Tuesday, February 25, 2014

THE CASE OF THE SPOTTY SHARKSKIN SHORTS – Continuing biog of Crusading Editor,''Big Jim'' Bowditch .

Percy and Chimp on same  flights .
Engaged  locally  as  an  advertising  agent  for the Northern Territory News  was  Percy Burton who   had  come  to  Darwin from  Singapore as the ABC  regional  journalist . He had experience as  a  typographer  and  copywriter  which  he  used to  brighten the  layout of  advertisements. 
By  Peter Simon
Burton  had an eye for the  unusual  commercial  opportunity. When  the  Russians  shot a dog, Laika , into orbit in a  Sputnik  satellite he proposed  taking out a patent for a space  dog  toy.  Because  the  dog  did not survive the  flight , manufacturers were reluctant to  take up the  idea , canine lovers saddened   that  it  died  in  the  historic voyage.
Never  deterred, he had the same bright idea  when the  Americans  fired  a  chimp , Enos,  into the heavens in 1961.  A cartoon at the time showed  a  monkey in   a  US Air Force  officer’s   uniform smoking a cigar  and    telling    future astronauts   they  would  experience  an uncontrollable  urge for a banana  once their   rocket   got  to  a  certain height .  Again   no toy maker was interested. 
However his  space toy ideas caused much jocularity in  the News  and  Darwin  pubs.  Percy was clearly  ahead  of his time  in  the  toy industry and could have been a consultant to the lucrative , mega-hit series ,Toy Story.   Another  money making scheme he outlined was  taking  photographs of   Darwin  houses  and selling copies  to  the surprised  occupants  who , the theory went, would send  them  to  relatives  and  friends down  south  and overseas.

Before he left the  ABC  , Burton  had been  involved in a  scrap with a Cypriot  born  tailor  who had a shop in the Hotel   Darwin building .   The  tailor was making a pair of white sharkskin shorts  for  Percy who used to drop in  frequently  to see how they were coming along.  During  one  of  many  fittings ,  Burton spotted a  stain   in what he   described as a  "disadvantageous  position" -   the fly -  and refused  to  have anything  further  to  do  with  the  shorts. 
An altercation  took place and  Burton  was hit in the ear .    The tailor was  charged with  assaulting  Burton who appeared in court wearing a monogrammed  shirt and  a  cravat.   In   answer to  a question from  defence lawyer , George Cridland , Burton  denied  being used  to " grovelling  oriental tailors". The tailor was  not fined  and  in a magnanimous gesture, Burton paid  the  puzzled  tailor  for the   shorts  outside  the court .

The News ran a  report about the   hearing   under the Keith Willey   heading , THE CASE OF THE  SHARKSKIN  SHORTS.

Before driving down the track for a  weekend, Burton borrowed a  rifle from a  gun enthusiast  who was reluctant to  hand over the   weapon .     However , Burton assured him he knew how to handle  firearms.  While driving  along the highway  he came upon an unfortunate  kangaroo which  had been hit by a car . 
The injured  animal was  flopping about on the road, so  Burton got out with the  rifle  intending to put it out of its misery.  Instead of  shooting the   roo, he  used the rifle as a  club  and  began to hit  it  on the head.   Naturally , the   creature  objected  and  frantically  bounced around .  Intending to  finish   the the kangaroo with one almighty blow, Percy   missed  and  hit the  bitumen , which caused  the   stock  of the rifle to split .  Not  only  that , he actually  bent the  barrel .  The  owner  of  the rifle  was furious when  Burton  returned the  now   useless  shooter.


When Burton left Darwin he obtained a  job  as  advance publicity man for a road show . In this role , he lobbed  at the Sydney Morning  Herald  one  day  while  this  writer was  on duty . He  calmly  walked up to the  sub editors’ table and   placed  a  lengthy , racy  story about  his  experiences  in Sydney's King’s  Cross in  the  basket . It  read like  the   radio serial  Night Beat .    Nobody  but  staff should  place copy  in the subs basket .  A  copy taster  pulled the  bulky   story out  and  began  to read it , then   called out : " Who is this person  Burton ?"    By that stage  Burton was  making  free calls to Brisbane  from a  phone in  the  interstate   room  and  soon after  hit  the  road  again. NEXT Darwin  calling  surprised US captains  of  commerce .