Summer Heights High: articles

Elida Brereton

Real Summer Heights High

IF school principal Elida Brereton had her way, she'd call comedian Chris Lilley to her office for a stern dressing down. Brereton, who plays the principal in Lilley's controversial new series, Summer Heights High, is a real-life headmistress.

Last week, as a storm brewed over the program's storyline about a teenage drug-overdose victim, she agreed that at times it went too far.

The ABC publicly apologised to the family of overdose victim Annabel Catt, who strongly resembles a character who was killed by an ecstasy overdose, although the series was filmed before Ms Catt's death.

The fictitious Annabel becomes the subject of drama teacher Mr G's (played by Lilley) annual musical, titled: One Girl, One Pill, One Hell Of A Night.

"That's upset some of my friends and, yes, Chris did go too far there," Brereton told The Sunday Telegraph. "There certainly are bits that make me squeamish."

Principal of Melbourne's Camberwell High School, Brereton said she did not feel earlier criticisms were warranted.

Following its debut, Lilley was criticised for perpetuating racial stereotypes and featuring jokes about Down syndrome and rape.

"The show is never trying to be racist or putting down people's disabilities," Brereton said. "The point made (when filming) was that Mr G is shown up as being a bigot and a prejudiced, intolerant moron.

"There was also a story about him making fun of Down syndrome kids. Well, I can tell you those kids loved being involved and their parents were thrilled by their involvement."

Brereton was approached to play a fictitious principal, Mrs Murray, after program producers were unconvinced by auditioning actors.

"They said they'd had a look at about 50 actors, but they weren't right, so they decided to ask a real principal," Brereton said.

"I initially said 'no' to the role, but reconsidered after they persisted with me.

"I guess I was intrigued about doing it (television) and I also thought what a giggle to work in another school pretending to be a principal.

"I'd watched (Lilley's previous series) We Can Be Heroes and thought that was brilliant and I thought that it would be great to work with Chris. He's such a stunningly creative person."

Governing a school population of 1200 students, Brereton said she found Lilley's fictitious characterisations of the school community to be spot on.

"It's very real. I've worked with teachers who are precious about their titles, including the odd, precious, creative arts teacher."

Brereton, who said she would not seek further television roles, believed her students enjoyed her presence in the series.

"I did have one student ask me for a signature, but sadly his pen didn't work."

By Richard Clune
September 23, 2007
The Sunday Telegraph