1979: SBS television makes its debut

It was on 24 October 1980 — United Nations Day — that Bruce Gyngell (pictured above) announced, “Good evening, and welcome to multicultural television”, as he launched Channel 0/28. We now know it as SBS television.

But it was 40 years ago this week that SBS made its first television appearance. The new Special Broadcasting Service had taken effect from 1 January 1978 and taken over the running of multicultural radio stations in Sydney and Melbourne. It was also charged with fulfilling Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser‘s 1977 election promise to set up a multicultural television service.

SBS made its television debut via 13 three-hour program blocks broadcast on ABC in Sydney and Melbourne on Sunday mornings. The first went to air on Sunday 29 April 1979 and programs aired weekly until 22 July.

SBS had outsourced the presentation and packaging of its first series of test transmissions to Australian Community TV Pty Ltd in a contract worth $90,000, with SBS spending $320,000 on sourcing foreign programming. The head of SBS television administration, Bill Watson, defended the awarding of the contract on the basis that the fledgling SBS did not have the necessary infrastructure, staffing or facilities to put together the programs. Australian Community TV was part of a consortium of production companies that had previous experience in producing television content for the Federal Government.

Executive producer of the series was Rowan Ayers, a former BBC executive who had recently been with the Nine Network. Ayers described the upcoming SBS programs as “not meant only for migrant groups. We hope that all Australians will find it interesting as well and will learn about the different ethnic groups in this country. We’ll have program material from places such as Korea and Thailand as well as Greece, Italy, Germany, Turkey, France — and just about everywhere else.”

Special Broadcasting Service Test Transmission. Broadcast via ABN2 Sydney/ABV2 Melbourne, Sunday 29 April 1979
8am Introduction in various languages (pictured) / Fatti And Fattacci (Italian) / Prime Minister’s Message
8.30 Another Viewpoint (English) / Sports (English)
9am Film (Turkish) / Ethnic Magazine (English)
9.30 Teacher In The Sky / Greek Singing
10am Melbourne’s National Gallery
10.30 Music And Radio (French documentary with English commentary) / Discussion / Korean Ballet
11am Close
Source: The Age, 26 April 1979

Programming was very much of an experimental nature among the first test transmissions. Short programs or segments sourced overseas were interspersed with locally-made segments and features. A considerable amount of airtime in the opening weeks would be in English while the broadcaster determined the ongoing nature of its program mix.

The Sunday morning timeslot also restricted programming to a “G” rating classification, precluding the possibility of many feature films and drama series being included.

Ahead of the test program launch, SBS chairman Dr Grisha Sklovsky was expecting that the experimental nature of SBS television programs would attract criticism, but hoped that it would be constructive: “We will not do right by the extremist views. We must strike a balance which pleases the majority but also fits our pocket money.”

The Age Green Guide, 26 April 1979

The first batch of test programs gathered a mixed response. The Age Green Guide gave it a positive review: “Whatever the preconceived ideas of what an ethnic television program should be like, the package presented by the Special Broadcasting Service proved easy on the eye, entertaining and educational despite obvious shortcomings of an opening edition… It served to demonstrate the potential of an ethnic television service pointing to the exciting, rich veins that can be tapped to provide viewing enrichment.”

In contrast, the Federal Opposition spokesperson on ethnic affairs, Dr Moss Cass, declared the opening three hour broadcast as “piecemeal and unco-ordinated”, and said that to say “hello” in different languages and feature a schedule predominantly in English did not justify the name “ethnic television”.

YouTube: TelevisionAU

There was also criticism in Canberra, the nation’s capital, that the SBS programs were not going to be broadcast in Canberra, even though the relay of the signal from Sydney to Melbourne would pass through the city and that it has a considerable multicultural population. The Government defended its decision to only broadcast via ABC in Sydney and Melbourne on the basis that the two largest cities represented the largest multicultural populations. It was also established that a full-time multicultural service planned to commence in 1980 would initially only be committed to those cities. Any further roll-out of permanent multicultural television would depend on funding and planning of broadcast frequencies.

