Class of '74
1974-1975 - 290 x 30 minute episodes - Produced by the
Grundy Organisation for the Seven Network
Having packaged quiz shows for Australian TV for the previous twenty years, the Reg Grundy Organisation went into soap operas with this school based serial which began on air in March 1974.
Class of '74 was seen by many as Channel Seven's answer to Number 96. That show had proved that major success could be had with a nightly serial that emphasised sexual situations. By late 1973 Number 96 had already prompted the creation of Ten's second raunchy strip serial, The Box, and Class of '74 had been quick to follow.
Class of '74 was devised by John Edwards who previously worked at Crawford's, and it was developed and overseen by Alan Coleman. The show's producer was Peter Maxwell, who also directed many episodes.
With Class of '74 Grundy's recognised that older children and teenagers were a vital component of a soap opera's audience. Certainly many teens wanted to watch Number 96, but most were forbidden by their parents from viewing the sometimes naughty 8.30 p.m. serial. Here was a show directly aimed at teens and, stripped at 7.00 p.m. weekday evenings, it was readily accessible.
The series was set in Waratah High School and examined the relationships of and between the teachers and other adult figures, and the students. It was definitely a commercial soap which hinted at sex and titillation, but little was ever shown and the show was never explicit.
For the second and final year the series was renamed Class of '75 and increasingly diverged from the original concept. Less of a success this time, the show failed to graduate to a third year.
The first episode began with the various staff and students arriving for school in the morning, with these scenes featuring a disproportionately large amount of location filming. Quickly introduced was the show's central character, Charles Olgilvy, played by long running Homicide lead Leonard Teale.
Olgilvy was the newly appointed school principal. Deputy Principal Donald Blair (John Hamblin) had been passed over for this position, and was clearly resentful of the fact, something his bitter wife, the neurotic alcoholic Maureen (Janet Kingsbury), gleefully points out. Donald is an officious and frequently tetchy teacher disliked by students and who clashes frequently with his work colleagues, and has a fraught relationship with Maureen.
The new teacher at Waratah High is Mary Dunstan (Jeanie Drynan). She is quickly given a tour by friendly American teacher Glen Turner (Chuck Danskin). Hubbard (Gordon Glenright) is the school's gruff janitor and handyman who, rather improbably, is on a first name basis with most of the students, frequently chiding them for such infractions as running in the corridors or being late for classes.
Popular young teacher Gary Evans (Vince Martin) is in love with one of his students, Julie Armstrong (Carla Hoogeveen). During an expedition to check on some local caves they share a kiss. This rather shocking incident occurs before the episode's first commercial break, however scandal is averted when soon afterwards Gary asks Julie to marry him, making everything seem much more respectable.
During her introduction to the staff and students Mary is introduced to promising pupil and star athlete John Ward (Kevin Wilson), who is sparring with his boxing coach, the handsome Paul Kennedy (Alan Lander). Even though Paul is sweating it out in an old track suit, Mary notices a strong attraction to him, apparently assuming that Paul is another teacher. Mary later calls into the local coffee shop, run by young Evie (Gaynor Sterling), who is single, and pregnant. When Paul drops in Mary is horrified to discover that he is a priest.
There is more drama as a rather melodramatic parent, Joan Whitmore (Kay Eklund), visits Charles Ogilvy to report that students at his school are practicing "witchcraft, sorcery and black magic... devil worship!" Despite Ogilvy's doubt that these claims have much veracity a locker search is conducted, which uncovers a Playboy magazine in the locker of Barry Collins (John Dietrich), the eager school newspaper editor. The magazine is confiscated while the entire incident provokes Barry and thoughtful prefect Sue Taylor (Joanne Samuel) to try and organise a debate on the hot topic of censorship.
An outsider to much of the student activities is pretty blond student Peggy Richardson (Anne Lambert), who comes from a wealthy family. Peggy is dubbed "The Iceberg" by other students due to her prim and proper ways while the show's publicity hinted at her future transformation into a swinging good time girl. Meanwhile Ann Watson (Megan Williams) was a bright and vivacious student heavily involved with the school newspaper.
Further story tensions erupt as the biology lab is found to have been ransacked, while teacher Glen Turner has an angry outburst over a careless remark about the Vietnam War. Then Gary Evans takes a group of students to the caves where they examine aboriginal artefacts.
Also part of this expedition are students Nora Hayes (Barbara Llewellyn) and Greg Simpson (Christopher Cummins). Naive Nora thinks that Greg is "far out!" so she accepts his invitation to ride to the cave with him on his motorcycle, and to spend the night with him in his tent. However Nora and Greg don't make it to the cave instead setting up a cosy private camp in the bush. Meanwhile Gary and his students become trapped in the cave by a rock fall. The trapped students realise that no one knows where they are; to ease their nerves they begin a rendition of children's rhyme Alouette. Elsewhere, Greg and Nora are oblivious to their classmates' predicament and are seen bunking down together in his tent.
