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Bellbird

1967-1977 - 15 minute episodes (1-1508), 60 minute episodes (1509-1562), and 30 minute episodes (1563-1697) produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation - 1971 Independent feature film: 'Country Town'

Contents

The Early Days

Charlie Cousens' Death

Other Cast Changes

Barbara Vernon looks back

The Bikie Love Triangle

1974 Cast Exodus

1976 Format Changes

Quinney's Departure

1977

The End

Film Version: Country Town

Country Town: Review

Bellbird was Australia's first successful television soap opera. The serial was devised by writer Barbara Vernon and produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation at its Melbourne studios in Elsternwick. It began on air in August 1967, screening in fifteen minute installments as lead in to the 7.00 p.m. evening news Monday through to Thursday. [1] Bellbird's yearly season ended about mid-December. It would start its next season on air two months later. [2]

Set in a rural farming community, the show's storylines examined the lives of the country folk in the fictional town that gave the show's title. Footage for the opening titles sequence was shot on location in the Victorian country town of Daylesford. Other rural looking spots around Melbourne would be used in other assorted location shoots.

As a rural-based continuing drama the program had a respectable antecedent in the ABC's long-running radio serial Blue Hills. The highly popular Blue Hills had started in 1944, and would continue until 1977. [3]

Among the best remembered characters over the course of Bellbird's run were the crusty farmer Jim "The Colonel" Emerson (Carl Bleazby) and his glamorous young wife Maggie (Gabrielle Hartley), the local mechanic Joe Turner (Terry Norris) and his wife Olive (Moira Charleton), local policeman Constable Des Davies (Dennis Miller), his wife Fiona (Gerda Nicolson), and nasty stock and station agent John Quinney (Maurie Fields.) Meanwhile Jim Bacon (Peter Aanensen) and wife Marge (Carmel Milhouse) ran the local pub that served as a central meeting place for the show's characters.

The Early Days

During the early years Elspeth Ballantyne, now better known for playing Meg Morris in Prisoner, portrayed the young Lori Chandler. Lori became enmeshed in soap opera style romances and scandal. A descendent from one of the area's original white settlers she worked in the town's library and lived in the big family house from which the town takes its name. As is the custom the town's school teacher boards there. When the new appointee is a tall, good-looking and slightly mysterious man named Michael Foley (Bruce Barry), poor Lori becomes the target of town gossip Adeline Phillips (Joan MacArthur).

Lori was also involved romantically with villainous real estate agent Charlie Cousens (Robin Ramsay). Later she would marry Tom Grey (Tom Oliver). Meanwhile Mrs Phillips soon has much more to say about young Rhoda Lang (Lynette Curran), daughter of local solicitor Gilbert (Keith Eden) and Rose Lang (Dorothy Bradley). [4]

The first episode was directed by James Davern. He continued with Bellbird for seven years, working as writer, script editor and then executive producer of the series, before becoming the creator and driving force behind that other successful rural based TV drama, A Country Practice. [5]

Charlie Cousens' Death

Life was usually simple for the town's residents but the serial was not without incident. In May 1968 actor Robin Ramsay left the series to take the role of Fagin in a stage production of Oliver! in Japan. Because of the various entanglements of the character, it was decided the only way to write Charlie out at such short notice was to kill him off, and he was killed in an accidental fall from the top of a wheat silo.

Oscar Whitbread directed the dramatically staged death fall scene. It was filmed on location using shots of a falling dummy intercut with shock cuts to close-ups of Charlie's terrified expression and that of his horrified companion atop the silo, vainly reaching out as Charlie lost his footing.

When the episode went to air on Monday 27 May 1968 the scene provoked a massive deluge of mail from the show's shocked fans who protested against the death. Some viewers demanded the character be resurrected. Others sent flowers for his funeral. [6]

The ABC's program guide TV Times reportedly "received more correspondence about Charlie's death than about any other demise in the 21 years the magazine had been covering the medium." [7] The incident remains the show's most famous moment, and the skilfully assembled sequence has been repeated many times over the years in various ABC television retrospectives.