As at April 1979, it was already proposed that a permanent multicultural service would broadcast on Channel 28 in Sydney and Melbourne — utilising the newly-available UHF band. (It was later arranged that the new service would also be granted a temporary licence to simulcast on Channel 0 in both cities, while viewers became accustomed to accessing the UHF band)

A second round of test broadcasts for SBS was broadcast on ABC, again on Sunday mornings, from February to May 1980. The second series presented a more sophisticated schedule — and even a new name, “MTV2” — with certain programs and languages being given regular timeslots each week. There was a greater presence of titles from Italy, Greece and the former Yugoslavia, with programs in Spanish, Turkish, Maltese and Arabic also featured in set timeslots but less frequently. A BBC series, On We Go, presented lessons in English, and an Australian series, I’m An Australian Too, profiled the lives of young Australians of multicultural backgrounds.

Some of the foreign titles to appear in the second test transmission series went on to feature in the early stages of Channel 0/28’s permanent service when it commenced in October 1980.

The final instalment of “MTV2” included the program Song For Melbourne, featuring Greek twins, Melbourne-based singers Tassos and Christos Ioannides, performing songs based on their Greek heritage and their new home town. The program also featured other creative and well-known Greek identities living in Melbourne. Produced by Eric Fullilove (pictured), Song For Melbourne went on to win a Sammy Award for Best TV Documentary.

Source: TV Times, 21 April 1979. The Age, 26 April 1979, 3 May 1979, 7 February 1980, 1 May 1980. The Canberra Times, 10 April 1979, 1 May 1979, 17 May 1979, 18 October 1980.


Permanent link to this article: https://televisionau.com/2019/04/1979-sbs-television-makes-its-debut.html

Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal — the first telethon

Acknowledging donations in 1960: Geoff Hiscock, tennis star Alex Olmedo, Brenda Marshall and Jocelyn Terry (Picture: B&T)

This Good Friday marks the 60th all-day telethon for Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal.

Although Melbourne’s HSV7 first took part in the Appeal in 1957, just a few months after its debut, its initial involvement was limited to short on-air segments during the afternoon and late evening. In 1958 it had no scheduled telecast of the appeal at all, and in 1959 its coverage of the appeal included only three hours in the afternoon.

Vi Greenhalf hands over a cheque from the Miss Summer Festival Quest for £44,500 to 3DB’s Geoff McComas. (Picture: B&T)

The 1960 appeal saw HSV7 present its first all-day telethon, in co-operation with its sister radio station 3DB, which had been an appeal partner since 1942.

For Good Friday, HSV7 set up its outside broadcast van alongside the 3DB studios and broadcast much of the appeal activity from the radio station studios throughout the day.

The telecast started at 7.00am, with HSV7 and 3DB personalities acknowledging donations and providing “appropriate Easter entertainment”. Meanwhile, opposition channel GTV9 was not on the air until 5.00pm. National broadcaster ABC had a live telecast of Divine Service from Trinity College Chapel in the morning, but was then off-air until 3.00pm.  Apart from some breaks for news and evening programs, HSV7 stayed with the appeal through to midnight.

HSV7. Friday 15 April 1960
7am Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal
6.15pm The Mickey Mouse Club
6.45 News. Geoff Raymond
7pm Bonanza
8pm Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal
9pm The Lineup
10pm The Lawless Years
10.30 Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal
12am Close

The addition of the all-day telethon gave the Appeal a huge boost to its final tally — £236,089 5s 7d ($472,178) — beating the previous record set in 1956 by £49,122. However, it would be a decade before the record total would be beaten again ($503,857 in 1970).

This year, the appeal hopes to top last year’s record total of $18,043,251.

Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal. Friday 19 April from 5.30am in Sunrise and The Morning Show, then live from the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from 12pm. Seven Melbourne, Prime7 regional Victoria, 7Plus.

Source: The Age, 18 April 1957, 3 April 1958, 26 March 1959. TV Times, 14 April 1960. Broadcasting & Television, 21 April 1960. Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal


Permanent link to this article: https://televisionau.com/2019/04/royal-childrens-hospital-good-friday-appeal-the-first-telethon.html

Obituary: Geoff Harvey

Geoff Harvey, the composer who wrote the soundtrack to some of Australia’s most popular shows, has died at the age of 83.

Born in the United Kingdom he came to Australia after World War II and produced records for EMI.