The series premiered on the Seven Network on 18 March 1974 at 7.00 p.m. The show's funky theme song performed by Brian Cadd was a highlight of the series. Cadd had just done the soundtrack for the highly successful sex comedy film Alvin Purple. The show's brief titles sequence showing quick close ups of the faces of the regular students as they jumped for joy was simple but somehow effective, even if TV Week critic Howard Dudding felt the sequence "made the protagonists look like a bunch of cretins". [i] End credits ran over various shots of the school exterior; adult regular actors were credited first, then those portraying the regular female students, followed by the male students and finally the guest artists.
The show's first episode was written by busy actor and scriptwriter Ted Hepple, perhaps best remembered amongst soap fans today as Lizzie's suitor Sid in Prisoner, and the show was an instant ratings hit. That first episode rated 37, the highest ever for a 7.00 p.m. show since the introduction of a third commercial network in 1965, but on its third night the series was shifted to 7.30 p.m. due to its controversial elements. The Broadcasting Control Board had a strict no-sex-before 7.30 p.m. rule, and Class of '74 was deemed unsuitable for its original timeslot. [ii]
After the first episode had gone to air the Broadcasting Control Board had ordered the Seven Network to move the series outside the general viewing time, which ended at 7.30 p.m., because the board considered the series unsuitable for general exhibition. In Canberra the Minister for the Media, Senator Dick McClelland, told the Senate that the general manager and program manager of Channel 7 had been called before the Broadcasting Control Board to explain their "apparent departure" from the agreement between them and the board of when Class of '74 should be screened. [iii]
The program manager of Channel 7 Sydney, G. Kinging, said no agreement had been broken.
"We were told to put the program back to 8.00 p.m. and we did that. Then we were told we could go back to the original time of 7.00 p.m., and we did that."
By Friday it was reported the negotiations over the timeslot had been going on for two days with no final agreement reached. [iv] After these negotiations the series continued in the 7.00 p.m. slot.
Long before the premiere episode had even been shot publicity around the series highlighted a "no nude scenes" edict issued by the network in light of the show's proposed early evening timeslot before 8.30 p.m. One unnamed "production worker" on the series helpfully explained that "Before that time you simply can't get away with some of the show-it-all sensationalism of Number 96," however he promised that "you will see everything else up to the point where the last garment is shed." The program was described in the article as being "Seven's answer to Number 96, without the blatant sensationalism." The article reported that the show's storylines will feature everything from "pregnant schoolgirls to a priest employed for religious instruction who falls in love with a female staff member." [v]
With all this advance warning coupled with its teenage characters, the high school setting and an early evening timeslot, the Broadcasting Control Board seemed to pay special attention to the content of the series. The Board began vetting scripts and the original plans for a series that pushed boundaries were jettisoned, with the series soon shifting to more standard soap opera stories.
Indeed a scene from one of the opening episodes had been judged so risqué that it was cut before broadcast. The scene involved students Nora and Chris who were spending the night together in a tent. Originally Chris climbed into the sleeping bag with Nora, but in the cut version viewers only saw them entering the tent together. Llewellyn had viewed the original cut of the episode and was surprised to later find that it had been censored. [vi]
The actor reasoned that the scene was true to life and that high school students do think about, and sometimes engage, in sexual activities. "I believe we are presenting a fairly accurate portrayal of school life" Llewellyn told TV Week.
"Most of the cast members aren't long out of school, and they see it as being very realistic. I guess that actually seeing us in the sleeping-bag together was just too explicit for that timeslot." [vii]
Indeed the Seven Network played it safe and opted to excise the scene fearing the possibility of external censorship. [viii]
Shortly after the series premiered the racy elements were still being showcased in the show's publicity. A spread in TV Week magazine titled "Schoolroom Scandals Shock the Censor!" described "the girl who is having an affair with a master, the student who takes porno pictures and the virgin and the bikie spending the night alone in a tent." Alongside one picture of Leonard Teale were pictures of three of the young female cast members in bikinis, and another of the girls in their short skirt hockey uniforms, clearly emphasising the sex and titillation angle. [ix]
In the article itself series star Leonard Teale defended the soap's sexual content, most of which was only spoken about rather than shown. Teale reasoned that sexual situations in the show are handled like any other problems in schools.
