1972-1977 - 1218 thirty minute episodes and a 1974
film - Produced by Cash Harmon Television for Network Ten
Number 96 was the legendary Australian serial set in a Sydney block of flats that combined melodramatic storylines, larger-than-life high-camp characters, large doses of comedy and - most famously - sex.
The series was set in a four storey apartment block at the fictional address of 96 Lindsay Street, in inner suburban Paddington. The building consisted of six flats - two on each level. They sat above a ground floor delicatessen and a chemist shop - each with their own flat.
Storylines examined the lives of the various residents and the shopkeepers. The deli, along with a nearby pub and laundrette, (as well as the busy stair well) provided central locations for the various characters to mix and congregate.
Early on in the series the chemist shop was converted to a wine bar which became the primary meeting place for the show's characters and assorted visitors, and the pub was phased out of the series. Also seen on a regular basis was the Red Baron cocktail bar and restaurant where any special dates and nights out always seemed to occur.
The series had its genesis when Ian Holmes, the then program manager at Channel Ten, decided he wanted a new, Coronation Street style serial for the fledgling channel. The British soap had been successfully screened on Channel Nine during Holmes' time there and channel Ten, which had begun operation only six years earlier, was in a serious financial position and desperately needed a hit. [i]
Holmes specified that the new series be set in a tight-knit community of some sort.
"Sexuality and other previously taboo subjects had been part of the brief. It had to have dramatic impact in breaking new ground, not in violent situations but in sexual situations which we believed were handled fairly puritanically here, as they were in America." [ii]
The Reg Grundy Organisation and independent producers Don Cash and Bill Harmon were each asked to produce a concept. Cash and Harmon employed the services of writer David Sale, who created the premise, the characters, and dreamt up the title. Holmes was suitably impressed with the Cash Harmon treatment, and the rest is history. [iii]
The series was green lit to begin full-time production from 24 January 1972. Reportedly fifty half-hour episodes would be made, and the series would be "strictly for adults" according to producer Don Cash.
"We felt there were enough shows for family viewing. This will be strictly sophisticated, adult entertainment." [iv]
Sadly Don Cash would not live long enough to fully witness the ground-breaking show's impact, dying in 1973. Bill Harmon, the creative force in the team, would continue to produce the show alone.
The black-and-white drama was recorded on videotape, with the production rarely leaving the confines of the studio. A real Sydney apartment block, at 83 Moncur Street in Woollahra, was pictured in the opening titles and end credits sequences of each episode. It was used for location shooting on only rare and isolated occasions.
A newspaper report in 1986 said that just four episodes of the serial were filmed at the Woollahra location. For several occupants of the building the fame the series brought became an annoyance as fans appeared through windows hoping to see their favourite characters inside. Tourist buses would stop at the location up until the early 1980s. [v]
The series premiered in Sydney on the evening of 13 March 1972 with the first three episodes of the serial run together to form a ninety-minute special. The first two episodes made-up a one hour episode for the Melbourne debut the following night. [vi]
The series was produced as five half hour instalments each week and episodes went to air in Sydney each weeknight at 8.30 p.m. In Melbourne, at least initially after its premiere, episodes of Number 96 were screened in one hour blocks on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8.30 p.m. With the program's depictions of sex and nudity, ATV-0 in Melbourne flashed up warnings before each screening warning viewers that Number 96 "is an adult program and the realism at times may shock you." [vii]
Episode one opens with a brief exterior shot of the building with a removal van parked outside as the title appears, and the shrieking voice of a middle-aged woman named Dorrie Evans (Pat McDonald) is heard - something that would become mighty familiar to ongoing viewers of the show. True to form she is saying, of the new arrivals, "No Herb I said no! We'll see them when they have had a chance to settle in!" This would not be the last time viewers would hear Dorrie nagging at Herb!
Quickly introduced are the new arrivals: young couple Helen and Mark Eastwood (played by Briony Behets and Martin Harris) who have moved into flat 4 of the building. Beautiful blond Helen is eight months pregnant and wears a maternity mini-dress. Dorrie Evans and her husband Herb (Ron Shand) quickly drop in and Dorrie launches into a stream of derisive remarks - eyeing the couple up and down in the packing-box strewn apartment she pointedly intones "well you have been busy" - as if a married couple living together was somehow sinful.
Viewers quickly learn that the retired Evans couple are active members of the local Senior Citizens club, and that having lived in the house that previously occupied the site where Number 96 now stands, Herb and Dorrie have simply stayed on. Herb seems kind and friendly, more or less, however the rather strident Dorrie clearly presents herself as an inquisitive and interfering gossip, and as Mark observes to Dorrie "you still regard this whole block as your own."
Herb and Dorrie quickly leave, with Dorrie excusing herself with a pointed "we will leave you to get on with it", and indeed Mark does get on with it. He attempts to seduce Helen on the living room couch provoking her abrupt rebuttal leading to an angry and frustrated outburst from Mark. Living up to its reputation Number 96 featured a controversial sex scene - Mark running his hand up a mini-skirted Helen's bare leg - before the first ever commercial break. In fact censors cut the attempted seduction. In extant copies of the episode viewed today the segment of the shot containing Mark running his hand up Helen's leg and her rejection of him is excised, leaving a jump cut from kisses to cross words.
Next to be introduced are young flatmates Bev Houghton (Abigail), a harbour cruise hostess, and Janie Somers (Robyn Gurney), a struggling actor. Bev is in hotpants and thigh-high boots, with a waistcoat over a see-through blouse. She playfully models for Janie, explaining that this is the costume for her photographic session with neighbour Bruce Taylor (Paul Weingott) who plans to sell the snaps to Mod Photography magazine.
Meanwhile, in the building's ground-floor delicatessen, Dorrie and Herb discuss the new neighbours with deli owner Aldo (Johnny Lockwood). Another customer, fellow Number 96 resident Vera Collins (Elaine Lee), politely, but openly, disapproves of Dorrie's judgemental demeanour. Dorrie is silenced as Helen enters and meets her new neighbours. When Vera leaves Dorrie pointedly says to Helen "I'd keep away from Vera Collins if I were you! She's bad news. Very bad news!"
After the first advertisement break Alf and Lucy Sutcliffe, immigrants from Lancashire, England who live in flat 8, are introduced. Their background is delivered swiftly and immediately: a whining Alf complains about both Lucy's spending and about Australia as a whole. He insists he wants to return to the UK, while she wants to get a job. We learn they have a married son with a young child who live interstate.
Overall the storylines move along very quickly with background information delivered at a rapid rate. This does not seem forced or artificial, being incorporated into introduction conversations with the newly arrived Eastwood couple, or via arguments. As the story moves forward Mark comes to the deli looking for Helen, but finds Aldo's willowy daughter Rose (Vivienne Garrett) serving behind the counter. She seems dazzled by him and impressed by his profession of schoolteacher. Their exchange reveals an instant attraction, the dialogue and action infused with sexual tension. Mark helps out by lifting a heavy crate of produce and Rose is clearly smitten.
Further background exposition is revealed when Vera reads Helen's fortune with playing cards. Vera is perturbed when Helen's cards repeatedly portend doom. Meanwhile Vera quietly admits to Helen that she reads fortunes for money even though it is illegal to earn a living from it, reasoning that "believe me there are worse ways!" Those ways, she explains, involve latching onto men who, after they have had their fun give you the boot. While the show never explicitly states it, an image of prostitution is vividly evoked by this description.
Down in flat 5 Bev is seen modelling for Bruce. As she slips off the vest to reveal the see-through, Bruce's "flatmate" Don Finlayson (Joe Hasham) arrives home in a smart suit and with a briefcase. Don, we learn, is a final year law student and an article clerk.
Upcoming storylines are introduced as Aldo dreams of opening a restaurant while Vera tells Lucy of the laundrette about to open up in the street that will be looking for staff. Lucy is thrilled with the idea of obtaining a job there, triumphantly announcing to Vera that "I'll be able to watch everyone washing their dirty linen, in public!" Finally Cliff Stevens (Vincent Gil), a biker friend of Rose's, pays her a surprise visit in the deli having waited for Aldo to leave. When Cliff sexually assaults Rose in the parlour of flat 2 a heroic Mark answers her calls for help and storms in to the rescue.
Each episode's opening titles and end credit sequences were simple yet effective. Suggestive of a peek into the lives other people, the opening titles sequence is a brief shot of the building exterior as the audio of the previous episode's closing scene is heard. The shot zooms in on the front window of the flat in which that action occurs as the program title appears on screen, before the vision switches to show that scene. The end credits sequence involves similar close-up shots on the building exterior. In this sequence the shot pulls in for a close-up on the front of the deli and then pans from one flat to the other, with the actors credited over the shot of the flat where their character resides.
Ensuing episodes had Vera plagued by hang-up phone calls. Meanwhile Bev had the opposite problem and endured a series of telephone arguments with her apparently wealthy, disapproving and censorious unseen mother. Mark Eastwood caved in to his desires and soon tumbles into bed with a willing Rose Godolfus. His wife Helen walks in on them and storms out of the flat in horror, only to tumble down the stairs and lose her baby.
Helen disappeared for a while and then returned suffering a mental block where she still believed herself pregnant. Vera's phantom caller was revealed as her husband Harry (Norman Yemm) who had walked out on her a year before. He returns and rapes her, after which she unwisely attempts to revive her marriage. This is despite Harry being openly racist, clashing with new Number 96 resident, the African American Chad Farrell (Ronne Arnold), while encouraging neighbour Alf to engage in long drinking sessions much to his wife Lucy's irritation.
Busty Bev and her propensity for wearing sexy hotpants, for going braless, and for posing for Bruce's glamour photographs, attracts the scorn of resident gossip Dorrie, who observes that "All those perverts we keep reading about in the papers, they'd all be coming around to Number 96 peeping in the windows to see Beverly without her clothes on!" Bev presents herself as a wise and experienced girl, warning flatmate Janie, who is desperate for a role in a new play, that the intentions of producer Alex Lederer (Harry Harris) are less than honourable.
While Bev's warnings to Janie are presented in a wise and world-weary manner, she is in fact secretly a virgin nervous about sex. Unfortunately, it is Bev herself who raises Alex's pique. In a violent and feverish scene in her bedroom he throws Bev naked onto her bed angrily screaming that she is a "marvel virgin" and a "whore" who leads men on but does not follow through. He promises that "I'm going to give you something to remember me by" and raises his hand to hit her. Apparently the censors didn't want us to remember it, however, and the vision is censored. As screened today, as Alex raises his hand the shot switches to black while Bev's screams can he heard on the soundtrack. Vision returns briefly on a shot of a crying Bev just in time for the credits to roll.
Early in the storyline the mysterious brother and sister team of Gordon and Sonia Vansard (played by Joe James and Lynn Rainbow) arrived. They set up a chemist shop in the building's vacant ground floor shop front across the hall from the deli, and lived in flat 1 behind their shop. It was soon learned that Gordon was secretly a doctor who had performed abortions, he was estranged from his wife and two sons, and that Sonia was his girlfriend, not his sister.
Sonia was eager to marry Gordon who claimed he was reluctant to divorce his wife, the bitchy Sylvia Vansard (Shirley Cameron), due to her threat to disallow contact with his sons. Later Sylvia triumphantly arrived to visit Sonia and announce that she refused to grant Gordon a divorce (in the days before the "no fault" divorce laws), apparently out of spite for being deserted.
Amongst this turmoil Sonia had fallen in love with new neighbour, the African American teacher Chad Farrell (Ronne Arnold) who was now boarding with Mark and Helen Eastwood. In a series of thoughtfully written and acted storylines Chad experienced much racism during his time at Number 96. Chad remained cheerfully accepting of this, much to Mark's frustration. The storyline featured what is perhaps television's first ever interracial kiss between lovers Chad and Sonia in another taboo breaking scene. Chad would soon leave Number 96 when he moved to the outback to teach Aboriginal children. Mark and Helen Eastwood also left the series after several weeks.
In other developments we learn that a large proportion of Bruce Taylor's rent is being paid by his rapacious boss, magazine editor Maggie Cameron (Bettina Welch). Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Maggie keeps Bruce in flat 5 with the intention of seducing him. What she does not realise is that Bruce is gay, and has secretly brought his boyfriend Don Finlayson to live with him. Don is outraged to learn that Bruce had lied about the amazingly cheap rent: in fact Maggie herself is covering much of the cost so as to have Bruce on tap when she calls in for some intensive work "designing magazine layouts". Likewise she is horrified to learn of Don's existence, initially ordering Bruce to throw him out. Bruce refuses, while skilfully dodging her various attempts to seduce him. Later, when Maggie's husband learns of her affair with Bruce, he throws her out and announces his plans to divorce her.
Bruce abruptly decamps for Adelaide while Maggie moves in to flat 5 - her name is on the lease after all. While a shocked Don fears that he'll soon be out on the street unable to find such affordable accommodation anywhere else, a grinning Maggie allows him to stay. Despite having earlier observed that "Maggie is a bitch of the first order", Don reluctantly agrees to the arrangement.
Maggie quickly settles into her new home, and in sharply written and brilliantly acted scenes she's jubilantly mixing strong Martinis for Don while warning that any of his young gentleman callers will be fair game if he allows them to fall into her clutches, declaring that "when it comes to well-built young men I've got claws like an eagle!" In an earlier clash Bruce had suggested that she should "stop acting like Joan Crawford - it doesn't suit you!" provoking Maggie to quip that "1940s shoulder pads and slaps across the face never did suit me." Yet such an image seems to suit her perfectly, and with the crisp acting the bitchy ripostes and witty repartee one almost expects George Sanders and Bette Davis to swan in from the next room at any minute.
When the series began the producers were unsure of how long it might continue, and original cast member Elisabeth Kirkby recalled that the original cast of regulars was initially offered contracts running just six weeks. [viii] The series debut was publicised as the "night Australian TV lost its virginity" due to its nude glimpses and taboo-breaking storylines exploring such topics as rape-within-marriage, adultery and homosexuality. The show was an instant success, Channel Ten was saved, and a bunch of previously unknown stage actors and comedy and vaudeville performers were suddenly turned into superstars.