He joined Sydney’s TCN9 in the early 1960s. He worked on variety shows like Bandstand, The Sound Of Music and The Tonight Show.

But it was his work on The Mike Walsh Show and its successor Midday that made him a household name in the 1970s through to the 1990s.

As Nine‘s musical director he composed the signature tune to various Nine programs but his most famous was the theme to The Sullivans.

YouTube: CaptainSiCo

He worked on The Don Lane Show and the TV Week Logie Awards. For almost twenty years he was the musical director for Carols By Candlelight.

Nine Network CEO Hugh Marks has paid tribute to Harvey: “Geoff Harvey was a man of enormous talent as a musician and an entertainer. He was funny and generous, entertaining Australians as the musical director of choice on so many of our programs across the decades, alongside the likes of Kerri-Anne Kennerley, Don Lane, Ray Martin and Mike Walsh. As musical director at Nine he was the composer of memorable themes for A Current Affair and Today Show. Our condolences go out to his family and close friends at this sad time.”

Harvey was recently on a tour of Australia doing a show called Senior Moments and earlier this year he reunited with former Midday host Kerri-Anne Kennerley on Studio 10:

YouTube: Studio 10

One tribute that Harvey may not have noticed receiving during his career was that in the Nineties sketch comedy show Big Girl’s Blouse, where “celebrity choreographer” Coralee Hollow (Gina Riley) and her husband Ross (Magda Szubanski) had their pet dogs named Geoff and Harvey:

YouTube: FastForwardAU

Source: 10daily, Daily Telegraph, Wikipedia, Nine Network

Permanent link to this article: https://televisionau.com/2019/03/obituary-geoff-harvey.html

Seven’s battle for high noon

In the 1980s one of the Nine Network‘s many strengths was its early afternoons. The Mike Walsh Show, which became Midday with Ray Martin, followed by US soaps Days Of Our Lives and The Young And The Restless constantly beat anything thrown at them by rival commercial networks Seven and Ten.

When Christopher Skase took over the Seven Network in 1987, it was apparent he was prepared to spend up big to rebuild the struggling network, in particular at HSV7 in his former home town of Melbourne. HSV had essentially been gutted by the network’s previous management, with virtually all local production apart from news wiped out and having suffered the loss of the lucrative rights to football.

Revamping Seven was a battle Skase was prepared to take up on many fronts — news, sport, current affairs — but Seven also wanted to take on Nine’s afternoons with two productions to be made at Seven Melbourne.

The network had signed up TV veteran Bert Newton (pictured) to host a variety show to go up against Midday. It was to be Newton’s return to television after three years in the TV wilderness, and it was 30 years since he publicly resigned from Seven to go to Nine.

Supplementing the daily one-hour The Bert Newton Show would be a lavish new daytime soap, The Power, The Passion.  The series was to tap in to the general ’80s vibe of big business, big stories and big frocks to combat the glossy US soaps on Nine. Experienced producer Oscar Whitbread was on board and the series had been created by soap veteran Bevan Lee, whose earlier credits included Sons And Daughters and Home And Away.

The cast of The Power The Passion included the usual mix of older and younger faces. Familiar names like Kevin Miles (Dynasty, Carson’s Law), George Mallaby (Homicide, The Box, Cop Shop, Prisoner), Alan Cassell (Special Squad), Olivia Hamnett (Rush, Prisoner), Jill Forster (Motel, Number 96, The Box), Jane Clifton (Prisoner), Ian Rawlings (Sons And Daughters), Jacqui Gordon (Prisoner), Daniel Roberts (Sons And Daughters) and Lucinda Cowden (Neighbours) were being joined by newcomers including former model Julian McMahon making his acting debut.

YouTube: plainsvideo

The lead premise in the opening episode, aired Monday 20 March 1989, featured wealthy businessman Gordon Byrne (Miles) returning home after several years in the US, to be reunited with his daughters, Anna (Suzy Cato), Ellen (Hamnett) and Kathryn (Tracey Tainsh), his extended family, and to his long-time housekeeper Sarah (Forster).

The three daughters all despise their father, and it’s clear that housekeeper Sarah has a score to settle as well. What follows is the usual soapie fare of romance, corruption, betrayal, infidelity, greed, substance abuse and split personalities — all told with the long stares and the subtlety of ’80s high fashion, which alone was said to have been worth around $1.5 million over the course of a year.

