This week The X Factor has kicked off yet another series to find the next act that Australia will seemingly fall in love with.
Fifty years ago today another big-budget talent quest was trying to do much the same thing — although except wanting to find the next One Direction, it was more about finding the next Joan Sutherland.
TV in Australia was almost a decade old before producer Hector Crawford (pictured) came up with a lavish initiative — Australia’s first ‘national’ TV talent quest — Showcase.
Announced by the Independent Television System network (now Network Ten) in June 1965, Showcase promised £1000 plus an overseas trip for two to the winner of the 15-episode series. The series runner up would collect £500 and third placegetter £250. All other grand finalists who do not gain a major placing will collect £50. Taking into account weekly prizes the show’s overall prize pool over 15 episodes was set to top £8400 — making it the richest talent quest in Australian history.
Auditions for the initial series of 80 acts were held in each state from July, with acts to be in one of four categories — Vocalists, Group acts, Dancers and Variety acts. Produced at the studios of ATV0, Melbourne, the first episode debuted on Wednesday 15 September 1965. Hosting the show was Gordon Boyd (pictured), an English-born performer who had earlier hosted his own variety series on ABC. The production also featured a 25-piece orchestra, conducted by Crawford himself.
As well as being carried by the Independent Television System (0-10 Network) stations in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Showcase was also picked up by NWS9 Adelaide (after SAS10 withdrew from carrying the show following a dispute with ATV0), TVT6 Hobart, CTC7 Canberra and STW9 in Perth.
The nine acts to feature in the first episode included 12-year-old pianist Alan Kogosowski, Brisbane rock band The Avengers, Maltese-born magician Lucky Fordali, Sydney singer Valmai Johnston, Adelaide tenor John Giglio, 24-year-old Norfolk Island dancer Diarna Peek (pictured), Sydney-based pop singer Sheila Raye, Glasgow-born pop singer George Armstrong, and Perth folk group The Wayfarers.
Initial reviews after the first episode were less than complimentary. TV Times‘ columnist John Pinkney opened his review of Showcase with, “Seldom in entertainment has so much ballyhoo preceded such a lame, tame squib as Showcase ’65“.
He added, “Everything about the production of this turgid talent quest — from stilted compere Gordon Boyd to the often laughable sets — was monstrously unoriginal and titanically trite.”
Pinkney was not too impressed about the acts from episode one but did make a point of mentioning Sheila Raye and The Wayfarers as possible highlights.
Fellow TV Times critic Frank Doherty was similarly unimpressed, although his main concern was that the judging was restricted to four showbusiness professionals (“all of them, albeit, highly qualified to assess talent”) and did not involve any public participation. He compared this to the former radio talent quest Australia’s Amateur Hour, which had listeners phone in to vote for their favourite performers.
Before the initial series came to an end, Doherty was able to find some progress had been made with the show: “Showcase ’65 seems now, however, to have taken some notice of (the) severe drubbing it received, for there has been an undoubted improvement.” He added that host Boyd, who was earlier criticised as being wooden or stilted in his delivery, had now been allowed to show some of his own personality rather than be tied down to dry scripted lines. “That is a good thing to see — a show that can pull itself up to a fairly good standard after a disheartening start,” Doherty concluded.
The first series of Showcase was won by Melbourne-born baritone Thomas McDonnell, (pictured) collecting the £1000 and taking the prize trip to London to further his music studies, accompanied by his wife and baby daughter. McDonnell went on to a professional career in opera, including performing with the Sadler’s Wells Opera (later English National Opera).
Showcase went on to win a TV Week Logie award in 1966 for Outstanding Contribution to Development of Talent.
With the show’s return in May 1966, Crawford had ordered some changes — the most significant being the addition of a “people’s choice” vote as well as the panel of four industry judges. Viewers were invited to submit their votes via post. Another change was extending the show’s season from 15 to 25 episodes, and contestants and even finalists (except the grand finalist) from the 1965 series were eligible to re-enter.
Winning the grand prize at the end of season two were 13-year-olds, pianist Alan Kogosowski (who re-entered in 1966, winning the public vote and coming runner-up in the judges’ vote) and piano accordionist Michael Kluger (winning the judges’ vote). Both went on to careers in their respective fields of performance.
