Ian Heydon - Creative Writing, Fiction And Non-Fiction Author Of Childrens And Adults Books, Travel Guides And Travel Web Sites

Brushes with Fame

10th Aug 2011

There’s a game called ‘Brush With Fame’.  It involves retelling a story of a brief encounter with someone famous. 

The first brush with fame I recall was at the age of nine, when I was in a milk bar near Gundagai Primary School.  I’d gone in for some mixed lollies and a slightly built man in a hat gently pushed me to one side saying, ‘Excuse me, kid…”.  I think he ordered a chocolate milkshake.  Anyway, his name was Ronald Ryan, and he was the last person to be legally executed in Australia (hanged in 1967).

The rules to ‘Brush With Fame’ are simple.  A ‘brush’ cannot be from ‘knowing’ someone famous, nor can it be just being in the same room or aeroplane as someone famous.  It must involve interaction, and asking for an autograph doesn’t count.  An example.  My friend Peter Hewett’s father Lloyd was in Thailand, floating on blow-up ‘li-lo’ in the pool at his Bangkok hotel.  The American singer John Denver was also in the pool and also on a li-lo.  They floated past each other – “This is the life, eh?” said Lloyd.  “Sure is,” replied John.  That is a true ‘brush’ with fame. 

I have had a couple of ‘non-brushes’ with fame.

I once stood in a taxi queue at Sydney’s Regent Hotel behind Monty Python’s Michael Palin, one of my comedy idols.  I thought it would be dumb to blurt that out, so the moment passed without interaction.  And if I had blurted it out, it would have been more a case of grovelling and flattery than a ‘brush’.  A brush would have been something like:

“Don’t taxi queues get on your goat?”

“Yes.  Unfortunately I left my goat in the room.”

I guess I could have been a total prat and said, ‘love your work,’ and then recited the dead parrot sketch for his benefit.

I was at the Regent on that occasion because Doug and I were commissioned to write material for the Grand Opening, which was to be televised on Channel Seven.  In order to disguise the fact that it was a three-hour advertisement for the hotel, a gala concert was the premise with comedic cutaways to show off the various parts of this palatial pub.  Noeline Brown presented these advertorial segments (“Look, this place is so posh they give you real coathangers, not those dicky little ones that slot in a hole and aren’t worth knocking off!”).  The concert featured the likes of Tommy Tycho, the Daly Wilson Big Band, Jackie Love and Glenn Shorrock.  Because I was working with these people, no brush with fame for me counts, but the other half got a wee brush.  When Annie heard that Glenn Shorrock was on the bill, she gave a small swoon.  She had been a fan from when he was lead singer with Twilight and Axiom in the early 1970’s through to his Little River Band days.  I took Annie in to a rehearsal so she could meet her idol, which turned out to be a slightly disappointing ‘brush’ because she didn’t know that Glenn is short.  A nice guy, and a fine voice, but a little height impaired.  Incidentally, Glenn Shorrock lived in London in 1974, after Axiom broke up and during the period Annie and I visited London, separately… and that geographical coincidence is the only other thing the three of us have in common.  Annie and I can’t sing that well.

I have one very famous non-brush with fame.  During my secondary school days I attended church at St Stephen’s in Macquarie Street with Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth but that doesn’t count because she didn’t single me out for a chat. 

In the late 80’s, I attended a radio industry award night where Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, was the special guest.  I won an award that night and at a break in proceedings, decided to take a short cut through the kitchen to a bathroom that wouldn’t have a queue (I’d discovered this during rehearsals as we also provided part of the entertainment, ironically doing live political satire).  The PM’s minders also knew of this short cut and on the way there I pushed open a swinging door, into to the face of a returning Prime Minister…

PM:      Shit…

ME:      Sorry, Bob…

PM:      Arrrgh, it’s okay, no damage…

I’d call that one a nice brush…

A not so nice brush… near Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles I saw someone I recognised leaving a restaurant.  Thinking she was someone I knew from back in Sydney I said, “Hey, how are you going?  What are you doing here?”  It was Michelle Pfeiffer and a case of mistaken identity and acute embarrassment isn’t really a brush worth bragging rights.  Especially as I didn’t even think that the bloke with her would have been her husband, David E. Kelley, one of America’s best TV writers!  Other brushes that don’t count are the myriad interviews I did for Kid Zone! Magazine with the likes of Blondie, Cyndi Lauper, Kim Wilde, Alice Cooper and Ernie Dingo.

One small brush was doing a rehearsal of Kingswood Country at Channel Seven’s Epping Studios.  I was standing between the two bays that would soon play host to the studio audience when I noticed a bloke standing close behind me.  He said, “Funny stuff.”  I said, “I’m pleased, I’m one of the writers.”  He extended his hand to shake.  “Mel Gibson.”  I already knew it was Mel Gibson because, as a member of the Australian Writer’s Guild, I had just voted in the Best Screenplay section of the Australian Film Institute awards.  David Williamson’s script for the movie Gallipoli won hands down.  Peter Weir got Best Director.  The film won Best Picture and the fresh-faced Mel Gibson won Best Actor.  This is a complicated trio in the Brush Game.  I have never met Weir, but love his direction skills (Witness, Dead Poet’s Society, Green Card, The Truman Show, Master and Commander etc).  We did, however, attend the same secondary school.  Is that a ‘brush’ by extension?  And David Williamson is by far Australia’s most successful and respected contemporary playwright but I sort of got to know David when he was President of the Australian Writers’ Guild for many years and I once wrote a speech for him (and rehearsed it) for a televised fundraiser.  That crossed the ‘brush’ line methinks.  I’ll take Mel as a legitimate one though.  And around that time, in the corridors of Channel 7, I passed an American actor called Alan Alda.  I nodded and said, “G’day”, he nodded back and said, “Hi.”  I think that’s an exchange of pleasantries, not a ‘brush’.  Damn, I wish I’d commented on the weather!

My only London ‘brush with fame’ was in 1978.  It was a rainy night in London’s West End, waiting at a taxi rank.  I had just been to see Tom Conti’s marvellous performance in Whose Life Is It Anyway? I was standing in the queue, silently singing a bit from Jethro Tull (“I saw her face in a tear-drop black cab window”) when I noticed that the Irish comedian and practising atheist, Dave Allen, was standing next to me (also not a tall man).  Dave was starring in his own one-man show in the West End and had obviously just finished performing. 

“Good show tonight?” I asked. 

”Yeah, went well,” he replied. 

“Sorry I wasn’t in the audience.  It was a toss-up and I went to see Whose Life Is It Anyway?” 

“I’ve heard it’s brilliant.  Gotta make time for that.” 

A taxi pulled up and Dave beckoned me towards it.

“No, you take it,” I said.  “Thanks for the laughs.”


Dave Allen died in 2005, aged 68.  I wonder if he ever sat around at home, playing a game, and saying, “I once met that TV writer from Australia at a taxi rank.  God, what was his name…?”


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