YouTube: Oz TV VHS Nostalgia

Despite the big budgets and promotion, and Newton having a lighthearted chat with Nine rival Ray Martin during the TV Week Logie Awards the week before his debut, neither The Bert Newton Show nor The Power The Passion proved to be any match for Nine’s Midday. While Midday continued getting ratings at the mid-teens level, Seven’s new double was lucky to be rating twos or threes.

YouTube: oztvheritage

Seven tried to fix the poor ratings by extending The Bert Newton Show from 60 to 90 minutes, to match the length of Midday, but bumped The Power The Passion to late nights. The changes weren’t to revive either show’s fortunes and both barely saw out the end of the year.

Newton enjoyed better fortunes when he joined the Ten Network in 1992, staying there for 14 years as host of Good Morning Australia.

However, The Power The Passion proved the final nail in the coffin of Seven’s repeated attempts to get a home grown daytime soap off the ground. The Power The Passion came after earlier efforts Autumn Affair (1958-59), The Story Of Peter Grey (1961), Motel (1968) and Until Tomorrow (1975). But one of its new talents, Julian McMahon (pictured), clearly went on to much greater things.

Source: TV Week, 25 March 1989. Sunday Sun TV Extra, 19 March 1989. The Age, 20 March 1989. Aussie Soap Archive. Super Aussie Soaps.

Permanent link to this article: https://televisionau.com/2019/03/sevens-battle-for-high-noon.html

50th anniversary of Division 4

Division 4 was one of the trifecta of police dramas from Crawford Productions that came to define Australian television drama in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The series was born after Crawfords and the Nine Network were in a conundrum over what to do with its popular spy drama, Hunter. The show’s lead actor Tony Ward had resigned and producers were unclear whether to re-cast the title character or even promote Kragg (Gerard Kennedy), a former rival of Hunter, to the lead. Eventually they decided to let the show come to an end while Crawfords developed a new series for the network.

The new proposal was titled Saints And Sinners but eventually became Division 4 as a starring vehicle for Kennedy.  Division 4 centred around a police station in the fictional Melbourne suburb of Yarra Central. Kennedy led the cast as Senior Detective Frank Banner. The initial cast line-up also included Chuck Faulkner, a former policeman and a news presenter in the very early days of television, Frank Taylor, Terence Donovan, Ted Hamilton (a former TV variety star making his acting debut) and Adelaide actress Patricia Smith.

Unlike its Seven Network counterpart Homicide, Division 4 would take a broader look at crime in suburbia — including murders, assaults, prostitution, vandalism, theft, drugs, abortions, pornography and blackmail. But like Homicide, many of the stories depicted were inspired by real life cases, and Victoria Police were involved in a consultancy capacity.

Division 4 debuted on GTV9, Melbourne, on 11 March 1969, and on TCN9, Sydney, on 15 April 1969.

Reviews of early episodes were largely positive and, ironically, sometimes at the expense of the five-year-old Homicide. Paul Edwards for TV Week wrote: “Nine’s new morale-booster could very easily establish itself as the best series Australia has ever produced… much to the chagrin of the people at the rival Seven Network.”

“From the opening “teaser” — which immediately established characters and conflicts — the show never let up. We had swearing, drinking, extra-marital sex, crime, corruption, an assortment of sleazy molls and all sorts of goodies. If this standard can be continued, Division 4 looks set to move straight into division one.”

YouTube: CrawfordsAustralia

In contrast, Gordon Williams at TV Times was not so impressed after the first few episodes: “Division 4, which began effectively on GTV9, soon degenerated in too-broad scripting and a kind or amorality in a subsequent showing, a trend that, it is to be hoped, will not be followed by Homicide.”

Ratings were good, and eventually GTV9 increased the show’s output to two episodes a week. Gerard Kennedy, who won a TV Week Logie in 1969 for his role in Hunter, went on to win five Logies for his work in Division 4 — including the Gold Logie for most popular television personality for two years in a row. During much of Division 4‘s run, Kennedy was often on the cover of TV Week.

Patricia Smith won a Logie Award for Best Actress in 1972, and Division 4 won Logies for Best Drama Series in 1970 and 1972.