Other Cast Changes

A year into the show's run The Age newspaper reported that the series boasted a "sizeable loyal following" - which was still growing, according to the ABC. The same report highlighted the problem of actors signing on for short stints in the series and then being unable, or unwilling, to continue with their roles.

The report listed key cast member Ken Shorter, who played manager Duncan Ross, as leaving to return to Sydney to gain more experience in the theatre. Clive Winmill, who played crop duster pilot Tony Buckland, was also soon to leave. Also departing at the time were regulars Gerda Nicolson and Elspeth Ballantyne. They both left Bellbird to sign on for a season with the Melbourne Theatre Company. Actor Terry Norris, at this stage playing the role of Kev the water diviner, was also leaving for a role in a TV variety series. [8]

At the time the series producer Brett Porter said the show's writers generally agreed that it had been a mistake to kill off Charlie Cousens. With his portrayer Robin Ramsay back in Australia by August 1968, ideas of reintroducing him as Charlie's twin brother from Italy were even being tossed around. [9] (The character of Charlie's twin never eventuated, although several years later Robin Ramsay would make a cameo appearance in the 1000th episode, playing a pageant director.)

Gerda Nicolson later returned to the series, continuing as Fiona for several years. Elspeth Ballantyne, who had a young son at the time, also briefly returned as Lori in 1971. However a few weeks after the return she was pregnant again. Scripts were amended to accommodate the pregnancy: Lori would be pregnant and later her new baby could make the occasional appearance as Lori's offspring. Acting ultimately proved to be inconsistent with motherhood and Ballantyne's baby son hated being at the studio, so she soon left the series again. [10] Terry Norris also returned to the series, as new character Joe Turner starting in 1969.

In many instances, when actors left the series, their characters simply disappeared from the storyline. This fitted in with the generally loose grouping of characters the series focused on at any given time.

New characters would sometimes enter the storyline where it was explained they had always lived in the town. Ongoing regulars might take breaks of several weeks where they disappeared from the storyline before making a sudden return. Indeed some contracts for regular actors followed a 'five weeks on two weeks off' type pattern. Oscar Whitbread, the serial's executive producer circa 1972, explained to TV Week,

"In Bellbird we rarely kill anybody off, it is not policy. Almost everybody who leaves does so because they want to, and we will always leave the way open for them to come back." [11]

Barbara Vernon looks back

In early 1972, Bellbird inspired a city-based counterpart, also created by Barbara Vernon. Lane End, set in Sydney's Paddington, explored social problems in the city in much the same way Bellbird explored them in a rural setting. However, production on Lane End did not continue after its initial batch of seven thirty minute episodes had been broadcast.

By that time Vernon had not had anything to do with Bellbird for some years. Of the program's current shape, Vernon told Nan Musgrove of The Australian Women's Weekly,

"I don't think it is nearly as country-town oriented as it was in the beginning, and this apparently comes from the team of city writers who now write the very successful scripts." [12]

However Vernon had kept the original Bellbird alive in her two highly successful novels based on the series. Those novels focused on Bellbird's early days and still centred on Charlie Cousens and Lori Chandler. Vernon admitted that,

"My Bellbird books are not great literature. It is folk literature, like Blue Hills-with over-tones of Dad and Dave, too. It is very Australian. I don't think it would sell anywhere else." [13]

Musgrove reported "that according to ABC-TV experts", Bellbird's three high peaks of drama had been the death of Charlie Cousens, the marriage of Lori (Elspeth Ballantyne) to horse trainer Tom Grey (Tom Oliver), and the death of Gil Lang (Keith Eden) just before Christmas 1970. Barbara Vernon observed that,

"Bellbird certainly has had its high-drama peaks, but I think one of its strengths is its low-key content. Viewers like Bellbird's quiet ordinariness. They don't expect car crashes or bushfires or bad family troubles day after day. They like the homely stuff. To regular viewers, I always think Bellbird is like a letter, with pictures, from someone they have known a long time." [14]

The Bikie Love Triangle

The 1972 season saw a revamp for the series with arrival of new cast members John Stanton, Ross Thompson and Penne Hackforth-Jones. Their characters would be involved in storylines concerning bikies and bloodshed and a love triangle where Thompson's character, Terry Hill, tried to steal his brother's girlfriend Ginny Campbell. The storyline came to a conclusion with the wedding of Stanton and Hackforth-Jones' characters Leo and Ginny. Viewers saw them leave for their honeymoon after which they were not seen again, as both actors had decided to leave the series.

