1981 - 64 x 60 minute episodes - Produced by Crawford
Productions for Network Ten
Holiday Island was designed as drama and intrigue and romance in the desired location of a beautiful, tropical resort island in Queensland. Holiday Island turned out to be an infamous fizzer with mediocre ratings that the press had a field day ridiculing.
Though a less emphatic failure and with a longer run than the previous year's famed flop Arcade, Holiday Island nevertheless likewise emerged as a famous failure. Like Arcade the series became a byword for poorly planned and ungainly television productions that fail both artistically and in the popularity stakes.
Like US series The Love Boat, the framework of Holiday Island was a tropical holiday destination setting where, each week, a new bunch of guest-star resort guests would converge to play out their dramas, romantic or otherwise. The show could feature new popular stars each week and the locale allowed a wide range of story possibilities. Stories focused on natural disasters, new romances, mysterious visitors, and the unexpected reappearances of former lovers and estranged family members of the regular characters.
Each episode of Holiday Island focused on a basically self-contained story alongside the ongoing narratives of the regular characters - a few island residents and the resort staff. This made the series hybrid between a soap opera and a weekly drama.
Nick Tate played the leading role of Neil Scott. He managed the resort with Angela (Caz Lederman), the wife of his estranged brother. Aside from working together Neil and Angela have also started a romance.
The series opened with the surprise return of Neil's despised brother and Angela's estranged husband, the dashing but despicable Jason (Steven Grives). As the opening sequence had indicated, shady criminal Jason is on the run from swindled associates seeking revenge. The resort island presents a safe refuge for Jason, but his return to the lives of Neil and Angela causes the fur the fly. Neil and Angela plot to eject him, but Jason schemes successfully to stay.
Former Number 96 favourite Tom Oliver played the regular role of Wally Simmons. Wally captains the local launch that ferries guests from the mainland to the island. As with many of Oliver's portrayals, this was basically a rerun of Jack Sellars. Like that popular Number 96 "rough diamond" character Wally had a laddish manner, lecherous Sid James-style laugh, and a liking for the ladies. However Wally seemed a little more crude than loveable rogue Jack Sellars. Wally was also shown to be a sneaky, opportunistic thief. Jason learns of Wally's thievery, which could jeopardise his job at the resort, and uses it to blackmail him into serving as his spy and general helper.
Other actors in regular roles included Alyson Best as a polite and attractive resort worker Lisa Kendall. Frank Wilson played Banjo Paterson, a crusty sea captain type who ran a junk shop from an old shipwreck on the beach. Former children's television presenter Marilyn Mayo was bubbly bar manager Dusty Davis. Patricia Kennedy played the recurring role of the wealthy resort owner Emily Muldoon.
Soon after the premiere former The Restless Years actor Peter Mochrie came in as hunky surfing instructor Tony "Zack" Zackarakis. Also joining was former Skyways regular Gaynor Martin who came in as Emily's niece, the spoilt and mercenary Kylie MacArthur. Kylie soon teamed up with Jason for a series of devious schemes to get their hands on Emily's fortune. Meanwhile a subtle romance between Zack and Lisa brewed.
A key feature of the production was the purpose-built outdoors island resort set specially constructed in the grounds of the Channel Ten studios in Melbourne. The set was built at a cost of $300,000 and while its designer Brad Ross estimated such a job would normally take several months, there was only three weeks available between starting the design sketches until taping was to begin. To meet the tight schedule construction took place day and night in a race against time to get frontages built and dressed and banana and palm trees planted before production started. At times work was just one hour ahead of schedule. [i]
To populate the set with palm trees for that tropical flavour, the designers drove around suburban Melbourne looking for date palms growing in people's gardens. They'd approach the homeowner and make an offer, and about 90 per cent of people approached agreed to sell their trees. Replacement plants were even provided to fill the gaps left by the uprooted palms. [ii]
Each episode of Holiday Island would also feature footage shot in various locations around Melbourne. Second unit footage shot in Queensland intercut with the Melbourne shot footage or inserted into some backgrounds using chromakey would hopefully brighten things up and make viewers believe the island really was in Queensland.
