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Eric Shackle Writes: Australia's Funniest Ghost Writer

...Dear editor, I turned on the television on Saturday morning and saw a video clip for the first time in years. I have discovered that 68 per cent of Federal MPs are obese, showing off the tops of their bottoms with apparent impunity....

So who is this Oscar Brittle who writes provocative letters to the Sydney Morning Herald?

Journalist Eric Shackle tells of the discovery of the identity of an opinonated "mystery'' man.

To read more of Eric's columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/eric_shackle_writes/

Animal lovers, rejoice! Oscar Brittle has been gagged at last. He would have upset you had you read this letter to the Sydney Morning Herald:

I believe that I have eaten more types of animal than anybody else on the planet. I have eaten (not necessarily in this order): cow, sheep, pig, shark, goat, camel, horse, kangaroo, wallaby, wallaroo, potoroo, bandicoot, duck, chicken, pigeon, whale, wild dog, wild cat, cat, fish, catfish, dormouse, python, toad, turtle, monkey, impala, sea urchin, slug, jellyfish, fox, grouse, alligator, llama, vulture, mole, lobster, mongoose, daddy-long-legs, salamander …"

That letter was just one of hundreds Oscar sent to the editors of Sydney's four daily newspapers in an 18-month writimg frenzy. Like many other letterwriters, talkback radio callers and bloggers, Oscar was an opinionated blowhard who wrote stacks of provocative nonsense and misquoted facts.

Here are extracts from a few of his letters, which often drew heated replies, mostly as email comments to the newspapers that had published his rants:

o Dear editor, I turned on the television on Saturday morning and saw a video clip for the first time in years. I have discovered that 68 per cent of Federal MPs are obese, showing off the tops of their bottoms with apparent impunity.

o Tomorrow, I and I suspect many of my ilk, will once again firmly stamp my ecological feet and take the car to town. Climate change is one thing, but passenger comfort is not to be undervalued.

o Whatever happened to manners on the road? At present, there seem to be more road rages than ever.

o Recent research shows that young people are having sex younger and younger. … Dear, oh dear!

o Video clips have come a long way in 25 years. For three horrible hours, I watched in disgust and denial as young women gallivanted about the place in tiny swimsuits, braziers, underpants and other garments that a man should only see in the boudoir.

o Does anyone have any information about shutting the internet down for good, or is it too late?

But Oscar wrote too many letters for his own good. Eventually, Amanda Meade, aptly-named media diarist in The Australian newspaper, became suspicious. She wrote:

An Oscar for Best Actor.

DIARY calls on prolific letter writer "Oscar Brittle of Killara" to identify himself. After a series of curious letters were published in The Daily Telegraph, we tried to verify that Brittle was a real person. Here is Brittle on public transport: "The morning trip was pleasant enough, as I sat next to a handsome, lightly perfumed young woman, read the paper and even attempted a Sudoku puzzle" ...The opinionated Brittle is not listed in the White Pages and he does not exist on the electoral roll. But he has popped up in Column 8 in The Sydney Morning Herald and on the letters pages of The Australian. So beware, letters editors everywhere, there may be another phantom on the loose.

Meade was right. It turned out that Brittle was a ghost, the brainchild of three young Canberra writers, Glenn Fowler , Christopher Smyth and Gareth Malone

Interviewed in Australia's ABC-TV Stateline program, http://www.abc.net.au/stateline/act/content/2006/s2535731.htm author Fowler described Oscar Brittle:

He is generally a fairly conservative, indignant older chap from the leafy, neat, established northern Sydney suburb of Killara. Very opinionated.

What we tried to do was create somebody who has that combination of ignorance and outspokenness. He's got an opinion on anything. He's got ideas about anything and he's quite prepared to share them. He doesn't check things very often. He gets things wrong.

We tried to create maximum confusion and maximum offence with many of the letters, and we wanted the readers of the letters to be shocked. Obviously, first of all, that would be the editors doing the reading, and if they then got published and other people read them, we wanted to provoke responses, we wanted people to write letters back. And, fortunately, that happened in a lot of cases. So, Oscar offends virtually everybody on the planet in his letters, unless they're exactly like him.

Dear Editor... The Collected Letters of Oscar Brittle have now been published as a highly entertaining book.

The publisher's blurb says:

In an eighteen month campaign to wrest control of the debates in the nation’s newspapers and magazines from the wishy-washies and the weaklings, Oscar Brittle became (arguably) the most significant and powerful contributor to public debate in contemporary Australia.

This book is a collection of published letters and their originals, published replies from various correspondents, email exchanges between Oscar and editors, as well as the rejected letters, all interspersed with gorgeous illustrations throughout.

There really was a man who devoted much of his life to tasting as many different animal species as he could find. Dr William Buckland http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Buckland (1784-1856), Dean of Westminster and a professor at Oxford University (UK) tried to eat specimens of every living thing.

He was a frequent visitor to London Zoo, as he lived nearby. When an exotic animal died, he took the opportunity to taste its flesh. On one occasion, a leopard died and was buried while he was away on holiday. Returning to London, he dug it up, to taste leopard steak in the name of science.

The dean pronounced moles and bluebottles (flies) to have the worst flavors.

He taught his son, Francis Trevelyan
Buckland http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Trevelyan_Buckland (1826-1880) to enjoy the flesh of exotic animals by participating in banquets of ostrich, crocodile, hedgehog and mice on toast.

Frank inherited his father's interests. While studying at Oxford, he complained of the “horribly bitter” taste of earwigs. Frank became a popular scientific author and lecturer.


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