"Sex is not the reason for the show. It is a genuine problem in some schools and Class of '74 deals with it as it would with other problems such as drugs, if they should arise. Technically I feel that the show is better than Number 96 and as good as The Box. I think there are areas where it is superior to all the successful shows and I think it will be a big hit. The kids are fresh, vital and loveable, really great to work with. Now that the censor problems are sorted out the show will settle down and win a lot of viewers." [x]
According to Leonard Teale, Class of '74 had been singled out by the Broadcasting Control Board; he believed that they applied double standards by strictly monitoring the show's content while allowing contemporary advertisements that in Teale's opinion featured "tasteless and even grubby pieces of television in family viewing time". As a critique of the censorship imposed on the series Teale quipped that:
"According to the Control Board's thinking, 17 and 18 year olds in school don't even think about sex. We know this is ridiculous and it makes it very difficult to write a series of this sort without at least something more than a guarded reference to sexual matters." [xi]
The opening storyline moves along very quickly. A worried Charles, after a tip from Hubbard (and some stunt driving in his Leyland P76) finally locates the cave and the rescue begins. Tragically Julie's love, teacher Gary Evans, is killed by a falling boulder. Back at Waratah, Nora and Greg successfully cover up the fact that they weren't with the cave party, while Barry and Sue are still pushing for the censorship debate. In new developments, Charles finds that nitric acid has been poured onto his car, the mystery of the wrecked science lab remains unresolved, and Charles receives hate mail featuring "Die Charles Die" and a diabolical drawing scrawled across the page.
Julie is in hospital in a coma after the cave in; later she awakes from the coma but is confined to a wheel chair. None of this dampens Sue's eagerness for the debate. To liven it up she agrees to pose nude with male student, smiling jokester Peter Cooper (Jeremy Chance), atop Charles's desk. The scene as shown keeps the actual nude display safely off camera; though 1970s porno film music plays over the scene of the photograph being taken, viewers see only a flash of Sue's white knickers as she dresses herself after the session. Both models had worn only novelty masks to hide their identities, but Sue is later identified by her ring and is expelled from school.
Ensuing weeks would explore Nora's mystery illness, which seemed to suggest a pregnancy scare, along with her loneliness after being abruptly dumped by Greg, who has now taken up with Julie. A scene featuring a heartbroken Nora's description of their union is effective, while still keeping the censors happy. She expresses her mistaken assumption that the gift of his own necklace constituted their "engagement". Of their night together she recalled that "He seemed to know I was scared and set out to be kind to me." Meanwhile the latest subject of debate is "The Liberated Woman." As students and teachers react to this topic various ideas are explored, with even Hubbard weighing in to the argument.
Overall the series presented a well balanced mix of characters and storylines explored their various interactions, while the convenient school debates and articles for the school newspaper provoke discussions about contemporary issues that would interest a range of viewers. The discussions presented a range of viewpoints but were never long or laboured and were well integrated into the drama.
Many of the show's characters seemed well rounded and so seemed realistic and believable. By presenting, at times, the thoughtful, sensitive, caring and intelligent aspects of both teacher and student personalities, the serial's characters seemed believable. And these depictions of the student characters doubtless made the series appealing to younger viewers. Likewise when the youngsters managed to respond in a mature and thoughtful manner to a teacher who was mindlessly threatening detention over a minor infraction, high school students in the audience were probably cheering.
Yet the older characters were never just one note figures either. Despite his nickname "The Ogre", Charles Ogilvy was presented as a dedicated and respected educator. The usually testy Donald Blair would soon find his officious ways sent up in comedy moments that crept into the script. In later storylines, such as his friendship with intimidated student teacher Barbara Young (Carol Vincent-Smythe), his more caring side would emerge. There was never a single viewpoint and later the popular and charismatic new teacher David Willard (Phillip Ross) would openly antagonise the officious Donald while presenting vibrant lessons that keep his students enthralled.
Unfortunately the show's technical standard sometimes left much to be desired. No one expects breathtaking cinematography, amazing sets or dazzling camera work from an early 1970s black and white videotaped soap opera, but highly audible clicks on the soundtrack when the shot switches from one camera to another ruins several scenes. This clicking problem still seemed to be an occasional recurring problem many months into the show's run. Given the show's overall technical standard and status as Grundy's first ever drama production it does not seem unacceptable that there is the odd boom shadow in some scenes, but when the shadow falls across a lead actor's face it destroys any credibility the scene might have had.
Aside from these problems the program generally employed the standard visual grammar of a studio based series, with a fairly predictable formula of establishing shots followed by crosscutting between over the shoulder shots with the odd close up for dramatic denouements. And of course that favourite soap opera time saver of the two shot covering both participants in a conversation without any switching was frequently employed. The main standout visual flourish was the quick cut in shot on the occasional dramatic line, employed in a minority of episodes.