There were obvious benefits of producing the show largely in Melbourne. Much Australian television drama production had occurred there over the previous fifteen years and there was a strong infrastructure in place. However those Melbourne based productions had invariably been Melbourne set as well: there had been no real need to redress the temperate but sometimes chilly urban centre as Tropicana. The obvious problem was Melbourne's changeable weather and propensity for grey overcast skies. To address this set designer Brad Ross utilised extensive canopies and overhangs on the set so that on grey and cloudy days cameras could cover the scenes without shooting the sky. "We can light any part of the set to give that heat feeling, but we can't light the sky," Ross told TV Week. [iii]
The series opener starts promisingly enough with Jason just managing to make it on board the launch destined for Holiday Island. A quick flashback of a car chase action sequence reveals that Jason is certainly running from something and someone. Also on the launch are several of the episode's guest stars. Married mining magnate David Owens (Wynn Roberts) is taking his beautiful mistress, young model and aspiring actress Trish McKenzie (Rebecca Gilling), to the island for a dirty weekend while his bitter wife Shirley Owens (Gabrielle Hartley) stews at home.
Also on board the launch is the mysterious and sinister Norm Andrews (Ray Meagher). Nervous and hyperactive fellow passenger Russell Parker (John Blackman) is in a state having accidentally lost his cache of tranquillisers and anti-depressants overboard as the ship set sail.
Uptight Russell works for the company in charge of advertising for the island. Island management are unhappy with their copy so anxious Russell is sent for a visit to smooth things over and to, in perhaps a bit of sly irony in the script, sample first hand the island's wonders to adequately create an advertisement that truly captures the resort's particular qualities.
Unfortunately the island itself fails to calm Russell's jumpy nature and his depended-on pills and potions are not available on the island itself (though, it would seem, they would come in handy for several of the guests and resort workers). Russell's increasingly panicked attempts to restock his supply form a hopefully amusing gag running through the episode.
Somewhat ironically Russell the humorously inept copywriter seems to speak in dialogue apparently designed for use in the show's promotional trailers. Among his lines that could readily have made it into the program's advertisements comes this exchange:
Russell: "I've seen violence! I've seen physical and emotional collapses! I've seen theft! And you talk about peace?! All I can see is the entire place is like a lunatic asylum!"
Neil Scott: "Relax! Tomorrow's going to be better."
In any event Neil takes Russell on a travelogue type tour of the island which includes plenty of appealing vistas. This sequence includes lots of picturesque footage - clearly one of the supposed attractions offered by the series - and serves to introduce viewers to things. Many shots were clearly taken in Queensland, although Neil and Russell's unexpected meeting with Banjo was taped on the distinctive orange cliffs of Melbourne's Black Rock overlooking Port Phillip bay. The location switch is not too jarring however the chromakey vista of sparkling surf seen outside Banjo's junk shop hardly looks convincing.
Aside from Russell's comedy scenes there is plenty of drama and intrigue. The tale of David and his high maintenance mistress Trish works well, and is well acted. Jason discerns that David is willing to lavish his considerable fortune on Trish who is desperate to shift from modelling to being a serious actress, so poses as a film producer in a newly hatched get rich quick con. Norm Andrews is revealed as a private investigator hired by Shirley Owens to secretly monitor David's activities.
Unfortunately the intense enmity shown toward Jason by Neil and Angela quickly plunges the show into dark melodrama at an early stage. The mix of light comedy, sparkling scenery and bathing beauties, and then scheming and tortured melodrama seems like one too many contrasting elements this early on, giving the show an eccentric tone.
Jason and Neil's portrayers Steven Grives and Nick Tate are the program's standout cast members and their characters are well acted and appealing, even if the black-and-white depiction of villain versus saint seems rather arbitrary. It also seems difficult to believe they are brothers with the lack of any physical resemblance whatsoever and their differing accents. The script's attempt to explain the discrepancy in their speech - Jason's clipped London lilt versus Neil's broad and laconic Australian drawl - hardly rings true.
Most unfortunate for a series hoping to capitalise on stunning scenery is the cheap videotaped look of the show which hardly showcases the beach vistas well. The interior sets look cheap and bland - this is hardly an inviting or luxurious looking resort - and the chromakey tropical views would fool no one.
