The Glamorous Stars of Cop Shop
A taste of the media frenzy the followed
the Cop Shop cast
Popular soap starlet Paula Duncan started on the road to success with the role of chirpy Carol Finlayson in Number 96 in 1974. She had suffered an early setback after being told by a teacher from the National Institute of Dramatic Arts that she did not have the talent to be a successful actor. [i] Despite this Duncan quickly became highly popular in a series of leading roles in popular soap operas. In Number 96 young wine-bar waitress Carol was more than just another pretty starlet for the show that was at the time ranked as Australia's most-watched television program, she was sister to the highly popular Don Finlayson character (played by Joe Hasham) and would live with him and his boyfriend Dudley in Flat 4 (AKA "The Girls' Dormitory"), staying in the role several months.
Eventually the character was written out of the series and though Duncan later mused that the probable reason for this was her inexperience as an actress, viewing her Number 96 episodes today reveals that she was as good there as she would ever be. A classic soap opera actress adept at showing heart-rending concern, at being generally bright and bubbly, as well as being an expert crier, Duncan would go onto act in several soaps over the years. She would play an uptight nurse in The Young Doctors and much later, in 1988, would play a rather earnest policeman's wife for the twelve months that serial Richmond Hill remained in production. However it is for the intervening role of Danni Francis in the popular Cop Shop that she received the greatest popular - and critical - plaudits.
Duncan's role in Cop Shop came about after a meeting with Ian Crawford where he asked her to audition for the role of a bisexual young policewoman in a new series to be produced by Crawford's Productions. Though Duncan was reluctant at first to move from her home in Sydney to take up a role in a Melbourne made program her actress sister Carmen encouraged her to audition for the part. Cop Shop's producer Marie Trevor directed Duncan at her audition and after playing the scene four different ways as directed Duncan felt sure she had the role.
A week later the phone rang and Duncan had the part of policewoman Danni Francis. Arriving in Melbourne Duncan was soon greeted by co-star Greg Ross, and later befriended another of her co-stars, and fellow Sydneysider, Joanna Lockwood. Duncan had spied Lockwood at the Sydney auditions and had judged her as competition for the role of Danni Francis. Lockwood was in fact playing the stripper, a role Duncan would never have taken on. Joanna Lockwood, like Duncan, had left behind a husband in Sydney and was commuting back and forth.
As Duncan met her remaining co-stars there were other familiar faces; Peter Adams had worked with her in Number 96 while Tony Bonner had once dated older sister Carmen. Duncan had never met Terry Norris before, but he would become like a second father to her. As filming got underway it transpired that Paula Duncan's character had been straightened-out. She was no longer bisexual, and was developed as the kind hearted character of the series.
Despite previous television work Duncan admits she had remained ignorant of the technical side of television in her earlier roles, though Tony Bonner would teach Duncan to act to the camera while George Mallaby provided acting tips of his own. The Cop Shop cast became great friends and the show's ratings soared. After the long hours of shooting the cast would frequently party on together. Meanwhile Joanna Lockwood and Paula Duncan were soon moved into the same accommodation unit; a plush, old-style city hotel. After her initial contract expired Duncan didn't hesitate to renew with the show, but at the same time came her first blow when co-star Tony Bonner, who played Danni's lover in the show, decided to leave. Adamant he wouldn't be returning Tony insisted his Cop Shop character be killed off.
While Paula Duncan was away ill a new co-star arrived. John Orcsik would play hunky Greek detective Mike Georgiou, though as Joanna Lockwood warned this new actor was nothing like Tony Bonner but rather a self-assured stud who drove a red Monaro and wore his shirts unbuttoned to the waist, frequently accompanied by a collection of jangling chains around his neck.
Duncan reports that when John Orcsik and his too-tight pants first appeared it brought the first hint of friction to the Cop Shop set; basically the two actors clashed. She thought him arrogant, he thought her snooty and stuck-up. However those clever scriptwriters spotted a handsome couple when they saw one and soon devised an on-again, off-again romance for Mike and Danni.
Orcsik had joined the show on a thirteen-week contract but would stay in the role until the series ended six years later. Duncan would also continue through to the show's demise. Another cast addition that ruffled a few feathers was that of glamorous former beauty-queen and The Young Doctors starlet Lynda Stoner who would come in as sexy policewoman Amanda King. Though Stoner's pouty sexual allure was never doubted Paula Duncan was worried about her acting abilities.
Meanwhile Joanna Lockwood, who played the shrill and buxom former stripper Valerie Johnson (who was billed as the "The Big V" at her strip club), worried that the addition of the sultry blonde with ripe figure and yearning eyes would overshadow the existing female characters.
Certainly Paula Duncan with her trim figure, warm and perky character and pretty little face was the sort of girl that the show's female fans would approve of; she was your girl-next-door type sex-symbol. Meanwhile luscious Lynda with her lip-glossed pout, throaty voice and long blond mane was just the sort of female cop that many blokes fantasised about.
In fact the scriptwriters soon arranged for Amanda King and her abundant sexuality to be thrown into an affair with Mike causing Danni to become jealous, though instead of becoming rivals Paula and Lynda became friends away from the set. Paula and John would soon manage to get over their initial frosty reaction to one another and fall for each other in real-life. After dealing with a couple of pesky earlier marriages the glamorous stars would in June 1982 be wed in a fairy-tale wedding that had sales of TV Week magazine soaring.
