Vale Hugh Stuckey, a tribute by Patrick Edgeworth

27 June, 2018


by Patrick Edgeworth

Vale Hugh Stuckey

1928 – 2018

Everyone loved renaissance man Hugh Stuckey; even his two ex-wives.

He led a life unburdened by religion, finding joy in such passions as baseball and opera. Baseball he played from childhood until he was in his fifties, after which he watched every televised match he could featuring his beloved team, the LA Dodgers.

For years, he had permanent seats at the opera until declining health made it impossible to attend. He also delighted in the haunting melodies and sophisticated lyrics of the Great American Songbook.

Comedy was his love and his life's work. He found laughs, not in vicious put-downs, but in the quirks and short-comings of human nature. His heroes were Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Jacky Benny. He adored the wit and word play of English radio comedy: The Goon Show, Round the Horne and Hancock's Half Hour. In later years he convulsed over Seinfeld, Frasier and Two and a Half Men. He liked comedies with funny situations and funny lines that made people laugh out loud. He had little time for the recent development of The Comedy of Social Embarrassment. He took no pleasure in the fact that he lived long enough to hear an ABC TV producer pronounce that a comedy doesn’t need laughs. Things have changed since Hugh started.

In 1942, at the age of 14, he was tap-dancing champion of Victoria, a skill he included in his youthful comedy act to entertain the troops stationed in Melbourne. He also secured his first radio spot as a comedian on a weekly variety show called Kiddies Kapers.

At the age of 15, and under pressure from his father, Hugh left school and started working at Australian Paper Manufacturers. It had been chosen for Hugh as the company had survived the Great Depression and could offer him a secure job for life. But he found little interest in it, focusing his attention on performing live on stage and radio after hours. During World War II, he gave 350 comedy performances for the Australian troops. In 1946, he received his first writing credit for a five-minute sketch for ABC Radio. In 1947, Hugh wrote several gags for Radio 3DB's show Happy Gang. While still working full-time at APM he also wrote for the Macquarie Radio Network's 3AW’s weekly sitcom, Monty's Caberet. In 1954, much to his father's disappointment, Hugh quit his job to write radio scripts for The Cadbury Show in Sydney; it ran for over 300 episodes. His career developed as he began writing for well known radio personalities of the time, such as Jack Davey, George Wallace Snr and Willie Fennell.

In 1957, he became one of Australia's first television comedy writers when he was hired for In Sydney Tonight. In 1958, he was appointed head writer for the highly successful In Melbourne Tonight, which was hosted by Graham Kennedy on Melbourne’s GTV9 (now part of the Nine Network).

In 1962, Hugh moved on to write for The Delo & Daly Show, a comedy variety show hosted by Americans Ken Delo and Jonathan Daly. Hugh wrote 46 one-hour episodes, which appeared on HSV7 (now The Seven Network). With the support of Daly, he was granted a leave of absence by HSV7 to pursue writing and to gain experience in Hollywood. He was hired by Desilu Productions who gave him the experience of learning directly from the writers of The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Danny Thomas Show and The Andy Griffith Show.

After returning to Australia in 1963 Hugh moved to HSV7 (Now Seven Network) to devise and produce a daytime series Time for Terry, which was hosted by English comedian Terry O’Neill and ran five one-hour episodes per week. In 1966, Hugh was contracted by Melbourne television station ATV0 (now part of Network Ten) as a writer and producer of The Jimmy Hannan Show, hosted by 1965 Gold Logie Award-winner, Jimmy Hannan.

After comedian Tony Hancock’s UK career went into decline, he was flown to Australia to star in a television series called Terra Australis for the Seven Network. Hugh was to be head writer on a 13-episode series. He referred to his work on this show as being less of a writer and more of a minder for the deeply depressed and alcoholic Hancock. On 24 June 1968, after only three episodes were produced, Hancock was found dead in his Sydney flat. The Seven Network later showed this work as The Tony Hancock Special, which aired on 25 January 1972.

Determined to try his luck further afield, Hugh moved to the US. Based in Los Angeles, he found work with the sitcoms Bewitched, The Flying Nun, and I Dream of Jeannie. He also wrote sketch comedy material for Rowan & Martin's Laugh In, which Hollywood stars like John Wayne, Danny Kaye and Red Skelton lined up to appear for just one gag.Returning to Australia, Hugh began writing for Neighbours, and as story and script editor for The Restless Years. In 1975, Stuckey signed his first contract in the UK with BBC London, where he wrote for The Two Ronnies, Dave Allen at Large, The Dick Emery Show and the comedy star Frankie Howerd.Returning to Australia, Hugh wrote for numerous In Melbourne Tonight shows, which were hosted by Stuart Wagstaff, Noel Ferrier, Tommy Leonetti, Bert Newton and others.

He then became the story editor and episode writer for 45 one-hour episodes of the hit Channel 7 television drama, and Logie Award winning A Country Practice.During that time Hugh began a side project with director William Fitzwater, inspired by his personal interest in opera. At a young age, a friend of his father introduced him to opera, which became a life passion. Hugh and Fitzwater shared the vision of introducing opera to children and together created 13 episodes of The Maestro's Company. This was Australia's first ever show featuring both puppets and live actors, and was released in 1984.

In 1992, after finishing with A Country Practice, Hugh moved back to England to write for the police drama The Bill, Moon and Son and Frankie's On, starring English comedian Frankie Howerd. By 1993, Hugh found himself back in Australia writing for the animation The Adventures of Blinky Bill and Blue Heelers. He then returned to Neighbours as writer and story editor.

A founding member of the Australian Writers’ Guild, Hugh was Vice President for many years and, subsequently, a life member.

In his later years he lectured at the Film and Television School and RMIT, mentoring the next generation of writers.

At the AWGIE Awards in 2005, Hugh was honoured by receiving the Fred Parsons Award for his lifetime contribution to Australian comedy.

Hugh is survived by his ex-wife Shirley and their two daughters, Leigh-Anne and Claire, and ex-wife Barbara and their daughter Annika and son Tim.

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