Much of the early attention seemed connected to the program's frank depictions of sexual matters. Though the show does not seem prurient or exploitative, the Broadcasting Control Board objected to some elements of the program, and they ordered that several shots be excised from the opening episodes. The show's first episode had gone to air uncensored in Sydney, provoking complaints from Sydney viewers about the sex scenes. [ix]
For all subsequent broadcasts as the episodes were rolled out to other parts of Australia, including Melbourne which would begin broadcasting the series in the days following the Sydney premiere, several shots were missing from episodes. Cuts were made in scenes where Mark runs his hand up his wife's leg, where Mark is shown sitting in bed with Rose, and where a naked Rose is shown topless in bed before pulling the sheet up to her chin. [x]
Of this censorship producer Don Cash told TV Week that the Control Board displayed,
"A lot of nerve. We have not been involved in cutting anything from the series. We produce the series and then it's up to the 0-10 Network to do what it wants. We have to bow to bureaucracy and are quite philosophical about it. There are a lot of wise people protecting the morals of the people and who are we to fight them." [xi]
The same article reported that in the five or so weeks since the series began the 0-10 Network had reported being inundated with telephone calls - about a quarter of which were critical of the series. In two days, the Sydney station had received 200 calls. About a third of these were critical of the series. [xii]
Brian Phillis, one of the main directors on the series, later described the program's use of sex and nudity for TV Week.
"In the early days, with Abigail, we were after titillation. We were constantly pushing out all the barriers and testing the water, seeing how far we could go, how nude we could get. There was a lot of hot air from the Festival of Light people in the early days. They even stood outside Channel Ten in Sydney with placards. But it all died down. I think there's obviously an element who can't wait to be outraged. [...] For the first nine months, it rated somewhere between 35 and 40. It finished with nothing more to show. The law was you could show everything but genitals - but toward the end of the show we even showed that." [xiii]
Brian Phillis could recall only one topic that was banned outright: necrophilia. "But I think at one stage even that was hinted at." [xiv]
Years later cast member Elisabeth Kirkby offered her own opinion on why the series found instant popularity, and in her opinion it wasn't really due to the sex and nudity.
"The show was held together by the fact that the six main characters were all middle-aged, and this gave it an appeal to the older audience. Also I think the older members of the audience immediately recognised somebody they knew in the older characters. They knew a pommie like Alf who couldn't hold a job and was always whingeing and whining about how terrible Australia was and ... they could recognise a Flo and Dorrie as two good friends who spent all their time arguing." [xv]
Creator David Sale wrote the show's first dozen episodes, after which a team of writers took over. He explained his vision for the series to TV Week.
"I feel very protective about the characters and how they should be written. I still go to story conferences and shout a lot. I have often fought to preserve my idea of how a certain character should be presented." [xvi]
After the program had been on air several months Sale offered his opinion on why the show had become so successful.
"I think the program's popularity lies in its realistic approach. The characters and the situations are real and people at home can identify with them." [xvii]
Johnny Whyte was script editor of Number 96. He had previously written scripts for UK programs Emergency Ward Ten and Z-Cars, and had scripted four episodes of UK soap opera Coronation Street in the early 1960s. [xviii]
Whyte described the conditions under which Number 96 was created.
"Right from the start it was a gamble. The whole concept of the series was something so incredibly new that it was an enormous task. The original brief asked for two episodes a week, but early on in pre-production the network asked for the series to be stripped five nights a week, a change that required many changes to the show's production organisation. Finding writers was probably the hardest thing. There are any number of good writers around, but finding writers who could interpret the ideas we had for Number 96 was something of a problem. I, as script editor, came up with the outlines for the various characters and situations for those first episodes and it was up to the writers to interpret them". [xix]
In 1973 writer Eleanor Witcombe described to TV Week her work as a script writer on Number 96. Witcombe was at that time one of a team of six regular writers on the series, all of whom were graduates of sketch comedy series The Mavis Bramston Show. Witcombe herself had spent three years scripting for that series, and said that this experience influenced the style of scripts for Number 96, with each of its scenes being concise, sharp, and each having a punch line. [xx]
Witcombe also explained the writing procedure behind the series. The script editor and synopsis writer plan 25 episodes at a time, and the scriptwriters are assigned five episodes each, with a fortnight to complete them. Scriptwriters received $350 an episode. Witcombe described the script writing process on the show.
"It's hard, high-pressure, round-the-clock work. You go from flat to flat (of the fictional apartment block), advancing the story for each character, ringing the other writers at midnight to check some detail of the part they are preparing. You juggle the characters so that no performer appears in more than three episodes a week. The five episodes - two-and-a-half hours of television - are shot in five working days. There are 15 scenes per episode; no scene can take longer than 20 minutes to block out, rehearse, and tape. It demands the highest standard of professionalism from the entire crew." [xxi]
Witcombe defended the show's sex scenes and nudity to TV Week.
"I don't think sex or nudity is wrong. Are we expected to show people showering with their clothes on? It's a fact of life that people goto bed with each other. We try not to be prurient or offensive, we're conscious of our young audience." [xxii]
Of these youngsters Witcombe commented that "the kids like 96 because, unlike its critics, they understand its secret - it's a comedy." [xxiii]
At the time the series was greenlit in late 1971 producer Don Cash described the nudity clause of some of the female cast member's contracts.
"There has been too much fuss about the nudity clause. We asked some of the actresses to sign contracts saying they would be prepared to strip if the story called for it. But we do not plan to introduce nudity just for nudity's sake. If anything offends people's sense of morality, then I'm sorry. They have the right to switch off and watch something else. All the actresses we have signed understand why we had to do it. The only reason we put in the nudity clause is because we didn't want a situation where we could be up to, say, episode 12, and all of a sudden someone says they don't want to do a nude scene. We would have to respect their wishes, if that happened. By writing in the clause beforehand, we have just done some intelligent advance thinking. Only one was offended by it, and turned the part down." [xxiv]
As episodes went to air several nude scenes attracted viewers complaints, leading the several scenes being censored. One of the problems early on was that the Broadcasting Control Board had not laid down guidelines of what the series could show. Meanwhile Network Ten had instructed the show's producers to "sail as close to the wind as you can". [xxv]
Even a rather innocuous comedy sequence where a young hippie couple disrobe in the laundrette to wash their clothes brought a barrage of complaints. [xxvi] This sequence, which has been repeated several times in televised retrospectives on the serial, featured actor Chard Hayward - later to return in the regular role of Dudley Butterfield - as a chilled out hippie. Model Cathy Jones played his equally languid girlfriend.
In the scene Alf Sutcliffe brings Lucy a lunch of fish and chips to the laundrette. As she tucks in Alf notices two patrons stripping off their clothes and putting them into a washing machine. Alf feigns interest in Lucy's lengthy description of the weird and flamboyant types that frequent the laundrette while furtively enjoying the background stripping display. When the nearly nude hippies front up to Lucy to report a faulty washing machine she rushes to get them covered up, while Alf doesn't seem too concerned at all.
Producer Don Cash defended the laundromat scene, telling TV Week that,
"It was meant to be funny. It had a purpose for being there, to make people laugh. If anyone could be upset with that then there is something wrong - and as far as I'm concerned they can go dig themselves into a big hole." [xxvii]
Indeed the scene itself is funny with the distant disrobing while an oblivious Lucy chatters away and Alf leers. While both hippies strip right down to bikini briefs, except for a brief distant glimpse in wide shot, the topless woman's nipples remain concealed. Her habit of crossing her arms in front of her or standing back to camera ensures that the comic scene never gets too raunchy.
Sometimes the show's nudity was provided by guest artists specifically hired to appear in one or two episodes - and primarily to appear nude. American-born actor Mirren Lee appeared in the series as tough bikie Sharon in just two episodes during the show's first few months on air. Her scenes involved drug use and gang rapes, while her portrayal featured lesbian overtones.
Mirren Lee discussed the requirement that she appear nude in the serial with TV Week.
"If the part requires it then I guess it is okay. I know I haven't got a great body but it doesn't worry me. Marilyn Monroe posed nude early in her career and it didn't hurt her career, so I suppose what I am doing won't hurt mine." [xxviii]
Cathy Jones who stripped in the laundrette was well-known as a glamour model regularly pictured in nude and semi-nude newspaper and magazine layouts. Jones was cast in the brief role specifically for her attractive figure and because the makers of the series knew she would have no qualms about performing in the nude. [xxix]
Producer Don Cash described to TV Week the handling of the nude sequences in the series.
"Whenever I am directing an episode involving a nude scene I always insist on a closed set. The doors to the studio are all locked and there is a guard posted to keep people away. I even go off the set myself and sit in the control room and watch on a monitor. Virtually the only people on the set are the performers and the cameraman and a sound man." [xxx]
Cash went on to reject the criticism that the series was cashing-in on nudity.
"Absolute rot. There is so much rubbish written about this series and if you analyse it there aren't all that many nude scenes anyway. We were asked by the network to produce a soap opera and that's exactly what we are doing. We're treating it realistically and we aren't pulling any punches. We believe that people do make love and we believe that people do get undressed. And if they don't then I am living on the wrong planet." [xxxi]
Actor Chard Hayward who acted with Cathy Jones as the semi-nude hippie explained to TV Week his experiences performing in a nude scene.
"People are always asking how I feel doing a scene like this, with a girl like Cathy who is nearly completely nude. They want to know what on earth it must do to your libido. But it's really not like that. With all the people standing around - cameramen and producers - it's all very clinical, like being examined by a nurse." [xxxii]
The same report noted that actor Norman Yemm, who appeared nude with Elaine Lee in an early episode, had some "psychological barriers" to overcome. It was his first ever nude scene, so he acclimatised himself to the idea by walking around in the privacy of his own home without any clothes. [xxxiii]
The show's most famous sex symbol Abigail also spoke of the requirement to appear nude.
"If I didn't agree then I wouldn't be appearing in the series. It's written into our contracts that we have to do nude scenes if required. But the crew we are working with is wonderful and I am not embarrassed in the least - not that there is much nudity in the series anyway. What little nudity there is has been cut by the Broadcasting Control Board. You can sit there for hours waiting for it and you hardly even see a bare bottom." [xxxiv]
By mid 1974 Abigail had left the series and the show's current blond sex symbol was Josephine Knur who played vivacious and eager-to-please wine bar waitress Lorelei Wilkinson. Of the requirement she sometimes appear nude Knur explained to TV Week that "it doesn't worry me at all, provided it gives me a chance to act and be seen acting." [xxxv]
Prior to taking the Number 96 role Knur had rejected an offer to appear in a decorative semi-nude role in the sex comedy feature film Alvin Purple.
"I was offered a part. A small one where I had to sort of parade around wearing see-through clothes. [...] It wasn't the see-through bit that bothered me, it was just that there was no acting at all. I don't want to get the reputation for being a girl who will take off her clothes for any purpose. It's acting I'm interested in, that's all. I've spent two years doing small pieces and learning, so I'm sure I'm not going to get away from my real ambition for the sake of a bit of notoriety and a few dollars. My only ambition is to become a famous actress, and I mean famous. Now I feel I have the chance. Number 96 is a tremendous show and it will give me the best chance I could ever have of getting established." [xxxvi]
In some cases there were tensions where cast members were directed to enact nude scenes. Actor Bethany Lee came into the series in early 1974 as chaste and studious schoolgirl Penny Snow who squatted in a Number 96 flat. When Bethany Lee was required to appear in a nude shower scene in the series, TV Week reported that it upset her.
"It wasn't the fact that I had to get my gear off that stirred me up. Although I don't feel it's too good for a new actress to be seen in the raw. I don't want to get typecast. It was the fact that I had no warning that I would be required to do the nude scene until I actually arrived on the set. It made me feel like a piece of merchandise." [xxxvii]
As the series progressed there would be scattered instances of censorship of a scene.
"The first few episodes actually included bleeped out pieces and fade out scenes which the board imposed. For a while we had a little man from Melbourne sitting in on production to keep an eye on us. The board imposed article 101 of their regulations, which says that they can view each episode before it goes to air. It happened on two occasions that they imposed the restriction. Once right at the beginning, and then one other time for a 1975 episode. As far as I can recall, Article 101 hadn't been used previously and hasn't been used since." [xxxviii]
In a separate article, TV Week reported other instances of censorship in the show's early years. The black mass scene involving devil worshippers in late 1972 was excised. At around the same time several episodes dealing with prostitution were heavily censored by the Control Board. According to TV Week, after the black mass incident the Board reinstated the previewing of episodes before broadcast, which continued until March 1973. Then, in June 1973, the Board leapt into action again after other risqué scenes were taped. Their report of the incident stated that "In June, two segments showing practices associated with sexual aberrations were, at the board's discretion, deleted from the program, and Channel TEN was informed that the inclusion of similar material would again lead to the previewing of the program by the board." [xxxix]
In July 1973 it was reported that a "sadistic whipping scene" was cut from an episode after it was previewed by the Broadcasting Control Board. The missing scene would have shown a man "sensuously running a knotted whip through his fingers before moving towards a girl lying naked on the bed." The cuts reportedly left the whipping "implicit rather than explicit". [xl]
Cast member Abigail was the show's first breakout star. As the story progressed her character Bev fell in love with her law-student neighbour Don not realising that he was gay, and he was forced to confess all when she attempted to seduce him. Traumatised by Don's revelation Bev locked herself away in her flat, finally prompting a visit from her imperious mother, Point Piper socialite Claire Houghton (Thelma Scott), previously known only via Bev's frequent argumentative telephone conversations with her as overheard by Janie and most visitors to flat 6.
Claire's first visit to Number 96 dominated the episode. Finding Bev's abode locked Claire called in on Dorrie and Herb, hoping to borrow the spare key. With Dorrie sorting through the donated stock for an upcoming jumble sale the flat is an embarrassing mess, and Claire is horrified when Dorrie assumes she is there to donate some old clothes. After the introductions Dorrie is thrilled to finally meet Mrs Houghton. "Oh, Mrs Houghton! You've come all the way down here", gushes Dorrie. "Well it isn't all that far down. Mind you I am speaking geographically", Claire imperiously intones.
