One of the most successful US comedy shows of the Sixties and early Seventies was Rowan And Martin’s Laugh-In. The rapid-fire comic sketches with all the psychedelic colours of the era was a hit for America’s NBC network and also found a following in Australia (although Australians still saw the show in black and white).
One of the writers of Laugh-In was English-born Australian Chris Bearde. In the late 1950s, Beard (the ‘e’ was added to his name later) hosted Smalltime, a daily half-hour children’s show for ATN7 in Sydney, and wrote for the channel’s other children’s show Captain Fortune. He then progressed to writing for popular variety show Revue ’61 which was sold to the Canadian network CTV.
Beard then went to work in Canada, writing for television including local comedy shows Nightcap and Network before joining the writing team for Rowan And Martin’s Laugh-In and producing The Andy Williams Show.
In 1969 he made a return visit to Australia and offered to produce a comedy special based on what he’d learned overseas. The Nine Network not only took him up on the offer but also made available just about every performer that was on the Nine payroll to appear in his new comic venture.
The result was Ready When You Are CB, a one-hour special with segments produced in both Sydney and Melbourne that went to air in both cities on Monday, 10 November 1969. Like Laugh-In the show promised rapid-fire sketches no longer than around 20 seconds each, with the exception being a two-minute operetta. More than 70 artists and personalities were involved in the production — including (in no particular order) Graham Kennedy, Bert Newton, Patti McGrath (later to become Patti Newton), Philip Brady, Don Lane, Ed Devereaux, Barry Crocker, Carmen Duncan, Stuart Wagstaff, Johnny O’Keefe, Col Joye, Tony Charlton, Terry Dear, Frank Wilson, Eric Pearce, Brian Henderson, Geoff Harvey, Johnny Lockwood, Frank Rich, Kevin Goldsby, Buster Fiddess, Bob Rogers, Reg Gorman, Desmond Tester, Rosemary Margan, Tim Evans, Toni Lamond, Mike Dorsey, Diana Ward, Ronne Arnold, Robina Beard (Chris’ sister) and Humphrey B Bear.
Ready When You Are CB — the title taken from the well-known phrase said to legendary Hollywood director Cecil B DeMille — received a mixed reaction from the critics. TV Week critic Jerry Fetherston liked it despite some flaws:
“One every five seconds or so the jokes came. Some were funny, some were corny, some were plain bad. But they were always zany. The jokes, of course, were part of the craziest hour Australian television has produced — Ready When You Are CB. When Chris Beard set out to make his special he obviously patterned it on Laugh-In, only he made the pace even faster. But I think the fascination of the special was the spectacle of the stars of Australian TV making asses of themselves in a glorious display of upstaging. Dimples (Philip) Brady singing “Philip Brady is my name and television is my game,” Don Lane imitating a blue tongue lizard and a llama, Bert Newton getting into bed with Humphrey Bear, and Eric Pearce giving away newsreading to become a singer.”
But Fetherston’s colleague Frank Crook didn’t hold back with his disappointment:
“There are times when a person feels like sitting down and having a good cry about Australian television. One day, if we all live long enough, we may see a dead-set, sure-fire, gold-plated original Australian show. Until that day comes, we have to sit, slack-jawed, through “specials” like Ready When You Are CB. Mr Chris Beard, the eminent expatriate writer, did most of the pencilling for the show and it would seem he brought over much of the material rejected by Laugh-In. It is no joke watching watching people like Eric Pearce, Brian Bury and Ron Casey at the best of times. It is downright dismal watching them do something that is so obviously not their “thing”. But the laughter came all the same — straight out of a can. It was a bore, Mr Beard. If you keep churning out this sort of stuff for the gullible natives, we may consider sending Leonard Teale over to your part of the world to stupefy the locals with The Man From Snowy River.”
Nine wasn’t the only one having a tough time with new comedy projects. At around the same time Seven had launched A Hard Day’s Week, a topical sketch comedy series airing in half-hour episodes on Sunday nights. A Hard Day’s Week, produced at ATN7, featured former Mavis Bramston Show co-star Barry Creyton with June Salter, Willie Fennell, Donald McDonald and Sue Walker. The series was axed after two months after failing to earn decent ratings in its home market of Sydney.
Seven’s Melbourne channel HSV7 had also launched a new sitcom, Joan And Leslie. Despite promising ratings for its debut the series, starring British actor Leslie Randell and wife Joan Reynolds, suffered falling ratings in Melbourne and failed to be picked up by any other Seven Network stations and was cancelled after its initial 13-episode run.
(Pictured above are Bert Newton, Patti McGrath (Newton) and Humphrey B Bear)
Source: The Age, 6 November 1969. TV Times, 5 November 1969. TV Times, 19 November 1969. TV Week, 29 November 1969. TV Times, 3 December 1969