After the week was spent elucidating on Bob Ellis’ legacy, I believe it’s not his work, but rather his unique personal connections.
In the week since Bob Ellis has passed, he has been variously described as “One of the finest scoundrels our nation has had the good fortune of sharing” and “The Truest of True Believers” and a man who “dispensed his views both barrels and full blast, and to hell with the consequences”.
It’s a fair start but fails dismally to describe the essence of the writer/playwright/filmmaker/wrecker of conservative political ambitions.
Last year I reread his 1997 book Goodbye Jerusalem. At the time, it was described as a ‘wake’ of sorts. In public Bob always looked as though he was in a slow motion hurry, possibly heading to or returning from the wake of yet another famous Australian actor/writer/ALP stalwart or other notorious characters he’d known for years.
You wouldn’t know who Bob Ellis knew.
The essence of Ellis’ eccentricity and storytelling skill is kept in the Goodbye Jerusalem chapter ‘Six Degrees of Separation’. Bob brilliantly demonstrates his grasp of the game, in which a group of players try to connect a nominated actor to Kevin Bacon in as few steps as possible. To ease the boredom on a long road trip with director Michael Jenkins (Blue Murder, Scales of Justice), Ellis takes up the challenge and prunes Bacon’s concept further, managing to create a uniquely Australian example in the process.
Bob wrote speeches for singer Kamahl, who corresponded regularly with Sir Donald Bradman. Ellis’s father lived next to the Darcy family in East Maitland and sparred with a young Les Darcy. And Bob worked with the man who made Phar Lap the movie. An impressive trifecta but as Bob was wont to say often…”and so on, and so it goes”.
In almost any chapter of Bob Ellis’s illustrious and colourful life, he could easily nail an entertaining result within the allotted six steps of Bacon’s parlour game. One of his favourites involved the late Robert Hughes (art critic). Rob Hughes’ brother is Q.C. Tom Hughes, whose daughter (Lucy) is married to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose Auntie is the actress Angela Lansbury, whose father George Lansbury was the British Labour leader in Britain in the 1930s.
Another book I have repeatedly read is Frank Hardy’s Four Legged Lottery. Frank Hardy’s granddaughter is the writer Marieke Hardy, who owns a female dog named Bob Ellis and a tattoo which reads “and so on, and so it goes”.
Three degrees of separation.
Sadly, in regards to my own Ellisian three degrees, I fall short. I only knew him from the many phone interviews he generously participated in for my radio program, but for my money, Bob’s best caper was vowing to politically destroy Bronwyn Bishop, taking her on in a by-election for the Blue Ribbon (Sydney) Northern Beaches seat of McKellar.