This may be the oddest tribute yet to Rex Mossop, former rugby league player and commentator. Some of you may be wondering what on earth a Melbourne-based comedian and lesbian could possibly have to say about such a man. For starters I grew up in New South Wales and though I’m not old enough to remember his playing career, I certainly remember him as a commentator during the 70s and 80s. I only met him the once, but it was memorable enough to prompt me to write this piece.
In the mid-80s Rex was a regular panellist on Andrew Denton’s ABC show ‘Live and Sweaty’. One week I was a special guest. When I turned up at the studio one of the other panellists, sports journalist Debbie Spillane, greeted me with great joy. She figured that with me being a lesbian and all, that Rex would dislike me more than her, and that for once she wouldn’t be the butt of his jibes during the show. It seemed a reasonable theory. Mr Mossop wasn’t renowned for being gay friendly. Although he did once say something that a lot of lesbians would wholeheartedly agree with. When asked his thoughts on the idea of Manly beach becoming a nudist beach, he’s alleged to have said, “I have nothing against male genitalia, I just don’t want it shoved down my throat’. Amen Rex!
In the green room before the show it became clear that it wasn’t just Debbie Spillane who was looking forward to fireworks between me and Rex. The general expectation seemed to be that a juicy confrontation might be on the cards. I’m not really into angry confrontations or argy-bargy so I thought I’d introduce myself to Rex beforehand, just to let him know that I was a friendly sort of person. So I walked up to him, stuck out my hand and said, ‘Mr Mossop, I’m not sure but I think I may be your worst nightmare’. He looked at me and said ‘What do you mean?’ I replied that I was a lesbian. His face froze, but he shook my hand and that was it. No more chatting before the show.
However, I think Rex appreciated me being up front and honest and must have decided that I wasn’t too bad a person. He was completely charming to me throughout the whole show. If memory serves he even paid me a compliment or two. Much to the confusion of everyone in the studio. Then Andrew posed a question to all the panel members, who was more gorgeous, AFL players or rugby league players? When it was my turn I just threw up my hands and said I had no informed opinion. Then we got to Rex. And he said, ‘Well I’m going to have say AFL players. That Dermott Brereton has got a lovely bottom.’ I had never seen Andrew Denton speechless before then. In fact I’d never seen a whole studio full of people completely gobsmacked before. It was a lovely, lovely television moment.
Afterwards I was accused of having worked some weird lesbian mojo on Rex that affected his brain, but I plead complete innocence. During the after show drinks in the green room, Rex came up to me and we chatted for about half an hour. At one point I asked him why on earth he’d made that comment about Dermott Brereton and he just grinned and said he knew what everyone was expecting and thought he’d surprise them. He certainly managed that. After he left I was promptly informed that the whole evening was unprecedented. Rex never stayed for drinks after the show and never chatted to any of the guests. I was touched. I may have only met him that one time, but he was a complete gentleman. And isn’t nice to be reminded that friendliness is possible across the most surprising cultural divides? Vale Rex, and I hope you’re having a wonderful time catching up with all your old playing buddies.