It was 50 years ago today that the legendary comedy show The Mavis Bramston Show first appeared on our screens.
Before its debut, Executive Producer Michael Plant described the show as “unlike anything ever done in television before”, promising topical comedy, sketches and send-ups. The show’s chief writer David Sale, in his recent book Number 96, Mavis Bramston And Me, said, “After eight years of inoffensive entertainment, The Mavis Bramston Show finally shook Australian television free from the confining corsets of 1950s respectability. This was the new kid on the block — cheeky, vulgar, always irreverent and constantly demanding attention.”
The concept for the show had been devised by Carol Raye, having seen the popular comedy show That Was The Week That Was in the UK. Raye assembled Gordon Chater and Barry Creyton as cast members — but finding a compatible female lead was proving difficult, so Raye stepped in and an invincible ensemble was born. They would be joined by a cast of performers including June Salter, Ron Frazer, Johnny Lockwood, Hazel Phillips, Barbara Angell, Ronnie Stevens, Penny Ramsay and Bryan Davies.
There was no such person as Mavis Bramston but rather she was a send up of the cultural phenomenon of importing overseas “stars” to appear in Australian productions, particularly on stage. Initially played by Noeline Brown but more famously by Maggie Dence (pictured), Mavis would appear in the show’s opening titles in an almost regal manner stepping off the plane upon her “arrival”. (Brown would later return to the series but as part of the ensemble rather than playing the part of Mavis)
The Mavis Bramston Show was originally commissioned by Sydney’s ATN7 for six weeks — making its debut on Wednesday 11 November 1964 at 9.00pm. Within weeks of its debut it was among Sydney’s most popular programs, and was soon picked up by CTC7 in Canberra. Following its debut in Canberra, local TV critic John Howard dared to describe it as “the most important program in the whole history of Australian television”.
The show’s immediate success led to one episode screening in Melbourne just before Christmas as a precursor to HSV7 picking up the series from February 1965 — though its arrival in Melbourne was seen to be a thorn in the side of HSV. TV Times reported at the time that while GTV9 had the popular In Melbourne Tonight, there were attempts to get a satire-based series up and running at rival HSV7 but any such projects were snubbed by management, claiming that Melburnians “wouldn’t be interested” in satire. The arrival of The Ray Taylor Show at new channel ATV0 and the popularity of Mavis in Melbourne soon showed that HSV had misjudged its viewers and had to concede that its Sydney partner had claimed a place in television history.
Before too long, Mavis with its political send ups, social satire and double entendres that outraged as well as entertained was being seen in capital cities and regional areas around the country — making it the first Australian TV comedy show to gain a strong foothold nationally — ending the year as the most popular program on Australian TV (beaten only by the Sunday night movie timeslot).
The show won a TV Week Logie Award in 1965 for Best New Show, and again in 1966 for Best Live Show. Gordon Chater won the Gold Logie for Most Popular TV Personality in 1966, with Carol Raye winning Best Female Personality.
By 1968 the original ensemble had moved on to other ventures and David Sale, promoted to the role of Executive Producer following the sudden death of Michael Plant, had handed over to writer Johnny Whyte. Subsequently, ratings had dropped and Seven had shifted Mavis to a later timeslot. In September, ATN7 had axed The Mavis Bramston Show amid plans to cancel a raft of programs including The Gordon Chater Show, sitcom Rita And Wally and daytime soapie Motel.
Despite the huge impact that Mavis had on Australian popular culture it has barely appeared on screen since it faded away in 1968. Some of the show’s former cast returned for a one-off special in April 1971, but screenings of the original Mavis on TV have been largely limited only to footage in later clip shows.
David Sale went on to be the creative force behind another groundbreaking series, Number 96. Carol Raye appeared frequently in Number 96, while both Raye and Barry Creyton were regular panellists on Graham Kennedy‘s Blankety Blanks in the late 1970s.
Most of the original episodes of The Mavis Bramston Show now reside at the National Film and Sound Archive but have never been released on DVD.
Source: Number 96, Mavis Bramston And Me, David Sale. Australian Television Information Archive. Australian TV: The First 25 Years, Peter Beilby, 1981. Sydney Morning Herald, 8 November 1964. The Canberra Times, 4 December 1964. TV Times, 16 December 1964. TV Times, 10 February 1965. TV Times, 3 March 1965. TV Times, 25 September 1968. TV Times, 14 April 1971.