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Three things with Adam Hills: ‘I was willing to pay whatever I could to get Groucho Marx’s contract’

Much-loved musical quiz show Spicks and Specks has returned for a handful of specials since leaving Australian screens in 2011, but it’s never stuck around for more than a few weeks at a time – until now. This month, it will return to the ABC for a full 10-episode season. It’s a return host Adam Hills is excited about.

“Realistically, we’ve been off air for about a decade, which is really helpful in making the show because there’s a whole decade’s worth of new music to talk about,” he says.

And after two years of cancelled gigs, he’s happy to get to give a new generation of artists the stage.

“We just got back to doing what we used to do, which was celebrating music,” Hills says. “We were trying to give a platform to musicians that have been stuck in the house for the past couple of years. So it felt like we were almost performing a bit of a public service.”

Hills started hosting Spicks and Specks in 2005 but his comedy career began in the 1990s. In the early days, the self-described “massive comedy nerd” bought a piece of Marx Brothers memorabilia that he now counts as his most prized possession. Here, he tells us about the financial lengths he was willing to go to for that purchase, as well as the story of two other important personal belongings.

What I’d save from my house in a fire

A signed artist’s contract that I bought at an auction in Adelaide 30-odd years ago. It’s between Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers and his management company, and it’s just such an amazing piece of comedy history that I was incredibly lucky to buy.

An Adelaide entertainment journalist, Peter Goers, used to do a spot on a radio show that I had. He told me about this auction. I’d never been to an auction before and I was probably about 24. I was basically willing to pay whatever I could to get this contract, so I went along but I really had no idea what to do.

The auctioneer started the opening bids really ridiculously high – it was something like $10,000. I put my hand up straight away. The auctioneer looked at me and went, “don’t be an idiot”. So I waited and waited for the opening bid to get lower and lower. And thank God for that, because he saved me from paying nearly four times what I should have.

It’s now framed and has pride of place in my office. It’s the one thing I could never replace. When I moved away from Adelaide years ago, I put a whole bunch of stuff in storage – but not the contract. I drove it from Adelaide to Sydney together with a comedian called Ross Noble, who needed a lift after the Adelaide Fringe. He and I stopped somewhere along the way and got a twin motel room for the night. I didn’t want to leave the contract in the car, so we took down whatever sailing ship picture they had up as decoration and hung it on the wall of the motel room.

My most useful object

Adam Hills’ leather passport holder
‘It’s got a little tag on the back that you lift up and it pulls the passport out really neatly.’ Photograph: Adam Hills

It’s such a nondescript, everyday object but genuinely my most useful item is a leather passport holder that my wife bought me. It’s got a tiny pen that slots into it for when you’re filling out your arrival forms or your customs forms. And it’s got a little tag on the back that you lift up and it pulls the passport out really neatly for anyone that wants to check it. It is honestly the most useful item anyone’s ever given me.

The item I most regret losing

It’s a big story. So I’ve been supporting the South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby league team since I was three days old. My dad brought a toy red and green rabbit into the hospital to give to me – I still have the rabbit. That’s not the thing that I’ve lost.

Where I grew up, in the Shire in Sydney, most people supported the Sharks. But there was a woman who worked at the local dry cleaners who was a Rabbitohs supporter. On my way home from school, every Monday, I would stop by the dry cleaners and she and I would discuss the game on the weekend. I guess she used to be a member of the Rabbitohs, because one day she gave me her little metal membership badge. I was so proud of it.

I pinned it on my shirt and I took it to school the next day. Then I got to the end of the day and realised it had fallen off somewhere. I never found the badge and to this day, that’s the one thing that I regret losing more than anything. And not just because it was the Rabbitohs – it was because she gave it to me. I would still drop in and see her at the laundromat, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I lost the badge. Someone at Jannali Boys high school picked up a South Sydney Rabbitohs membership badge, and I want it back.

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