High profile Aussie comedian admits to obscene bullying
TV STAR Tim Ferguson carried out a vile and obscene campaign of bullying when at the height of his fame.
Ferguson, along with Richard Fidler and Paul McDermott, were the original members of comedy group the Doug Anthony Allstars (DAAS) at the time the offensive letters were sent.
The letters were signed off by Ferguson with "love and breast cancer" and "love and leukemia", and "cunnilingus" from "DAAS CORP", the comedy group's nickname.
The letters included obscene drawings of naked women and a man lying between a naked woman's legs with a large erect penis.
The letters, written to me when I was working as a reporter at the The Sun-Herald newspaper, were sent from the office of the Allstars' Melbourne agent and from ABC-TV.
Ferguson sent them over several months in 1990, when the DAAS trio were among the ABC's biggest comic stars on the national broadcaster.
The intention of this article is to explain that abusive letters or messages of a sexual nature, particularly from people in positions of power and popularity, do have an effect on women.
I am not comparing myself with victims of actual physical sexual abuse - like the women assaulted by Harvey Weinstein who began the #metoo campaign, or sexual assault victims in the community.
But messages of hate are psychologically debilitating.
The first letter was written by Ferguson in response to a March 25, 1990 television review column I wrote about comedy show the Big Gig and which mentioned Mr Ferguson once.
Ferguson followed the first abusive letter, with four more similar letters and an obscene drawing.
At the time, Fairfax News did not take up the issue of the letters with the ABC, and I was told to call ABC management personally to complain.
I did so after the arrival of the third letter, but that did not stop the letters coming.
Two more letters arrived and then the obscene drawing was handed to a male colleague during a media publicity interview to pass on to me.
At the time, DAAS had its show, Sex and Violence, at the Adelaide Festival.
Ferguson was also running as a Federal election candidate, against then Opposition Leader Andrew Peacock.
Ferguson and McDermott still tour as the Doug Anthony Allstars, but Fidler did not join the re-formed group because of his role as an ABC Radio broadcaster.
Fidler's replacement in the comedy trio has absolutely no connection with the abusive letters.
Ferguson recently announced he would be holding an art exhibition; and some of the works are in the style of his obscene drawing.
After being told last week that I would be writing about these letters, the three original members of the group issued an apology.
Ferguson took responsibility for the obscene letters and Fidler and McDermott apologised for not doing more to make him retract them and say sorry.
The three men were told the article would be written in the spirit of the #mettoo and #itstime movement.
All over the world at any given time, women and particularly young woman are targeted with hateful messages via social media.
In the weeks after 14-year-old Dolly Everett's death, another Northern Territory teen was targeted via Snapchat with hateful messages suggesting she took her own life like Dolly had.
Long before cyber bullying, there was bullying via the available technology of the time.
In my case, back in 1990, these vile little messages came to me via a fax machine, which then was considered state-of-the-art technology.
I was writing a weekly TV column and on March 25, 1990 reviewed the Big Gig and television coverage of the Federal election campaign.
I criticised the Big Gig, saying it wasn't all that funny having lost Wendy Harmer as host, and that Harmer's new chat show had been a bit dull.
Harmer and her guest, playwright David Williamson had discussed Sydney-Melbourne rivalry and I took that up as the theme for the column, Melbourne versus Sydney comedians.
In the fourth last paragraph I mentioned Ferguson, who was both appearing in the Big Gig and running as an independent against Andrew Peacock.
I wrote: "Allstar Tim Ferguson, though short on jokes for the show's first two episodes of the season, has produced the most sane campaign of our election".
The following week, a fax arrived from the ABC's Melbourne office.
Typed on two pages, the letter attacked my comparisons of Sydney with Melbourne.
Ferguson's letter described Melbourne comedians as "black-skivvied Fitzroy wankers", Sydney comedians as "camp actors" and myself as a "f***ing idiot".
Fair enough. Journalists, and especially critics, periodically receive letters criticising their articles.
But not usually as personal as this one, which among the sarcasm and mockery suggested I had "feelings of inferiority".
And it was signed "Love and breast cancer, DAAS CORP".
I filed the fax away as a piece of hate mail, albeit a particularly nasty one.
A week or two later another fax from Melbourne arrived in my office mailbox.
It was typed in capital letters and filled with words, many with vowels removed, making up a sinister kind of doggerel.
The words included "slts", "y fckng twat", "whre", "bagful of trds", "mthrfckr" "fggts", "kll", "shggng" and "bgger m snseless with a bargepol".
The letter wound up with the word "cnt" stacked up six times in a vertical row, and signed off with "LOVE AND LEUKEMIA, DAAS".
If the letter was intended to be menacing, it succeeded. I would come to view faxes in my pigeon hole as unexploded hand grenades.
The next letter arrived with an obscene drawing on the facing page below my name, the title of my column and my then newspaper.
The drawing, in what I now know to be Ferguson's individual style, was of a figure with breasts and male genitalia. I took it that the drawing was meant to be me.
The letter began, "Dear Candace, Rapture! Felching vision of concupiscence. Porking hump Momma of Sodom! Vas deferens of desire! This is it, "Candace"."
The letter continued on for several paragraphs, in Ferguson's mocking prose.