The 1967 series was extended to 30 episodes and, following a trial in 1966, incorporated telephone voting for the series final. The public response to voting, particularly in Melbourne where the show was made, saw suburban telephone exchanges jammed as tens of thousands of callers were attempting to register their votes. The massive response led to producers having to restrict Melbourne telephone voting the following year to a pre-determined ballot of 250 households. “It’s a sad thing, but short of making very costly telephone arrangements, we can’t see a way around it,” Boyd told TV Times. Full telephone voting arrangements were allowed to go ahead in other states.
Showcase ’68 saw the show extended to two series over 40 weeks, featuring a total of 144 acts, with the winners of both series competing in the year-end grand final. It was also the year that America’s NBC network launched their own version of Showcase based on the Australian model.
Just weeks before the start of the 1970 series Boyd announced his resignation from the program. “I am a bit of a crusader,” he told TV Times. “I’m very worried about the present state of the world. I would like very much to do a program that analyses and tries to understand problems like drugs and violence. But on commercial TV, who cares? They figure it won’t rate.”
Possible contenders as Boyd’s replacement were reported to include Mike Preston (In Melbourne Tonight), Terry O’Neill (Time For Terry), Johnny Farnham, Normie Rowe and Chris Kirby. It eventuated that none of them were to become host, but rather performer Rod McLennan, previously seen on variety show The Entertainers, was appointed to the role.
The axe finally fell on Showcase at the close of the 1970 season. ATV0 general manager Max Ryan said that “we feel the program has run its race, and done so very successfully”. He also cited the show’s appeal with older viewers, while the channel as a whole was aiming to appeal more to under-45s.
The series was revived in 1973, with Boyd reprising his role as host. The new-look Showcase ’73 was again a Crawford production but this time on the Nine Network. The debut episode featured some of the performers from the original series, including James Pegler, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Tony Pantano, Greg Bonham, Julie Raines and Michael Kluger. The series continued as Showcase ’74 before again being retired. One of its aspiring talents was a young pop singer from South Australia, Mark Holden. The show bowed out with a 90-minute special broadcast in colour, followed by a national concert tour (pictured) featuring Boyd and some of the show’s contestants.
The 0-10 Network revived the show for a brief run in 1978, hosted by Stuart Wagstaff.
Source: TV Week, 19 June 1965. TV Times, 29 September 1965. TV Times, 3 November 1965. TV Times, 24 November 1965. The Age, 26 May 1966. TV Times, 30 November 1966. TV Times, 1 November 1967. TV Times, 7 February 1968. TV Times, 26 June 1968. TV Times, 23 October 1968. TV Times, 28 January 1970. TV Times, 4 February 1970. TV Times, 11 February 1970. TV Times, 30 September 1970. TV Times, 12 May 1973. TV Times, 26 October 1974.
A TV staple – HSV 7 from memory ran Stairway to the Stars from very early days.
ADS Adelaide picked up the format for a local edition.
Way Back – Australian Amateur Hour was a very popular long running
RADIO program weekly and national.
Finding fresh talent has always been a successful format – universally.
I remember the show airing on Station NBN-Newcastle in the 1960s when I was still pre-teenage. The show was stilted and stodgy and a total waste of airtime! Even the revived version in the early 1970s… Stilted and stodgy… no improvement whatsoever. When it finally “carked it” in 1974, my own feelings were “Good riddance!” A far superior show had started up on Station ATV-Melbourne in the meantime… that show being Young Talent Time!
ahh showcase more like new faces style programming
@Andrew M, just out of curious interest, You don’t happen to post on 45Cat or 45Worlds as “Record Collector” by any chance, do you?
I’ve had my question answered elsewhere. Cheers!
Is it possible to see the winners of the first series of Australia’s new faces in 1969 the Paul McKay sound.
ATVO 10 – manger quoted here Max Ryan – can anyon tell me if Mt Ryan is still alive I’m trying to contact him or his family regarding my family tree
Hi Lauren sorry I’m not aware of the whereabouts or any contact details of Mr Ryan. You could maybe contact Channel Ten in Melbourne they may have some information on Mr Ryan.
Hi are there any archives with the shows to watch? My sister and I were on the show and it would be just great to look back at the performances! Thank you.
We were 1970 I think.
Hi Trish. I’m afraid I am not aware of any archives of the program available to view.
