Pulp Friday: Number 96 paperback tie-ins

Bev & BruceLike the television show they were based on, today’s Pulp Friday offering, Number 96 paperback tie-ins, contain nudity, sex, free love, devil worship, infidelity and murder.

The Australian TV soap opera Number 96 depicted the lives of the residents of a fictitious block of inner Sydney flats. These days it comes across as a cultural curio and a sleazy late night commercial TV reminder of early, pre-feminist, seventies. It was indeed those things, but also much more.

Number 96 debuted on March 13 1972, “The night Australian television lost its virginity”. There was moral outrage about the explicit nature of the show and protestors picketed Channel 0 (now the Ten Network) with placards demanding the station “ban this filth”.

It was a huge success with audiences, however, who were keen to dive head first into the warm water of the increasingly sexually liberated early seventies. The show resulted in a feature film and even had its own passenger train that transported the cast and crew from Sydney to Melbourne for the annual Logie awards (Australia’s equivalent of the Emmys). The train made stops at country towns along the way at which thousands turned out to see it.

The end titles always featured a shot of the exterior of the apartment block. When a character left the series a question marks would appear for over the window of the now vacant apartment. Every time this occurred the station would be deluged by calls from fans asking to move in to the vacant apartment.

Number 96 was responsible for a number of firsts, the first full frontal nudity on Australia TV, the world’s first openly gay television character. It also resulted in something of a sexual arms race of sorts on Australian television, as other stations tried to match it. Even Crawford, which prided itself as being above such filth, creating its own variant, The Box, a racy soap opera based in a fictional TV station.

As the ratings declined, the show employed more extreme gimmicks and twists to maintain viewer interest. There was a plot line involving a panty hose stranger and in 1975, four stars were killed in a bomb blast.

I was too young to be allowed to watch Number 96, but the show still registered on my young male radar in the guise of Abigail Rogan or ‘Abigail’ as she was universally referred to, who played the sultry blond, Bev Houghton. Thanks to the success of Number 96, Abigail would become one of Australia’s first sex symbols, starring in a raft of TV shows, movies, even recording her own albums.

Number 96 spawned a range of merchandise, including a cookbook featuring recipes from cast members (Abigail was a no show), and a string of lurid paperback tie-ins, published in the early seventies by Arkon Paperbacks, a division of Angus and Robertson.

I am unclear how many paperback editions were published or who wrote them. No author is credited. The covers here are from those I have found in various second hand bookshops. The stories deal with similar themes to the show, infidelity in The Wayward Husband, murder in Who Killed Sylvia Vansard? and the possibility one of the flat mates may be an abortionist inThe Perfect Victim. But my favourite of the titles is definitely, The Grip of Evil. Taking its cue from the tabloid obsession with black magic in the seventies, two of the residents of Number 96, Bev and Vera, are swept up in the evil plans of closet Satanist, Vernon Saville. The story includes sex and a generous dollop of sadomasochism.

Only in the seventies.

The grip of evil

The Sins of Harry Collins

The wayward

Who Killed

The Perfect Victim

The mysterious life of David Goodis

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Literary obscurity is a curious beast. Why do some writers get discovered and stay famous, while others, perhaps just as good, possibly even better, remain undiscovered or burn brightly for a brief period only to become completely unknown? Is it talent, perseverance, astute management, zeitgeist, or just plain luck? And the process by which forgotten writers are rediscovered can be even stranger.

The ebb and flow of literary fame is one of the undercurrents running through French-born, Los Angeles–based journalist Philippe Garnier’s biography of David Goodis, Goodis: A Life in Black and White. Published in France 30 years ago, it was only translated and published in English for the first time in 2013.

Goodis is seen as one of the preeminent noir writers of his era, the heyday of pulp publishing in the late 1940s and 1950s, and, according to Garnier, “has become a cottage industry of mind-boggling proportions in his own country.”

It wasn’t always so.

You can read the rest of my review of Philippe Garnier’s Goodis bio, Goodis: A Life in Black and White, here on the Los Angeles Review of Books site.

American Snipers

Deadly Tower

Watching Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (2015) reminded me of Sunday nights spent in front of the television with my parents in the late seventies and early eighties.  It was a time before the plethora of viewing options available now and  the Sunday movie was a big deal, sometimes the highlight of the week’s viewing. Commercial television was my parent’s drug of choice. More often than not, it seemed, the movie on offer was a war film.

