Category Archives: Australian television history

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

The comfort of crimes past? Why we love period crime procedurals

sherlock-holmes

You only have to take a quick look at the television guide or go to the crime section of your nearest bookstore to know that period crime procedurals – crime stories set in the past – are popular.

Showing or having recently aired on free-to-air television have been Foyle’s War, a police procedural show set during or immediately after the Second World War; Dr Blake Mysteries, set in Ballarat in the 1950s; Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, based on the successful books by Melbourne writer Kerry Greenwood set in late-1920s Melbourne; andAquarius, dealing with the murders committed by Charles Manson in 1960s California. These programs feed into a much wider canon of popular period shows – everything from Downton Abbey, to Mad Men and Wolf Hall, the adaption of Hilary Mantel’s 2009 bestselling Booker Prize-winning novel.

Our desire for period crime procedurals is just as big on the printed page. In Australia alone, there are Sulari Gentill’s books featuring the 1930s sleuth, Roland Sinclair, Robert Gott’s police procedurals set in the newly formed homicide squad in 1940s Melbourne, and Geoffrey McGeachin’s award winning Melbourne police detective Charlie Berlin, to name a few.

What is driving this? Is this a symptom of our refusal to come to grips with modern reality?… Read more