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Harry Montague (Happy) Hammond (1916–1998)

by Mark Juddery

from Australian

Harry "Happy" Hammond Radio and television personality. Born Sydney, May 7, 1917. Died Rosebud, Victoria, April 1, aged 80.

For more than 20 years, "Happy" Hammond was the fresh-faced compere of "the happiest show on Australian television". Wearing a tartan sports coat and a checked hat, he would introduce The Happy Show five days a week with a cheerful cry: "Howdee doodee, boys and girls! ' It was required viewing for many Victorian children, including Jeff Kennett, who was eight years old when it began.

In other States, Hammond was less well-known. Sydney children had Captain Fortune and the indefatigable clowns, Zig and Zag; Adelaide had Humphrey B. Bear (on his road to national fame); other regions had their local heroes — but most of them followed Hammond's lead.

Apart from Peters Fun Fair, in which Zig and Zag linked imported cartoons with short slapstick routines, The Happy Show was Australia's first children's show. Its format — dressed up as Romper Room, Wombat or the current Fox Cubs has worked ever since.

For someone who had such rapport with children, it is perhaps surprising that he had never intended to be a kids' entertainer. He had served in the 1st Division during World War II, soon after Australia went to war with Japan. When his army buddies moaned that they were forced to carry their equipment, he cheekily posted a sign saying "The Happy Club" to a nearby tree — earning him his nickname.

Always interested in show business, Hammond produced the division's concert party, known as the Boomerang Show or (more frequently) the Crazy Days Show. He was part of a comedy double act, with the compere, Keith Glover, playing his straight man.

After the war, Hammond and Glover took their act to Melbourne's Tivoli Theatre, with modest success. Hammond's witty, buoyant delivery won him an announcing job on Geelong station 3GL, making him a popular voice (and, thanks to promotions, a recognised face) in that town.

He became such an institution that, 10 years later, he was invited by coach Bob Davis to attend the dressing-rooms of the Geelong Cats before the 1963 Grand Final. A devoted Cats supporter, Hammond even ran on to the Melbourne Cricket Ground with them. He must have been a great inspiration; they went on to win by 49 points.

By the early 1950s, Hammond had moved on to become the breakfast announcer at Melbourne's 3AW. He moved on again in 1956 — this time to take over 3UZ's late-morning Housewives Session.

This was no small task. Under Nicky (Cliff Nicholls Whitta), Housewives Session had won 73 per cent of the listening audience. Nicky's death in 1956 had caused some panic at 3UZ and Hammond was considered the only person who could follow him inheriting Nicky's comic stooge, 22-year-old Graham Kennedy, along with the show.

The Happy Show, also planned for Nicky, was altered to suit Hammond's style. It began in January 1957 — two days after Melbourne's GTV-9 began transmission — with Hammond snapping his fingers to his soon-to-be-famous theme song.

What followed was an hour of fun as Hammond mingled with regulars such as his dog Biggles, ventriloquist Ron Blaskett and pianist Margot Sheridan, as well as guest children. A spot on The Happy Show was the ultimate treat for any child, as it presented parties and games, with prizes including bicycles and autographed photos of TV stars.

The show was an instant success among children and parents. Even journalists — still unacquainted with the art of TV critique — were impressed by Hammond's spontaneous effort.

The Happy Show changed its name in 1958 after finding a sponsor. "The Tarax Show," recalls Blaskett, "sold so much soft drink that we had a State tooth problem."

Through the years, the series demonstrated Hammond's ability to nurture new talent, placing teenage vocalists Olivia Newton-John and Patti McGrath (later Patti Newton) in the limelight.

Nonetheless, perhaps the greatest discovery, with whom he was often credited, was one of his first.

In March 1957, several 3UZ and GTV-9 personalities took part in an all-day telethon for the Red Cross. Kennedy, who had never been in front of the cameras, was so nervous that he almost refused to appear. Hammond convinced him otherwise, relaxing him enough to make a short appearance. This was enough for him to be noticed.

By April, Kennedy had been signed up as the host of a new variety show, In Melbourne Tonight. Within a year, he had been dubbed "the king of Australian television" — a title he has held ever since.

Despite his eye for talent, the star of The Happy Show was always Hammond. "When most people saw Harry, they smiled," says Blaskett. "He never smoked, never drank and never swore."

"Like most of the big stars, he was one that didn't put on an act," says GTV-9 announcer Peter Smith. "He had some basic, homespun values. His program taught children the values of life without ramming it down their throats."

Hammond later took the show (minus its sponsor) to HSV-7. The Happy Show was over by the early 1970s, as he went behind the scenes, producing now-forgotten shows such as Jetset and Woman's World.

Surprisingly, he spent the last decade of his TV career as a videotape editor — a job he particularly enjoyed. He retired in 1983.

Denzil Howson, producer of The Happy Show, suggested that Hammond had a "magical aura". Veteran TV personality Bert Newton called him "one of the greatest television performers". Perhaps his finest tribute, however, is in the number of Victorians who can still sing his theme song, whose lyrics — "Today I feel so happy" — evoke times that, if not more innocent, certainly appeared to be so.

Hammond, who was widowed, is survived by his daughters, Julie and Jenny, five grandchildren, and his companion, Norma.

*Mark Juddery works at the National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra.

Original publication

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Citation details

Mark Juddery, 'Hammond, Harry Montague (Happy) (1916–1998)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 27 May 2024.

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