Ten weeks into the show's run the understated romance storyline between Father Paul and teacher Mary Dunstan began to be developed. Paul soon confessed that he believed he was falling in love with Mary, and was granted a leave of absence from the church to sort out his crisis of faith. In a series of well written and acted scenes Paul navigates finding his own accommodation away from the church, and he even accepts dating advice from student Peter Cooper.
However the suggestion of a love affair for the Roman Catholic priest provoked a storm of controversy. There was a public outcry and the Broadcasting Control Board eventually stepped in, ordering that the offending scenes could never be broadcast. The makers of the series were forced to terminate the storyline, and in a shock move actor Alan Lander who portrayed Paul Kennedy was abruptly dropped from the series with just 24 hours notice. In fact he was busy rehearsing for a taping when he received the news he was to be paid off.
Lander was disappointed at the turn of events, telling TV Week that:
"The most annoying thing for me is that in no way was the romance offensive. It was all implied - we never even touched hands." [xii]
Despite his shock axing Lander noted that the Grundy Organisation was extremely good in honouring all financial contracts...
"But I still think it's scandalous that several episodes I have made will never be seen." [xiii]
A spokesman for the Reg Grundy Organisation said that the dropping of the character was a mutual decision reached between themselves and Channel Seven.
"If we had left Father Paul in the series it would have meant drastic re-writing of scripts and a whole change in the trend of the storyline," he said. "As we had to terminate the romance, we had to drop one of the characters and Father Paul seemed the more suitable." [xiv]
This seems rather unfortunate given that this storyline was probably the most compelling and effective of the series, helped by the good acting of Alan Lander and Jeanie Drynan who had an appealing screen presence and strong chemistry together.
Actor Janet Kingsbury also found her role in the series modified after the Broadcasting Control Board stepped in, however in this instance it resulted in the character's time in the show being extended. Kingsbury's character Maureen Blair, wife of assistant principal Donald Blair, was devised as a neurotic alcoholic to appear briefly in the show's earliest episodes, engage in an affair with student Tony Bianco (Adrian Bernotti) and then disappear.
However, after the brief meeting of Maureen and Tony in the program's premiere episode where he drops off some groceries the Broadcasting Control Board stopped the formation of the character; the love affair idea was dropped and the whole concept of the character was suddenly changed. Kingsbury told TV Week that:
"Since then, nobody really knows what Maureen is supposed to be like. We have four or five writers on the series, and each one sees the role in a different way." [xv]
One consequence of this was that rather than making a quick exit, Maureen stuck around for most of the first year. Kingsbury never knew from week to week what Maureen would be doing next.
"For instance, for two days I'm all lovey dovey with my husband, then the following day, out of the blue, they've got me packing my bags to leave him for no rhyme or reason. I'm waiting for my next script to see what happens. Having no continuity makes a character very hard to portray. It would be very frustrating if you took the part too seriously." [xvi]
At the time of Class of '74 English born Kingsbury said of the Australian acting scene that:
"I must admit I do feel we are not as far ahead as we should be in the TV field. There doesn't seem to be enough drive in the media and many of the directors and actors are too complacent." [xvii]
Kingsbury felt at the time she had become typecast as a TV actor. She would go on to appear in The Restless Years, and become an enduring presence on the Playschool children's series alongside her onscreen husband John Hamblin. One show she never appeared in was Number 96. Despite being approached on a couple of occasions to appear in that series, she always refused due to its nudity clause.
"I have done a couple of bare top scenes in Spyforce and Love Story, and hated doing them. But at the same time I knew they would be handled tastefully - that's why I broke my golden rule about not stripping. Another point of course is that every actress reaches a certain point in her career when she has to decide on her priorities - whether she will make a concession to strip or never get the chance to play a good part. To me, stripping seems unnecessary. Besides, I feel I've got nothing worth showing and it would only humiliate me to show my body." [xviii]
Clearly, with the close scrutiny of Class of '74, such concerns would never arise for Janet Kingsbury, or any of the other cast members. The racy plotlines had caused the Broadcasting Control Board to come down hard on the series, and the storylines moved more in the direction of a traditional school yard drama examining standard soap opera problems of the staff and the students.
Charles had a romance with movie star Janet Henderson (Margo Lee), provoking outrage from his adult daughter Jill (Jennifer Cluff). There was also resistance from Janet's estranged husband and manager Clyde (Robert Quilter) who sees dollar signs and pressures her into making one last film.
Perhaps inspired by these tense filmic negotiations, Waratah class mates become rivals when the students begin organising the production of a historical documentary film. Student Barry Collins struggles to write the script while Ann Watson insists the story should be an old fashioned romance in which she plays the female lead. When Peggy manages to arrange finance for the film through a relative she naturally assumes that this will secure her the female lead, leading to much resentment and many arguments. A class room audition reveals Ann as the better actor, much to Peggy's shame.