In the story it was explained they set up home in the Bellbird district, and presumably enjoyed an uneventful marriage for some time. Ross Thompson's character Terry continued to be seen the series. The then producer James Davern explained Leo and Ginny's departure for TV Week.

"Leo and Ginny were introduced as lifelong dwellers in the area when the first episode came along and they are still in that category. They have not left town. The dramatic direction of the show will just by-pass them from now on. There will be references to the pair from time to time and they will live out their marriage on the farm. These three characters brought us a lot of good, dramatic sequences. I've enjoyed having John and Penne on the show. They are both very accomplished players and added a lot to Bellbird while they were here. The way is being left open for them to return if ever they want to." [15]

In the event neither actor returned to Bellbird. Hackforth-Jones played a lead role in popular seriesCash and Company (1975) and its follow-up Tandarra (1976). She later had a regular role in Punishment (1981), followed by a long list of television series guest roles and several feature film appearances.

On leaving Bellbird John Stanton went into a year-long regular role as a Homicide detective. This was followed by an ongoing role in The Box from 1975 until the series ended in 1977. Later Bellbird storylines would reintroduce Ginny, now played by Brenda Addie, and it was explained Leo had been killed in a farming accident.

1974 Cast Exodus

In 1974 popular actor Lynette Curran decided to leave Bellbird after a run of six years. Curran had played the role of Rhoda since the beginning of the series during which time the character graduated from being a young and wild single girl who later married the wrong man, to being a single mother after getting a divorce. She finally settled down by marrying the good-natured local newspaper man Roger Green (Brian Hannan).

Through her run in the series Curran had taken regular breaks where she usually sought stage roles. [16] In 1974 Curran had taken six months leave of absence during which she visited London and marvelled at that city's various theatre productions. She then returned to play out her contract (during which period she would appear in the show's celebratory 1000th episode) before leaving the role of Rhoda for good.

At the time Curran elaborated on her final departure for TV Week.

"I'm leaving Bellbird because I want to do my own thing. For the last six years I have been tied down to the series for at least five days every week. Working on Bellbird has restricted me from doing theatre and other work. I want to try my hand at films and with the Australian filming industry going ahead like it is at the moment, the time is perfect to make the break. Working on Bellbird over the last six years has been very rewarding and I've learned a lot from the regulars on the show. I'll miss working on the series, but making the break is something I've given a lot of thought to." [17]

At that time Curran was the show's longest-serving cast member, and in another shocking move her character, Rhoda, was tragically killed by a train in a level-crossing accident. In the show's storyline her widowed husband Roger continued in the series and ultimately found happiness marrying Frances Byrne (Laurel Burton) in 1977.

In June 1974 the show's 1000th episode aired in a week filled with return appearances from departed favourites. Max Pearson, David Emerson and Lori Chandler made brief returns to explain what the characters had been up to away from Bellbird. This week of episodes also featured actor Robin Ramsay's return appearance as a different character. [18]

Unfortunately there were also several departures of key cast members in 1974. Actor Stella Lamond, who had played Molly Wilson for several years, died. Meanwhile Fiona (Gerda Nicolson), Des (Dennis Miller), Terry (Ross Thompson), Maggie (Gabrielle Hartley), and Rose (Dorothy Bradley), also left the show. [19]

1976 Format Changes

Though Bellbird had a devoted band of followers, its average rating in Melbourne over the ten years it ran was a commercially unfeasible nine. [20] By 1976 major changes to the series were planned. In early 1976 the cast were advised that four cast members would be written out of the series and that the show's timeslot and format would be changed. Instead of going out as four 15 minute episodes stripped Monday to Thursday, the series would now air as just one 60 minute episode each week. [21]

The four actors being written out were long term regulars Gary Gray, Anne Phelan, Ian Smith, and Peter Aanensen. Series star Terry Norris feared the worst when the change was announced.