Despite its ongoing popularity — even after six years it was still in the top three rated programs — the Nine Network put the axe to Division 4 early in 1975. The network claimed that the series was squeezed out of the network’s $10 million production budget already taken up by new projects including The Unisexers, The Last Of The Australians, Luke’s Kingdom, Shannon’s Mob and the return of The Graham Kennedy Show.

Gerard Kennedy, who was already planning to leave the show, made his final appearance in episode 299, with John Stanton replacing him for the 300th and final episode. Stanton’s character, Detective Tom Morgan, was intended to be ongoing but the show’s axing brought that to an abrupt end.

The axing of Division 4 marked the start of an alarming trend. By the end of the year, Crawford Productions’ two other cop dramas, Homicide and Matlock Police, were also axed by their respective networks.

In 2016, Studio 10 reunited three of the show’s cast to talk about the long-running series:

YouTube: Studio 10











Source: TV Week, 29 March 1969, 12 July 1969, 24 October 1970, 14 August 1971, 26 February 1972, 4 August 1973, 25 January 1975.  TV Times, 9 April 1969, 8 February 1975. Classic Australian Television.

Permanent link to this article: https://televisionau.com/2019/03/50th-anniversary-of-division-4.html

Prisoner stars before Prisoner

Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the debut of Prisoner.

Most of the actors from the series had come from established acting backgrounds, though for many it was Prisoner that made them household (and even international) names even though they were not necessarily strangers to television.

So what were some of the Prisoner cast doing before they became indelibly associated with Wentworth Detention Centre. Here’s just a few from the archives. Some you may be familiar with, others less so:

Elspeth Ballantyne (Meg Jackson/Morris) had a long running role in the serial Bellbird, but before then she had a guest role, playing the part of a showgirl, in a 1964 episode of Homicide (pictured with Frances McDonald)

Sheila Florance (Lizzie Birdsworth) played the part of a motel owner in Homicide in 1971, pictured with John Ewart and Noni Wood. In the same year she played the part of wealthy country town matriarch Grace Falconer in the drama series Matlock Police.

Betty Bobbitt (Judy Bryant) was an air hostess in the ABC play Flight Into Danger (pictured above with Ray Taylor) in September 1966.

Maggie Millar (Marie Winter) and Tommy Dysart (Jock Stewart) played husband and wife in an episode of Homicide. Millar, who was also known for an ongoing role in Bellbird as a doctor, won a TV Week Logie Award in 1976 for her performance in Homicide.

Patsy King (Erica Davidson) making a guest appearance in an early episode of Homicide. She played the wife of a convicted killer. Ironically, a number of her scenes feature her visiting her husband (played by Leonard Teale) in prison. The following year, King was appointed one of the presenters for the new ABC children’s show Play School.

Gerda Nicolson (Ann Reynolds) played Fiona Davies in Bellbird, pictured with her on-screen husband Dennis Miller, who at the time was married in real life to Elspeth Ballantyne. Before Prisoner, Nicolson had also played a police officer in the Seven Network series Bluey.

Colette Mann (Doreen Anderson Burns) played trainer and fiancée to John Jarratt in the ABC play The Champion.

Anne Phelan (Myra Desmond) and Ian Smith (Ted Douglas) played husband and wife Russell and Kate Ashwood in Bellbird.

Phelan also starred in the ABC’s musical production of The Sentimental Bloke in 1976 (pictured with Jon Finlayson and Laine Lamont)

Ernie Bourne (Mervin Pringle) about to clobber Maurie Fields (Len Murphy and others) in a 1975 episode of Homicide. Bourne was earlier a cast member in the children’s series Adventure Island, while showbiz veteran Fields also featured in variety shows like Sunnyside Up and had an ongoing role in Bellbird.

Joy Westmore (Joyce Barry) as Cleopatra in a comedy sketch with Ernie Sigley on The Ernie Sigley Show in 1974. Westmore was also a regular on shows like The Graham Kennedy Show and featured in The Sentimental Bloke.