He bagged journalists and critics, me in particular, my apparently hilarious first name always in parenthese as if it was joke name.
"'Candace, Candace' we squeal, our buttocks flummoxing in uncontrolled agitation, small gaseous secrets flowing from our little brown parentheses," Ferguson wrote.
"We have penned a slight tune in your name. We will be singing it in our live shows in Sydney.
"We have sung the song to our friends and they have laughed uproariously at it.
"We can only guess at your real beauty ... but we have been assured by some in Sydney who work with you that our appraisal is accurate enough, if a little lopsided."
"God bless you in your Struggle, 'Candace'. (love the tag)."
The letter was signed, "Cunnilingus and the Crimea, DAAS" with a fax number and the plea, "we eagerly await your reply".
I didn't reply, but by this third letter I'd had enough.
The Doug Anthony Allstars seemed to be getting closer, singing humiliating songs about me, and talking to people I knew, something that would be confirmed in their next spiteful little missive.
My boyfriend at the time suggested I post copies of the letters to Ferguson's mother.
Another friend offered to smash his head in.
My editor flick-passed me to the Fairfax lawyer, an old (and now dead) corporate solicitor unimpressed by my complaint.
He told me to ring ABC management, which I did.
The ABC boss expressed some sympathy and said he'd have a word with the three comedians.
But they were big stars, and the letters kept coming.
The fourth letter said "We love you 'Candace' and all you stand for. There are too few people in this cancer ridden world who can uphold the same-kind of moral and artistic ethics."
More mockery and sarcasm, and words meaning whore.
"Well done, you Hero. You Arial, you Marioc, you Venus, you Magdalen, you Jezabelle, you Phyllosinetta, well done indeed," Ferguson wrote.
A couple of weeks later I received a fifth fax.
It was a mock lament, an attempt to goad me into responding.
"Months on and still no response. We sit staring at the machine. Willing note of recognition from it to no avail. Wassa matter? Cat got yer tongue, 'Candace'?" Ferguson wrote.
"Surely you must have some opinion concerning us.
"You have never mentioned us in your articles so surely you are curious as to the origins of our infatuation with you. Therein lies a tale. Yet no response. None. Disappointing, 'Candace'. Love the moniker. Come on have a go. Lash out. Send us a fax.
"Threaten us with legal measures for harassment of a public personage. Enjoy yourself.
"We have won awards at every international comedy festival from New York to Montreal and Berlin.
"We must be worth chatting to. Where is your journalistic instinct? A story is chasing you and you are doing nothing. Let's go babe! Call us anytime. Go ahead.
"P.S. We think you're writing style is terrific. Ignore what the others say. We love you 'Candace'."
After that, the faxes ceased and I hoped that that was it. But I was wrong.
Several weeks later, my colleague - a male entertainment writer - went to interview the Doug Anthony Allstars.
It was by now past mid-1990 and the ABC was about to give DAAS its own series.
Admiring critics described them as "wacky" and "anarchic". One TV reviewer would write that the "Doug Anthony Allstars are back on the ABC, bigger than ever, with their own comedy series Das Kapital".
The boys were riding high.
Another columnist wrote adoringly of the group's "cult status among teenagers", their charity work, sporting ability, artistic talent.
During the interview with my colleague, Ferguson, known as the "good looking one" among the group, handed over a drawing to give to me.
The drawing was done in silver pen on two pieces of foolscap paper. It was of a naked woman with large pointed breasts standing with her legs open over a man lying on the ground.
The man had a gigantic erect penis and he was pointing a finger at the woman's genitals.
Written across the cartoon-like drawing was "Ooh 'Candace' lets scruff".
I felt angry, sad, dirty, humiliated, ugly and for some strange reason, guilty and ashamed. I put the letters and drawings in an envelope, a bag of little explosives should the time ever come.
They faded a bit over the 28 years I have spent being reminded of Ferguson's clever nastiness every time he made news.
The multi-talented Ferguson has just held an exhibition of paintings at a Sydney gallery, which sold out after admirers on social media praised his artistic genius.
If you missed it, check my original work, though parts of its had to be pixelated before being published for the first time.
Now that the brave women of the American film industry have called time on harassment, young women no longer have to wait decades to complain about abuse.
My advice is keep the evidence, confide in your friends for support, and speak out.
Contact me if it helps. The shame is not yours, it's your tormentor's.
And if, as I expect, the abuser has some supporters out there who think that it's all warranted, let a lasting effect from the abuse be a little bit of attitude, a layer of defiance, a stuff you.
"Tim Ferguson, Paul McDermott and their former colleague Richard Fidler, express an unreserved apology to journalist Candace Sutton for behaviour towards her when they were performing together as the Doug Anthony Allstars that was both offensive and unprofessional.
"Tim, who was responsible for the letter and drawing sent in 1990, says he deeply regrets sending them in response to a television review written by Candace, and acknowledges the hurt and offence caused by his actions. He apologises unreservedly.
"Paul and Richard were only made aware of the letter and drawings after Tim had sent them, and they expressed their dismay and disgust to him at the time. It was an appalling and stupid thing to do.
"However both Richard and Paul acknowledge that, having been made aware of their existence, they both should have urged Tim to retract these infantile messages and apologise for their content. They're sincerely sorry for their failure to do so at the time."