"I feel Bellbird will pave the way for a giant programming sweep in the 6-7 pm timeslot, whereby one hour programs will be the order of the day each week night in a bid to hold viewers for their 7 pm news service and ensuing programs. Our regular viewing audience, now well over a million people, just won't be around at 6 pm to see the program. And we fear that the change from 15 minutes to one hour will change the whole character of the show." [22]

With the support of the rest of the cast, Norris was soon rallying the show's fans to respond in a "Save Bellbird" campaign. Setting up base in his home, Norris called on viewers to write letters of support, with the aim of presenting them to ABC management prior to the scheduled change in the show's format. Said Norris,

"We're sure that the change in timeslot and the change in format will be disastrous. I wouldn't like to think on how long the show will last if that move is made." [23]

In late April 1976 the amassed letters and telegrams were presented to the ABC. (The Age newspaper reported that its readers had sent a total of 650 letters and telegrams.) [24] Despite the thousands of letters of protest received, the switch to one hour episodes went ahead.

Executive producer Patrick Barton, who had been with the show since the beginning, later described the outcome of the change. He told New Idea magazine in 1976 that the format change from four 15-minute episodes a week to a single one hour episode,

"Put new life into the show. When the format change was announced we received about 8000 letters complaining about the change, but fortunately the change has been more successful than people anticipated." [25]

Quinney's Departure

In late 1976 key cast member Maurie Fields left his long-running role of the hated John Quinney to work for Crawford Productions. Fields first did a six week stint as a ruthless executive in The Box. This was followed by the regular role of a happy-go-lucky old vaudevillian in their new situation comedy series Bobby Dazzler. Keen to keep open the possibility of the character's return, the Bellbird scriptwriters sent Quinney on a long overseas cruise after suffering a non-fatal heart attack. [26]

Having played the role for nine years actor Maurie Fields expressed his sadness at leaving the series.

"It was a very hard decision to make but I really wanted to do my new series Bobby Dazzler and it all got too complicated trying to fit in both. We had a lot of good times and the people connected with Bellbird have been marvellous. I have knocked back a lot of shows because of Bellbird but Bobby Dazzler means a lot to me. I will miss the character of Quinney. It was a great role. People used to hate the sight of me and often they'd abuse me but it was funny for when they'd finished, they'd ask for my autograph. There are a lot of things I am going to miss about Bellbird. Perhaps the biggest thing is the other actors. The show did a lot for me in the way that most people in Australia know John Quinney." [27]

After the "cruise", dialogue in the series would refer to the unseen Quinney's return to the district. Like many departed characters before him, Quinney would simply be bypassed by the story to explain his long-term absence from the show.

1977

By the time 1977 rolled around concerted efforts were being made to revamp the series yet again. These latest changes included the introduction of former The Box actors Barbara Llewellyn and Penny Downie as members of a hippie commune, and the addition of Crawford's stars Terence Donovan, Chuck Faulkner, Alwyn Kurts and Gerard Kennedy to the cast. The show's new producer for 1977, Keith Wilkes, explained the revamps to TV Scene.

"There will be much more action this year. Everyone knows that we have to improve or we're out. And we're not giving up without a fight." [28]

Attempts to attract younger and larger audiences would see the introduction of more "visual things" - an aero club, a flying school and a trotting club - while retaining the show's realism and authenticity.