Amongst some prior credits for other Prisoner stars: Peta (then Peita) Toppano (Karen Travers) had starred in Alvin Purple and The Young Doctors; Kerry Armstrong (Lynn Warner) had been a weather presenter (pictured) for GTV9 in Melbourne; Jackie Woodburne (Julie Egbert) had starred in Outbreak Of Love, Cop Shop and 1915; and Sigrid Thornton (Roslyn Coulson) had appeared in Homicide, Matlock Police, Bobby Dazzler and Father Dear Father In Australia.

Source: TV Times, 13 July 1966, 14 September 1966, 22 February 1975, 7 June 1975, 19 July 1975, 10 January 1976, 10 July 1976. TV Week, 13 April 1974. Listener In-TV, 20 February 1971

Permanent link to this article: https://televisionau.com/2019/03/prisoner-stars-before-prisoner.html

Obituary: Mike Willesee

Veteran journalist and producer Mike Willesee has died at the age of 76.

He been diagnosed with throat cancer in 2016.

Perth-born Willesee was the son of politician Don Willesee. His TV career started as a reporter and presenter of Four Corners and This Day Tonight for the ABC back in the 1960s (pictured), and was the first host of the original A Current Affair when it debuted on Nine in November 1971. Although serious current affairs had been done on commercial TV before it was still largely seen as the domain of the ABC, though Willesee and A Current Affair in its original form did much to change that perception.

A Current Affair also made a star of Paul Hogan, then a rigger on the Sydney Harbour Bridge who offered humourous commentary on the news and went on to much greater things.

Willesee later left Nine after a disagreement with management and had a stint as news and current affairs director at the 0-10 Network, where he assembled a team for a new current affairs show, 24 Hours, and also presented a weekly interview program, The Willesee Show.

He joined the Seven Network in 1975 to host the first Australian series of This Is Your Life and then the long-running nightly current affairs program Willesee At Seven. The program claimed victory over A Current Affair in the 7.00pm current affairs battle when ACA was axed in 1978.

In 1980, Willesee partnered up with Graham Kennedy and John Laws to launch Sydney’s new commercial FM station, 2DAY FM.

Willesee At Seven was later to become Willesee ‘81 and Willesee ‘82, then he produced documentaries for the network. One of his star interviewees was Quentin Kenihan, the young boy with bone disease osteogenesis imperfecta and a cheeky wit that outsmarted Willesee. The pair reunited 30 years later in 2012:

YouTube: Alex Garipoli

Kenihan died in October 2018.

After Seven, Willesee returned to Nine in 1984 to revisit the nightly current affairs genre with Willesee as well as producing specials for the network, winning a TV Week Logie for Most Popular Documentary in 1986.

Willesee was the predecessor to the revival of the A Current Affair brand when Jana Wendt took over as host in 1988 – with Willesee later returning as a guest host on occasions before being appointed Wendt’s successor in 1993. His interview with then Liberal Party leader John Hewson is said to have lost the Liberal Party the upcoming federal election by highlighting the confusion over the party’s proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST).

He created public outrage when conducting a live phone interview on air in 1993 with two children who were being held hostage by their father.

He also created controversy while appearing to be intoxicated one night when hosting the show.

He has twice hosted the TV Week Logie Awards, first for the Ten Network in 1983  (pictured with Priscilla Presley) and then for Nine in 1986. In 2002 he was inducted into the TV Week Logie Awards’ Hall of Fame for his contribution to television news and current affairs.

He returned to the Seven Network, reporting for Sunday Night, in 2012. His first interview for the program was with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

In 2017 he was inducted into The Australian Media Hall of Fame and was the subject of a two-part episode of Australian Story.

YouTube: Melbourne Press Club

Source: The Age, News.com.au

Permanent link to this article: https://televisionau.com/2019/03/obituary-mike-willesee.html

Ita Buttrose appointed as ABC Chair

Media icon and former Australian Of The Year Ita Buttrose has been announced as the incoming Chair of ABC.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced earlier today that the Government will recommend Buttrose’s appointment to the Governor-General.

She is only the second woman in the history of ABC to be appointed Chair. The first was Dame Leonie Kramer in the early 1980s.

“The ABC is one of the most important cultural and information organisations in Australia and I am honoured to be given the opportunity to lead it,” Buttrose said today.