Despite her reservations about the apartment block where Bev chooses to live, Claire seems to have no objections to the "Jewish man" she met on the way in. When she learned Bev's turmoil was due to falling in love with a homosexual law clerk, it was only his lowly profession that Claire was concerned with. Now had it been a gay fashion designer or interior designer that would have been a different matter, reasoned Claire. Such a union might well have made a workable marriage.
In their historic first meeting Dorrie had trilled "Oh, Mrs Houghton. It's so nice to finally meet you!" provoking Claire's reply of "'Finally'? Let's hope that's the operative word!" This all went right over an impressed Dorrie's head, and luckily for the viewers of the show it wasn't their final meeting. Claire would continue to make sporadic appearances in each year the series ran, continuing long after Bev's final appearance in the show. On Claire's first meeting with Dorrie she had referred to her as the building's concierge, which a thrilled Dorrie immediately picked-up on, even if she mispronounced it as "conserge". Thereafter, Dorrie's self-proclaimed status as "conserge" of Number 96 became one of the show's most famous jokes.
Bev herself would finally lose her virginity to ladies' man and loveable rogue Jack Sellars (Tom Oliver). Eventually their romance faltered after a furious Jack discovered Bev in bed with her adult brother Rod Houghton (John Benton) and got the wrong idea. A traumatised Bev abruptly left for a trip to the United States. Several weeks later Bev returned to Number 96 married to an American businessman.
Abigail's impact in the series was so great that folklore today suggests that she was not only the first woman to appear topless on Australian TV but that she was one of Number 96's most uncovered stars. However at various times Abigail has played-down her reputation for getting her gear off on camera.
In 1976 she insisted that the closest she ever came to a nude scene in Number 96 was the early sequence from the first episode where she posed for photographer neighbour Bruce Taylor in hot-pants and a see-through blouse. At other times Abigail spoke of her brief side-on flashes of naked breast and bottom in the show, as seen when Alex threw her naked onto her bed in a violent scene depicting a sexual assault on Bev.
Abigail fans had to wait until sex comedy feature film The True Story of Eskimo Nell (1975) to see full nudity from Abigail. Following this she posed nude for Australian Playboy magazine in 1980.
Also sometimes shedding her clothes was Vera Collins (Elaine Lee) who lived alone in flat 7. The warm and sophisticated Vera was devised as "everyone's friend". Unfortunately for her, she was also friend to a long stream of unsuitable men, enduring a series of rather unwise, and ultimately disastrous, romantic entanglements in her quest to find true love.
Several attempts to rekindle her relationship with estranged husband Harry Collins failed, and Vera embarked upon various ill-fated affairs. Her unions with tough mobsters, ruthless businessmen, youthful gigolos, married men, closet homosexuals and other unworthy or untenable types always ended in heartache.
Vera would also be raped twice more as the story continued. Despite her later career as a fashion designer, Vera often seemed to wear poorly constructed apparel. All three of Vera's rape scenes featured her flimsy clothing being torn off to reveal her voluptuous nude form.
Vera initially read tarot cards for a living, but as the story progressed would be seen working as a designer in the clothing fashion industry or even as secretary to Don. Later, in the feature film, it was explicitly stated for the only time that Vera had once worked as a prostitute.
As the series progressed the scheming Maggie Cameron moved out of flat 5 but remained a friend, a business associate, and often a rival of Vera's. However she was openly despised by most of the building's other residents, particularly Don, with whom she had many business and personal clashes.
A ruthless businesswoman who often regretted her bitchiness and devious schemes, Maggie finally secured ownership of Number 96 and thereafter made several attempts to oust the residents, or take over the wine bar that would be established in the building.
The character of Maggie was created with Bettina Welch in mind to play the part after series creator David Sale saw her in the science fiction series Phoenix 5. For her portrayal of the man-hungry schemer, Welch drew inspiration from Anne Bancroft's portrayal of Mrs Robinson in Mike Nichols' 1967 film The Graduate. "She underplayed the part of a nasty grabbing woman beautifully," Welch told TV Week, "I tried to model my characterisation on her a little bit and I think I've been successful." [xli]
Overseeing these activities was Dorrie Evans, a screeching modern-day Mrs Malaprop. Dorrie emerged as the show's most popular character, with her portrayer Pat McDonald winning the Best Actress Logie Award in 1973, 1974 and 1976, and the 1974 Gold Logie for Australia's most popular female television personality. [xlii]
Constantly trying the patience of her hen-pecked but usually cheerful husband Herb, Dorrie immediately became a national joke though her disapproving ways, endless gossip, and her attempts to interfere in the lives of the various residents. Though initially an unsympathetic and rather malicious gossip who seemed to take sadistic glee in the situation of a horrified Helen catching Mark and Rose in bed together, Dorrie Evans was soon converted to a comedy character, someone we could chuckle at rather than despise.
Dorrie's mangling of the language provided many of the laughs. Of her many signature lines, one of the most repeated was "I am quite ardimant about that!" At various points in the story she was heard to describe her "last will and testicles", to advise apparently duped characters to "stop being so knave", to bring an argument to impasse by conceding "we have reached stable mate", or to butt in with "pardon me for protruding". Of conducting an intensive search Dorrie, "or whatever it is she chooses to call herself", declared she would leave "no stone upturned", the genuine article was described as being "bony fido", and while making an inventory of a stock of American Indian artifacts she would note the presence of "scrotum poles". "It was a well-known fact" that all of this was "flying in the face of nature", and enough to drive anybody "beresk".
With Don Finlayson emerging as the hero of the piece all the residents of Number 96 accepted his sexuality without question. While in the opening episodes Dorrie had initially harboured "suspicions" about the relationship between "flatmates" Don and Bruce, the writers soon realised it would be much funnier if chronically confused Dorrie remained completely oblivious to the truth. Just a few weeks into the storyline with Bev discovering that Don was gay she angrily screamed down the stairwell that "Don Finlayson's queer!" When the flat 3 door opens it seems Dorrie had heard this cry, yet in the next episode she is dithering about the racket, muttering that "it was something about Don Finlayson being queer... you know I saw him earlier and he looked perfectly alright to me!"
Through the show's entire run Dorrie never realised that Don was in fact gay, even if everyone else seemed fully aware of - and completely blasé about - the fact. Though Dorrie would remain a gossip, she became a harmless one. She frequently got her facts all wrong, and with her constant malapropisms it was difficult to take her too seriously. Certainly none of the other characters paid much attention to her antics, and ironically, Dorrie often seemed to be the last to know. Appropriately, "Why wasn't I told?!" became perhaps Dorrie's most famous catch phrase, and yet she seemed the only character never to realise why.
Another popular comic character was bumbling Hungarian Jew, Aldo Godolfus, who ran the ground floor delicatessen. Though somewhat a comedy character with some humorous mannerisms and his own comic mangling of the English language, the character was well played by comedy actor Johnny Lockwood, who managed to evoke both humour and pathos with the portrayal. Said his portrayer, "Aldo was originally a Greek character. But I told them, 'I can't do Greek', so he became a Jewish-Hungarian." [xliii] However, despite this switch, no one thought to change the character's supposedly Greek-sounding original name.
The producers had initially asked Lockwood to grow a moustache for the role of Aldo, but he refused so the show's make-up artists added a big bushy fake moustache for taping. Lockwood's wavy hair was also slicked-down for the role. Lockwood's differing appearance away from the show allowed him some degree of anonymity in public; as he told TV Week "I realised that if I had the moustache I would be exactly like Aldo and I would be the target for people the whole time." [xliv]
Overall Johnny Lockwood had nothing but good things to say about the show.
"How can anyone disagree with success? This is one of the most professionally planned series ever to be made in this country. When we launched the whole of the 0-10 Network was behind it. It was sold on sex and sensationalism which made people watch it. That way it got a bigger audience than could have been expected. But of course it had to prove itself. And it did. Eventually it had to show evidence of talent by the performers and good scripts. The producers, Bill Harmon and the late Don Cash, had hand-picked everyone for the series and they were the right people for the roles. The initial ballyhoo got people watching and because the product was a good one they bought it." [xlv]
Aldo faced much turmoil as daughter Rose had an affair with her married upstairs neighbour. She then fell in with the wrong crowd and smoked marijuana before being raped, prompting him to wish they were back in the old country. Concerning Rose's drug use, Johnny Whyte reports that "The [Broadcasting] Control Board was very strict with that scene and we weren't allowed to show Rose enjoying the smoke. It had to have her being forced to smoke it and being sick." [xlvi]
They were not the only ones concerned with Rose's activities. Her portrayer Vivienne Garrett sometimes objected to playing in salacious scenes, especially to the implication that Rose might have actually enjoyed being raped, and after five months she broke her contract to leave the series. [xlvii]
In the story Rose was married off to nice Jewish doctor Julian Myers (Lew Luton) and left Number 96. Meanwhile Aldo concentrated on his romance with restaurant owner Roma Lubinski (Philippa Baker). Aldo and Roma eventually married to run the deli and to experience endless confusion in their attempts to incorporate English-language phrases and metaphors into their daily conversation, emerging as long running comic favourites.
When Philippa Baker was originally approached to play Roma she thought it was a joke, but after one audition she had the part. [xlviii] In a 1973 interview Baker admitted to TV Week that her accent in the role had sprung from somewhere within her imagination.
"Bill Harmon asked me if I could do a Jewish accent - and of course I had no earthly idea. 'Is there such a thing as a Jewish accent?' I asked him. There are a lot of Jews in a lot of countries. 'Oh, we want you to be a Russian Jew' he told me. A Russian Jew! What was I to do? I know it's far from the real thing and I feel there must be a lot of Russian people around Australia who are highly insulted. I think the accent I have adopted is a bit like Zsa Zsa Gabor." [xlix]
Alf and Lucy Sutcliffe also emerged as key characters in the program's on-going storylines. The bright and down-to-earth Lucy had Alf's constant whining and his late night drinking binges to contend with, along with a long series of dramatic health concerns, though confiding in close friend Vera Collins brought her some consolation. Lucy endured a dangerous eye operation with a cliff hanger unbandaging that implied she had gone blind (it was later revealed she was only temporarily blinded by the surgery), a breast cancer scare, and a troubled unplanned pregnancy to deal with.
Indeed the Friday night episode leading up to Monday's revelation that Lucy's tumour was benign proved to be Number 96's highest rated episode to that time. Though known for his self centred whining and staggering home drunk, the sometimes insensitive Alf would always come through when the chips were down. Through her job working in the laundrette, one of the meeting places for the show's characters, Lucy was always up to date with the comings and goings of Number 96 and was sometimes a recipient of gossip and rumour, even if Lucy herself never put much stock in such malicious banter.
The series presented a seamless mix of comedy and drama, yet within this scheme the Sutcliffes seemed to occupy a special place. While the comedy characters would sometimes drift into a dramatic storyline, they usually stayed in comedy mode. Likewise when characters such as Vera or Don were dragged into a comic moment they usually played it straight and sustained an air of bemused detachment. However while superficially the Sutcliffes seemed like comedy characters with their stereotypical thick Northern English accent and dialect, their banter and their minor squabbles, a large number of their storylines were serious and dramatic. The sometimes comic pair would seamlessly switch into straight dramatic mode, and present a compelling dramatic piece.
Despite the show's reputation for saucy sex scenes, high camp dramatics and broad comedy, the show's early episodes were largely played straight with their emphasis on basic drama, relationship storylines, and character studies. Though tied to its same set of interiors and with lengthy, wordy scenes, the dialogue was sharp and stories moved quickly. The scenes were well acted giving episodes the feel of a television play.
Though many of the topics explored in the storylines might have been considered sensational in themselves, they were not presented in a prurient or leering manner. The series brought such rarely discussed subjects as rape, infidelity, divorce, racism, intolerance, drug use and homosexuality into many homes for the very first time.
Actor Elisabeth Kirkby observed that the travails of her character Lucy served to both entertain and to educate the show's audience.
"In a subtle way we emphasised the importance of a woman going to her family doctor for a check-up if she detects and abnormalities in her breasts. Many women are scared of having cancer check-ups and I hope that seeing Lucy's reaction gave them a little encouragement and understanding. People at home can identify with the characters in Number 96, and therefore they are more likely to learn from watching the program than from, say, watching a medical documentary on the same subject." [l]
Kirkby went on to praise other elements of the show.
"When the homosexuality theme was introduced, it was done in such a way that the audience couldn't possibly dislike the characters. It simply made some people aware that homosexuals aren't lepers - but ordinary people. The same applies for situations such as the one where Rose became involved in drug taking. Parents must realise how easy it is for their children to get involved in drugs. Surely this must make them more conscious of the problem and more tolerant and more understanding of their kids." [li]
However Kirkby saw the show as more than just educational. "It really is such good entertainment, something is happening every second. And the ratings prove that people watch it." [lii] In a similar vein, Johnny Whyte observed that while the rape of Vera by her estranged husband Harry provoked a huge public outcry, that it "helped awaken the consciousness of people about rape within marriage." [liii]
Overall Whyte noted while the series was initially motivated to showcase previously taboo topics as part of its drive to achieve high ratings, that the explorations of these subjects "helped to bring these subjects into open discussion within the home." [liv] Notable was the show's inclusion of a gay character, an Australian TV drama first in 1972. The character of Don was presented as a normal person in a normal job, who just happened to be gay. Whyte observed that it was Don's overall normalcy that seemed to shock viewers the most.
"Homosexuals had always been presented before in overseas shows as figures of fun. Now here was one being presented sensitively as a person with a normal lifestyle. Gradually as the months wore on you could sense the acceptance by the audience as they identified with Don and his problems. I like to think that Joe Hasham's portrayal of Don Finlayson has led to a greater understanding and indeed acceptance of homosexuality in Australia." [lv]
While most soap operas of the 2000s have included a gay character at some point, frequently they are a briefly glimpsed character who does a "gay" storyline and disappears. But Don was a key original character who lasted through the program's entire run, was involved in the gamut of storylines, and had many gay relationships across the series. In many respects, as the series drifted into comedy and new characters were developed as comedy caricatures, dependable Don became the show's sanest character. It was Don who regularly stepped in to take charge of a chaotic situation, and to help out the other characters.
