In 1971, the Seven Network had bold plans for a new “provocative and bawdy” series set in Melbourne in the 1880s.
The network had a proposal titled Man Of Property, starring Robin Ramsay, formerly of Bellbird, in the lead role of a strait-laced English doctor living in Melbourne at the end of the gold rush period. The doctor ends up inheriting a share of property from one of his patients. What he soon discovers is that the property is actually a brothel and music hall and is part-owned by a man who “has his fingers in every pie but with a lovable disposition”.
Ramsay was reportedly not the first choice for the role, with former The Mavis Bramston Show star Barry Creyton declining due to work commitments in London.
Graham Rouse was cast as the other owner of the property, and Bob Hornery was cast to play a dodgy solicitor who tries almost everything to get his hand on the doctor’s inheritance.
The brothel madam, Rosa, was played by Jill Forster, previously seen in the serial Motel, with a then-unknown Abigail and Michele Fawdon also in featured roles. “Rosa is very warm and sympathetic,” Forster told TV Times. “I adored playing her and the clothes… those late 1880s were a very elegant period.”
Although it was set in Melbourne, the pilot — later re-titled The Wicked City — was filmed at the studios of ATN7, Sydney, and produced in colour, possibly with an eye on the international market as Australian television was still black-and-white. With elaborate sets and attention to detail in depicting the spoils of the gold rush period, including lavish costumes (such as Forster’s Victorian-era dresses each weighing around 15 kilograms) and making the most of colour, The Wicked City was claimed to be one of the most expensive pilots ever made in Australia.
But despite the big claims about the project, based on scripts by Peter Yeldham and produced by Rod Kinnear, any plans to develop it into a series appeared to vanish, with the pilot sitting on the shelf at Seven for over a year. It wasn’t until 14 September 1973 that HSV7 aired the pilot in Melbourne, with ATN7, Sydney, and CTC7, Canberra, following later. It was speculated in press reports that the program was seen as “too ambitious” to proceed with a series.
After The Wicked City, Ramsay went on to appearances in This Love Affair, Behind The Legend and the movie version of The Box. Forster went on to star in another unsuccessful pilot, The Lady And The Law for ABC, before ongoing roles in Number 96, The Box, The Restless Years, Prisoner and Seachange.
Fawdon went on to be cast as Mabel in the 1972 pilot to Snake Gully With Dad And Dave. She later starred in 1975 soap The Unisexers, had guest roles in Cop Shop and Young Ramsay and played an award-winning performance in the 1979 film Cathy’s Child.
Abigail, whose only prior TV work before making The Wicked City had been a couple of guest appearances in Delta and some commercials, went on to national fame as the sexy Bev Houghton in the top-rating Number 96. Her days in Number 96 had come and gone by the time The Wicked City had even gone to air, perhaps indicating that Seven only belatedly broadcast the pilot to cash in on her fame from the popular soap. She went on to roles in Alvin Purple, This Love Affair, Class Of ’75, The Young Doctors, Sons And Daughters and Chances.
Source: TV Times, 11 September 1971, 25 September 1971, 30 October 1971, 8 September 1973. TV Week, 11 September 1971. The Age, 13 September 1973.