Vale Doug MacLeod: A tribute by Mark O'Toole

14 December, 2021


13 October 1959 – 22 November 2021

Doug MacLeod

It was while listening to his father’s theatrical readings of Winnie the Pooh as a small boy in suburban Greensborough that Doug McLeod realised that he wanted to be a writer. Unlike most of us though, Doug didn’t wait until he had grown up to get started. Inspired by A.A. Milne and a new found love of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, young Doug started peppering newspapers and magazines with stories and nonsense verse, resulting in him getting a monthly column in the Age in 1972 at the ripe old age of thirteen. By age sixteen Doug’s first book Hippopotabus, had been published, and by nineteen his professional life had already come one full circle when he received an unsolicited fan letter from John Cleese.

Yes, that John Cleese.

When author and mentor Michael Dugan pointed out that a living could be made from writing stories, but not a “posh” one, and realising that there was money to be made in writing comedy scripts for TV and radio, Doug applied and was accepted to the Victoria College of the Arts School of Drama. Wanting to hedge his bets he also applied to the Schools of Music and Art – creating history when he was accepted to all three. There being only one of him, Doug went with his original plan and chose the School of Drama.  At the VCA Doug supported himself on royalties and by writing more children’s books. Upon graduation he found himself working for the ABC Radio Comedy Unit while competing in the live improvisational theatre game Theatresports for fun. It was here that Doug would meet many great friends and future collaborators.

Off the back of Theatresports Doug was offered his first screenwriting job, as Head Writer of a brand-new Channel Ten sketch comedy show, The Comedy Company. It seems like a cop out to say that the rest was history, but in a way it was. The Comedy Company led to Fast Forward and then Full Frontal, Col’n Carpenter, Big Girl’s Blouse, Bligh, Kath and Kim, The Micallef Program, Seachange, and many, many more­ - sometimes writing, sometimes producing, sometimes script editing, sometimes all three.

Doug was a showrunner before being a showrunner was even a thing.

As a writer and producer of sketch comedy Doug was a machine. Legendary comedy director Ted Emery was in awe of Doug’s ability to produce material under pressure, to write to impossible production and casting limitations, to “find a twenty-minute hole in the schedule, one cast member, a broken smoke machine, and some hospital gowns covered in fake blood and bang out a sketch involving all three in twenty minutes - and it’d be bloody funny!” 

Doug was a mentor and friend to the army of unkempt writers who passed through those shows, some on their way up, some on their way down, others just on their way. It says a lot about Doug that so many of the people he discovered and mentored wanted to keep working with him after their stars had risen. As friend and colleague Shaun Micallef said of him, “you never felt like you worked for Doug, even though you did”.

While Doug was able to write to demand, to deliver the networks “a rating of around 18 per week on a regular basis” as he once put it, there was so much more to him than that. While Doug wrote for the networks, the producers, and the audiences, he also wrote for himself. And his output was prodigious.  As well as more than twenty books for children and young adults Doug wrote theatre (My Son The Lawyer Is Drowning), musicals (Call Girl the Musical, Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert), animation (the award winning Dogstar), even a libretto, for the opera Midnite.

In 2011 Doug suffered a stroke, and while he continued to write, his mind as sharp as ever, the deterioration of his motor skills made typing difficult. He suffered another setback in 2014 with a diagnosis of discoid lupus and after a difficult couple of years Doug passed away on November 22 in the company of loved ones. He was 62.

Over the course of his screenwriting career Doug was honoured by the Australian Writers' Guild with two AWGIE Awards (for Dogstar and Full Frontal) as well as the 2008 Fred Parsons Award for Outstanding Contribution to Australian Comedy and the inaugural John Hinde award for Excellence in Science-Fiction Writing for Dogstar, also in 2008.

Doug MacLeod will be remembered by friends and colleagues alike for his quick wit and gentle spirit, for his cheeky grin and manic two-finger typing, for his patience in the face of ridiculous pitches, and his outstanding Dalek and Cyberman impersonations.

But most of all Doug will be remembered as an inordinately talented writer and generous mentor. He will be sorely missed by all of us who lucky enough to work with him.

The AWG extends its condolences to Doug’s partner Stephen and all of his friends and family.