Despite Pat McDonald winning more awards than anyone else, there were safe guards built into the production organisation of Number 96 that were designed to prevent any one performer becoming the show's star. All actors received equal billing, with the billing order decreed by where in the flats their character lived: actor's names appeared on screen over each flat as the camera panned from one to the other in the end credits sequence. The standard contract for regular, on going cast members was for just three months. In addition to this all actor contracts had a ten week notice clause: if a character was not working out then the character would be dropped. Each actor received the same salary, and no one actor would ever appear in more than three of the five episodes broadcast over a week. These safe guards were in place to prevent jealousies and bickering over billing and pay rates, and to discourage a star system from developing. [lvi]
With the 2008 release of Number 96's 1974 Pantyhose Murderer storyline on DVD, Elaine Lee described working conditions on the show to the Brisbane Times.
"We had to learn our lines over the weekend... the work was constant and very tough. We shot five episodes a week. We were all paid $500 a week... had we done this in the states we would all be multi-millionaires today. But I wouldn't have missed it for anything." [lvii]
At the time of acting in the serial, regular actor Tom Oliver had described to TV Week the fast turnaround on the show and the relative insecurity of the job.
"In Number 96 you never really know when your run is likely to finish. They like to add new characters all the time, and nobody knows who will go next. When we make the show we are only two weeks ahead of the audience - and we have scripts for two weeks in advance. That only makes us one month ahead in knowledge of what's going to happen. We get more notice than that, of course, but it's always around the corner." [lviii]
In early 1975 Bill Harmon described the process of adding new characters to the ensemble. "The public and the ratings will tell me whether we keep using them," he told TV Week. Harmon also admitted that it is a "traumatic experience all round" when he has to evoke the ten-week notice clause because a character is not working out. [lix]
"We work here as one big family and that's part of the reason for the success of the show. When Johnny Whyte or I have to tell someone that they will have to leave because the character has been written out it is a fearful business. It's like kicking one of your kids out so they can make a life of their own. I can tell you that there have been more than a few tears over the years." [lx]
Within months of its launch the series was a clear success. As the series progressed the emphasis on comedy would be increased and there would be less emphasis on sex, nudity, and other outwardly shocking elements.
Indeed as early as July 1972 The Age newspaper columnist John Pinkney ran a lengthy piece describing the shift in emphasis from nudity to engaging characters. While Pinkney had earlier predicted such an evolution for the series, he admitted that "the paring away of the prurience, however, has occurred sooner than any lecher expected." Pinkney opined that such a move makes the production "more believable". While there is still the occasional nude glimpse, "the chief interest now lies in the characters - whose roles are increasingly well-written and played." These figures, for Pinkney, "command belief, invite involvement. The serial, in short, now has less bare body - but more form." [lxi]
The second half of the first year saw the introduction of key characters who would quickly emerge as firm favourites.
Moving to flat 5 was bubbly Norma Whittaker (Sheila Kennelly), the barmaid from the local pub, and her a lovable and accident prone amateur inventor husband Les (Gordon McDougall), who worked as an orderly at the local hospital. Their adult son Gary (Mike Ferguson) briefly returned to stay with them after their arrival at Number 96. However Gary and his marital troubles were soon out and Les and Norma would concentrate on comedy storylines.
Norma, who called everyone "Ducky", wore a blond wig when working behind the bar. This was a costume choice requested by her portrayer, the dark-haired Sheila Kennelly. Kennelly initially took the Number 96 role partly for the regular income, and not wanting to jeopardise a potential serious acting career, opted to disguise her appearance in the raunchy series. Nevertheless, as the role continued, Norma would frequently be seen at home sans wig. English-born Kennelly affected an Australian accent leaning towards broad for her portrayal of Norma, and could regularly be heard exclaiming "gawd, strewth!" in exasperation at Les's infuriating antics.
Indeed Les always had a get-rich-quick scheme up his sleeve, always had a home grown solution to people's various troubles, and was an avid proponent of various self help manuals. Les's never ending library of manuals included the Be Your Own... series (which included Be Your Own Acupuncturist, Be Your Own Caterer, Be Your Own Nanny), and the 1001 and 1 [insert subject] series. Even more annoying was his obsession with sleuthing. Local crimes and mysteries frequently had Les conducting eccentric investigations which sometimes amounted to interfering with police enquiries.
Later, when the chemist shop was converted to a wine bar by Jack Sellars, Norma was installed as manager and she and Les moved in to flat 1 behind the bar. The friendly and cosy wine bar with its lively hosts would quickly emerge as the primary meeting place for the show's characters. Norma and Dorrie sustained an on-going feud while Les's constant failed schemes and inventions - which often involved assistance from Alf and Herb - provided many comedy moments.
Sheila Kennelly later described the formation of the character for Scene,
"I didn't know we were going to be regulars. It just went on and on. It was weird, a whole new world. The fans became friends. They were so sweet. People write in and ask for the patterns of the dresses I've worn, so I draw little sketches for them. And teenagers write asking for advice because they're having trouble with their boyfriends. They see Norma as a mother figure - and there is a lot owing to the writers, the way they've developed her as a sympathetic figure." [lxii]
Next Arnold Feather (Jeff Kevin) arrived from catering school to work in the wine bar. Just 18 and an orphan, Arnold soon switched to working in the deli where he initially clashed with Aldo in his attempts to reorganise the business. He also emerged as an unlikely sex symbol in the story, warding off advances from several eager young women. Arnold was a mild mannered, meek but officious gentleman fond of peppering his sentences with pet phrases "If I may be so bold" and "in point of actual fact". He became somewhat a son figure both to Aldo and Roma Godolfus, his business partners in the deli business, and the Sutcliffes, with whom he boarded for a significant time.
Jeff Kevin had in point of actual fact been initially signed to appear in just nine episodes. [lxiii] A big success in the show, he would continue in the series right through to its final episode. Like the Sutcliffes the character of Arnold superficially resembled a comedy caricature, yet was a well-drawn character successfully deployed in a range of straight drama storylines along with the comedy vignettes. The expert acting of Jeff Kevin in the role provided for many a poignant moment as Arnold's saga played out.
The second half of the 1972 season featured two infamous, head-line grabbing storylines. First there was the black mass conducted by devil worshippers, followed by the panty snatcher dubbed the "knicker snipper".
The controversial Black Mass storyline occurred mid 1972. In the story Bev's new flatmate Karen Winters (Toni Lamond) arrives and shows an interest in the fortune telling exploits of Vera Collins. When Vera wants to give up smoking, Karen suggests that Vera visit hypnotherapist Vernon Saville (Alistair Duncan) to undergo hypnotherapy to help her quit.
Meanwhile, Karen discovers that Bev is a virgin, and is soon suggesting hypnotism to help her cure her fear of sex. It is revealed that Vernon Saville is actually a devil worshipper who begins to control Vera through hypnosis. Karen meanwhile has procured Bev as the virgin needed for a ceremony where they plan to summon up the devil himself, and Bev too falls victim to his hypnotherapy. Vera is put into a trance to be used as the medium in the ritual, while a naked Bev will be the sacrificial virgin.
The black mass scene involved Bev laying on a velvet altar and naked under a silk sheet as a team of robed extras writhed to jungle rhythms. Poised above her was a sword wielded by De Como, the high priest of the mass played by Peter Reynolds. Looking on is Vernon Saville, while Karen flutters around in the background muttering incantations. As the mass gets underway Vera's clothes were stripped away to reveal her naked body before she was dressed in a billowing robe for the ceremony. [lxiv]
The sequence was shot on a Friday the 13th and Vera's portrayer Elaine Lee admitted that she approached the scene with trepidation.
"I am tremendously worried about this particular scene. As Vera Collins I play a mystic and I really identify with the character. I couldn't play Vera if I weren't like her. I have brought all sorts of lucky charms with me today - just to keep me calm. I don't believe in black magic but I do definitely believe in the supernatural." [lxv]
Also worried was guest artist Toni Lamond who explained her concerns to TV Week,
"I am genuinely worried about the filming because I have strong feelings about dabbling in things we don't understand. In one scene I had to recite the Lord's Prayer backwards, which upset me very much." [lxvi]
Lamond sought counsel from a clairvoyant friend who advised that as long as Lamond was merely reciting the words but not feeling any actual malevolence things should be fine, so she played the scenes, but with some reservations,
"But I still find the whole thing very unsettling. I will be very glad when it's all over." [lxvii]
Abigail gave her own account of participation in the sequence to TV Week.
"I don't personally worry about these things as a rule although I was upset at rehearsal when Peter Reynolds was holding that dagger over me. The dagger is very heavy and sharp - and we were all laughing a bit while rehearsing. If he had dropped it I would have been in trouble." [lxviii]
According to the show's associate producer Ted Jobbins the actors were not overly disturbed by the scenes.
"I think most of them are amused rather than worried about the scene. As far as the cast is concerned it's just another job. It is all being treated very light-heartedly, even if it is Friday the 13th". [lxix]
The black mass ceremony included Elaine Lee's second nude appearance in the series after Vera's rape scene in the show's opening installment. [lxx] With the scene requiring her to be stripped naked, Lee explained that "I prefer it if the set is closed when I have to do a nude scene, as I get very embarrassed." Indeed onlookers and non-essential personnel were ordered out of the studio during the taping of the nude sequences. [lxxi]
Nevertheless in the Channel 10 boardroom a team of specially-invited members of the press enjoyed a bird's-eye view of proceedings through the transmitting monitor. For nearly an hour Abigail, who had worn a flesh-coloured bikini for rehearsals, lay naked on the altar while the scene was being shot and re-shot. Overall Elaine Lee admitted that "I'm not really looking forward to doing the scene, but I feel it is essential to the plot of Number 96. I wouldn't do it otherwise." [lxxii]
Unfortunately, the Broadcasting Control Board felt that the black mass sequence - essential or not - should not be seen, and ordered it to be cut from the episode. Channel Ten hadn't shown the footage to the Broadcasting Control Board and the first the board knew of it was when the black mass episode was broadcast in Sydney. Earlier in the year the board had exercised one of their rarely evoked powers and been previewing all episodes of Number 96 prior to broadcast. This had continued for the show's first five or so weeks, and had long been discontinued by the time the devil worshippers showed up. But after the black mass went to air in Sydney the board leapt into action and quickly acted to ban the segment. The board evoked the regulation against televising displays connected to the occult, and the scene was cut before it went to air anywhere outside Sydney. [lxxiii]
Perhaps this censorship was for the best, because, according TV Week columnist Jerry Fetherston the sequence was ridiculous, its displays of hypnotism inane. For Fetherston such outrageous displays stray too far into the realms of fantasy for a series purportedly about everyday people, and threaten to stretch credulity to breaking point, potentially eroding the show's popularity. [lxxiv]
Johnny Whyte himself later regretted the storyline. "I was disappointed that it didn't work," he said, noting that audiences apparently "didn't want to see black magic on television. It was a big turn off." [lxxv]
It had been series creator David Sale himself who initially suggested the storyline in a story conference. Sale attempted to reconcile the witchcraft angle with his concept of the show as having a "realistic approach" by emphasising the moral behind the devil worshipper storyline. "When the public see the black mass ritual," Sale told TV Week, "I hope they are horrified enough to be completely turned off ever getting involved in that sort of thing." [lxxvi]
Next came the serial panty snatcher who was dubbed the "knicker snipper" in the show's publicity. This was an unidentified intruder who crept into the women's unattended bedrooms, snipping holes in their panties and bras. The victim would later return home to find her underwear drawer ransacked. The storyline was presented as a mystery whodunit that kept the residents of Number 96 (and the viewers) guessing for weeks.
In late 1972 the culprit was eventually discovered by Herb and Dorrie's niece, the plucky Georgina Carter (Sussannah Piggot). Young Georgina had already encountered the knicker snipper during her stint staying with Herb and Dorrie in flat 3. During a provocative (and hilarious) undressing sequence the knicker snipper's hand had emerged from under her bed to reach out and grab Georgina's freshly discarded panties. When he came back for more she wasn't about to lose another pair of undies. Georgina quickly calls a passing Jack Sellars in to help, and the criminal is apprehended.
The culprit turned out to be Alan Cotterell (Mark Hashfield), who had entered the storyline as Janie's boyfriend. To keep the guessing viewers off the scent the cunning writers had earlier shown Alan organising a vigilante group to capture the knicker snipper.
