Home » Australian TV and radio star John Blackman dies aged 76

Australian TV and radio star John Blackman dies aged 76

Blackman was best known for his 28-year voice-over role as the puppet Dickie Knee on Hey Hey It’s Saturday.

The Melbourne media personality had been fighting bone cancer at the time of his death. It was his second battle with the disease.

The veteran broadcaster began his career on radio in 1969. (Nine)

Nine’s entertainment editor Richard Wilkins said Blackman was remembered for his “sparkling wit”.

“I had the pleasure of working on Hey Hey, many times over the years, and John was an integral part of the family,” Wilkins said.

“Back in the day, he was a huge part of it and of course, his jaw was removed after this invasive skin cancer and more recently (bone) cancer that got the better of him.

“(He had) a sparkling radio career, Cecile, his beautiful wife gets all of our thoughts and prayers today… John Blackman, the name itself radiates warmth, lovely memories and funny times.”

Tributes have begun to flow following news of the 76-year-old’s death.

“(It’s) very sad to hear of the death of John Blackman. He was a constant through my radio career,” veteran 3AW broadcaster Neil Mitchell said.

In a statement, Nine and 3AW remembered Blackman as ”a cherished voice in Australian media”.

“Throughout his illustrious career, John demonstrated an unwavering commitment to his craft,” the statement read.

“His remarkable versatility and enduring presence in the industry underscored his exceptional talent.

“Colleagues and fans alike admired his professionalism and the genuine kindness he exuded both on and off the microphone.

“John Blackman’s legacy is one of laughter, dedication, and a profound impact on Australian media.

“As we remember his remarkable journey, we celebrate the indelible mark he left on our hearts and the entertainment landscape.

“He will be deeply missed, but his voice will continue to echo in our memories.”

Dicky Knee and John Blackman. (Supplied)

Veteran broadcaster’s ‘sparkling’ career 

Born on July 14, 1947, Blackman grew up in Mount Waverley, a suburb in Melbourne, and attended Syndal Primary School.  

He left school, and home, at age 16 to work a string of jobs. 

These included a cash van salesman for a cigarette distributor and a sales representative for a perfume company. 

In 1969, at the age of 22, he shunned his sales roles for a career in radio.

He joined regional New South Wales station 2GN Goulburn, taking on a multitude of roles as an announcer, newsreader, copywriter, salesman and record librarian.

By 1970, Blackman moved stations, picking up on-air shifts with 2CA Canberra. 

A year later he moved back to Melbourne to try his hand at the “big time” at 3AW.

John Blackman, Hey Hey Its Saturday, cast
The Melbourne-based entertainer voiced several characters on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. (Nine)

As well as working in radio, during the early 1970s Blackman was the voiceover man and character voice for Dickie Knee – a polystyrene head with black hair and a blue cap on a stick – on the morning variety television show Hey Hey It’s Saturday

Hey Hey has been a good vehicle for me. It’s a phenomenon, in a way,” Blackman told The Age in 1983.

“It’s something that grew by accident. Daryl (Somers) and Ossie (Ernie Carroll) alluding to me in the booth and then letting me have more say. 

“I think that’s what has given Hey Hey its flavour; there is this disembodied voice interrupting throughout the program.

“At that hour of the morning our minds are a bit fuzzy and the viewers’ minds are, too, and they sit there saying, ‘Did he really say that?'” 

He has also appeared in other television shows such as Blankety Blanks, Personality Squares and The Paul Hogan Show.

In December 1972, Blackman married Cecile, a businesswoman and entrepreneur once described as the business brain behind Dickie Knee. 

John Blackman is the voice behind Dicky Knee on Hey Hey It's Saturday.
John Blackman was the voice behind Dicky Knee on Hey Hey It’s Saturday, hosted by Daryl Somers. (A Current Affair)

The couple had a daughter, Tiffany, who was born three months premature and blind.

“Two years ago she went off to London, all by herself, for five months,” Blackman told friend and broadcast journalist Peter Mitchell in 1997.

“That just knocked me out. She’s incredibly independent. You look at other 22-year-olds and they bitch and complain about all sorts of things. 

“She had a job with Myer before they went through downsizing and she would trot off to work each morning with her cane. I’d think ‘God, she’s got to get on a tram and cross busy intersections!’ Tiff is the bravest person I know, without a doubt.”

In 1975 Blackman travelled to Sydney to join 2UE as a “floating announcer”. 

Eight months into the job Blackman quit. He returned to Melbourne.

At the time, the radio industry was transitioning from playing music to a talk show format. Initially, it proved a punish for ratings.

John Blackman
Television star John Blackman has died, aged 76. (AAP)

In the early 1980s, the tide turned for Blackman. 

His moment in television was nearing, with Nine, the broadcast network behind Hey Hey and the publisher of this website, moving the show from its breakfast spot to Saturday night primetime.

“I think it could be that I take risks. If there’s a line or a possible joke, rather than think who I am going to offend, I will jump straight into it,” Blackman said of the move at the time.

“I used to worry about people I offended and then thought that if I was going to go through life doing that, I’m really going to be just a mediocre performer.

Despite his popularity on Hey Hey, Blackman’s first career love was radio.

He topped the radio ratings on 3AW Breakfast with Bruce Mansfield, aka Uncle Roy, for five years from 1981 to 1986.

John Blackman, a legendary Australian comic, has had to have his jaw removed in an attempt to save his life. Pictured with his wife.
John Blackman with his wife Cecile. (A Current Affair)

However, he would quit the station and his high-profile job in April 1986 to join the then-new CBC Network.

“I am jaded, joked out and I must do everything to ensure the future of my wife Cecile and my beautiful daughter,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald at the time.

The CBC Network was a short-lived experiment between 2UE in Sydney and 3AK in Melbourne and included sharing select programs across the two states. 

It was a bust for Blackman. By December 1986, his contract was not renewed.

For the three years between 1987 to 1990, Blackman co-hosted a breakfast show on 3UZ with Coodabeen Champions member Ian Cover. 

Later, Blackman would be joined by his Hey Hey colleague, Wilbur Wilde.

By 1990, Blackman stepped away from radio, his voice absent from the airways for seven years.

When returned in 1997 he joined the breakfast team at 3AK.

During the 2000s, Blackman joined Triple M Adelaide where he co-hosted The John Blackman and Jane Reilly Breakfast Show for three years.

John Blackman, surgery, photo, hospital
Blackman had spent years battling an aggressive form of skin cancer. (Twitter)

The entertainer faced his first serious health scare on Christmas Eve in 2007 when he suffered a sudden seizure at his Melbourne home. He was 60.

Two years later, after his recovery, Blackman reprised his role as Dickie Knee in two Hey Hey television specials. He was involved in two follow-up anniversary shows.

In August 2018, Blackman lost his jaw to an aggressive form of skin cancer, known as basal-cell carcinoma. 

He was diagnosed with the disease after discovering what he thought was “just a little pimple” on his chin.

He had his jaw removed and replaced with a part of his thigh bone following a marathon 10-hour operation.

“I sound awful and I probably look awful but believe it or not I’m a very, very healthy,” he told 9News.

“To me, it’s still the same John Blackman voice just how it comes out is slightly different.

“They didn’t take out the voice box, they didn’t take out the motor, just the exhaust sounds a little woofy.”

Blackman is survived by his wife Cecile and daughter Tiffany.

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