Starting episode four former The Restless Years actor Peter Mochrie appeared in the ongoing role of Zack, the island's entertainment officer. The popular actor explained to TV Week that:
"It's a great role because there is a lot of action… I'm sick of playing mind games with actors on sets. Zack's unpredictable and you can laugh at him." [iv]
Though somewhat a decorative comedy relief support character, Mochrie nonetheless approached the role of Zack seriously.
"I went into the Greek community and talked to a lot of Greek guys. I took a lot of notes about how they act and talk and so on. There are a lot of Greeks in Australia and I hope they'll watch and identify with the character. I'll throw a few things in so they know I'm not fooling." [v]
Mochrie had become a popular favourite through his role as swimmer and womaniser Rick Moran in The Restless Years, but the role had also earned him a "pretty boy" tag.
"I often get cast as the good-looking guy, but I think I have a lot more to give as an actor than that. It's hard to overcome, so I've got to take character roles and that's one reason I took the role of Zack, because he's got more character than Rick had." [vi]
"The series has the added attraction of being split between the back lot, the studio, and locations. Instead of being stuck in the studio 12 hours a day where you don't see the light of day you get out in the fresh air." [vii]
Despite Wally apparently being somewhat a reworking of Jack Sellars from Number 96, Oliver said he had other characterisations in his repertoire.
"I did very little TV work for a year after Number 96 because the roles offered were too much along the lines of Jack. So I did stage plays in Sydney and went to New Zealand for a play with Robert Morley." [viii]
Alyson Best, who played the regular role of Lisa the resort worker, initially found her character to be bland. However as she explained to TV Week, things developed as the series progressed.
"The character is getting much more interesting, especially since Gaynor (Martin) joined because the two characters are playing off each other. And, as we get along so well off camera, we can work on those scenes. Early in the series there was no one for Lisa to play off and she was simply nice, but now it's starting to change… she's getting a bit tougher." [ix]
Best had praise for several of her other co-workers too.
"It's really only in this show that I've realised there is so much I can learn from the cast. Steven Grives is a beautiful actor. I'm getting a lot of help from Nick Tate, Steven, Frank, Marilyn… all of them. Gaynor has been a great help too. She went through the mill in Skyways and we've been having great talks about how she coped with it all. We work really well together." [x]
Gaynor Martin meanwhile described her working relationship with Steven Grives, who played Jason.
"He's such a capable actor with a wealth of experience and the thought of me the beginner just plodding along matched with him made me nervous, but he was marvellous. He helped me in every way he could. If he had a spare half hour he'd rehearse with me and show me a new way of approaching the scene. He really is my mentor. He's the one who taught me to be so nasty!" [xi]
Of their characters Kylie and Jason, Martin said that their relationship was:
"A partnership of evil […] a lustful relationship with no illusions about love. He wants my aunt's money so he can be rich, and I want it so I can get off the island." [xii]
Martin's portrayal certainly proved convincing in some quarters. When scenes of Kylie and a former boyfriend smoking marijuana were screened Martin reported that several viewers were outraged. Her relatives "copped most of the flak" while Martin herself told TV Week that:
"I think it's wonderful! I love it. Actually I was getting more bitter and twisted playing the ever-nice ever-smiling Mandy in Skyways." [xiii]
Drama coach on the series was former Number 96 cast member Bunney Brooke, whose work was praised by several of the Holiday Island cast. Marilyn Mayo who played bubbly barmaid Dusty said of her character:
"I'm glad I got Dusty - she's lovely. Her character is developing well, thanks to our wonderful drama coach Bunney Brooke. She's really pulling characters out of us." [xiv]
Gaynor Martin also described Brooke's input as invaluable: "I feel I'm learning so much, every day offers something new." [xv]
The long list of guest stars on the series included Judy Nunn, Rowena Wallace, Tracey Mann, Chantal Contouri, Elaine Lee, Neil Fitzpatrick, Jeannie Drynan, Bunney Brooke, Olga Tamara, Arna Maria Winchester, Sue Jones, Liddy Clarke, magician Ross Skiffington, Terry McDermott, George Mallaby as a navy captain, Christine Amor, Joe James, Rob Steele, Tommy Dysart, Alex Menglet as a Russian tennis champion, Chelsea Brown, Tom Richards, Denise Cusack, Lesley Baker, Noel Trevarthen, Peter Kowitz, Gus Mercurio, and Lisa Crittenden. Former Skyways regulars Tina Bursill and Joanne Samuel also guested on the series.