"We're not going to lose the realism of a country town. The one thing Bellbird has going for it is authenticity. Viewers have to identify with the characters within the realms of reality. We have a good team of writers, actors and good plots. I think we'll be able to go on a few more years yet." [29]

The one hour format was also abandoned. Starting 1 March 1977 the series switched to running as three thirty minute episodes each week. [30] Reportedly the new 6.30 p.m. start time had initially been resisted by the cast, who feared it would harm the show's popularity. [31]

As the 1977 storylines unfolded trotting trainer Wes Lewis (Alwyn Kurts) showed up, self-important pilot Doug Daly (Chuck Faulkner) moved in and sparked many clashes with the townsfolk, and business consultant and efficiency expert Neil Farrar (Terence Donovan) arrived to shape up Colonel Emerson's farm. Meanwhile Gerard Kennedy would make a cameo appearance as mysterious businessman Sir Edward Grey whose arrival arouses much suspicion in the town. Meanwhile central characters Joe and Olive Turner, who had first surfaced in 1969, remained in the series and celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in May 1977.

While reporting these changes TV Week noted that Bellbird had always rated higher in country areas, and emphasised that now the serial would be given even more of a country flavour. [32]

The End

Despite these efforts the show was finally cancelled at the end of 1977 when a further fall in ratings and the ABC's desire to fund other dramatic initiatives spelt the show's demise.

There had been hints in the press as early as July 1977 that the series would likely finish production at the end of that year. [33] By October, when it did seem certain that production really would finish this time, press reports hinted at fears that cast member Terry Norris had suffered some sort of nervous seizure at the news after the actor was sent off for a medical check, causing production schedules to be altered. In fact it was a minor ailment. Norris confirmed that, suggestive of his acceptance of Bellbird's cancellation, he had already officially resigned from the show in order to take a role in the upcoming Cop Shop series. [34]

Bellbird 's final episode went to air 23 December 1977. The event provoked a renewed flood of viewer complaints, but this time they had no effect. At the end, Carmel Milhouse, who had joined the series as pub landlady Marge Bacon six weeks into the show's run [35] was the longest-serving cast member.

Terry Norris enjoyed a long and successful run as the comedy buffoon Eric O'Reilly in Cop Shop. Despite being unable to save Bellbird with his lobbying endeavours he remained politically-minded, and was elected to Victorian Parliament as a Labor Party member in 1982.

In total 1697 episodes of Bellbird were produced. Episodes 1 through 1508 went out as fifteen-minute instalments. In 1976 episodes were screened in 60 minute blocks, with episodes 1509 to 1562 going out this way. The series finally switched to 30 minute instalments and episodes 1563 to 1697 were grouped this way. [36]

In 2004 it was reported that the ABC taped over the master broadcast copy videotapes of the series' episodes. [37] One complete black and white episode is available to be viewed at the Australian Mediatheque at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne.

Film Version: Country Town

A feature film version of the serial had been produced in 1971. Entitled Country Town, the film has the town gripped by a severe drought when young reporter Philip Henderson (Gerard Maguire) arrives and stirs old tensions and enmities. The town's people eventually rally together to hold a fund-raising gymkhana, while a pub gathering breaks into celebrations as the much-needed rains arrive.

Country Town was the brainchild of two of the show's stars, Terry McDermott and Gary Gray. They formed the production company named Avargo with ABC film editor Fenton Rosewarne and chartered accountant Rod Barnett to make the film. The screenplay was written by series creator Barbara Vernon. The ABC itself was not formally involved with the production. Country Town had a budget of $70,000 and was shot in colour on 16 mm film. Filming took place over four weeks starting late January 1971, in the serial's summer hiatus. The newly created Australian Film Development Corporation later provided $15,000 to fund the preparation of 35 mm prints of the film for cinematic presentation. [38]

The film featured much the same cast as the series. Yea, a country town in central Victoria, was the main filming location. [39] Several farm sequences, and Philip and Rhoda's romantic picnic at Hanging Rock, were shot in the Romsey area north of Melbourne. The scenes demonstrating the effects of the severe drought were filmed in Wentworth, New South Wales, where ironically the filmmakers encountered persistent rain. [40] Some farm scenes were shot at the nearby Lake Victoria Station. The trotting race sequences were shot at Southern Speedway in the Melbourne suburb of Heatherton.

