Do you remember that moment in Peter Jackson’s Beatles docu-series, Get Back, when Paul McCartney strums a random tune on his bass guitar that slowly morphs into the first iteration of the hit song ‘Get Back‘?
Hot Potato: The Story of The Wiggles shows an eerily similar moment from when The Wiggles – who were still busking as The Cockroaches at the time – composed ‘Hot Potato’ on the streets of Sydney. It’s a great scene, and while The Wiggles may not have the musical prowess or cultural impact of The Beatles, they certainly come close for a children’s band, with a bunch of music awards, a tonne of royalties, and a record of playing 12 consecutive shows at Madison Square Garden (beaten only by Billy Joel).
Thus, from an improvised jam about ‘Hot Tamales‘ came one of the best-known kid’s songs – and the seedling of a great Australian export.
This one is for the fans
Sally Aitken’s new documentary is heartwarming to watch for fans new and old, and sweetly nostalgic for all the millennials who grew up with Anthony Field, Greg Page, Murray Cook and Jeff Fatt. While featuring all members of The Wiggles new and old, and covering the group’s history from 1991 to 2023, it’s clear from the second that it opens with footage from the OG’s Over 18 shows that this film is for the millennials.
Though it may not need to be said, the doco puts into plain terms what made The Wiggles so big in the first place: the original members were all skilled musicians, and three out of the four of them were trained in early childhood education, so they really knew what made kids tick and could translate that into songs.
Their compassion and empathy for children is evident in everything they do – and while they speak openly about the money it made them, what takes precedence is how kids responded to their shtick and how they treated their under-5s audience as individual human beings with unique needs and wants – a sadly rare perspective.
There is no sense that The Wiggles are in any way insincere or embarrassed about being adult men playing silly songs for babies. This is what they love to do, and that passion practically seeps out of their pores in the series of talking heads Aitken has nestled among TV clips, concert footage, news reports, and archive interviews.
Whos, whys and hows
Die-hard fans will be happy to get answers to a number of Wiggles questions, like ‘why did Jeff fall asleep all the time?’ Well, as it turns out, Purple Wiggle Jeff Fatt’s narcoleptic trait was given to him due to his stage fright: so nervous was he about performing for a big audience that the band devised falling asleep as a way for him to stay in character and ‘not have to talk much’.
There’s also an answer as to why they chose the coloured skivvies. In short, it was so kids could remember the band members without having to memorise their names (and clearly it worked!). But there was no real logic to picking those particular colours of yellow, red, purple and blue.
The OG band members actually said they were ‘relieved’ that Greg Page got the yellow skivvy because it was their least favourite colour – ‘no offence to anyone who likes yellow’, added Cook. It’s a tad ironic then that the role of ‘Yellow Wiggle’ has been such a coveted – and controversial – spot in the group: from Sam Moran’s induction and unceremonious ousting from the group, to Emma Watkin’s public marriage to and divorce from Purple Wiggle Lachlan Gillespie, to the Wiggle’s first woman of colour, Tsehay Hawkins, donning the bright turtleneck and facing all of the ‘go woke and go broke’ criticism from Sky News.
There are many tear-jerker stories, too, like The Wiggles response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City where they deciding to continue to tour so that kids ‘had something to look forward to’. This optimistic and heroic attitude persisted in the group through the Covid 19 pandemic, too, which is when they toured their Over 18 show with all original band members.
And of course there is the multitude of health issues that the band members have faced, all in the public eye. Anthony Field’s decision to go public with his depression diagnosis made huge waves and brought to attention the insidious nature of depression and the way it can affect even the most successful people.
Greg Page’s fainting incidents and major heart attack became the eventual reason for his permanent retirement from the industry, as did Jeff Fatt’s cardiac event and pacemaker instalment. Each of these stories bring a tear to the eye when retold in the doco, and will hopefully spark more discussion about the hidden tolls of entertainment – an industry which has been long misunderstood as ‘all fun and games’.
While fitting in as much as it can, it becomes clear about three-quarters in that there is simply too much to The Wiggles story to fit into one documentary. The Sam Moran story, for instance, could fill another hour and a half all on its own. Aitken has made a good effort in trying to tie together each and every thread of The Wiggles’ story, but a true deep dive would probably require a limited series or similar. It’s a nice package of anecdotes, nostalgic footage, and happy snaps, though – and serves to remind a large majority of us as to why we all fell in love with Field, Page, Cook and Fatt, and why kids of today continue to be obsessed with The Wiggles.
Much to the chagrin of my ten-year-old self, who had well and truly rejected all things Wiggly in order to focus more on ‘big kid’ stuff, I felt absolutely giddy watching Hot Potato. It’s a fine Australian documentary, and one of the must-watches of the year.
Hot Potato: The Story of The Wiggles is streaming on Prime Video now.