Initial guest star John Blackman also returned for additional guest appearances as Russell Parker as the series continued. Actor Harry Lawrence guest starred in a horse racing and gambling themed episode as Archie Stephens, Angela's returning father. A few weeks later he was back for storylines further examining their family tensions.
At around the same time news reporter Laurie Oakes made a guest appearance as himself in one episode. In the story, Oakes, who was then part of the Channel Ten news team, showed up to report on the suspicious heart attack suffered by a visiting senator.
A Ten spokesman hopefully declared that "Laurie's role is part of an attempt to get credibility. And there will be similar guest roles coming up." [xvi]
Ongoing storylines focused on the Neil, Angela, Jason love triangle, and Jason and Kylie's sly schemes and their love affair.
In November 1981 Skyways regular character George Tippett, played by Brian James, was revived for a regular role on Holiday Island. His onscreen return would occur early in 1982 and in the story George was said to have taken long service leave from his airport administration job and chosen to spend his time on Holiday Island.
This transfer of a character between Australian dramas came several months after the successful switch of Bill Stalker's character Peter Fanelli from Skyways to Cop Shop. In both cases the transfers were between Crawford Productions programs although this time the character would return on a different network.
James initially resisted returning to the character he had already played for two years, telling TV Week that:
"I'd always disliked George. I thought he was a pompous idiot. It wasn't until the end of the series that I realised he was a very lonely and vulnerable old man. And since Skyways, a lot of people have approached me in the street to say they sympathised with old George and liked him. Because the public's reaction has been so good, I decided to bring him out of hibernation. I think he'll be the same dottery old man he was in Skyways. I don't think they'll change him at all." [xvii]
Among James' acting jobs after the cancellation of Skyways had been a role as a doctor in Prisoner. "I was only in the series three weeks, but it was good to meet those fantastic actresses." [xviii] Some years later James would return to Prisoner in the more pivotal role of Stan Dobson, a benevolent prison officer nearing retirement.
The biggest joke about Holiday Island was that the show was set in a tropical paradise, yet shot in Melbourne in winter. Many of the show's outdoor scenes were shot on the specially constructed outdoor set representing the resort exterior.
This set with its small swimming pool, hotel entrance, bar, al fresco cafe and plenty of verandas and palm trees sat as a tropical oasis in the grounds of Channel Ten's Melbourne studios in Nunawading.
Much discussion about Holiday Island focused on the allegedly icy conditions under which the tropical drama was filmed, and the discomfort of the actors required to appear to be enjoying warm sunshine in minimal clothing while actually freezing.
This joke is predicated on the belief that a show's production conditions and filming locations must necessarily be congruent with the fictional setting in the story, even though really the only program that would pass such a test might be The Box (a series produced in a television studio that was indeed set in a television station). Long hours, hard work, lots of lines, multiple costume changes, hot studio lights, location changes, and sometimes uncomfortable clothing and conditions must surely be a common occurrence for any regular television actor.
Nevertheless chilly Melbourne impersonating the Queensland tropics just seemed irresistibly funny, and such comments dominated discussion about the show. Even during the show's production the TV Week gossip column On the Grapevine reported the series had already earned the nicknames "Holiday in Iceland" and "Horror day Iceland". [xix]
In the 2002 television special The Best of Aussie Drama which mostly focused on Australian soap operas, John Blackman recounted his work on the series. He said that, as a comedian rather than a serious actor, he kept blowing his lines in the episode's cliff-hanger scene where Russell stumbles out of the bar late at night to discover Trish (Rebecca Gilling) floating face-down in the swimming pool. Poor Rebecca Gilling had to keep floating in the freezing water until Blackman pulled himself together to enact the dramatic discovery.
Another scene in the premiere episode featuring Rebecca Gilling and Steven Grives was filmed on such a chilly morning that the actors' icy breath was clearly visible on screen. Several months into the program's run the frosty vapour emitted by Angela Scott in a poolside dialogue scene had more to do with the cold Melbourne conditions than Angela's chilly reaction to her returning father.
