This week’s Pulp Friday offering is the 1968 paperback tie in to the then popular Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV series, Contrabandits.
While Crawford Productions understandably gets most of the credit for kick starting Australia’s modern television industry in the mid-sixties with the long running police drama show, Homicide, it was not the only local organisation producing gritty crime TV.
Around the same time changes were also afoot at the ABC. New staff were bought on board and a department of television drama was created that produced a number of one-off and on-gong TV series. Among these was Contrabandits, the first episode of which screened on September 22 1967.
Contrabandits focused on the activities of Customs Special Branch, an elite law enforcement squad tasked with intercepting contraband in Sydney. The four mainstays of the squad were Chief Inspector Ted Hallan (played by British actor Denis Quilley), office girl Mardi Shiel (Janet Kingsbury) a university graduate, determined to succeed in a male dominated area, Bob Piper (John Bonney), a young wise cracking spiv, and tough guy, Jim Shurley (Ben Grabiel).
Twenty-nine episodes of Contradbandits were made. All of them are listed on the on-line archive of the former magazine, TV Eye. Themes included tackling drug runners and smugglers of various kinds, raiding opium dens in Kings Cross and dealing with illegal immigrants.
Episode 9, ‘Films Are Just For Kids’, gets my vote as the most interesting sounding storyline: ‘When the Vice Squad stumble across an allegedly obscene psychedelic movie, Chief Insp. Hallam and his team are called in to check whether it is of local origin or has been smuggled in from abroad. Pipe and Keally find themselves experiencing the ‘love generation’ first hand at a wild hippy party, while Shurley is sent out to investigation smuggled amphetamine pills.’
Channel 7’s Border Security eat your heart out.
Paralleling Victorian police cooperation in the making of Crawford’s crime dramas, Contradbandits was made with the approval of the Department of Customs and Excise, who vetted scripts and supplied a liaison officer for the series. Plot lines were based around the actual activities of the Department’s Prevention and Detection Branch.
Unfortunately, the show has not aired again since it ended in late 1968 and, to my knowledge, is not available on DVD.
The paperback tie-in, Shark Bait, sees the Contrabandits given one week to locate “a huge shipment of narcotics”. It is the only paperback tie in to the show published that I am aware of.
In a previous post, I mistakenly wrote that the author, James Workman, was a Horwitz house pseudonym. In fact, he was a former naval cadet who worked as an announcer, scriptwriter and producer for the South African Broadcasting Corporation. He moved to Sydney, where he worked for the ABC (according to the Austlit database, this included doing a stint on Contrabandits) and wrote 23 novels for Horwitz, including crime, Nazisploitation, historical, war and spy tales.