It was later reported that during this storyline, three Returned and Services League clubs, noticing a downturn in attendances, disclosed the name of the attacker before it was known publicly. In fact, the scriptwriters didn't even know who the "knicker snipper" was at that stage. Johnny Whyte recalled, "we had no idea who it was. We had implied it was someone in the block of flats, but we were halfway through the story before we sat down and decided who it would be." Knowing that the series could not lose either of its two male sex symbols, Tom Oliver and Joe Hasham, they had little option but to designate the character of Alan Cotterell as the culprit. [lxxvii]
In 1972 the character of Janie also left Number 96. It was reported that her portrayer Robyn Gurney had decided the leave the series to avoid being typecast. [lxxviii]
The core cast that had steadily developed over the show's first year became cult figures. When they travelled by train to the Logie television awards ceremony in Melbourne the fans that greeted them at Spencer Street Station seemed to rival the Melbourne crowds for The Beatles. These whistle stop train journeys became major publicity for the show for the first few years of its run. Much of the regular cast would travel together, greeting hordes of fans at every stop, even if the actors themselves never received any extra pay for this weekend work. [lxxix]
By 1977, perhaps as a convenient way to articulate the program's sudden fall from grace, The Sun newspaper columnist Ralph Broom noted with some regret that despite previous years seeing bus loads of the cast in attendance and their presence being commercially exploited, that by 1977 just four members of the Number 96 cast were at the Logies. To add insult to injury they were seated behind scaffolding, and virtually out of camera range. [lxxx]
As Number 96 rose to the top of the ratings in 1973 various behind the scenes dramas were reported in the press. Actor Pat McDonald and her former co-star Sussannah Piggot who had just finished a three month stint playing Georgina, the niece of McDonald's character Dorrie, both incurred the wrath of the show's producers after appearing in television advertisements where they reprised their Number 96 characters. [lxxxi]
Bill Harmon said that actors were allowed to appear in commercials,
"so long as they don't appear as their 96 characters. If they appear as their 96 characters they take away some of the believability of the series and characters. In fact, what they are doing is stealing the characters and if anyone does it in future they will find themselves up against a lawsuit." [lxxxii]
It was for much the same reason that actors could not appear in any advertisements whatsoever that were screened in breaks within Number 96. [lxxxiii]
McDonald did not think the producers would object to her commercial, which was for a new brand of bread, as her costume in the commercial was not one of Dorrie's, and she wore a different hairstyle. Harmon told TV Week that "When she found out we were concerned about the commercial she was terribly embarrassed." Piggott, whose advertisement featured her discussing her "Auntie D" and a popular brand of vacuum cleaner, admitted that she was "heartily sorry" and said that "at the time I had finished working in Number 96 and I couldn't see any harm in it. But later I realised that perhaps I had done wrong." [lxxxiv]
The commercials were quickly withdrawn from Sydney's Channel Ten, where the series was produced, and assurances sought that they would be withdrawn entirely. At the Channel Ten studios an official notice quickly went up advising all actors that such portrayals were banned. [lxxxv]
There was further turmoil when actors Tom Oliver and Lynn Rainbow complained to producers about proposed use of their likenesses on the cover of a book about Number 96 without payment. [lxxxvi] Meanwhile original cast member Joe James spoke out when, to his surprise, he was abruptly written out of the series at the end of the first year. Joe James explained his reaction to TV Week.
"I was hurt and upset by the decision. I really enjoyed working on the show, in fact it was one of the most pleasant jobs I have ever had. All the people involved in Number 96 are great and it makes me sad to think I won't be rejoining them in the new year." [lxxxvii]
No specific reason was given for the character's demise except that the writers felt they had exhausted all the drama associated with the character. "They like to keep a constant flow of dramatic situations going with the regular cast members - and I suppose Gordon had his fair share of high drama," James concluded. [lxxxviii]
Indeed Gordon Vansard had endured a troubled relationship with Sonia before being embroiled in a murder mystery plotline after his estranged wife Sylvia was killed, and then starting an affair with Yvonne Marette (Sophie Vaillant). For his exit Gordon was killed in a horror road accident with his mistress Yvonne while Sonia promptly departed the series, though she would return to play a major role in the 1974 feature film version of the serial.
With his character killed off Joe James would make no such returns to the story. However he at least could take consolation in the honour of being the one and only fellow Number 96 cast member that co-star Joe Hasham invited to his wedding during the filming break in December 1972. [lxxxix]
The show's earliest standout star, Abigail, was involved in almost as much turmoil off the set. In March 1973 TV Week reported that the producers planned to drop her from the series as the writers had exhausted her character's storyline potential, a decision that provoked a storm of viewer protests. The TV Week report stated that there was more to the move that mere lack of story ideas, noting that Abigail was one of the program's most temperamental actors. She frequently showed up late for work, and indeed had been 20 minutes late for rehearsals the day after her departure from the show was announced. The magazine reported that Abigail was emotional and moody, had had minor clashes with the other actors, members of the crew and the producers, and had had at least one shouting match with an associate producer who had tried to hurry her along for a taping. [xc]
The final straw came with the special cast train journey to Melbourne for the Logies in March 1973. Abigail asked that manager/boyfriend Mark Hashfield be allowed to accompany her on the train so he could act as her body guard, protecting her from the hordes of fans who it was expected would meet the train. With the entire regular cast aboard and the limited accommodation on the train and at the Logies, the producers decided that partners would not be allowed, and no exception was made for Abigail. Her demands over the matter angered producers to the extent that they almost revoked her invitation to the Logies altogether, but they relented and decided Abigail should travel on the train with the cast but without Hashfield. However 15 minutes before the train was due to leave Sydney the message came through that Abigail would not be aboard because her "dress was not ready". [xci]
In the event Abigail was the only regular cast member not aboard the train, and her absence greatly disappointed a segment of the huge crowds that had come out to greet the travelling actors. Some fans were reportedly chanting "We want Bev!" But with Abigail missing the fans left the station feeling disgruntled, while network executives seethed. [xcii]
Meanwhile rumours about the turmoil abounded. Manager Mark Hashfield refuted claims that her departure was merely a publicity stunt and that Abigail would only be taking a short break before returning to the series. He told TV Week that he had received written notification from the show's producers that Abigail's contract had been terminated and that she would be leaving the series on 20 April 1973. Due to the stockpile of pre-taped episodes, her last episodes would go to air three weeks after that. [xciii]
With Abigail's departure from the show her character Bev was written out by leaving for an extended overseas trip. Meanwhile new character Jill Sheridan (Candy Raymond) would steam up the show in a series of risqué storylines as Bev Houghton stepped aside. In the story Jill, and her older sister Helen Sheridan (Carmen Duncan), move to Number 96 from the country.
Candy Raymond, a thoughtful and politically-minded graduate of the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Arts, mixed intelligence and sex-appeal. She was described by producer Bill Harmon as "a luscious brunette who's going to do things for a lot of people," while in her own comments to the press she denounced her status a sex symbol. Raymond claimed that she partly accepted the role to assist a friend who was writing a university thesis on communications media in Australia, and the particular effect Number 96 was having on Australians. Working on the show, she said, would give her an insight to the series and the media in general, from the inside. [xciv]
Other reports presented Candy Raymond as an outspoken supporter of various social issues who had even organised a Number 96 cast protest against French nuclear tests. [xcv] Much like cast member Vivienne Garrett before her, Raymond played a sexy girl thrown into a series of storylines involving love scenes and nudity, while her apparent rejection of her sex-symbol status and comments supporting "Women's Lib" only served to enhance her - and her character's - image as a complex and rebellious bad girl.
Candy Raymond observed that the sex symbol mantle was being passed from Abigail to herself.
"There might be some animosity to me by Abigail's fans. I hope that's not the case because I am not, in fact, replacing another actress. I am playing an entirely different character, although they are both sexy ladies. In a way, it's good not to have to be a pioneer of that image. Abigail has done it all and she has done it well." [xcvi]
Abigail returned to the series as Bev in an episode that first went to air in Sydney on 13 June 1973. In the story Bev returned from the US with a new husband. Then on 22 June 1973, just seven episodes later, Abigail was gone and the role of Bev was taken over by new actor Victoria Raymond. In reality, shortly after resuming work on the serial Abigail had abruptly been fired, for "breach of contract." [xcvii] She later claimed she had resigned from the show earlier that same day. [xcviii]
In 1976 Abigail admitted to Scene that "they sacked me. They said I was temperamental, but I'm not. Only a small down-trodden pussycat." [xcix] In 2004 Andrew Mercado revealed in his book Super Aussie Soaps that Abigail had been fired from her role after a series of photographs of her in some compromising situations entered circulation. [c]
The decision to recast Abigail's character couldn't have been made lightly - night time Australian soap opera was still in its infancy and such a ploy had not been tried before. Moreover the original actor had been the show's most popular and famous player. Nevertheless with Bev's popularity and storyline entanglements she couldn't just disappear, so the producers opted to slip new actor Victoria Raymond into Bev's boots.
Bev's new portrayer was the older sister of Candy Raymond who had proved a big success in her role as the wicked Jill Sheridan. Victoria Raymond had in fact been one of the actors who auditioned for the role of Jill a few months earlier. At that time Candy Raymond, a slinky brunette, had rather perceptively told TV Week that "Vicki is blond and blue-eyed and has a busty appearance and seemed just right for the series. But she would have been a repeat of Abigail so this time I got the part." [ci]
With Abigail's departure Victoria was an ideal cast addition, and she was cast as Bev on the basis of that earlier audition. [cii] As Victoria said "Candy and I auditioned for the role of Jill Sheridan last February and Candy got it because I looked too much like Abigail. Now I'm in the series for the same reason." [ciii]
The replaced Abigail meanwhile stated that "I shouldn't imagine that viewers would accept my replacement in the role of Bev Houghton." She apparently believed a physical resemblance was required for such a recast to be successful, explaining that "my similarity to Vicki Raymond is not very great and I think viewers connect me very closely with Bev. I may be wrong, but I don't think they will accept it." [civ]
Luckily for the show, viewers did seem to accept the switch. A few weeks after Victoria's first appearance in the show a network spokesman said that "In fact we have had very few people writing in or phoning about the change-over. Those that have seem to have done so merely to congratulate Vicki." [cv]
For Victoria's first episodes in the series the director reportedly chose to keep the new Bev in a wide shot. All viewers would see was a shapely long haired blonde in the background while the new facial features would be more difficult to make out. In the event Victoria ultimately worked out in the role and came to be regarded as a popular actor and sex symbol in her own right. [cvi] The transformation was a success and three months later there would be another recast when a pregnant Carmen Duncan left the series, with Jill Forster stepping into the role of Helen Sheridan.
Helen was at the time embroiled in a troubled romance with Jack Sellars and had the rather extreme problems of her promiscuous younger sister Jill to contend with. Indeed Jill had affairs with Arnold Feather, Harry Collins and a priest, became pregnant, finally gave birth, then smothered the baby. After a stint in a mental hospital Jill became a nun. By this stage, Number 96 had become Australia's highest rating program.
During 1973 the character of Flo Patterson (Bunney Brooke) was added to the serial. Brooke auditioned for and won the role of Flo after the producers had tested several actors for the part of a character to act as a foil to Dorrie Evans. [cvii]
Flo was introduced as a sometimes bitchy character who, according to her portrayer, "makes waves for the sake of making them." In her first scene where Flo arrives to confront Dorrie in the laundrette, Brooke said she felt her acting "came on too strong" where she was to verbally attack Dorrie. Later she came to realise she should play Flo as a listener instead of trying to meet the verbose Dorrie on her own ground. [cviii]
Softened into a more loveable figure, wisecracking Flo quickly became a highly popular character in the series, and was soon moved into Number 96 permanently. Escaping a fire that destroyed her residence in nearby Paradise Street, a rather sooty Flo arrived to live with Herb and Dorrie. The only possession she was able to save was her caged budgerigar Mr Perky, and the pet was moved in to flat 3 as well.
As a fixture of flat 3, Flo emerged as a crusty supporter for henpecked Herb and a perfect foil for the fussing and swooning of Dorrie, with whom she often playfully quarrelled. Though of the show's cast it was the enormously popular Pat McDonald (Dorrie) who won most of the Logie Awards (winning the award for Best Actress in 1973, 1974, and again in 1976) the year she didn't win, 1975, it was Bunney Brooke who took home the award.
On winning her Logie, Bunney Brooke discussed the formation of the character and Flo's popularity with TV Week.
"The character has developed a lot since I first took it. Originally Flo was envisioned as an interfering busy body type of person - not really very likeable - but she has developed into something different since then." [cix]
Brooke also reported that she received loads of fan mail.
"A lot of it is rather sad. I get a lot from people who are obviously very like Flo. They are really lonely people - which is exactly what Flo is under it all - but like her they tend to play down their loneliness and their personal problems and retain the attitude that something better is around the corner." [cx]
Brooke also explained that Flo didn't really have all that much dialogue, allowing her to use a range of subtle nuances and expressions to get the character across. This, she said, helped make the character so interesting. Brooke took particular pride in her scene from late 1974 where Flo was jilted at the altar.
"That was only a 50 second scene, but with those 50 seconds I had to get across the heartbreak that Flo was going through and it was done almost wholly without a word being spoken." [cxi]
The portrayers of Dorrie and Flo, Pat McDonald and Bunney Brooke, lived together in a Paddington terrace house at the time of Brooke's debut on the show. In 1973 TV Week had reported that the two divorcees had been close friends for four years; as Brooke said "we have shared a deep friendship for a long time." [cxii]
Later TV Week reports on the duo charted their subsequent domestic arrangements. In April 1973 they had moved to a big old house in Warrawee in Sydney's expensive North Shore area. The move was partly prompted by the loss of privacy at the Paddington location after a number of fans discovered their address. Brooke explained that "we need a house this big. Even though we are close friends, there are times when we want to be alone." In addition, McDonald's 15 year old son Ian also lived with them at the address. The accompanying photo spread illustrated Brooke's bedroom and antique brass bed, while other shots showed McDonald's high back mahogany bed. [cxiii] Years later, it was confirmed by Andrew Mercado that the two were a lesbian couple. [cxiv]
During the 1973 season several other key characters joined the ensemble.
Camp young movie fan Dudley Butterfield (Chard Hayward) arrived as the new cook in the wine bar. Dudley was always fantasising about old films, likening current story situations to classic cinema moments. Of a favourite film he would always enthusiastically ask "...did you see it? It was ever so good!"
Dudley also frequently employed the term "bona", meaning very good, from the old camp cant language Polari, while another of his signature lines was "Don't be cheeky, I'll slap your wrists!" Dudley would go on to enjoy a long running live in relationship with the more pragmatic Don, "if you know what I mean?"
More camp fun erupted with the arrival of Don's glamorous jet setting and much widowed aunt, the Baroness Amanda von Pappenburg. Amanda was a bright and bubbly Auntie Mame-type comedy character portrayed by the bright and bubbly Carol Raye. Amanda boarded in flat 4 with Don and Dud and befriended most of the residents. Amanda enjoyed a close friendship with Flo while sending up the snobbish Dorrie, but her witty retorts to the bitchy Maggie Cameron were most enjoyable of all.
Carol Raye had flown in from London especially to take the part.