The film was released by Gray and McDermott themselves in country Victoria and Queensland in mid-1971; the film premiere was held in Mildura, Victoria on 19 June 1971. Country Town proved a success in country areas. By 1972 it was reviewed by Melbourne's The Herald newspaper whose reviewer in the March 9 edition noted an "authentic ring" to the drought scenes while surmising that "the feel of the film is right." The film did not reach Sydney until April 1973. [41] OverallCountry Town received only a limited release in metropolitan centres, where McDermott and Gray held that the film was treated shabbily by major distributors. [42] Copies of the film still exist and are held with the National Film and Sound Archive.

Country Town: Review

The feature film Country Town is a highly competent piece of drama that is readily accessible and enjoyable for any viewer unfamiliar with its progeny. As a film it stands as an effective and skilfully-produced piece of cinema. The film was made independent of the ABC, who decreed that the title "Bellbird" could not be used. Nevertheless the town is still named Bellbird in the film, and the title card appears over a roadside shot of the sign showing the town's name.

The film skilfully and swiftly introduces the situation of a town gripped by drought and financial hardship. The townsfolk are hostile and weary of the "outsider" journalist Philip Henderson who arrives to further investigate, having already published a series of bold articles that have outraged the local population. His first stop is the pub where Philip begins to meet the regulars. Running the bar is Stan, who viewers quickly learn is the brother of the usual bar owner Jim Bacon.

Jim Bacon is one of several of series regulars absent from the film. Also missing, with their absence explained in dialogue, are policeman Des Davies, and Joe Turner. Their wives remain, appearing basically in support roles at the fringes of the film's main story. Olive Turner appears briefly in several group scenes where she is a jolly and ostensibly benign figure who nevertheless enjoys a good old gossip. Marge Bacon is still at the pub where she joins the chorus of opposition to Phillip. Fiona Davies battles on running her clothing boutique while waiting for her husband's return from a training camp. Nevertheless the sardonic Fiona still plays a mean game of snooker and presents many cutting snipes at her nemesis John Quinney.

Stan the replacement barman plays a main role in the proceedings. Phillip's presence is what gets the story rolling, after which he is busy romancing the sexy, miniskirted Rhoda between tapping out a series of news reports. They enjoy a romantic picnic at Hanging Rock for a subplot through the middle stages of the story that is left unresolved at the film's end.

The film's producers Terry McDermott and Gary Gray gave themselves top billing and a significant slice of the story, with their characters Max Pearson and David Emerson enjoying romances of their own before playing a key role in the horse race that constitutes the film's climax. McDermott's character Max Pearson enjoys an understated romance with post office worker Jean Fowler (Sue Parsons) while David Emerson's girlfriend is Quinney's secretary, Julie (Kirsty Child).

Much time is spent examining the troubled and much disliked John Quinney character, the agent who many regard as benefiting financially from the rural hardship caused by the drought. With all the time devoted to Quinney - his arguments, his enmities, and his various business deals - his secretary Julie emerges as perhaps the story's most prominent female character.

Overall the film progresses at a naturalistic, gentle pace and surveys the various characters populating the town. These include the proud and imperious Colonel Jim Emerson. His farm is struggling due to the drought, however The Colonel refuses to accept financial support from his young German wife Maggie. Instead, he resorts to enlisting financial assistance from his long-term rival, Quinney.

Maggie's God-fearing and bible quoting father August Grossark (Kurt Ludescher) runs a vineyard and, with Quinney, is one of the few benefiting from the drought: the dry conditions are improving his crop of grapes. Grossark agrees to loan his land for the fundraising trotting race on the condition that there will be no gambling. Of course betting amongst the townsfolk is rife, but there is divine justice of sorts when the self-appointed bookmaker, exuberant Italian Giorgio Lini (Frank Rich), fails in his scheme to profit personally from his role after a late scratching.

The film plays more like a standalone piece of cinema than as a television spinoff. The main giveaway to its origins as a television series is the large cast of characters, many of whom are minor supporting players incorporated into group scenes in the pub and at town meetings and do not play a pivotal role in the story. Nevertheless they are well-integrated into the proceedings, and their scenes are all well written and acted. Their presence adds texture and complexity to the examination of the town and its travails.

