Kath & Kim: articles

'Chavs', not bogans

Jane Turner came across as the bashful one, the exact opposite of her onscreen persona, Kath, from Kath & Kim. Gina Riley, in contrast, was as loud and in your face as Kim when they appeared this week on the high-rating BBC Breakfast program, co-hosted by Dermot Murnaghan.

Riley didn't miss a beat when Murnaghan said he knew Kath & Kim was a parody, but that some Britons "might think it's a documentary". No worries, said Riley, as long as the audience laughed.

Well, they are laughing: 1.6 million tuned in for the first episodes. The two Melbourne actors are also laughing at the show's British success. Its weekly screenings are earning a cult following as passionate for a weekly cringe fix as are fans of Britain's The Office.

Turner and Riley's brilliant portrayal of two upwardly mobile women from the 'burbs reinforces television stereotypes of Australians that began with Barry Humphries' Edna and his cultural ambassador, Les Patterson.

The BBC website is carrying a glossary to explain the terms used on Kath & Kim and asks readers to email their suggestions for translations.

The show has even been the subject of a long article in The Financial Times by the Australian writer Margaret Simons.

She explains the Kath & Kim phenomenon as being a part of the "need for a home in a shrinking world; a desire for the particular, the idiosyncratic at a time of the global bland".

She continues: "Whatever the reason, television programs that succeed across national borders at present are often extraordinarily local-rooted in keenly observed particulars of accent, habit and custom. Somehow, it seems, they touch us all precisely because their focus is narrow, but knowing."

Kath and Kim, she wrote, are better off than Edna, "yet still unmistakably products of Australia, which for all its wide open spaces and bushman mythology remains the most middle-class and suburban of nations".

The mass market tabloid The Sun has also discovered Kath and Kim in a story headlined "Meet the Aussie chavs".

For "chav" in Melbourne parlance, read bogan.

Riley stayed in character as Kim for the BBC interview when she said: "As soon as they see me with my G-string hoinked up over my low-rise jeans, people will be in. They will be absolutely desperate for us."

Perhaps the one person who is not laughing is Jane Turner's mother. On air this week, Turner said Kath was modelled on her.

By Valerie Lawson
June 18, 2005
The Age