"The phone rang one morning at 7 o'clock. It was Bill Harmon calling from Sydney to ask me if I'd like to come back for 12 weeks and do a part in Number 96. He said they'd created this character, and it was very me. So I said yes, I'd love to [...]. I'm really loving the whole thing. It's hard work, because there are such a lot of lines to learn. But the machinery and organisation are so marvellous that the load is taken off. There is absolutely no jealousy or tension. It's just like working in a giant family." [cxv]
After two substantial stints in the series in the 1973-1974 period, Amanda was written out of the series. Her portrayer Carol Raye became a tireless behind the scenes worker on Number 96, with the casting of main characters one of her primary roles. [cxvi] Raye would enjoy 18months in this later position. [cxvii]
The second year of Number 96 ended with a parcel bomb severely injuring Arnold Feather while Bev is accidentally shot in a struggle after pulling a gun on her latest love, the recently returned Bruce Taylor. When the series returned the following year viewers learned that Arnold had survived, though his injuries would result in the amputation of a leg. Bev (having been played by Victoria Raymond for the preceding six months) had been killed.
On leaving the series Victoria Raymond reported that her ambition was to become a serious film actor.
"I want to do parts that give me full scope. I would like to have time to get right into a character before I play it. On 96 this was not possible. There was too much to do technically. Learning lines, moves and shooting. Many times I would love to have reshot a scene, which I felt could have been done better, but time was always at a premium." [cxviii]
However the job was a valuable experience according to the actor. "You can't work on something as hectic as 96 and not learn. It was a terrific opportunity for me. I gave it a lot and got a lot back." [cxix]
Helen Sheridan - now played by Jill Forster - would also be written out of the series, reportedly because the writers had run out of story ideas for the character. [cxx] Though the recasts had worked, perhaps it was felt that something had been lost with the change of actor. The recast characters departed and Number 96 would not rely on recasting again.
Jill Sheridan would also leave the series, leaving flat 5 vacant and ready for a new family.
A movie version of the serial was filmed in colour at the end of 1973 featuring most of the show's current cast. With a change over of flat 5 and flat 6 residents occurring at this time in the series, new character Diana Moore (Rebecca Gilling) appears as the new flat 6 resident, and in flat 5 is the returning Sonia, along with her new husband Duncan Hunter (Alister Smart).
The film was shot on 16 mm, reportedly in eleven days, with a budget so low the producers refused to disclose it. [cxxi] Other sources report a filming schedule of just over three weeks - starting on Thursday 6 December 1973 and wrapping before the new year. [cxxii]
The film used the main sets from the television series but with some changes made for the demands of colour. [cxxiii] The cast received roughly an extra week's pay for their work on the film, although Elaine Lee received the larger sum of $1,200 due to her large role in the proceedings and her several nude scenes, one of which she described as "harrowing". [cxxiv] [cxxv]
The film was released in time for the May 1974 school holidays and despite being savaged by critics, hordes of eager fans flocked to see their favourite characters on the big screen. While critics at the time gave consistently bad reviews, fans loved the film. In his 8 May 1974 review in newspaper The Australian, critic Mike Harris noted that "I've never been in a cinema before where the audience has applauded when characters made their entrances." [cxxvi] The film's entry in The Oxford Companion to Australian Film strikes out in deference to the general reaction of film critics, judging the film to be "an entertaining, bawdy, romp." [cxxvii]
Number 96 the movie does not differ too much from the series proper in style, characterisation or content. The main differences, apart from the altogether different look produced by colour film rather than videotape, is the inclusion of a small amount of location filming, some brief (and clumsily mounted) action sequences, and full-frontal nudity, things not seen in the television version during this early period.
The series episodes had followed the usual soap opera format of a sequence of roughly two-minute scenes, shot on video and switched in the studio, that swap between the various current storylines, with the final of these presenting the cliff-hanger moment. The editing of film afforded greater flexibility than the fast-turnaround analogue video tape editing of the series episodes, and taking advantage of this the film's pace quickens at several points where the various story threads reach a moment of confluence and the film rapidly crosscuts back and forth between the various plotlines in a volley of brief shots. The feature film was released on DVD in July 2006.
Cast member Rebecca Gilling had not appeared in the television series version of Number 96 and her character, flight attendant Diana Moore, is introduced moving in to flat 6 early in the film. Dialogue reveals she met Jack Sellars on a flight and they started dating. She needed a place to live and Jack quickly arranged for her to move into one of the vacant flats of Number 96. Gilling's character plays a significant role in one of the plot threads, plus she provides the film's full frontal nudity.
Rebecca Gilling quickly regretted her decision to appear nude for the cameras.
"I have been thinking about the whole thing and in future will look hard at any offers to strip for a part. I am not saying there is anything wrong with appearing naked if a part calls for it, but I can't help thinking that I'm in danger of being typecast as just another actress who doesn't mind getting her clothes off." [cxxviii]
With her previous on-camera experience consisting of one shampoo commercial, the young drama student had been one of seven actresses who auditioned for the role of Diana. "I got the part, but only after giving it serious thought - about five minutes thought." [cxxix]
Later Gilling realised a 'sex kitten' reputation could jeopardise her planned serious acting career. She admitted she had not informed her drama coach Mechtilde Harkness of her decision to provide the Number 96 film with some decorative nudity.
"To be quite honest, I've never told her about it, and I don't think she knows. I think she would say 'Are you sure you know what you are doing?', but I don't think she would approve completely." [cxxx]
Certainly many members of the general public did not approve completely. "For about a year afterwards I was getting heavy breathing phonecalls and letters from irate mothers saying I was destroying the youth of the nation," Gilling later told TV Week of her Number 96 appearance. "It stands out in my mind as one of the faulty decisions I have made in my life, but I was very young." [cxxxi]
Then she agreed to be interviewed by a journalist writing a story about people who lived together without being married, expecting that her response would be one of many compiled into a general article on the subject. Gilling truthfully reported that she had lived with her boyfriend under the parental roof with their approval during her final year at high school. When the article appeared it was a front page story with the headline 'Number 96 star lives in sin at home' and Gilling admitted that "It was devastating." [cxxxii]
Gilling would later appear nude in another film, the 1975 kung-fu action adventure The Man from Hong Kong. She went on to enjoy along and distinguished career which included lead acting roles in television series Glenview High, The Young Doctors and Return to Eden. Gilling was later a presenter on early 1990s lifestyle series Our House.
After production of the film the television version continued in earnest. Arnold endured the amputation of his leg, was fitted with a false limb, and then fell in love with his nurse Patti Olsen (Pamela Garrick). Patti and Arnold would be married in the show's first big wedding, with the reception held in Norma's wine bar.
As for the false leg, Arnold convincingly hobbled around the set for awhile. However Bill Harmon soon decided that this hopping slowed the pace of the show, so Arnold's leg was conveniently forgotten about.
A new family, the MacDonalds, moved into flat 5 at the beginning of the 1974 episodes. The officious Reginald P MacDonald (Mike Dorsey) was better known as Reg, or as "Daddy" to his wife and adult daughter. His scatter-brained wife was Edie, also known as "Mummy" or "Mother" (Wendy Blacklock). Their vivacious blonde adopted daughter was Marilyn (Frances Hargreaves).
Reg liked to speak in acronyms as a sort of verbal shorthand. He was a bureaucrat at the local council (the "LC") where he worked under the Town Clerk (the "TC") at the Town Hall (the "TH"). Edie flittered around the apartment as a dizzy homemaker, sometimes relying on headache powders, tipples of gin, and daytime soap operas to help get her through the day. Marilyn was a dreamy romantic who would deal with a series of eager suitors. This rather eccentric threesome was another batch of comedy characters for the show. They would become big favourites with viewers, enjoying long-running roles.
Wendy Blacklock, who had been asked to do the role by producer Bill Harmon after he saw her in the play Don's Party portraying the wife of a Liberal Party supporter, recounted the creation of Mummy and Daddy for TV Week.
"When I first started the role I realised I couldn't play Edie the way I looked. I saw her as a character role - a symbol of the house-bound, dominated woman not up with the trends. My hair was too modern and my clothes too stylish. So I gave her this page-boy, June Allyson hairdo with butterfly clips I found - after a hunt all over Sydney - in a St Vincent de Paul shop. I put her in a padded, constricting corset to give her a no-curve, up-right look. Mike Dorsey and I discussed our parts and he saw he couldn't play "Daddy" as he looked if I was going to play Edie as I imagined. So he slicked down his hair and donned glasses. It was perfect. Mike was a bit upset. He turned to me with a doleful look and in his "Daddy" voice said 'You realise, Mother, you're destroying my image. I used to be the daredevil, handsome hero type.'" [cxxxiii]
Overall Blacklock felt that her character Mummy was "not too bright but she's a genuine sort of person." [cxxxiv]
Meanwhile the sprightly Frances Hargreaves had been a last-minute replacement in the role of Marilyn. The role had originally gone to Judy McBurney who had already taped about 30 scenes as Marilyn when she suffered a flare up of peritonitis and was advised by her doctor to take two or three week's rest. McBurney's scenes had yet to be broadcast, and after several tense conferences between McBurney and the show's producers and directors, the tough decision was made to recast. [cxxxv]
After a hasty check of available actors the name of Frances Hargreaves came up, and she was offered the role at 48 hours notice. She was handed a wad of scripts with just one weekend to memorise the lot, and all scenes featuring Marilyn were re-shot. The South African-born Hargreaves had few Australian television credits but had gained much stage experience in England. Leaving England she returned to South Africa and married Australian actor David Gilchrist, and they subsequently settled in Australia. [cxxxvi]
Sadly for Judy McBurney it turned-out she could have returned to work a week after her illness. However losing the role of Marilyn proved only a temporary setback to her acting career and she would subsequently become a successful soap opera actor with several long running roles. After a stint as a plain Jane secretary named Jane Fowler in The Box in late 1975she had a brief part in Number 96 in 1977 before going on to the long running role of Tania Livingstone in The Young Doctors. She subsequently played the comedy role of Pixie Mason in Prisoner.
Mummy and Daddy's much travelled son Dean (Marty Rhone) briefly returned to stay with his parents in 1974. He resumed his clandestine affair with his adopted sister Marilyn, before promptly departing.
Dean's portrayer Marty Rhone, better known as a pop singer, appeared in just six episodes of Number 96. TV Week reported that he had to give the role away due to an existing contract to write a stage play. [cxxxvii] The following year Rhone was busy playing a regular role in teen soap Class of '75.
Meanwhile more comedy emerged as brassy cabaret singer Trixie O'Toole (played by singer and stage performer Jan Adele) was added to the proceedings as a visitor to Number 96. The comedy character proved successful, so the writers arranged for Trixie's nightclub tour to frequently visit Sydney and for Trixie to move in as house guest to whoever happened to have a spare bedroom at the time. Usually, however, she would wind-up with the McDonalds where she would ruffle Reg's feathers.
The standard Number 96 actor contract included a nude clause, even if certain stars such as Sheila Kennelly always refused to agree to that section. However Jan Adele, a self-described "fattie" tipping the scales at 15 stone, happily signed reasoning she would never be called-on to appear nude. She was later horrified to learn that she would be required to strip down to her underwear for a bedroom farce comedy sequence. [cxxxviii]
These semi nude scenes occurred during a comedy storyline where Trixie goes on a weekend away with Reg and Edie MacDonald. As a result of an earlier lie Trixie must impersonate Edie for their hosts while the meek and retiring Edie must somehow present herself as the brassy nightclub performer Trixie. Of course after everyone has gone to bed Reg insists the women switch bedrooms but their host won't settle and a chaotic round of switching back and forth ensues.
Petrified at the concept of appearing semi nude before a national television audience, Adele admits she "shrivelled inside". However, as she told TV Week, it was simply a matter of "gritting my teeth, and getting on with the job." Despite this Adele was happy with her role, and found it easy and enjoyable to be playing a likeable character and someone similar to herself. [cxxxix] Adele continued to make appearances in Number 96 over a three-year period.
In September 1974 the highly popular star Tom Oliver left Number 96. His character, Jack Sellars, married the briefly returned Helen Sheridan and they departed for a happy new life in Paris. The back-slapping rough diamond Jack Sellars had first emerged during the show's early days when he appeared as Janie Somers' new beau. Tom Oliver was initially signed for just a three-week run but the character caught on and was continued, quickly becoming one of the show's most popular figures. Indeed TV Week expressed the opinion that, since Abigail's departure, he was the program's most popular character. [cxl]
In the story, Jack, like Maggie Cameron and Claire Houghton, did not permanently reside at Number 96 but with the convoluted storylines they frequently visited and sometimes were the temporary guest of one of the residents, often Vera Collins. These frequent visitors to the flats were presented as more sophisticated figures who dabbled in the world of business and finance, a milieu that sometimes also involved residents Vera Collins and Don Finlayson. Indeed Jack and Maggie would become part-owners of the Number 96 building, and it was Jack who had established Norma's Bar.
During his time working on the show Oliver married fellow cast member Lynn Rainbow. Later, with life imitating (or cashing in on) art, he opened a wine bar in Kensington, Sydney, cunningly named Jack's Cellar. The bar was decorated just like Norma's Bar in the series and allowed fans to call in and hope to spot their favourite TV star. This should not have been too difficult because, as Oliver toldTV Week, he was in the bar every evening until it closed at midnight. [cxli]
At the time he left the series, Tom Oliver told TV Week that he didn't think of himself as any great actor, admitting that he was "one of the brigade who says his lines and hopes to hell he doesn't bump into the furniture. I don't worry too much about a part. If the words are there I'll say them." Oliver never really followed the storylines of the series he acted in, learning only his scenes and ignoring those he didn't appear in. He also admitted that he wasn't too far removed from his character. [cxlii]
Years later Oliver said of his departure that "I left the series - and I was one of the few to leave voluntarily - because things were becoming automatic for me. I was acting automatically and I was becoming lazy as an actor." For about a year after leaving the serial Oliver did little television acting work as the roles offered were all Jack Sellars type characters. He instead did theatre work which included acting in a play with Robert Morley in New Zealand. [cxliii]
Jack had been an appealing and enjoyable figure in the series - and was immensely popular - and after he left the show's makers always endeavoured to include a loveable rogue mid-thirties male sex symbol figure in the show. Shortly after Jack's departure a replacement of sorts arrived in the form of Andy Marshall (Peter Adams), a newspaper journalist and heir to a fortune who formed a close business and personal association with Vera Collins.
