Since first appearing on TV in 1957, Louie the Fly has become one of the most iconic characters in Australian advertising.
The cartoon insect has been flying and dying to promote pest control brand Mortein for 60 years and was recently honoured for his impact on Australian culture, with the titular jingle ‘Louie the Fly’ being added to the NFSA's Sounds of Australia registry. But did you know that Louie had been flying around for about five years, before the jingle was first recorded?
Louie the gangster
Although legend has attributed the concept of Louie to author Bryce Courtenay, crediting Mr Courtenay alone overlooks the important contribution of other key players.
Following the jingle’s induction into Sounds of Australia, we spoke with the family members of three people crucial to Louie’s long history: James Joseph White, the composer; Neil Williams, the singer of the original 1962 jingle; and Ross Higgins, the actor behind Louie’s speaking voice who would also go on to record many versions of the song himself.
The first Louie the Fly commercial aired in 1957, only a year after television’s official launch in Australia. As the story goes, Courtenay came up with the concept of Louie for the McCann-Erickson advertising agency, while the animation was drawn by the company’s art director Geoff Pike. At the beginning, Louie had a very peculiar speaking voice, but no jingle.
Louie’s characteristic way of speaking was the brainchild of actor Ross Higgins. Born in 1931 and best known for starring in Kingswood Country, Higgins was a prolific performer – working as a singer, actor, presenter, comedian and voice actor over his many decades in the entertainment industry.
His son Grant shares how the distinctive voice was decided upon:
'In 1957, Bryce asked Ross what kind of voice would fit. Ross suggested that Louie should sound like a Chicago gangster, in a sort of Edward G. Robinson way, but more guttural. The original commercial was a spoken character voice only.'