In their appearances, the various characters serve to present their own take on the events of the story and how things affect their own situation. This results in a film that presents various viewpoints and seems to have a realistic scope. The repeated brief interludes where yet another batch of struggling farmers or business people falling on hard times are introduced do not become repetitive and successfully accentuate the severity of the drought problems.

The pace effectively gathers momentum for the climactic horse trotting race devised to raise funds for the struggling townsfolk. There are some cunning manoeuvres surrounding the prize money, and all gambling must be kept secret - with town policeman Bert Hammond (Telford Jackson) turning a blind eye to the fervent round of betting.

David Emerson's horse Joy Boy is to be raced. However Joy Boy is set loose by thugs hoping to sabotage the competition. They provoke the horse to bolt and their scheme succeeds as Joy Boy indeed exhausts himself. As a result Max Pearson is faced with his own personal demons when it is suggested he should race his own horse, Avargoes, who was retired with a perfect race record. The idea that Max is projecting his own personal demons onto his horse and the refusal to race him is effectively drawn by the film.

In its general look and visual style the film has many similarities with classic Australian film Sunday Too Far Away which was released in 1975, a few years after Country Town. This is perhaps an inevitable comparison with the desolate, unforgiving setting and the financial hardships explored in the story of both films. Though set in Victoria, the landscape depicted by Country Town is very flat, sparse, dry and dusty, and resembles an isolated area of the outback.

Further parallels are invited as both films open with the interloper who launches the main story being introduced to the community examined by the film via car trouble on a bleak and desolate dusty road. Both films also feature an opening titles sequence that includes a country-style song with lyrics that begin to describe the story in a crusty male vocal, with a simple guitar accompaniment. The Country Town opening song had lyrics and music by Johnny Young and was sung by B. Bright.

Overall Country Town's various characters and story threads are well-integrated. Things move along at a good pace, and the drama and suspense leading to the climactic horse race is effectively constructed.

Director Peter Maxwell uses a few artistic flourishes that work well to increase the tension and highlight key pivotal moments of the story. These include a startling match cut on Julie that cuts on action while switching location entirely, moving the character from being witness to Quinney in a tense negotiation, to a more convivial pub gathering where Quinney's activities are discussed. This moment recalls a famous cut in the 1961 art film Last Year at Marienbad involving the character played by Delphine Seyrig and here it fuses Quinney's actual pragmatic business stance with the unfavourable reception that awaits the tales of his financial deals. Also seen in the film is the occasional zoom shot, and even a photo-finish freeze-frame to end the suspenseful horse race. These techniques are sparingly - and effectively - deployed, and do not distract from the film's overall naturalistic style.


Originally uploaded May 2000

Last updated 23 November 2013

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[1] Clarke, David and Steve Samuelson. 50 Years: Celebrating a Half-Century of Australian Television. Random House: Milsons Point NSW, 2006, page 120.

[2] Musgrove, Nan. "Lane End should please Bellbird fans." The Australian Women's Weekly. 8 December 1971, page 10.

[3] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 80.

[4] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 78.

[5] Kingsley, Hilary. Soapbox: The Australian Guide to Television Soap Operas. Sun Books, 1989, page 20.

[6] Clarke, David and Steve Samuelson. 50 Years: Celebrating a Half-Century of Australian Television. Random House: Milsons Point NSW, 2006, page 120.

[7] Beilby, Peter. Australian TV: The First 25 Years. Cinema Papers: Melbourne, 1981, page 146.

[8] "Bellbird at the crossroads." The Age TV and Radio Guide 23-29 August 1968. 22 August 1968. page 3.

[9] "Bellbird at the crossroads." The Age TV and Radio Guide 23-29 August 1968. 22 August 1968. page 3.

[10] Mercado, Andrew. Super Aussie Soaps. Pluto Press Australia: North Melbourne, 2004, page 32.

