys Nicholson – they are all fabulous. But now, of course, I’m too old. It is funny.
“It’s so ironic. I couldn’t find a job then because I was too gay. Now I can’t find a job because I’m too old, but gay is not a problem!
“How ironic is that?”
The Kangaroo Beach finale airs Sunday, May 14 at 5:05pm on ABC Kids