Meanwhile when guest star June Salter later taped her scenes of a carefree night-time hula dance the camera had to avoid her feet which were ensconced in a warm and cosy pair of boots: it was 2.00 a.m. in the middle of winter and six degrees in the night air. Despite the indignity of having to suck ice cubes between takes to ensure her icy breath would not be seen, when the episode went to air the scene had been cut - for reasons of time claimed the producers. [xx]
Rather ironically, when the apparently jinxed production had sent a crew to Tangalooma, Queensland for a week of location shooting, they encountered persistent rain on all but one scheduled day of filming. And inclement weather wasn't the only problem that made it into press reports about the show. TV Week magazine's On the Grapevine gossip column hardly made a good impression with its report that "On the first day's shooting 20 scenes were scheduled, but it's claimed they only managed to get four in the can." [xxi]
In describing the program Hilary Kingsley reported that:
"On most days the carefully planted but soon wilting palm trees were being blown back at 45° angles across grey skies. The swimming pool developed waves and the actresses, trying to look relaxed and alluring in bikinis, were blue and rigid with cold." [xxii]
However this does seem to be somewhat an exaggeration: the tropical resort set, swimming pool and palm trees lived on to be reused as the Lassiter's Hotel, one of the main Neighbours locales since 1986. Neighbours is hardly known for looking like Iceland, although in a concession to some level of realism the addition of a small footbridge at least converted the set's swimming pool into a decorative pond.
Despite its reputation, the series did have its fans. In the 3 October 1981 edition of TV Week two fan letters praising the series were published. R. Saab of Victoria expressed the opinion that Holiday Island was the best Australian drama apart from Bellamy and asked for Nick Tate's contact details. "Jason Forever" of New South Wales wrote that "I love Holiday Island. It has some good stories but the main reason is my love for Steven Grives (Jason)." This fan judges Grives as the second most exciting man to emerge from England - beaten only by David Bowie! "Not in the Race" of Victoria in the same edition rejects comparisons between Jason and JR of US series Dallas. For this viewer "Jason is just a snivelling little worm compared to King Meany JR." [xxiii] Well at least they were watching.
The first episode of Holiday Island was compiled in late May 1981, which is indeed a week before Melbourne's chilly winter sets in. The series premiered 23 June 1981 on Network Ten but attracted only mediocre ratings. The program screened at a rate of two one hour episodes each week, at 7.30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays - sandwiched between The Restless Years and Prisoner.
In Australia the television ratings season ends late November and most popular first run programs are taken off for the summer to be replaced by repeats of old programs and the stockpiled episodes of unpopular imports and previously-cancelled shows. By the end of 1981 as the popular shows went off air to be replaced by some of 1981's low raters such as the new John Stanton police drama Bellamy and the male prison drama Punishment, Holiday Island was not taken off. Holiday Island continued through December in its usual 7.30 p.m. timeslot but at the reduced rate of just one hour episode each week, on Tuesday evenings. Punishment followed it at 8.30 p.m.
Holiday Island had disastrous ratings in some cities, and as the series continued screening over summer, unofficial ratings surveys showed its viewing figures did not improve despite the absence of popular opposition programs. Speculation that the series was to be cancelled had been rife in television circles for months, however things had seemed more secure in November 1981 when the show won a temporary renewal. Unfortunately with continued low ratings the show had to end. The official word came down in late December 1981 on the day of Crawford Productions Christmas party. Recurring guest star John Blackman told TV Week that the news did not come as a big shock to the cast. "I think everyone thought it inevitable." [xxiv]
A total of 64 one hour episodes of Holiday Island had been completed. A late night repeat of the show ran on WIN TV, which transmits to rural areas in Victoria, Australia, from 2006 until 2007.
Gaynor Martin said she was saddened but not shattered by news of the cancelation.
"It will be sad to no longer work so closely with all those great people, but, thankfully, I have something else to look forward to." [xxv]
Indeed the popular star's wedding to Glenn Wheatley was just around the corner. Soon after that she would appear in new serial Sons and Daughters.
Meanwhile former Arcade actor Olga Tamara, who had joined Holiday Island late in its run as Victoria Buckland, expressed some disappointment at the program's cancellation.
"I was disappointed when Holiday Island was dropped because the scripts were getting better and I'm sure the ratings would have improved." [xxvi]
After the series ended Nick Tate expressed boredom with his continued "nice guy" roles.
