It was all smiles at Flemington Racecourse in 1981 as Holiday Island star Gaynor Martin is pictured with champion jockey Roy Higgins in the lead up to the 121st running of the Melbourne Cup.
Despite all the smiles from the Holiday Island crew — including fellow co-stars Steven Grives and Nick Tate, pictured with Martin below — the series was a critical and ratings flop.
Network Ten, in 1981 covering the Melbourne Cup Carnival for the fourth consecutive year, sought to use promotion of the upcoming racing carnival as an opportunity to spruik its troubled drama series. It was to be to no avail as the series was soon cancelled.
To the more important racing coverage, the network’s Melbourne channel, ATV10, had 16 cameras being positioned around Flemington Racecourse, supported by six outside broadcast vans, 100 crew and aerial surveillance via the channel’s news chopper. Such was the demand on personnel and technical resources for mounting the coverage, Ten put production of its other Melbourne-based drama Prisoner on hold for two weeks to free up and redeploy resources. It also borrowed equipment from the Nine Network and commercial production companies.
The channel was reported to have spent $500,000 to mount the four-day coverage of the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
With a coverage estimated to reach seven million viewers across Australia, through 119 commercial stations and by special arrangement to 55 remote and regional ABC stations, it was said to be the biggest sporting telecast in Australia to date. The coverage was also broadcast live to New Zealand, and on delay to Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.
Executive producer and host of Ten’s coverage was Philip Gibbs, and Clem Dimsey calling the races for the tenth year. Once again covering the fashions on the field was Annette Allison, co-host of Good Morning Melbourne. In the lead up to Cup Day, Allison was predicting shorter hem lengths — weather permitting. “The shorter hem length is certainly in this year,” she told TV Week. “There’ll be the stylish shorter hem and I guess the outrageous version of the mini. But it does depend on the weather quite a bit.”
Although the Seven Network was not a rights holder to Melbourne Cup coverage, it had Sydney-based “first lady of racing” Gai Waterhouse (pictured below) as its resident horse racing expert for Cup Day reports and analysis. Although she had previously worked as an actress, including a stint in The Young Doctors, Waterhouse was well entrenched in the racing industry, working for her father, successful horse trainer Tommy Smith, and married to bookmaker Robbie Waterhouse. She went on to be a successful horse trainer in her own right.
The Seven Network drama series Cop Shop also had a racing theme for episodes due to screen during Melbourne Cup week, featuring former The Sullivans star Andrew McFarlane (pictured below, centre, with Lynda Stoner and Greg Ross) as Phil Burns, a big-time punter and con man on the run from police.
Source: TV Week, 31 October 1981. The Age, 29 October 1981.