American Sniper is about the life of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a former US Navy Seal and one of the most lethal snipers in US military history. It is recorded that he had as many as a 160 ‘confirmed kills’, which were accumulated during four tours of duty in the second Iraq war. The film is based on a bestselling book of the same name that Kyle helped write (which I have not read). Prior to watching the film, I’d heard about the controversy around  it, including numerous claims it is little more than a pro-Iraq war, Republican Hawk propaganda piece. I am always sceptical when such sweeping statements are used to describe a film. Indeed, despite his conservative views, Eastwood is a veteran director  with a proven ability  to create a reasonably nuanced depiction of America’s involvement in war. One need only cite Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, both of which appeared in 2006. They tell the story of the World War Two battle on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima from the US and Japanese sides respectively.

I didn’t like American Sniper (more on that later), but it did get me thinking about all those war films I watched on Sunday nights and the question of what makes a particular war film, for want of a better way of expressing it ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I suspect it is similar to many of the qualities that make any film well-made and engaging  regardless of the side of the conflict it portrays.

You can read the rest of this article on the Overland Journal site here.

Pulp Friday: Scobie Malone & “our new Errol Flynn”

Movie newsSomething a little different for this week’s Pulp Friday.

I recently watched the 1975 Australian film, Scobie Malone, starring Jack Thompson. Also known as Murder at the Opera House and Helga’s Web, the latter from the title of the 1970 Jon Cleary it is based on, the film was long unavailable until its recent re-release by Umbrella Entertainment.

The plot involves larrikan Sydney homicide detective Sergeant Scobie Malone (Jack Thompson) investigating the murder of a women whose body is found in the Sydney Opera House. In the course of his inquires, Malone discovers the women, Helga (Judy Morris), was a high priced prostitute involved with several important clients, including the Minister for Culture (James Workman), who she was blackmailing, and film director Jack Savannah (Joe Martin).

There are numerous suspects for her death, including the Minister’s snobbish wife and a local criminal going by the wonderful name of Mister Sin (Noel Ferrier). The events leading up to Helga’s death are told in a series of flashbacks. Most of the police work is done by Malone’s hapless offsider (Shane Porteous), leaving the title character to spend most of his screen time having sex with a bewildering variety of women, including nearly all the female inhabitants of the singles only block of flats he lives in.

It was one of two film adaptions of Cleary’s Scobie Malone books. The first was the 1966 book The High Commissioner, filmed in 1968 as Nobody Runs Forever, with Rod Taylor and Christopher Plummer. Cleary disliked both adaptions but had a special disregard for Scobie Malone. “When I saw Scobie nibbling on the fourth nipple, I thought ‘that’s not my Scobie'” he told one interviewer.

Scobie Malone is reminiscent of the time when sex seemed everywhere, no more so than on Australian TV and film screens, as was local actor, Jack Thompson. “Our new Errol Flynn”, proclaimed the September/October 1975 front page of Movie News of Thompson. Billed as ‘Australia’s own film magazine’, Movie News was produced in house by Hoyts cinema and sold to audiences.

Scobie Malone is probably more interesting these days as a historical artefact than a crime movie. Having said that, the period of Australian cinema known as Ozsploitation resulted in so few mystery and crime movies, it is fascinating to watch a locally produced effort. Rather than going into any more detail about the film myself, I thought I’d let Movie News do it for me. The issue also has a great article on a visit to Australia by Trevor Howard and new of the upcoming full length feature film of the then hit TV series, The Box.

Enjoy.

Movie news 2

Movie news 3

 

Movie news 4

 

Shining a light into Melbourne’s clandestine drag history

Stan Munro, Les Girls MC and compare outside Les Girls Melbourne

Stan Munro, MC & compare of Melbourne’s Les Girls, circa 1970s. Photograph courtesy of Gay and Lesbian Archives.

In the beginning there was the incredibly successful 1994 movie, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. And, as if out of nowhere, drag was everything. “People saw the movie and all of a sudden every man and his dog wanted drag at their staff Xmas party,” a drag queen told Melbourne’s gay newspaper Star Observer that year.

At least, that must be how it seemed at the time. For a longer, more in-depth take on the history of drag, its role in creating awareness and acceptance of gay culture, and the evolution of Melbourne’s gay community more generally, you should check out the What A Drag! exhibition, showing as part of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival.

Priscilla’s success proved what anyone brought up on ’70s British television series such asDad’s Army, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Are You Being Served? with their frequent plot lines involving men dressing as women, knew already, if only subconsciously; there’s an allure to cross dressing.

You can read the rest of this piece here on Crikey’s Daily Review site.