1000 Episodes of Number 96
Overview of special And They Said it Wouldn't Last, celebrating 1000 episodes of Number 96
In June 1976 a two-hour special was produced to celebrate the 1000th episode of Number 96. Entitled And They Said it Wouldn't Last, the special was presented by former stars of the show from the show's actual sets and remains probably the best overall resource of the series short of screening the actual episodes.
Indeed the special contains much footage from the early black and white period of the show that no longer exists in any other form; after the full changeover of Australian television to colour production and broadcasting by Easter 1975, no one ever dreamed viewers would watch black and white television again, and few of the black and white episodes were saved.
All episodes from the first few weeks - episodes 1 to 15 - remain, and episodes 31 to 35 were also kept. Unfortunately the rest of the 1972 episodes, all of the 1973 episodes, and all but one of the black and white episodes from 1974 - about two thirds of that year's episodes - are lost. Just one black and white 1974 episode, episode 450 from the opening week of that season, survived the purge.
All of the episodes produced in full colour - starting with episode 585 first broadcast in August 1974 through until episode 1218 - remain. It is some consolation that highlight clips from a few of the lost episodes were saved as small clips in And They Said it Wouldn't Last.
In the special Abigail returns to present her early scenes involving her character's attempts to seduce Don Finlayson, who is forced to reveal that he is a homosexual. This is followed by the attempts of Jack Sellars to relieve an uptight Bev of her virginity. Abigail also introduces brief bits on the gang-rape of Rose Godulfus, some explicit sequences of Vera being raped by estranged husband Harry, and of Janie Somers being seduced by a Hollywood producer.
Elisabeth Kirkby and James Elliot return to a redecorated flat 4 (though for most of their time in the series they had resided in flat 8) to run through Lucy's long series of health woes - including blindness and a breast cancer scare - while scenes of her marital upsets with constantly whining husband Alf were also screened.
Johnny Lockwood and Philippa Baker return to chat about the turmoil suffered by their characters Aldo and Roma, including the wedding of Aldo's daughter Rose, their court battle after Roma sold wine and wedding cake from the deli, and Aldo's golf lessons. They also presented a long series of clips depicting the many loves of Arnold Feather, including his assignation with older (and married) woman Marion Carlton (Lorrae Desmond) and with transsexual showgirl Robyn Ross (Carlotta).
Gordon McDougall returns to the wine bar to recount Les Whittaker's many weird and wonderful inventions including a bomb-disposal unit, an exploding ham radio, and a special wine dispensing unit that succeeded only in dispensing its contents all over the flat. Rather ironically, Gordon finished up by presenting the sequence where Les is himself blown-up - the infamous deli bomb-blast. Shame that bomb-disposal idea never came off really.
Bettina Welch presents footage of the major crime mystery storylines; the panty snatcher dubbed the "knicker snipper", and the pantyhose murderer - even though her character Maggie seems not to have been a significant figure in either storyline. This segment is of particular interest with good coverage the knicker snipper plotline, as no episodes from this period exist today. (Unfortunately the unpopular and censored black mass was not covered by the special, and seems lost for all time.) Welch finished up with a great sequence of one of the many infamous bitchy clashes between her character Maggie, and Don Finlayson.
Elaine Lee, who acts as the show's overall presenter, then runs through Vera's long list of failed love affairs, as well as presenting footage of the show's two main recasts - both from the black and white period. We see Abigail turn into Victoria Raymond, and Carmen Duncan turn into Jill Forster. Later sections feature return appearances by cast members to recount the sex scenes and nudity, and then the romance storylines.
The special is great fun. There are lots of great clips with so many of the show's big stars to present them. The sad thing is that by this stage, all these actors - representing a large number of well-remembered favourites from the show - were former cast members. Watching this special one may well wonder what the writers were thinking of when writing the characters out…
The special was initially screened in June 1976 and ended with a campy recap of the show's current cliffhanger situations and a preview of an upcoming Hooded Rapist attack. The special was repeated at the beginning of 1977 with a new ending presented by cast member Dina Mann which recapped the previous year's cliffhangers along with a preview of upcoming episodes (again, presented in a style that makes US soap opera parody Soap resemble a study in restraint and good taste). The special was resurrected years later in November 1994 with a new introduction by Abigail, and with the final episode's curtain call featuring farewell appearances from many of the show's cast, tacked-on as the new ending.
