Category Archives: Australian television history

The book about Australian TV’s most notorious address

Number 96I have a lot of time for anyone who makes the effort to preserve and curate popular (and unpopular) culture of pretty much any kind. The latest example of this kind of work to cross my radar is a book which shares the same title as the hit seventies Australian soap opera that is its subject, Number 96.

In the book’s introduction, Nigel Giles says he was eight years old when he started watching Number 96, two years after it made it sensational debut on ATVO (now known as Channel 10). I was the same age but, regrettably, my parents were not so permissive and deemed me too young to be allowed to watch the show. Nonetheless, it still registered on my pre-teen brain because of Abigail Rogan or ‘Abigail’ as she was universally referred to, who briefly played the show’s sultry blond bombshell, 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 and movies.

Number 96 depicted the lives of the residents of a fictitious block of inner Sydney flats. It was the brainchild of two producers, expat American Bill Harmon and Don Cash, who was English born but had worked in the US.… Read more

Down these mean streets: The depiction of Melbourne as a ‘Noir City’ in Division 4

Police station - Farewell Little Chicago, ep 30 (1970)Melbourne-based Pulp Curry readers might be interested in the upcoming 3-day Screening Melbourne Symposium to be held in association with the Universities of Deakin, La Trobe, Melbourne, Monash, RMIT and Swinburne; and in partnership with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image & the Australian Film Institute, from February 22 to 24.

I’ll be co-presenting a paper with my friend and colleague, Dean Brandum, on Crawford Productions’ Division 4 series (1969-75) and its depiction of Melbourne as a ‘noir city’.

With Homicide a ratings hit on the Seven Network, Crawford Productions was commissioned by the Nine Network to produce a rival series, the even darker Division 4. Whereas Homicide presented a Melbourne where violent crime was a aberration to be corrected, Division 4’s police characters were shown as the last bastion of morality in a tabloid Melbourne of vice and organised crime. Accentuating this tone was Division 4’s aesthetic of high contrast monochrome depicting the shadowy laneways, sleazy clubs and pubs and ever threatening nightlife of the city, a ‘Noir City’, a vision rarely, if ever depicted on the screen as strongly and as consistently over the course of its 301 episodes.

This presentation is partly based on the research Dean and I did as recipients of the 2014 Australian Film Institute Research Collection’s research fellowship.… Read more

Monster Fest 2016 appearances: The Evil Touch & Homicide, episode 27, ‘Witch Hunt’

qualyeA quick heads up to Melbourne readers – Monster Fest 2016 will happen on take place from November 23 – 27, at the Lido Cinema, Hawthorn. Monster Fest is not something I have had much to do with in previous years, but this year it has been hugely revamped, largely thanks to the new program director, Kier-La Janisse, who has put together a new programming team, of which I am a part of.

Anyway, I particularly wanted to draw your attention to two events I am a part of.

Low Grade Transmissions From Hell: Revisiting the Lost Australian Horror Anthology, The Evil Touch

The early seventies are viewed as a peak period for horror anthology television. The Australian show, The Evil Touch is unique in that it was the only horror anthology show made locally, specifically for the US market. Successful in America, it bombed when aired in Australia in 1973 and the 26 episode series is now largely forgotten. Although cheaply made, The Evil Touch is strangely effective, at times, genuinely disturbing television. The grainy look and surreal narrative style give it the feel – in the words of American television critic John Kenneth Muir – of ‘a low grade transmission straight from hell’.

As part of Monster Fest’s Monster Academy, I’ll be giving a talk on the origins, making and reception of The Evil Touch.… Read more

Police fictions: Law enforcement involvement in early Crawford crime TV

Homicide‘Why was Homicide so successful? One reason was its production values, which was much more advanced than previously made local television dramas. The fact it was shot partly on location was also an Australian first. But the most significant drawcard was the show’s realism. Its settings were Melbourne’s dimly lit streets and alleys, its public bars and cramped workers’ cottages. The show also presented a realistic portrayal of criminals, investigators and the methods used to solve crimes. This authenticity was the chief selling point of Homicide and its successors, Division 4 and Matlock Police. And crucial to this authenticity was the in-depth involvement of the Victorian police.’

Last year, myself and fellow research and friend, Dean Brandum, were lucky to be awarded with a joint fellowship at the Australian Film Institute Research Centre. Our research was on the making of Crawford’s early television crime shows, Homicide, Matlock Police and Division 4. This included the much talked about but little known history of Victorian police involvement in all three shows.

You can read the full text of a article myself and Dean wrote for the literary magazine Overland, about our findings, here.

Spirit of 96: the story behind Cash Harmon’s Number 96

SpiritAustralian readers who have followed my site for a while will be aware of my interest in 1970s Australian television, including the soap opera Number 96. Number 96, which I have previously written about here, depicted the lives of the residents of a fictitious block of inner Sydney flats. Debuting on March 13 1972, the racy content caused moral outrage on the part of religious groups. 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.

When I discovered Melbourne man Nigel Giles was compiling a oral history of the show and pitching for funds on Pozible to publish a book on the subject, I immediately thought it was something Pulp Curry readers would be interested in and might also wish to contribute to.

The book is titled Spirit of 96: the story behind Cash Harmon’s Number 96. You can find the page for Nigel’s Number 96 Pozible campaign here.

Below Nigel discusses why Number 96 was so controversial and successful, and how it deserves recognition as one of Australia’s most significant television shows.

In the 1970s there was one TV show that had the whole country talking. When the adults-only soapie Number 96 debuted on our screens in March 1972 it was hailed as the night Television lost its virginity!… Read more