Acting ABC Managing Director David Anderson said, “I join with all ABC employees in welcoming Ita Buttrose to this important role. Ms Buttrose is an eminent Australian with vast experience as an editor and media executive. Her leadership of the ABC, a highly valued and trusted cultural institution, is welcomed.

“In an era of globalised commercial media, a strong independent ABC is vital. We remain committed to outstanding news and current affairs, hosting conversations that inform the public, and delivering compelling content that is distinctive, high-quality and Australian.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson, who had been Acting Chair while the selection process for Chair was taking place, will continue as Deputy Chair.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Dr Kirstin Ferguson for her strong commitment to an independent ABC and the ongoing leadership and governance she has provided during her tenure as Acting Chair,” Anderson said.

Buttrose’s name first appeared in media speculation earlier this week despite her not being on the original short list of candidates.  Prime Minister Scott Morrison was said to have expressed disappointment that there were no female candidates short listed. “There’s been few people more than Ita that I think have lifted the standards of journalism in this country, and I think that says a lot about her character and her abilities,” he said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claimed that it was further evidence of political interference at the broadcaster.

Buttrose’s media career began when she was a teenager, working as a copy girl at The Australian Women’s Weekly and then becoming a cadet reporter for The Daily Telegraph, writing her first piece in 1959.

She then worked overseas and later returned to Australia to become women’s editor at The Daily Telegraph. This then led to her creating women’s magazine Cleo with Kerry Packer in 1972 — the event depicted in the ABC mini-series Paper Giants: The Birth Of Cleo — before being appointed editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly in 1975.

She then became the first woman to edit a major Australian newspaper when she took over running The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph newspapers for Rupert Murdoch in the early 1980s.

Buttrose also became a television identity, appearing as a presenter on the Nine Network and then Network Ten. By the end of the decade she had set up her own publishing venture with a self-titled women’s magazine, Ita.

She continued to work across the media, including radio, while also the chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on AIDS (NACAIDS) in the 1980s.

She continued to appear on television, including the 1990s version of the panel show Beauty And The Beast, and in 2013 was appointed one of the founding panel members on the Network Ten morning show Studio 10, where she stayed until 2018.

She was named Australian Of The Year in 2013 and is currently an ambassador for Alzheimer’s Australia.

In taking over as Chair of ABC, 77-year-old Buttrose replaces Justin Milne, who stood down from the role last year after it was revealed he sought to have ABC journalists sacked in response to political pressure.

She will serve a five-year term as Chair of ABC.

Source: ABC, ABC

Permanent link to this article: https://televisionau.com/2019/02/ita-buttrose-appointed-as-abc-chair.html

Obituary: Billy J Smith

Billy J Smith, the sports commentator best known as co-host of It’s A Knockout in the 1980s, has died at the age of 73.

Smith suffered head injuries following a fall on Tuesday after being at lunch with friends but never regained consciousness. His family made the decision to turn off his life support on Wednesday.

Smith made his TV debut in the 1960s as a host of a local game show, The Numbers Game, but he became more famous as a rugby league commentator in the years to follow.

He worked at Brisbane radio stations including 4IP and 4BK during the 1970s, and on television as a rugby commentator and sports presenter at BTQ7 and TVQ0 (later Ten) in Brisbane.

He became a national celebrity as co-host of the game show It’s A Knockout (with Fiona MacDonald, pictured) in the mid-1980s and was a commentator on Ten’s Olympic Games coverage.

Later he hosted a local version of The Footy Show for QTQ9 and wrote a weekly column for the Queensland edition of TV Week.

He hosted Sports Today on Brisbane radio station 4BC and retired from broadcasting ten years ago but continued to work as a corporate host and guest speaker.

YouTube: Australian TV Fan

Source: 9 News, Brisbane Times. TV Guide, 5 January 1980. TV Star, 28 December 1984. 

Permanent link to this article: https://televisionau.com/2019/02/obituary-billy-j-smith.html

40 years of Prisoner

It is 40 years ago this week that Prisoner first graced our screens, and a thankful 0-10 Network was relieved to have a ratings hit. In an era where it was almost mandatory for a commercial network to have two hit soaps on the go, the struggling network had teen drama The Restless Years and not much else. Attempts at drama like Hotel Story and Chopper Squad did little to boost its fortunes. A proposed series set at a talkback radio station didn’t get past the development stage, neither did a planned drama called The Wool Kings, set in the late 19th century.