And They Said it Wouldn't Last was included on the July 2006 DVD release of the Number 96 feature film, and the DVD includes all three endings.
Also included on the DVD is Number 96: The Later Years, an excellent new companion-piece documentary which concentrates on the episodes of the series produced subsequent to the special, along with more on series characters such as the MacDonalds that had not been heavily featured given that they were still current series characters in 1976.
This look at the final years is produced by Andrew Mercado, author of invaluable resource book Super Aussie Soaps, and features footage from the later episodes along with enlightening and sincere interviews with cast members Elaine Lee, Sheila Kennelly, Wendy Blacklock and Deborah Gray, along with series creator and writer David Sale.
Meanwhile in 1976 the series itself would still be struggling to recover from the jarring bomb-blast exodus of the previous year, and from the more recent loss of popular favourite Vera (Elaine Lee). By this stage the camp and comic movie fan Dudley Butterfield had now disappeared. Dud was now straight as an arrow - in outward behaviour and in his relationships - here involved with the newly arrived Rhonda Jackson (Justine Saunders), a beautiful Aboriginal hairdresser. Rhonda worked with Dudley and Jaja at the newly opened Continental hairdressing salon, a new locale introduced to spark-up interest in the decidedly tired proceedings, and she lived with Dud and Arnold in flat 6. Though she shared a bed with Dudley it was flatmate Arnold she longed for. Arnold had himself undergone a conversion of sorts; his comic mild-mannered officiousness was toned down and he now seemed merely phlegmatic.
Clearly the writers had reacted to the decline in ratings by de-emphasising the camp, comic notes and concentrating on sexy younger characters and their romantic entanglements. However some traditional elements remained. Dorrie Evans and Mummy and Daddy MacDonald continued their comedy routines, while the Hooded Rapist storyline was a typical Number 96 style crime, if a less interesting one. The perpetrator was clearly a resident of Number 96 and a character in the show, as would be most if not all of the victims. Of course, viewers did not initially know who the rapist was and would, along with the show's characters, attempt to solve the mystery for themselves. Due to the residents' habit of never locking their doors and wandering around the dangerous stairwell on their own, there were plenty of potential victims and no one knew who would be raped next.
To generate publicity for the new salon, Dudley convinces Rhonda to falsely report that she has fallen victim to the Hooded Rapist. Unfortunately the plan backfires; the rapist strikes again and this time Rhonda becomes a real victim.
New characters to join around this time included Reg's sister, Fay Chandler (Lynne Murphy), her unemployed husband Bernard (James Moss) and wayward sons Grant (Michael Howard) and Lee (Stephen McDonald) who worried their parents by neglecting their studies. After briefly boarding with the MacDonalds in flat 5, Fay moved her family into flat 7, recently vacated by Vera. Grant and Lee were initially considered suspects in the Hooded Rapist crime, as was Giovanni from the deli.
The now orphaned teenagers Debbie Chester (Dina Mann) and sister Jane (Suzanne Church) continued in the show. Gary Whittaker (Michael Ferguson), son of Norma and the late Les, was now back in flat 1 and working in the wine bar. Laura Trent (Mary Ann Severne) was a sophisticated solicitor who at this stage lived with Don Finlayson, and the two became good friends. After a brief fling with Lee Chandler she would much later marry Gary Whittaker. Weppo Smith (Roger Ward) romanced Norma Whittaker and in doing so raised Gary's ire, while Lenny Fisher (Terry Peck) was a friendly new winebar waiter who was shy with girls.
'Junior' Winthrop (Curt Jansen) joined the flat 3 comedy threesome of Dorrie, Herb and Flo when he came to Number 96 claiming to be Herb's long-lost son. Isobel Mainwaring (Jill McKay) quickly joined as another new comedy character, a young woman who fell in love with Junior.
Unfortunately the comic entanglements of these characters paled when compared to earlier classic scenes from the show, and seemed somewhat out-of-place alongside the more sober and realistic elements now being introduced. With the cast of the show's classic period now splintered and with long-running comedy favourites Dud and Arnold stripped of the characteristics that had originally made the characters popular, the show definitely lacked the spark it once had had. With the exception of Rhonda, the new characters were comparatively dull, and as the cast were now mainly playing it straight, so were the storylines.
Originally uploaded February 2001
Last updated 23 November 2013