Now running the coffee shop was the warm and chirpy Rene (Joan Dalgliesh), always lending a caring ear as her glum customers discuss their problems over a nice cuppa. Meanwhile new teacher David Willard abused his status of an old personal friend of Charles' and delighted in baiting Donald.
US actor Peter Graves of the Mission: Impossible series even made a guest appearance as himself in one 1974 episode. [xix]
After a few months there was a drastic cast revamp. New students included Mike Woods (Terry Peck) and later, Patti (Margaret Nelson), and they would be cast members in a school play where students portrayed thinly veiled versions of the Waratah High staff members.
Teacher James Findlay (Edward Howell) showed up to work out his last few months before retirement. Mr Findlay quietly despaired at the prospect of leaving a beloved profession for an idle and unfulfilling future. At Waratah he eagerly tried to inspire his students, sometimes having his efforts go unappreciated.
Still more teachers showed up later in the year, including Elena Kyriacos (Derani Scarr), and Ruth Howard (Judy Ferris) who had two children attending Waratah High: fifth formers Jackie (Sharon Higgins) and Dean (Greg Bepper). Actor Vince Martin, whose character Gary Evans had been killed in episode two, returned playing another teacher, Jack Christianson, a persistent womaniser who went out on dates with each of his female co-workers.
These later episodes are far less compelling than the show's early scenes, and the cast changes seemed to upset the flow of the series. Amongst the students to leave were Peggy, Julie and Barry. Some of the actors became recurring players in a three months on, three months off type pattern, with Peggy and Julie later returning to the show. The various cast changes overall resulted in a larger proportion of teachers in the cast, a change that yielded comparatively dull results.
At the time, cast member Joanne Samuel recounted her experiences working on the show. Of the initial censorship she recalled that:
"We had to make three cuts in the very first episode because the control board stepped in and ordered them. Virtually all the scripts we had in hand had to be rewritten and for a while things were pretty chaotic. But it has been marvellous the way the series has settled down and improved out of sight. We have been getting probably the highest ever 7 p.m. ratings in Sydney, and an enormous amount of mail from viewers - mostly from teenagers and, surprisingly, a lot of pre-teens. Funnily enough, none of them seem to worry that the school in the series is quite different to a real school and the situations are probably as far from a real-life situation as possible." [xx]
Samuel noted that by this stage she was one of only four of the actors playing students to have appeared continuously the entire year.
"I really don't know why others have been dropped and I have been kept on. A lot of the others were more experienced actors [than] me. It is probably something to do with story lines. My character apparently hasn't run out of possible situations yet." [xxi]
Though viewing figures had dropped by the end of the year, the ratings were strong enough to warrant the renewal of the series; it was to return the following year, with its title naturally updated to become Class of '75.
When the serial resumed for its second year there were several major changes apparent. First, the show was now in colour. For the only time the episode starts with a pre-titles recap, showing the closing scene from the previous installment - the last episode from 1974. As that episode had been in black and white, the recap - showing Charles Ogilvy piloting a small plane as it begins a crash dive - is tinted red.
The show's new opening titles sequence shows stock footage film of young men riding the high surf, and shots of youngsters playing tennis and competing in swimming events.
The episode itself opens with an extended outdoors sequence with breezy music which quickly telegraphs the show's new slapstick comedy tone. A Volkswagen Kombi van arrives in the school car park and when the beleaguered young delivery driver, Bill Smith (Marty Rhone), opens the doors we see that the van is totally filled with suitcases which tumble out comically as he attempts to unload them. Snooty new student Jane Potter (Angela Punch-McGregor) is chauffeured in, and a bumbling Donald Blair drives in while dodging Luigi (Paul Faranda), a comedy gangster ducking in and out of the bushes.
Interior scenes are conducted on modern looking new sets, although much of the action seems to take place on the same small stairway landing where the new students and the new teachers all cross paths to introduce themselves. We quickly learn that Waratah is now a coeducational boarding school, and a new stream of oddball students and some attractive young teachers show up looking for their quarters. The school apparently doesn't have a reception area; everyone just walks up to the staircase and asks directions from whoever else is standing there.
Rick Harris (Peter Flett) is the new maths teacher with a penchant for wisecracks and parachuting. Jorja Jones (Briony Behets) is the bubbly new physical education instructor. Gorgeous Jorja's first move at her new school is to slip into her bikini and try out the swimming pool (off camera).