A production from the Reg Grundy Organisation, Prisoner had the original working title Women In Prison and was commissioned for 16 episodes in 1978. Production took place at what was then the studios of ATV0 (later Ten) in Melbourne.

When the network viewed the first completed episodes they instantly saw the potential and extended the commission to 42 episodes. The show’s title was changed to Prisoner and although the series’ debut is often documented as 27 February 1979 in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane, it actually first appeared the day before in Sydney.

The original cast included Val Lehman (pictured) as ‘top dog’ inmate Bea Smith, Sheila Florance, Carol Burns, Colette Mann, Patsy King, Elspeth Ballantyne, Fiona Spence, Peta Toppano, Kerry Armstrong, Mary Ward, Margaret Laurence, Richard Moir, Barry Quin and Amanda Muggleton. Former Homicide cop Don Barker played a prison counsellor but the character was brutally stabbed to death in a prison riot by episode three.

After a generation of cop shows, Prisoner showed viewers what goes on once the offenders are locked behind bars at the fictional Wentworth Detention Centre, based on research at a number of real-life prisons.

The inmates and prisoner officers were depicted as a mix of heroes and villains. It showed that there could be as much drama, power struggles, isolation and complex human relationships among the prison staff as there is within the cell blocks.

The series was not the first to have a major focus on female characters (ABC‘s Certain Women pre-dated it by several years) or to have strong female roles but it did mark a significant shift in providing opportunities for female actors on prime time television. The series didn’t shy away from topics like domestic violence, corruption, homosexuality, sexual assault, drug abuse, rehabilitation and terrorism.

In true soap tradition there was also a fair share of cliffhangers, including a fire that tore through the prison and killed two characters at the end of the 1982 season, and more fanciful fare, such as the prison inmates performing a pantomime which was to serve as a decoy while a number of inmates attempted an escape.

Prisoner also achieved a rare feat by cracking the competitive US market, not as a local remake but by showing the Australian original episodes (re-titled Prisoner Cell Block H). The series developed a cult following when shown across various independent  stations. Its fame then extended to the United Kingdom, already accustomed to seeing Aussie soaps, and was also shown in various European countries and in other countries including Canada (where it became Caged Women)

Prisoner ended up going for 692 episodes over eight years, just shy of The Young Doctors‘ then record-breaking 698 hours (1396 half-hour episodes). The final episode provided the perfect dramatic climax as prison offer Joan “The Freak” Ferguson (Maggie Kirkpatrick) finally gets her comeuppance after four years of terrorising the inmates and ongoing hostility with fellow staff.

Over the course of its run, Prisoner employed over 6000 actors — with females making up most of that number — but the unsung star of the show was the studio premises of ATV10, with its exteriors decorated with fake signage, prison bars and windows to resemble the outside of the fictional prison.

More than thirty years after the show’s demise, Prisoner still commands a loyal fan base in Australia and the United Kingdom — where the series was even re-made as a stage musical. The series has also been released in its entirety on DVD — at the time the biggest DVD release ever undertaken in Australia and setting a precedent for selected other classic Australian dramas to follow.

An attempt by Grundy and the Ten Network in 1980 to make a male prison drama, titled Punishment, failed to gain traction. Likewise, a number of planned reinventions of Prisoner were talked about at Ten during the 1990s and even as recently as 2010, but it was Foxtel that was to run with a modern version of Prisoner, under the title Wentworth, from 2013. Wentworth has recently finished its sixth season.

As a gentle nod to Prisoner‘s 40th anniversary, some former cast members of the series are being reunited in guest roles on Neighbours — which is produced at the same studio , the same production company and same network as Prisoner was — to go to air on 27 February on 10 Peach. Jane Clifton, Betty Bobbitt, Jentah Sobott and Jenny Lovell will join former Prisoner stars and current Neighbours regulars Jackie Woodburne and Colette Mann as members of a neighbourhood book club — a setting that is somewhat more genteel than the harsh cells in Wentworth!

In recent years Neighbours has also featured a number of Prisoner alumni in guest roles including Val Lehman and Kerry Armstrong.

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