"The problem with Neil was that he was just too nice. I find playing goodies a bit boring. Since Holiday Island I've been offered various roles, but they're all along the same lines… the good guy."
Tate explained he was in some position to be choosy with his roles.
"It's not as though I am starving. An actor working consistently in a soapie earns good money. However there is not really the artistic pleasure there."
Tate also reported that Holiday Island was a frustrating series to work on.
"It wasn't that it was a bad show. At its best it was as good as any Australian soapie. Unfortunately, the quality was not consistent. Credibility was its main problem. It was meant to be a tropical adventure on a sunny island, but, because of pre-publicity, everyone knew it was on a suburban backlot. I also believe you cannot churn out two hours of quality television a week. As far as production is concerned there is no time to polish the product… Holiday Island reached the stage where near enough was good enough."
Overall Tate opined that it was only the massive group effort of the cast that made the show work at all.
"The job became like a marriage… the marriage just didn't work. I was totally committed to the show. I tried to make the best of it. The final result, however, was disappointing." [xxviii]
Page originally uploaded October 2000
Last updated 9 February 2013
[i] Webster, Allan. "Mission Impossible - or how they built a tropical island in suburban Melbourne." TV Week. 18 July 1981, page 31.
[ii] Webster, Allan. "Mission Impossible - or how they built a tropical island in suburban Melbourne." TV Week. 18 July 1981, page 31.
[iii] Webster, Allan. "Mission Impossible - or how they built a tropical island in suburban Melbourne." TV Week. 18 July 1981, page 31.
[iv] "Peter Bans His Private Life." TV Week. 4 July 1981, page 33.
[v] "Peter Bans His Private Life." TV Week. 4 July 1981, page 33.
[vi] "Peter Bans His Private Life." TV Week. 4 July 1981, page 33.
[vii] "Tom's Home from the Sea." TV Week. 8 August 1981, page 29.
[viii] "Tom's Home from the Sea." TV Week. 8 August 1981, page 29.
[ix] Webster, Allan. "She's a Rebel." TV Week. 8 August 1981, page 81.
[x] Webster, Allan. "She's a Rebel." TV Week. 8 August 1981, page 81.
[xi] Fraser, Jill. "Lovers" TV Week. 10 October 1981, page 13.
[xii] Fraser, Jill. "Lovers" TV Week. 10 October 1981, page 13.
[xiii] Fraser, Jill. "Lovers" TV Week. 10 October 1981, page 13.
[xiv] Johnson, Jackie. "Holiday Without the Kids." TV Week. 29 August 1981, page 79.
[xv] Fraser, Jill. "Lovers" TV Week. 10 October 1981, page 13.
[xvi] Bowring, Pat. "Ten Gets Serious About 'Holiday'." The Sun. 30 July 1980, page 6.
[xvii] Johnson, Jackie. "Comeback for Mr Tippett." TV Week. 24 October 1981, page 102-3.
[xviii] Johnson, Jackie. "Comeback for Mr Tippett." TV Week. 24 October 1981, page 102-3.
[xix] "On the Grapevine." TV Week. 12 September 1981, page 33.
[xx] Salter, June. June Salter: A Pinch of Salt. Angus & Robertson: Pymble NSW, 1995, page 153-154.
[xxi] "On the Grapevine." TV Week. 30 May 1981, page 28.
[xxii] Kingsley, Hilary. Soapbox: The Australian Guide to Television Soap Operas. Sun Books, 1989, page 210.
[xxiii] "Your Write." TV Week. 3 October 1981, page 77.
[xxiv] Fraser, Jill and Fred Robertson. "Holiday Shock - Out of the Blue." TV Week. 2 January 1982, page 23.
[xxv] Fraser, Jill and Fred Robertson. "Holiday Shock - Out of the Blue." TV Week. 2 January 1982, page 23.
[xxvi] Webster, Allan. "Olga Joins Cop Shop." TV Week. 16 January 1982, page 11.
[xxvii] Webster, Allan. "Olga Joins Cop Shop." TV Week. 16 January 1982, page 11.
[xxviii] Williams, Gary. "Nick Doesn't Want to be Mr Nice Guy." TV Week. 22 May 1982, page 40.