Tetchy and officious Donald Blair is now presented as a figure of fun, his pompous ways used for comedy to a greater extent than ever before. On meeting Jorja bouncing around in her short robe, a flustered Donald remarks that "you look very... er, very fit!". Later when he expresses doubt that Rick's parachute will get much use as "I don't think we're having parachuting this term", the funky mathematician shoots back with "Why not? Too many drop outs?!" And just in case viewers don't get the jokes, the soundtrack trumpets "Mwah mwah mwah mwah" after the gags are delivered.
New student Loretta Day (Bronwyn Winter) is allergic to everything, and despite her huge unflattering spectacles and prim and proper plaited hairstyle is convinced she is irresistible to men. "There's a man following me!" she frequently exclaims, even if it is just Luigi staking out the corridors.
Loretta quickly finds a kindred spirit in milquetoast Dennis Braithwaite (Peter Bensley), a snivelling mummy's boy. He has a letter from his mother that provides an excuse for every occasion and his catch phrase "I've got a letter from my mother!" is frequently repeated. These students join several holdovers from Class of '74, including Mike Woods, Jackie and Dean Howard, and Freddie Randall (Graham Bassett), all now attired in funky new beige and mission brown school uniforms.
Also making her debut is character Angelique Dupree, a comedy caricature of a strict and censorious senior mistress, with a thick French accent to boot. Looking slick and officious in smart suit, coke bottle horn rim spectacles and with her black hair pulled into a neat and conservative style, Angelique stumbles into the chaos insisting she is the new senior mistress filling in for the missing Charles Ogilvy, even if Donald Blair knows nothing of this appointment. Reporting to Donald's office Angelique finds him chatting to Jorja who is fresh, and still dripping, from her introductory dip. Angelique remarks that "when the cat is away you get an awful lot of wet mice!" before criticising the overall level of professionalism of the school and its staff.
Angelique is further outraged when Luigi later pulls out a gun and chases a bunch of students through her quarters, even if he later admits "I don't put bullets in guns: someone might get hurt!" Angrily sending them all out of her apartment, Angelique retires to her bedroom where she slips off the glasses, jacket and shoes to relax. Then, in the show's first big cliffhanger, off comes the glasses and the wig and revealed under the disguise is sex symbol Abigail. She shakes out her trademark extra-long blond hair and, dropping the ridiculous French accent, triumphantly declares to herself "Well I'm in! And it looks as though it's going to be a cinch!"
The following episode focused on the eagerly awaited entrance of film star and owner of all those suitcases Gina Ferrari, played by Peta Toppano as a stereotypically fiery and temperamental Italian diva. Luigi, it is revealed, is merely her overzealous minder. Meanwhile another of her minders who is escorting her to the school is played by Harry Michaels, later to play Giovanni, another stereotypically hyperactive Italian, in Number 96.
There's more slapstick humour as yet more comedy gangsters show up with a replica of Gina's welcome to Waratah cake. Their substitute dessert has drugged icing as part of a kidnapping and ransom scheme, as one gangster discovers when he licks the bowl, and much mirth ensues as the gang attempts to switch the cakes before Gina's welcome party. The Marx Brothers this isn't.
Meanwhile young Bill Smith who had delivered Gina's suitcases reveals himself as a frustrated scholar who would love to attend the school. Bill happily switches places with real student Tom Carter (Ron Rodger) to cover for him when we wants to stay out watching surfing movies. Bill reasons this will at least give him a brief taste of studying at the school. Later, when the real Tom is struck with amnesia, Bill assumes his position permanently. Finally actor Philip Ross, previously Class of '74 teacher Mr David Willard, shows up as a new character, the eccentric Professor Grimble.
Few of the show's unsubtle attempts at broad comedy seem successful. Only Beryl Cheers as Madge, the school's no nonsense Matron, seems able to pull off her comedy scenes with aplomb. Madge and Hubbard are now married and the Scottish pipe smoking handyman and his warm but straight talking wife seem like watered down clones of Les and Norma from Number 96. Nevertheless they emerge as the characters probably best suited to the show's new slapstick style.
TV Week hopefully reported that Abigail's role in the series would see a "drastic change of pace for viewers familiar with Abigail disrobing in Number 96", noting that this time she will stay dressed. [xxii] Of the role, Abigail herself explained that it is,
"Entirely different and very welcome. I have wanted to show that I can do something other than take my clothes off for a long while. Anyone with a good figure can stand around looking alluring. If the script and the situation doesn't call for anything more that's easy to do. The test comes for such an actress when she has to intelligently interpret the role and I know I can do that." [xxiii]
Unfortunately the silly new lightweight format of the show hardly presented a viable vehicle for Abigail to demonstrate her flair for comedy. Nevertheless her portrayal of the strict senior mistress is great fun, her cliffhanger unveiling the highlight of the episode. Too bad she appeared in the serial for just three weeks.