I was part of Showcase 1969 “The 3 Imps” an acrobatic trio from Perth who flew to Melbourne at least 12 times and ended up in viewers and judges grand finals. Have written to everyone I can possibly think of to try to find tapes and all of can get is that they have been destroyed. I live in hope of one day finding them.
Found the 1966 first semi final on You Tube opening with Gordon Boyd singing a song!
I was part of Showcase 1969 too Cheryl. We performed as The St Thomas Mores Singers and I remember meeting you.
I was in your first year class at Kewdale, John McNair. You may not remember me. Since then I have been a professional musician and still am. I did a few TV shows and when I tried to access some of the film footage I was told most of the WA TV tape was destroyed in a fire in Sydney. Very upsetting 😉
Thanks John. Wow small world. I still think there must be some tapes somewhere as back then they used to post them to each state. I have written to everyone and been told tapes were destroyed. I still live I. Hope of finding them one day. Can’t believe you still remember.
People may remember performances by the Male Quartette from Perth-The 4 Notes.We had about 4 trips to Melbourne as we got into the finals. The group consisted of 1st bass David McGill, 2nd bass Gerry Chrystal.1st tenor Wally Schleicher, 2nd tenor Laurie Russell. Our first appearance we performed the negro spiritual “Sometimes i feel like a motherless child”.Our pianist and arranger was Alan Woodend. They were great days.
Hi Cheryl, can you please keep my email and contact me if you ever find the tapes. My parents were on the show. Ta
Hi Dan I have redacted your email address as it’s probably not wise to publish it publicly. Anyone who wishes to respond can do so via this page.
Hello. I would love to find out if there is an existing tape of the show featuring a group called The Joe Wolfe Quintet. Can’t remember the year but somewhere in the first years of production 65 – 69. We played the instrumental ‘Theme from Mission Impossible’. The was also a young lady on the show called Lorraine Emmanuel who sang a beautiful version of the folk song ‘Fair thee well’. I have a 45 record of us on one side and her on the other.
Wow! I remember The Three Imps and how you all tumbled up and down the hotel hallways! I have just connected with this site. I was also a successful contestant on Showcase and would love to locate tapes. It was such a special time in my life and I have continued to share my love of dance and performance throughout my life. Sandra – tap dancer from Maitland.
Hello, just advising that I came across the 1st semi-final episode of 1966 on youtube. The link is below, or you can search via putting in ‘ showcase 1966 ‘ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5MyJKS1PjA
My brothers, father and me appeared in April 1967 as “ The Clan McEwan” we won the people’s choice with 39% of the vote. Would love to see some footage if available.
I was a member of a group The Driftwoods in the Showcase 1973 series. We backed Gordon Boyd’s opening song (The World is a Circle) and were contestant number 1. Our heat winner was Johnathon Summers who eventually won the series and went on to a wonderful international career in opera. Only two members of The Driftwoods survive today. Have begged for a copy if the video of the heat but have been met with silence. What a memory that would be today.
Hi Graham, lovely to get your comment. You have probably already done this but have you tried to contact the National Film and Sound Archive re :obtaining footage? I don’t know whether the show exists in its collection and I believe they have a lot of hoops to jump through to gain a copy or even just access to a viewing, but it might be worth a try.
I found this on You Tube, the 1966 semi final opening with Gordon Boyd singing! I was 11 at the time and I had to watch it because my mother wanted to and frankly, there was nothing better to watch in those days. Even though I found it thoroughly boring for the most part at that age, even back then I was struck by how classy and dignified the show was and Gordon Boyd while wooden, had a really nice speaking voice which perfectly suited the dignity 9f the show so he was really the perfect choice. He had a very neutral accent also which suited people who got turned off by strong accents. All in all, a very well done and professional program in the end. https://youtu.be/G5MyJKS1PjA
Hi. My mother was on at least one episode of Showcase. Not sure what year but it would have to be before 1970 as she died in 71. I was two at the time and have no memory of her at all. She also won a final of New Faces ( Kevin Dennis era) and appeared on IMT. Her trio were called ‘Trak 3’. I contacted Ch9 Melbourne in early 90’s and was told that many tapes were erased and re-used.
Her Name was Joy Markovic.
Hi Nadia, thank you for sharing your memories of your mother. Crawford Productions produced Showcase but I am not aware if any tapes still exist. You could try contacting Crawfords DVD, the National Film and Sound Archive or the Australian Television Archive.