[11] "Gary says Goodbye to Bellbird." TV Week. 25 March 1972, page 15.

[12] Musgrove, Nan. "Lane End should please Bellbird fans." The Australian Women's Weekly. 8 December 1971, page 10.

[13] Musgrove, Nan. "Lane End should please Bellbird fans." The Australian Women's Weekly. 8 December 1971, page 10.

[14] Musgrove, Nan. "Lane End should please Bellbird fans." The Australian Women's Weekly. 8 December 1971, page 10.

[15] "Love Finds a Way!" TV Week. 2 December 1972, page 6-7.

[16] "For Lyn, It's Bye-Bye Bellbird." TV Week. 19 May 1973, page 20.

[17] "Rhoda quits Bellbird." TV Week. 5 January 1974, page 5.

[18] Mercado, Andrew. Super Aussie Soaps. Pluto Press Australia: North Melbourne, 2004, page 32.

[19] Mercado, Andrew. Super Aussie Soaps. Pluto Press Australia: North Melbourne, 2004, page 32.

[20] Beilby, Peter. Australian TV: The First 25 Years. Cinema Papers: Melbourne, 1981, page 146.

[21] "The Battle Begins to Save Bellbird." TV Week. 1 May 1976, page 5.

[22] "The Battle Begins to Save Bellbird." TV Week. 1 May 1976, page 5.

[23] "The Battle Begins to Save Bellbird." TV Week. 1 May 1976, page 5.

[24] Pinkney, John. "Marzipan words from sugary scalpel-wielders." ["TV" column] The Age. 23 April 1976, page 2.

[25] Newman, Kate. "Bellbird - Where it all Happens." New Idea. 20 November 1976, page 30-31.

[26] Newman, Kate. "Bellbird - Where it all Happens." New Idea. 20 November 1976, page 30-31.

[27] "Quinney Quits Bellbird" TV Week. 10 July 1976, page 15.

[28] Patterson, Bryan. "Bellbird's Last Hope." TV Scene. 26 February - 4 March 4 1977, page 10.

[29] Patterson, Bryan. "Bellbird's Last Hope." TV Scene. 26 February - 4 March 4 1977, page 10.

[30] "SOS Out for Bellbird." TV Week. 19 February 1977, page 15.

[31] Patterson, Bryan. "Bellbird's Last Hope." TV Scene. 26 February - 4 March 4 1977, page 10.

[32] "SOS Out for Bellbird." TV Week. 19 February 1977, page 15.

[33] "Bellbird's Roger Heads off on Honeymoon." TV Week. 2 July 1977, page 3.

[34] Murphy, Jim. "Terry Took Pains to Finish." TV Week. 8 October 1977, page 34.

[35] Newman, Kate. "Bellbird - Where it all Happens." New Idea. 20 November 1976, page 30-31.

[36] Moran, Albert. Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series. Allen & Unwin: St Leonards NSW, 1993, page 78.

[37] Andrew Mercado. "Soap: It's just what the great unwashed need." The Age. November 27, 2004. URL: http://www.theage.com.au/news/TV--Radio/Soap-The-great-unwashed/2004/11/25/1101219663320.html . Accessed 21 October 2007.

[38] Pike Andrew, and Ross Cooper. Australian Film 1900-1977. Oxford University Press: Melbourne, 1980, page 331.

[39] Oldmeadow, Harry. Oxford Companion to Australian Film, The. (Brian McFarlane, Geoff Mayer, Ina Bertand, Eds.) Oxford University Press: South Melbourne, 1999, page 80-81.

[40] Pike Andrew, and Ross Cooper. Australian Film 1900-1977. Oxford University Press: Melbourne, 1980, page 331.

[41] Pike Andrew, and Ross Cooper. Australian Film 1900-1977. Oxford University Press: Melbourne, 1980, page 331.

[42] Oldmeadow, Harry. Oxford Companion to Australian Film, The. (Brian McFarlane, Geoff Mayer, Ina Bertand, Eds.) Oxford University Press: South Melbourne, 1999, page 80-81.