The jovial Andy who called everyone except Norma Whittaker "Amigo" (for the brassy blond barmaid, the moniker "Duchess" was reserved) was a key character in several storylines, yet would be written out of the series by mid 1975. Peter Adams, an excellent actor who would become a key figure in the later Cop Shop series, played well in Number 96 and fitted well into both drama and comedy scenes of the show. If anything Adams' naturalistic and believable performance meant his character grew too large for the camp comedy confines of Number 96.
Over Easter in 1974, Channel Ten Sydney converted its studios for colour production in readiness for the official changeover of Australian Television to colour in Easter 1975. Number 96 therefore began shooting in colour. Initially new footage was taped in colour, but compiled into monochrome masters. [cxliv] The first episode fully compiled in colour was episode number 585. [cxlv] This episode first went to air in August 1974, broadcast in monochrome. [cxlvi] When Channel Ten Sydney ran a late night repeat of Number 96 starting 4 February 1980, episode 585, the first colour episode, was chosen as the starting point of the rerun. [cxlvii]
The first episode broadcast in colour was episode number 649, first shown in Sydney on Friday 8 November 1974. This was the first episode to feature the on screen exploits of the Pantyhose Murderer. [cxlviii]
During 1974 the series had also shifted the emphasis away from melodramatic stories laced with nudity and titillation. Storylines came to focus more on lighter incidents and comedy situations. [cxlix] [cl]
By this time the series had settled into a regular comedy-drama rhythm with the sexual elements de-emphasised. The serial now played like a situation comedy but one presented in a soap opera format. It featured the comedy storylines interwoven and spanning multiple episodes, alongside more dramatic plot strands.
The series of the middle period had a look and feel that most closely resembles 1970s UK situation comedies Bless This House, Man About the House and George and Mildred. Like those shows Number 96 focused on comedy caricature characters, domestic interiors, comic class and inter-generational clashes (Number 96 had its regular turnover of flat 6 youngsters). Storylines featured home-grown solutions to the problems of friends and neighbours which often ended in disaster. The comic storylines often drifted into drama and pathos before the comedy denouement.
One comedy storyline in Number 96 in the late 1974 period had Dorrie, Herb and Flo, and Mummy and Les, teaming up to create the help agency Dig Up a Treasure. Various team members took turns manning the phone lines where their differing phone manners and the one sided telephone discussions about the various 'problems' people phoned for help with were half of the comedy.
The storyline was also ideal for introducing short comedy storylines to the proceedings, such as when Herb had to look after the (unseen) baby Basil but was constantly losing and then having to retrieve him. After leaving Basil behind in a cinema and then having him go missing from outside the deli Herb discovered that Basil's parents had deserted him and was left holding the baby (or at least wheeling a pram around).
Then when Arnold is absent from the deli the Godolfuses call the mysterious new Dig Up a Treasure agency advertised in the local paper asking for a replacement. They are surprised when Flo Patterson arrives to take over Arnold's deli shifts. Flo proceeds to create chaos behind the counter.
While the series continued to remain set-bound for the vast majority of scenes during this middle period, interest was sustained by the show's mix of appealing and humorous characters. While the action was frequently talky, scripts breezed along with witty repartee, funny dialogue, and amusing word play.
Most of the characters had signature lines or phrases, and many had several, and these were regularly utilised. Flo Patterson frequently used old style phrases "hubba hubba" and "tickety boo", all of which Herb Evans understood, "more or less". Roma Godolfus would exclaim "this I cannot believe" while Reg McDonald would react to Mummy's latest domestic disaster by declaring "great Scott!" Les's inventions were "guaranteed to make a fortune"... even if this would only be "up to a point", and "all in good time!"
The catch phrases were not restricted to the comedy characters of the show. Jack Sellars would emphasise a point by pronouncing "I kid you not." Imperious Claire Houghton would refute any argument with "allow me to be the best judge of that!"
Dorrie's malapropisms continued to be regularly repeated, while Aldo and Roma faced similar confusion, frequently taking metaphors literally. When Arnold confided in Roma that Aldo might be experiencing the "seven year itch", Roma was perturbed that Aldo would keep secret this "itch" - caused by a skin infection perhaps - in their food handling business.
New wine bar waitress Lorelei Wilkinson (Josephine Knur) is worried by her limited vocabulary. But despite concerted efforts to learn new words, she seemed stuck on using her favourite new adjective: "congenial".
The Number 96 feature film and the 1976 television compilation special And they said it wouldn't last... were released on DVD in 2006.
A continuous run of 32 episodes from the late 1974 period of the series, covering the entire Pantyhose Murderer storyline, was released on DVD in September 2008. [cli]
In March 2010 another DVD set was released. Titled Number 96: Aftermath of Murder, this set includes episodes 681 to 712, the 32 episodes directly following those included on the earlier DVD release.
In late 1974 two of the show's most popular and enduring characters, deli owners and flat 2 residents Aldo and Roma Godolfus, were abruptly written out of the series. A TV Week article reported on their departure, noting that while their eventual return was possible, this was by no means confirmed. [clii]
By the time they departed the popular and fondly-remembered Pantyhose Murderer storyline was well underway. Like the earlier Knicker Snipper this storyline presented an intriguing whodunit for the show's characters and the viewers (as well as a deranged criminal with a fondness for sexually-charged undergarments). Red herrings and shock revelations would abound, but this time several characters would also be killed off.
To ensure secrecy of the new whodunit storyline security at the studio was tightened, and the producers placed a blanket ban on visitors to the set. [cliii] Viewers would have to watch and see who would die, and who the culprit would be.
In the storyline, the hospital ball is looming, but Norma is reluctant to take the night off from the wine bar to attend the ball with Les. With Dudley away in Melbourne and his wine bar duties taken by newcomer Matt Barrington (John Paramor), sweet but naïve blonde waitress Lorelei Wilkinson will be left as the wine bar's most experienced staff member if Norma takes the night off. And perhaps Norma is slightly spooked because a young hairdresser in nearby Chestnut Lane has just been found strangled?
In the end Norma relents, apparently unaware that Matt's fixation on Lorelei had earlier that day led to him peeking at her in the shower. Norma and Les and Patti and Arnold all go to the ball, leaving Lorelei in charge of the wine bar.
Also going to the ball is Arnold and Patti's new flat 6 lodger Tracey Wilson (Chantal Contouri), a nurse colleague of Patti's. The thoughtful and conscientious Tracey, who like her portrayer is of Greek descent, had moved in after fleeing her abusive husband Peter Wilson (Dennis Miller). She soon started a romance with Andy Marshall, who is separated from his wife. At the last minute Andy had cancelled out on their date to attend the ball together, so Tracey goes unescorted.
That evening Lorelei Wilkinson becomes the strangler's second victim and the first on screen character to die. Her strangled body - with pantyhose draped around her neck - is discovered in the living room of flat 1 by Les and Norma when they return from the ball.
Lorelei's portrayer Josephine Knur had for a time been touted as the show's most successful new sex-symbol to appear in Abigail's wake, and Lorelei was killed off to allow Knur to switch to a role in Cash Harmon's new soap opera The Unisexers. That show lasted just sixteen episodes.
After Lorelei's death the Pantyhose Murderer mystery absolutely dominated proceedings for several weeks. Lorelei had been murdered after locking up the wine bar from the inside. The storyline was initially presented as a locked room mystery where the perpetrator was suspected as a resident of Number 96 who had somehow made a copy of the key to flat 1, with the various residents suspecting other residents.
Appointed to investigate the case was Detective Short (Ken Fraser). In an innovative police procedure, Short employed the convenient technique of conducting many of his enquiries at Number 96 rather than at the police station, and of openly discussing the twists and turns of the investigation and revealing all the facts at hand to whichever resident he happened to be questioning at the time.
Les Whittaker, who frequently loved to play amateur detective, became engrossed in trying to uncover the identity of the murderer. His various undercover comedy sleuthing attempts ended in disaster and frequently interfered in the official investigation.
Don, and the police, initially suspected the suddenly vanished Matt Barrington, the temporary chef in the wine bar replacing Dudley during his trip to Melbourne. Nevertheless several other residents are unable to account for their whereabouts: Arnold was alone in his flat having left Patti and Tracey at the ball after an argument. Alf and Lucy's new lodger Michael Bartlett (Peter Flett) had returned home to flat 8 after the discovery of the murder, claiming to have been out with Marilyn all night. Lucy and Marilyn later speak of this, and are horrified when Marilyn confirms she had returned home hours before, leaving Michael out alone. Later Lucy disturbs an intruder in flat 1 and discovers that the intruder and Michael wear the same distinctive brand of aftershave.
Patti thinks Tracey's violent husband Peter could be the killer; however she is horrified, during this period where she always seems to be squabbling with Arnold, to find a packet of pantyhose in his deli jacket pocket. Tensions among residents abound as Alf claims he saw Dudley at Sydney Airport when he claimed to be in Melbourne, and later reports he overheard Dudley talking to Lorelei in flat 1 the night she was murdered. Don believes Alf and argues with Dudley over the suspected lies about his whereabouts. Amongst this Andy Marshall's initial alibi is later shown to be a lie, and even his lover Tracey seems to suspect him.
The mystery even permeates the comedy sketches in the show. Reg McDonald arrives in the deli to buy headache powers, explaining that his headache came on after an afternoon scouting the streets in his quest to locate a young blond woman. Given the strangler is at this time suspected of targeting young blondes, Aldo quickly decides that this implicates Reg as the strangler! In fact Reg was merely trying to find Marilyn, concerned she was the strangler's next target. Then Dorrie is worried when the flat 5 key goes missing from the "consergical" key ring, further fuelling suspicion that Marilyn will be the next victim.
Tensions build as the suspects are eliminated. It is finally learned that Matt was a passenger in a car pulled over by the police the night of the murder, and was at the station at the time of Lorelei's death. Michael, Dudley and Andy admit they initially lied about their whereabouts that night. Michael had secretly attended a pornographic movie, Dudley had a secret meeting with the (surprise!) mother of his son, and Andy had had a secret meeting with Tracey's estranged husband Peter. Arnold explains that the pantyhose in his pocket was a packet that Vera had accidentally dropped in the deli.
The locked key mystery aspect of the story is resolved when it is revealed that a foolish Les had naïvely misled the police into believing all the flat 1 keys were all accounted for. He had in fact lost his key, but thinking it would turn up and not wanting to waste police time he told them he still had it. It was in fact missing, and the killer had it. Nevertheless the belief that the killer was a resident of Number 96 was still emphasised.
The strangler's next victim was Tracey Wilson. Patti arrived home, and in the cliff-hanger discovered her lying on the floor of a darkened flat 6 with pantyhose draped around her neck. The following episode revealed that Tracey had in fact survived the attack. Shortly afterwards Patti Feather would herself be strangled to death in flat 6 for the 1974 end-of-year cliff-hanger.
Poor Patti bit the dust after the show's makers decided that the popularity of Arnold Feather was cooling now that he was ensconced within a blissfully dizzy marriage. [cliv] Unfortunately for the melodrama fuelled soap this happy couple had become deadly dull.
Meanwhile the suspects were lined-up. Was it the newly arrived Andy Marshall? Or Tracey's violent husband Peter? Or how about the Sutcliffe's young lodger Michael who took up with a smitten Marilyn MacDonald just as some unsavoury facts about his character began to emerge?
Some weeks into the 1975 episodes the strangler was finally revealed to a terrified Marilyn who was attacked while working late at the laundrette. In a fabulous Friday night cliff-hanger Marilyn was confronted by the silent killer and cried "Oh my God! It's YOU!" as the pantyhose was wrapped around her neck... however viewers would have to tune in Monday night to discover that the strangler was in fact Tracey Wilson.
Apprehended by the police before she could murder Marilyn, Tracey quickly revealed herself as a vicious and jealous sado-masochist unable to find pleasure in the more usual pursuits of innocent romance or a normal marriage, and she was murderously resentful of those young women who could. Tracey had staged the attack on herself as a red herring; her fervent sado-masochism meant she could readily inflict the violent and injurious strangulation attack upon herself.
Tracey would promptly escape from police custody and return to Andy who was now residing in flat 6 of Number 96, expecting that he would happily go on the run with her. When Tracey overheard his subsequent phone call to the police she committed suicide by diving out the front window of the flat. Hearing the smashing glass Andy ran to the bedroom but was not quick enough to prevent the jump, getting to the window in time only to see Tracey's blood spattered corpse splayed amongst the deli's outdoor furniture on the pavement below.
In an episode of Channel Seven reunion series Where Are They Now? broadcast 8 July 2007, guest Chantal Contouri said of her character's identity as the murderer that "I didn't know until the day we were doing it." Contouri explained that two decades after the event David Sale had revealed to her that "they absolutely loathed my character Tracey Wilson because she was so boring... that's why they made her the Pantyhose Murderer."
Indeed, on that program, she and fellow guest Frances Hargreaves joked that when the two were called to enact an attack scene in the laundrette, neither knew if they would be revealed as the killer or the victim. None of the other actors present at the reunion - Jeff Kevin, Sheila Kennelly, James Elliott, Elisabeth Kirkby or Elaine Lee - knew the identity of the murderer either.
On the DVD commentary of the Number 96 feature film, series creator David Sale confirms that the various whodunit storylines were always devised without a clearly planned perpetrator in mind. The culprit would be decided later in scripting meetings after the storyline had already begun screening.
In this case, with all the earnest scenes involving the often rather serious and moody Tracey fretting over her romance with Andy, or her snappy demeanour while interfering in marital arguments between Arnold and Patti, you can see why they made her the killer. Yet Chantal Contouri is so good at portraying the Psycho who strangled young women with Frenzy, it seems difficult to believe that these scenes were not part of her audition script. Watching the wickedly evil and gloating Tracey when the police catch her during the attempt on Marilyn's life when she gleefully reveals why she committed the murders ("I hated them! I hated their guts!"), it is hard to believe this wasn't the plan all along.