As early as March 1975 the writing was on the wall when Channel Seven in Melbourne moved the series out of its prime time slot, replacing it with repeats of US situation comedy series Bewitched. A spokesman for Channel Seven Melbourne said the move was prompted by "failing ratings towards the end of 1974 and early this year. In such an important timeslot we were forced to make the decision in favour of repeat episodes of Bewitched. Class of '75 started off well last year, but unfortunately it didn't take off like we had anticipated and there wasn't enough interest to warrant keeping it in its present timeslot. When changes in the format of the series also failed to gain viewers we had no option but to use up our existing 36 contracted episodes in a less-important area." [xxiv]
Indeed the show was unceremoniously consigned to 8.00 a.m. Saturday mornings in Melbourne, a move that seemed to seal its fate. "We have a contract to run these episodes and after this period it will not be seen on the channel," the spokesman added. Although TV Week speculated that ATN7 Sydney would soon follow suit, Channel Seven in both Sydney and Brisbane professed a desire to continue with the series in its original timeslot. Though agreeing that the latest ratings left a lot to be desired, they identified the importance of the teen demographic the show attracted. [xxv]
By this stage the Broadcasting Control Board, Channel Seven and the Reg Grundy Organisation had thrashed out a new and less restricting set of guidelines for the show. This finally allowed scriptwriters greater scope and to move more in the direction of adult appeal. Of the new, relaxed censorship standards Greg Brown, publicity director of Sydney's ATN7 commented that "we are expecting a great improvement in script situations which hopefully will be reflected in audience reactions." [xxvi]
Though this was encouraging news the Seven network issued the series with an ultimatum - improve or be axed. The series was given just 12 weeks to institute the changes and improve in the ratings. [xxvii] The revamped series remained in production until mid-1975, but ultimately the ratings were not strong enough for the series to be renewed after that.
In Sydney Class of '75 continued in the 7.00 p.m. slot until Friday 4 April 1975. On Monday 7 April it was moved to the earlier time of 5.00 p.m. weekday afternoons. (Co-incidentally, its 7.00 p.m. Sydney slot was taken by repeats of Bewitched.) Class of '75 continued in Sydney in the 5.00 p.m. slot until the final episode was reached on the unlucky date of Friday the 13th of June 1975. From Monday 16 June the 5.00 p.m. slot was taken by US comedy series My Three Sons.
The final episode hurriedly attempts to tie up the show's various storylines. Charles Ogilvy is back after several absences where he announces his plans to marry teacher Ruth Howard, though Ruth's son Dean is unhappy with the news. Donald Blair decides to resign in light of the mess he made of the job while filling in for Charles. Also in tatters is his romance with Charles' secretary Alison Woods (Jennifer de Greenlaw), a statuesque beauty dubbed "The Towering Inferno" by the students. She also announces her resignation and plans to leave the school that same day.
Hubbard, who had convinced Madge to move with him to Scotland, finally admits to himself that she will never be happy there, and decides they should remain in Australia. She is overjoyed to learn of Hubbard's decision to stay and become a naturalised Australian, and triumphantly announces to her friends at the school that they will be travelling to Scotland together... but only "for a holiday!" Dean's objections to Ruth and Charles' planned marriage are suddenly dropped after one quick phone call to Ruth's former suitor. Dennis, heartbroken after Jackie resumed her romance with student Archie (Stephen McDonald), is talked out of quitting school.
Meanwhile Tom Carter does decide to leave school; he plans to pursue a pop music career and gives a rendition of the song Denim and Lace to the assembled staff and students involved in rehearsals for Gina's cabaret show. (The song Denim and Lace was released as a single by Tom's portrayer, singer and actor Marty Rhone, and it became a real life hit in late 1975.)
Still in the rehearsal room Madge then leads the throng, which includes returned original student Nora Hayes, in a rendition of Auld Lang Syne. The episode ends with the credits and theme song running over a shot of the entire cast happily milling about the rehearsal room as Charles makes his way through the crowd followed by the panning camera and briefly chatting with each person present. Things finally come to a close with a zoom in on a smiling Charles.
This final scene has the odd effect of appearing to show the actors slipping out of character and apparently gearing up for the wrap party. After all the tensions of the episode, many of which hardly seem to have been properly resolved, everyone seems uncharacteristically happy, all showing a carefree attitude and wide smiles. Then there was the rendition of Auld Lang Syne, a song that frequently represents farewell, when - aside from a spate of departures that the majority of characters were not even aware of - there was no real reason in the story for it to be sung.
Reg Grundy later described to TV Week the disastrous turn taken by the series for its second year on air, laying the blame for the show's ultimate failure with the Broadcasting Control Board.
