Fifty years ago was a professional turning point for TV producer Reg Grundy.

Grundy, a former radio announcer, had built his TV production empire largely on game and panel shows — many being local adaptations of formats developed overseas. It was a successful strategy but the genre was losing favour with the networks which could gain more points with drama under the new local content rules.

Reg Grundy, Leonard Teale

So Grundy, who began his TV career as a producer and host of Wheel Of Fortune in the 1950s, moved into soap operas. He brought English TV producer Alan Coleman to Australia to put together the company’s first drama project, Class Of ’74, for the Seven Network.

YouTube: tvaustralia1

The series, scheduled in an early evening timeslot from its launch in March 1974, told the story of students and teachers at fictional school Waratah High. Veteran actor Leonard Teale (Homicide, Seven Little Australians) led the cast, joined by John Hamblin, Jeanie Drynan, Gordon Glenwright, Gaynor Sterling, Allan Lander, Janet Kingsbury, Vince Martin and US actor Chuck Danskin. The school’s initial batch of students played by Joanne Samuel, Megan Williams, Jeremy Chance, John Diedrich, Barbara Llewellyn, Anne Lambert, Adrian Bernotti, Kevin Wilson, Chris Cummings and Carla Hoogeveen — ranging in age from 16 to 25 and selected from a pool of around 300 young hopefuls.

Class Of ’74

In an era where shows like Number 96 led the charge for sex and nudity on TV, Class Of ’74 tested the boundaries as far as it could for its 7.00pm timeslot. “Number 96 is a damned good program. The difference between us and the producers of Number 96 is that we believe there’s no need to see these young people fornicating in bed. We’re not going to put on a peep show,” Class Of ’74 scriptwriter John Edwards told TV Times. “Class Of ’74 will be a straight drama presenting the full gamut of human emotions.”

Joanne Samuel, Jeremy Chance, Megan Williams

While it might not have been a “peep show”, Class Of ’74‘s pilot featured a semi-nude male character rushing from a shower into a school gymnasium. And early episode teasers were lurid enough to bring the viewers in: “Who’s the girl having an affair with one of the teachers?”, “Who’s the boy whose activities in the holidays may get him expelled as soon as he returns?”, “Is it true that one of the pupils has posed for a pornographic picture?”, “Greg lures Julie to his pad but Julie won’t have a bar of what Greg has in mind.”

Vince Martin, Carla Hoogeveen
Jeanie Drynan

However, the Australian Broadcasting and Control Board (ABCB) wasn’t convinced that Class Of ’74 was producing family-friendly drama. After the first episode aired in Sydney and Melbourne on 18 March 1974, the ABCB reviewed the first three episodes and ruled that the series exceeded the boundaries of the G-rating for 7.00pm, and ordered that two minutes be cut from the second episode. “Between 4.00pm and 7.30pm, the board believes parents should be able to allow their children to watch TV without supervision,” ABCB secretary Brian Connolly said at the time. “Class Of ’74 seems to be developing an immoral tone with a bit of sex, which is unsuitable for that timeslot when impressionable children are watching.”

The situation caused some friction between Grundy and Seven as the contract for the series stipulated that the series must be suitable for G-rating viewing. It also led to Grundy meeting with ABCB representatives in person, armed with research material that indicated that regardless of Class Of ’74, children were already watching adult drama Number 96 in high numbers. Until the show’s classification could be sorted, however, Seven in Sydney and Melbourne made the choice to temporarily shift Class Of ’74 to A-rating timeslots post-7.30pm.

Either way viewers didn’t seem to distressed at Class Of ’74‘s arrival. Its debut episode rated a 37 (per cent of households) in Sydney and the week’s episodes averaged 29 — well above the the quiz show, Great Temptation, that it replaced and which was moved to go up against Number 96 at 8.30pm. It was a move that would ultimately prove fatal for Great Temptation, ironically another Grundy production.

Jeanie Drynan, Leonard Teale

Class Of ’74 saw through the end of the year and continued as Class Of ’75, now in colour with some new cast members — including Peta Toppano, Angela Punch and Anne Charleston and former Number 96 stars Abigail, Peter Flett and Briony Behets — and a new emphasis on comedy. The new-look series, with the ABCB’s blessing to loosen some of the more draconian restrictions around contemporary dialogue, such as the word “pregnant” now allowed to be used, was not a hit with viewers.

Melbourne’s HSV7 demoted the series from prime time to Saturday mornings after barely six weeks and Sydney’s ATN7 moving it to the 5.00pm timeslot. By mid-year, the series was gone altogether. Grundy was to revisit the school drama genre with Glenview High a few years later.

Source: TV Times, 17 November 1973, 22 December 1973, 23 February 1974, 16 March 1974, 23 March 1974, 30 March 1974, 13 April 1974, 26 October 1974, 25 January 1975. The Age, 11 February 1974. TV Week, 23 March 1974, 29 March 1975. Super Aussie Soaps, Andrew Mercado

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