Sad news that Brian Crossley — the actor who brought Flower Potts to such vivid life in the 1960s childrens’ classic television series Adventure Island — died at his home on the weekend, aged 85.
Flower Potts was special because she was the first cross-dresser to enter my living room as a child.
There was also Bugs Bunny, but he only played the femme now and then, when he pulled a scarf over his ears and put on lipstick. (Strangely sexy, as a friend of mine once said. Although really, when you come to think of it, what was it that made us so sure Bugs was a male in the first place? The lack of lipstick?)
With Flower Potts, however, the detail was consistent, meticulous and the character indelible.
She did seem rather tall, and her voice was a strange kind of high, but I always believed her to be a woman. I’d had no experience of Pantomime (or any theatre), and hence didn’t know the tradition of the Grande Dame. To me she was just Mrs Flower Potts, the shop keeper in my favourite village, Diddley-Dum-Diddley. Always ready in a crisis to have a cup of tea and a bun.
Crossley also provided the voice for Gracie Galah, trading vaudeville jokes and routines with Crispian Cockatoo at the start of the show. The repartee could become a little risque at times but when it did it was safely over the heads of the 3-7 year olds the show aimed most to please. And if the actual puppets looked more like toucans, the names were dinky di Australian. (And personality-wise they were definitely galahs.)
Liz Harris described Brian Crossley as ‘a beautiful man’ (in an interview I did with her years ago for a radio program).
Researcher and writer David Chittick — who got to know Crossley in recent years after interviewing him for his forthcoming book on Australian television shows of the 60s and 70s — described him to me as ‘such a kind, warm, cultured gentleman, and I mean gentleman in every sense of the word. Even during the last year when he was very sick he still managed to laugh, and entertain me with his fascinating anecdotes.’
The campery of Adventure Island is obvious now to those of us looking back at it. And it was camp in the best possible sense — exaggerating everything in a way that collapsed all the fixed oppositions of the culture around us.
‘What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.’ (Sontag)
Thinking about Brian Crossley’s wonderful rendition of Flower Potts this week, I was reminded of a picture that has been going the rounds on Facebook and blogs: of a German father who wore a red skirt out one day with his dress-loving son, in order to make him feel safe and accepted just as he is, knowing how extraordinarily important this is for all children.Another true gentleman. And very much in the spirit of Adventure Island.
Vale Brian Crossley. Thank you for your warmth, generosity and humour that shone through the pancake make-up and lit up my childhood, and that of so many Australians of my generation, in a way that made the different both wonderful and familiar. Go well.
Please share if you know anyone who might remember Adventure Island – these wonderful creators deserve to be remembered.
*Come join us at the Adventure Island and Magic Circle Club page on Facebook
*An interview for ABC Radio National’s Life Matters, with me and Liz Harris (who played Liza), about Adventure Island and its brilliant creator Godfrey Philipp.
*’The Magic Man: Vale Godfrey Philipp, Long Live Adventure Island’ my article from The Drum, 23/6/2011
Update (4th October 2012): A celebration of Brian Crossley’s life will be held in the foyer of the Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt St, Southbank, Melbourne on Monday October 8th, 2012 between 6.00 p.m. and 8.00 p.m. All friends and colleagues are welcome. Tributes can also be left at the Adventure Island & Magic Circle Club facebook page at www.facebook.com/AdventureIslandandMCC .