Every Sunday for 21 years the dynamic duo of radio crashtackle the world and squirrel grip Sydneysiders
When Monday bloody Monday looms large on the lobes and the world and all its attendant worries limbers up anew for the slog of the working week, it’s comforting to know they’re out there – spouting sweet bohemian drivel, lopping poppies with panache, not giving a rats for what’s proper and, most important of all, making us laugh and laugh and laugh.
Roy and HG are as much a part of a Sydney Sunday as Victa mowers, trips to the beach and lamb roasts. Since 1986, they’ve occupied the same arvo slot on Triple J – talking sport for the rock ‘n’ roll generation and extracting the piss from anyone on the bludge, on the blub or on the lam from the truth, chewing the fat and alchemising as only best mates can.
Roy and HG came together as easily as nitro and glycerine when two jobbing actors, John Doyle and Greig Pickhaver, met on the set of an SBS childrens show, Five Times Dizzy. Doyle played Professor Dim and Pickhaver was Mr Wilson but it was their chiacking between takes that was revelatory. They paired up as Friday editorialists on the Rusty Nails breakfast show on Triple J, which later that year led to their commentating the 1986 Canterbury–Parramatta rugby league grand final – first of the now annual Festival of the Boot.
Almost overnight, Doyle became Rampaging Roy Slaven (the real-life name of a league hero in his hometown of Lithgow) – a ball-tearing sports legend turned brain-busting radio tyro. His partner in criminy, Pickhaver, became HG Nelson – radio Immortal and a man equally at ease hooking flathead, sending an oyster south, dropping the tweeds or going the Christmas grip to the world.
Yet their identities remained a secret to the world at large. Even when they first took on TV in 1988, appearing on Andrew Denton’s Blah Blah Blah, it was in silhouette only. Of course, their stars soon outshone that shadow. As Club Buggery on ABCTV they won a Logie, as the Channel Nine Show they rammed it up the clackers of the commercial networks, as Planet Norwich they invaded the UK.
But it was as The Dream that Roy and HG made the leap from cult folk heroes to global stuporstars. Every night of the Sydney Olympics they conducted a nightly trawl through the human drama of the day. Athletes queued to be interviewed, celebrities clamoured to read the nightly news bulletins and an international incident was sparked when the show’s mascot, Fatso the Fat Arsed Wombat, was banned from the medal winners dais for usurping the official mascots. Roy and HG’s response to the IOC? “Get stuffed!”
More memorable though was how Roy and HG shoved Australia’s lively and vibrant culture up the “spinning date” of the entire world. Rating phenomenal 60 shares in most states and peaking at 1.8 million nightly viewers, they bamboozled the foreign media so much, a glossary of the duo’s expressions was printed.
It was the beginning of a white hot run calling via radio, TV and internet most of the major sporting events around the world – the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics (The Ice Dream), the 2003 Rugby World Cup (The Cream) and the 2006 FIFA World Cup (Dribble Mit HG und Roy).
All the while, the pair kept up their TV appearances: as The Monday Dump and The Nation Dumps (even hosting an ill-fated game show Win Roy & HG’s Money for Seven). Most recently there was The Memphis Trousers, a show named for ex-Aussie PM Malcolm Fraser’s famously mislaid strides and telecast as if from the set of an Albuquerque tonight show studio, despite the fact it was filmed entirely in Sydney.
Not once did they miss a Sunday as Roy and HG though. Broadcasting live from the Triple J studios in Ultimo, their feral filibustering as This Sporting Life has endured – a unique strain of Australian comedy, crash-tackling life head-on. There, in the lucerne of their own laughter, Roy and HG are a classic case of ‘two heads, one brain’ with a feral brand of patter in perpetual motion, telegraphed over the airwaves as two mates yakking and cacking over a schooner.
“We amuse each other more than ever,” reckons Roy, “because our rules have always been very simple. One, we invert issues so that the serious is trivial and the trivial is serious. Two, we try and be as long-winded as possible. And three, we never disagree with each other. I can honestly say that in 21 years we’ve never had a heated moment. It’s as though we appreciate the need not to undermine the glue that’s kept us together all this time... that and the fact that by Sunday arvo we’re both so wound up we can’t wait to let rip.”
HG calls it “a comedy of attitudes. I’m the ball-by-ball commentator and Roy’s the expert who chimes in when a goal’s been kicked or a try scored. If he gets stuck I revert back to the idea that I start the ball rolling again and open up new lanes to play in. And that’s why we don’t rehearse; I want to be surprised, not just at the answer but at what Roy’s going to say.”
Every Sunday, John and Greig meet – opening batsmen through a pavilion gate, sparring partners in a ring, two Woodies at their own private Wimbledon – and for three hours sub-let their brains to Roy and HG to put the world on its arse. Politicians? “Runny-nose pick-pockets on the fiddle.” Golfers? “Choking, overpaid, self-indulgent bludgers”. The French? “Cheese-eating surrender monkeys!”
Yet, as with all great radio stars, their silences speak a lot of them. The pregnant pause as a moral uppercut hits home. The eye-pop as a player is re-rendered as “The Brick with Eyes” or “The Squirrel Gripper”, the arc of a lampoon into the side of a sacred cow. In the end, it’s the static of satire and the sound of Roy and HG wheezing with laughter after pushing each other – and us – to the precipice of lunacy.
1986 Roy & HG are born on Triple J radio
1988 TV debut on ABC’s Blah Blah Blah
1996 Roy & HG win Logie for Club Buggery
2000 The Dream becomes a global phenomena
2005 Memphis Trousers airs on Seven
2006 This Sporting Life’s 20th Festival of the Boot Pts 1 & 2
2007 Roy & HG call election, Indecision ‘07
2008 Begin broadcasting on Triple M with The Life