It was not all plain sailing however. Paula Duncan had problems with her previous marriage which she had been unsuccessful in having annulled. When the pressure got too much Duncan tried to find a solution with a carefully measured dose of sleeping tablets and some brandy. Luckily John Orcsik arrived home early and intervened before Duncan could come to any harm. The event was not widely reported at the time. This and many other aspects of the lives of Paula Duncan and John Orcsik - and of John's former wife Maggie Strike - are, however, candidly detailed in the sensitive 1994 book The Mother of My Son by Paula Duncan with Maggie Strike. [ii]
The wedding went ahead and emcee at the reception was Cop Shop co-star Gil Tucker who gleefully produced nude pin-up shots of Orcsik, demurely posed with strategically-placed gun, which had been taken years earlier for the Truth newspaper. Orcsik had a history of appearing in nude and sexy depictions: he was a bit part stud and hang gliding enthusiast in The Man from Hong Kong (1975) said to be able to stay up all day (while hang gliding) in a scene where a well-inflated wind sock indicates the potency of the gale.
Orcsik also enacted a gay kiss with actor Joe Hasham in the 1974 Number 96 feature film. Though the film as viewed today does feature several carefully posed nude sequences during the provocative same-sex-seduction sequence, the offending kiss that was brutally snipped from all prints of the film shortly after its release seems missing for all time.
In the film Orcsik played latent homosexual Simon Carr. First an unwilling Simon is pursued by the lascivious and grasping schemer Maggie Cameron (Bettina Welch). Then he is seduced by the beautiful and voluptuous Vera Collins (Elaine Lee). In Simon and Vera's daring bedroom scene, Orcsik must deploy all his considerable acting talent to feign sexual indifference and impotence, all the while attempting conceal his bashful costar's naked breasts from camera view.
Luckily such scandal was forgotten by the time Cop Shop and its handsome, clean-cut young stars became media darlings. Nevertheless John Orcsik continued to be regarded as a sex symbol through his run in Cop Shop. He told TV Week that "Georgiou was never meant to be a glamour role. It's not my doing - it was more the press and the public - but it's obvious that's what he has become. The idea that I may be stuck with this image is constantly at the back of my mind. That's why, at times, I pressure Crawfords to let me play under-cover characters. This shows different facets." Orcsik added that despite some drawbacks the image did present its benefits: "I'm working," he said. [iii] Maybe that's why, despite seeing the dangers in the sex symbol image, Orcsik so readily posed for all those TV Week photo spreads wearing just his Speedos.
Never willing to waste free publicity the Cop Shop scriptwriters eventually had Danni and Mike get married in the show, much to the delight of soap opera fans and entertainment reporters everywhere. The TV wedding was an elaborate Greek-style affair which generated masses of mail from fans who wrote as if they were close personal friends of the fictional Mike and Danni.
Duncan's subsequent pregnancy posed only a small problem for the show's scriptwriters; the married Danni Francis would also be pregnant in the show. Such topical issues as struggling with impending motherhood and juggling a career and pregnancy were explored. Soon co-star Lynda Stoner was in the same condition and viewers were treated to the sight of Cop Shop's two main sex-symbols fighting crime with the biggest breasts on television, even if the dual pregnancy presented somewhat a problem for the show's long term storylines. In any event no one needed to worry about this situation for long because, though it had once rated in the 40s, Cop Shop's ratings had by this time dropped to 21. While 21 is still a quite a respectable viewing figure, with the decline in ratings Cop Shop was not renewed, and the series came to an end after 582 episodes.
After Cop Shop finished production in December 1983 John Orcsik set up a production company. Duncan would go on to act in a pilot, Matthew and Son, co-starring former The Sullivans and Matlock Police star Paul Cronin. Despite the reviews commending Duncan's performance in this telemovie it never got off the ground as a regular series. After a much publicised cameo appearance in Neighbours Duncan would spend three-months playing dizzy con-woman Lorelei Wilkinson in Prisoner during 1986, the show's final year. Lorelei has emerged as one the better-remembered characters from that series which has since achieved cult status in several countries. John Orcsik had earlier written episodes of Prisoner in 1984 and 1985.
As their TV characters had mimicked their real-life romance, their marriage would itself ultimately follow the soap opera formula and end in divorce. After playing a rather dull and frumpy character in Richmond Hill Duncan would continue to act in comedic television commercials for household cleaning products and weight-loss centres, and would do volunteer work raising funds and assisting the disabled. Orcsik would also continue acting, appearing in the long-running Neighbours series and making a cameo appearance as a doctor in miniseries Day of the Roses (1998).
The eternal soap starlet, Paula Duncan would eventually find herself back in a regular soap role in Paradise Beach (1993), and would follow that up with an appearance in another sunny soap-by-the-surf Breakers (1999), though sadly neither show would emerge as a long-running success.
As at 2009 Duncan was still active on the fund raising scene and was regularly seen in television advertisements.
Originally uploaded August 2000
Last updated 9 February 2013
[i] Atterton, Margot and Alan Veitch. (Ed.) The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Australian Showbiz. Sunshine Books: Brookvale NSW, 1984, page 67.
[ii] Duncan, Paula with Maggie Strike. The mother of my son: the moving story of an against-the-odds relationship. Harper Collins: Pymble NSW, 1994.
[iii] "Meet TV's Beefcake Boys." TV Week. 20 February 1982, page 11.