"They'd got it into their heads that Class of '74 was a dirty show. They were watching us every minute and demanding all sorts of cuts and editing. It made it impossible. We had to change the next series into more a comedy show - and it failed. It was totally ridiculous when you look back on it. I remember one particular scene that they objected to where a priest and a woman were doing nothing but talking to each other. They claimed there was an inference of something else going on. They ended up gutting the show and killing it." [xxviii]
There was a total of 290 thirty minute episodes of the series produced over its two year run. Class of '74 began in black and white, switching to colour with episode 192.
Despite being dated by the title and the black and white episodes, the show was repeated by Channel 7 Melbourne in the early 1980s. This allowed young teens of the day to see how much the technical standards of television had improved over the previous decade.
Despite its patchy technical quality, the chequered ratings, and the disastrous rebirth as Class of '75, the show has a couple of claims to fame. While Number 96 had revolutionised television serials in Australia, Class of '74 had invented the night time teen soap. The series demonstrated that lightweight half hour soaps stripped in early evening timeslot and largely concerning younger characters were a viable proposition.
The show was the Reg Grundy Organisation's first drama series, the first step to establishing the company as a successful producer of soap operas. Soon they would be Australia's chief producer of television serials and the production company would in the next five years launch such successful shows as The Young Doctors, also produced by Alan Coleman, and The Restless Years. Both these serials would again primarily focus on younger characters.
Grundy's then matured with the rather more dramatic Prisoner which emerged as an even greater success, and with the melodramatic Sons and Daughters, which still relied heavily on attractive youngsters in the cast. This of course all leads up to Neighbours, the ultimate teen soap, and a massive international success still running today.
Originally uploaded May 2000
Last updated 11 February 2013
[i] Dudding, Howard. "Another Disaster Area for Viewers." TV Week. 22 February 1975, page 16-17.
[ii] Clarke, David and Steve Samuelson. 50 Years: Celebrating a Half-Century of Australian Television. Random House: Milsons Point NSW, 2006, page 150-151.
[iii] "Class of 74 decision today." The Sydney Morning Herald. 22 March 1974, page 3.
[iv] "Class of 74 decision today." The Sydney Morning Herald. 22 March 1974, page 3.
[v] "Network Tells Producers... NO NUDES PLEASE." TV Week. 5 January 1974, page 34.
[vi] "Sex Scene Cut!" TV Week. 30 March 1974, page 14.
[vii] "Sex Scene Cut!" TV Week. 30 March 1974, page 14.
[viii] "Sex Scene Cut!" TV Week. 30 March 1974, page 14.
[ix] "Schoolroom Scandals Shock the Censor!" TV Week. 13 April 1974, page 10-11.
[x] "Schoolroom Scandals Shock the Censor!" TV Week. 13 April 1974, page 10-11.
[xi] "Teale Hits at Censors!" TV Week. 4 May 1974, page 5.
[xii] " 'I'm the Scapegoat' Says Axed Actor." TV Week. 2 November 1974, page 13.
[xiii] " 'I'm the Scapegoat' Says Axed Actor." TV Week. 2 November 1974, page 13.
[xiv] " 'I'm the Scapegoat' Says Axed Actor." TV Week. 2 November 1974, page 13.
[xv] Huntley, Pat. "Life's Tough for TV's Lonely Wife!" TV Week. 23 November 1974, page 25.
[xvi] Huntley, Pat. "Life's Tough for TV's Lonely Wife!" TV Week. 23 November 1974, page 25.
[xvii] Huntley, Pat. "Life's Tough for TV's Lonely Wife!" TV Week. 23 November 1974, page 25.
[xviii] Huntley, Pat. "Life's Tough for TV's Lonely Wife!" TV Week. 23 November 1974, page 25.
[xix] TV Week. 25 May 1974, page 30.
[xx] "School Was Never Like This!" TV Week. 3 August 1974, page 28.
[xxi] "School Was Never Like This!" TV Week. 3 August 1974, page 28.
[xxii] "Abigail Now Threatens to Quit Australia!" TV Week. 25 January 1975, page 15.
[xxiii] "Abigail Now Threatens to Quit Australia!" TV Week. 25 January 1975, page 15.
[xxiv] " '75 Faces Axe." TV Week. 15 March 1975, page 14.
[xxv] " '75 Faces Axe." TV Week. 15 March 1975, page 14.
[xxvi] " '75 Faces Axe." TV Week. 15 March 1975, page 14.
[xxvii] "Class of '75 Gets Ultimatum!" TV Week. 29 March 1975, page 13.
[xxviii] Dudding, Howard. "Reg Zooms Off to Play the World TV Game." TV Week. 10 February 1979, page 6-7.