Contouri had taken advantage of the show's shift away from sex and sin and demanded that the show's standard nude clause be removed from her contract before she would sign. [clv] Ironically, the closest thing to sex and nudity in this period of the show is the low-cut pink nightgown Tracey repeatedly wears.
During this period Paula Duncan finally agreed to appear in the show now that it seemed likely she would never be called-on to strip. Duncan had earlier turned-down the offer to play Jill Sheridan, the man-hungry sister of Helen (played by Paula's real-life sister Carmen Duncan) because at that time she would have been required to appear nude in the show, and the then-unknown actor had wanted to avoid being tagged a "sex symbol" at the start of her acting career. [clvi] Now Paula would play Don's warm-hearted sister Carol Finlayson who moved in to flat 4 and took a job in the wine bar. Covered-up Carol would be written out of the series after eight months.
As the pantyhose murderer storyline reached its conclusion the reason for all of Michael Bartlett's constant lies was also revealed - and it was nothing to do with the murders. He had arrived at Number 96 with the secret mission to destroy the marriage of Lucy Sutcliffe after his parents divorced when his father fell in love with Lucy. With this revelation Michael was quickly forgiven by all concerned, and promptly married Marilyn and moved in to her bedroom in flat 5.
Amongst all the drama and recriminations of the murder storyline the comedy still kept bubbling along. When Lorelei's murderer is dubbed the "Pantyhose Murderer" in the press, Aldo misremembers this as the "Fancy Pants Murderer", and continues to describe the killer as such. Mummy and Daddy McDonald also endured amusing word-play misunderstandings. When Mummy thinks out loud about her outfit for the upcoming Kerbing and Guttering Ball, Daddy does the same while reading a news report on the strangler. When Daddy muses that the murder weapon was "pantyhose, nothing more or less!" it is the one thing that Mummy listens to, and she momentarily believes that is what Daddy thinks she should wear to the ball.
As had been the case the previous year, for 1974 the series held the position as Australia's highest rating television program. It had also been joined on Channel Ten by another sexy soap, The Box, about the lives and loves of the colourful characters populating a television studio. Number 96 was at the crest of its success; however this success could not last forever.
As the 1975 storylines unfolded Norma had to accommodate her imperious and disapproving mother Anne Florentine (Aileen Britton). Mrs Florentine arrived to stay with Les and Norma with visions of spending her days with an "urban countess" what with Les's title as the Earl of McCraddanow - even though it had actually been transferred to his peripatetic off-screen half-brother Andrew.
Mrs Florentine was horrified to find a cramped, junk-strewn flat behind a small wine bar and was forced to sleep on a camp stretcher followed by a Murphy bed in the cluttered living room. Since these sleeping arrangements had been devised by Les, it was guaranteed that they would collapse and malfunction in catastrophic comedy sequences.
Small-time entrepreneur Freda Fuller (Sheila Bradley) had bought the deli business from Aldo and Roma. However she quickly alienated staff member Arnold - and the regular customers - with her inflexible attitude and wholesale changes to the deli's stock and operations. When Freda hired Dorrie Evans on an unpaid week's trial, Dorrie's natural fussiness meant that the appointment was a disaster alienating the client base even further. She was not kept on beyond the week - and not paid a cent either! In retaliation Dorrie quickly instituted a boycott of the deli and with Herb and Flo started up a supermarket shopping service for the residents of Number 96 to ensure that the boycott stuck.
Dorrie soon decided that a small car was required for use in this service. All she needed was to buy a car... and to learn to drive and obtain a driving licence. These things Les Whittaker eagerly assisted her in with (even though, as it turned out, Les didn't hold a driver's licence himself). Les's driving lessons quickly extended to an unapproved test drive after Alf left the keys in his taxi, causing Dorrie to drive the cab through the front window of Norma's bar. Faced with repair bills from both Norma and Alf, Dorrie desperately attempts to find a job to raise the necessary funds. (A few months later, in May 1975, actor Pat McDonald was off work for a time after being injured in a car accident. [clvii])
Also introduced was the beautiful Tanya Schnolskevitska (Natalie Mosco), a vivacious brunette who spoke in a thick Russian accent at a rapid rate. Tanya first appeared as a wine bar customer who caught Norma's eye as a potential new waitress for the business. However the mysterious Miss Schnolskevitska ("just call me Tanya, darling - it makes life so much simpler!") was instead snapped-up by Freda who hoped that Tanya's self-professed skill at attracting men might lead to increased patronage at the deli.
Tanya had a tall story to match every occasion and her speech was liberally peppered with "Da" and "Nyet". However it quickly became apparent that the colourful stories spanning various continents, assorted comrades and all manner of historical events, could hardly have been experienced by someone of Tanya's tender years.
Meanwhile in flat 4, Dudley and Carol are distraught to learn that Don is suffering from an incurable blood disease and has only six months to live.
Comedy characters Aldo and Roma returned to the series in early 1975. Their absence from the series was planned to be only temporary all along; press reports of the characters being "dropped" from the show had just been a publicity stunt. In the story the officious Freda Fuller, faced with constant conflicts with Arnold and various financial complications, agreed to sell the business back to them.
Meanwhile Marilyn threw Michael Bartlett out when she discovered that he was already married to someone else and had abandoned his wife and baby. Michael left Number 96 while Marilyn soon moved on to new suitors.
Trixie O'Toole returns, this time staying with Vera. Trixie finds an unwanted admirer in Daddy's boss, the "The TC" - Town Clerk Ian Buchanan (Brian Moll) - and her frequent showbiz visitors quickly disrupt Vera's routine. Later one of Trixie's pals, struggling showbiz neophyte Adam Shaw (Julian Rockett), gains the sympathy of several residents and beds down on Vera's, and then Dorrie's couch. A lusty Maggie Cameron soon has her hooks into Adam, fervently acting as his new Svengali. When Vera and Adam notice an attraction for one another the scene is set for Maggie and Vera to be rivals for a younger man yet again.
Andy Marshall becomes a pariah at Number 96 when he pens a series of feature articles about the Pantyhose Murderer crimes. Tanya, made redundant in the deli, is employed by Andy as his secretary and moves in with him in flat 6.
Andy soon discovered Tanya's real identity: she was an American heiress named Rosemary Prior. Tanya was complicit in a fake kidnapping and ransom scheme with her boyfriend, Clarke Harvey (Brandon Smith). Their plans to take the ransom money and run off together did not come to fruition, and Tanya would stay on at Number 96. She switched to using her American accent and began working in the launderette. Andy later left Number 96 to return to his wife.
Womanising layabout medical student Miles Cooper (Scott Lambert) moves in and develops a habit of scrounging money from the residents. Soon a love struck Marilyn decides she and Miles must be married, and she switches to hard nosed businesswoman to raise funds so they can settle down to domestic bliss. Reluctant Miles is more interested in Tanya, who is fired from the laundrette in a cost cutting move by Marilyn.
Tanya and Miles now share flat 6. A more earnest Tanya, who now tells stories of her ruthless and murderous crime boss father, switches to a job in the wine bar.
As production on the 1975 season got underway TV Week magazine had reiterated that the sex and nudity angle of Number 96was being de-emphasised in favour of "comedy and the development of relationship [sic] between characters". [clviii]
However as those episodes played out there was a downturn in the show's ratings. In June 1975 TV Week critic Jerry Fetherston delivered his verdict on the show's recent episodes.
"The plots of late have been straining for effect; the show has been flagging. And this has been reflected in the ratings, particularly in the key state of New South Wales. Now the word has gone out from Cash Harmon, the series producer, to bring flesh back and so restore interest." [clix]
In light of this Tanya Schnolskevitska began to contribute nude glimpses to the show. Meanwhile Vera's new flatmate, model Bernadette (Charne Marshall), was revealed to have a casual regard for clothing. The languid model is used in a comedy storyline when Aldo repeatedly bursts in on Bernadette while making his grocery deliveries, only to find her lounging around topless.
Miles lusts after Bernadette while trying to dodge Marilyn and her plans for marriage. When Marilyn finally catches Miles and Bernadette together she realises Miles doesn't want to get married and leaves to visit her brother Dean in Spain. Bernadette soon commits suicide as her rather melodramatic main storyline plays out.
The characters of Tanya, Carol Finlayson, and Andy Marshall, also departed during the mid 1975 period.
Carol had been written out of the serial because the character was not working out. Likewise things had not run smoothly for the character of Andy. His portrayer Peter Adams would later reveal that the job was not a happy one for him.
"The character was two-dimensional, and I got the feeling that the writers did not know what to do with him, except to involve him in sensational things like drugs and murder." [clx]
Marilyn McDonald's departure at this time was a blow to the series, even if recently the writers had resorted to abrupt comedy personality transformations - rough and laconic lesbian biker, followed by fervent businesswoman - to keep the character busy. In reality Marilyn's portrayer, the highly popular Frances Hargreaves, left the series due to her real-life pregnancy.
In any event, these departures would open the way for an influx of diverse new characters in the series.
Former cast member Carol Raye, now working at casting the major roles in the series, [clxi] was soon describing the new batch of characters. In a TV Week article titled "Nudes come home to No. 96!", Raye explained that while sex was being reintroduced, it would be "strictly for fun". "There will not be sex and nudity just for the sake of sex and nudity," Raye toldTV Week, "We hope to have a lot of fun with our sex." [clxii]
Curiously, after the series had openly instituted a move away from sex before widely promoting its reintroduction, for two of its new glamour girls the makers of Number 96 agreed upfront to waive the requirement that all actors sign a nudity clause whereby they agree to strip for the cameras whenever requested. These new non-nude stars were leggy dancer and actor Pamela Gibbons who would come in as Grace "Prim" Primrose, and Margaret Laurence who would play the rather serious and moody Liz Chalmers. Both actors had insisted they would not do nude scenes when signing on with the series, and indeed both had rejected offers to appear in the series the year before, because at that time they would have been required to strip. As Gibbons told TV Week "in a small industry like Australian show business, once you strip for the cameras, that's it. You'll never get any other roles". [clxiii]
In the story, Liz arrives at flat 5 claiming Dean MacDonald asked her to marry him, but then stole her savings and absconded overseas. Hoping to convince Liz to not report Dean to the police, Mummy and Daddy appease her by letting her move into flat 5 where she will briefly share with the soon-to-depart Marilyn. Film maker David Palmer (Vince Martin) had moved in to flat 6 to share with Miles and Tanya; Prim was David's flippant, cinema fan assistant who enjoyed engaging in witty verbal wordplay.
David had signed a contract to direct television commercials but soon wanted out of the deal. Hoping to be fired from his role he decided to create the worst advertisements he could. The star of the latest commercial was a thrilled Dudley Butterfield. Film fan Dudley is amazed he had been cast without even having to audition, and even seems to be happy with the dailies of David's dreadful advertisement for a brand of Vodka. Poor Dud remains unaware that David's secret plan had been to create something so astonishingly bad he would be released from the contract.
Wisecracking Prim quickly moved into flat 6 to share with David and Miles. Miles was forced to think seriously about his future when Susan Temple, a girlfriend from university played by Elisabeth Kirkby's real-life daughter Debbie Baile, announces she is pregnant and that Miles is the father. Miles was soon back to his carefree ways when her claims were revealed as false.
Meanwhile the show's new mid-thirties male sex-symbol was Kit Taylor who would portray ruthless businessman Warwick Thompson. Warwick was involved in Vera Collins' venture to launch an exclusive new clothing salon, the House of Danielle. Soon the married Warwick would start a love affair with Vera.
The sex and nudity would now be handled by another new character, Jacqueline "Jaja" Gibson, Dudley's cousin from the country town of Forbes, New South Wales. In casting the role the show's makers said they were looking for a "stunningly beautiful, sexy girl about 18". [clxiv] In describing this new character, Carol Raye told TV Week "I wouldn't call her a nymphomaniac, not quite, but she'll definitely be a bundle of love up from the country, not a simple country girl". [clxv]
This was the final role in the batch to be cast, and apparently it had been difficult finding the right girl. More than 15 girls between the ages of 16 and 23 applied for the part and the list was gradually shortened to five. One of the 16 year olds had insisted she was willing to strip as part of the role, but Raye was adamant that 16 was too young, telling TV Week that "I'm a mum myself and don't go along with that sort of thing. A girl of 16 is too young for that sort of part." [clxvi]
Eventually the voluptuous blond Anya Saleky, a former ice skater whose only previous television experience was appearing in three Paul Hogan television comedy specials, [clxvii] was signed for the role of Jaja. The novice actor had apparently not read these earlier reports, later telling TV Week that "Bill Harmon offered me a part as a girl next door type and assured me there wouldn't be any stripping - but I don't think the message got through to the writers immediately." Indeed one of Saleky's first scenes called for her to sit up in bed, naked, while the sheet slipped away. However during the take when she sat up the sheet stayed put: the young actor had secretly used sticky tape to keep it in place. [clxviii]
Anya Saleky feared the incident would see her fired from the role, however Bill Harmon was still keen to keep her on, and agreed to rewrite her contract with the nude clause excised. Anya Saleky explained her no nudes stance to TV Week.
"The way I see it, I had to make a decision right at the beginning. It might have been very tempting to strip for the sake of getting a part but I kept thinking 'what follows?' There have been any number of sexy ladies in Number 96 and the only one who is really remembered is Abigail. I didn't want to be just another young acting hopeful who stripped and was then forgotten." [clxix]
So Jaja thereafter remained fully clothed - albeit mostly in very sexy and revealing costumes.
Despite these new characters being gradually integrated into the proceedings, most of the main cast remained unchanged. With five episodes a week this led to much storyline repetition as the light comedy storylines persisted, becoming perhaps even sillier.
Dorrie and Flo again squabbled over their competing activities at the Senior Citizens club when both wanted to hold similar fund raising events. Roma and Aldo had yet another separation and standoff where their pride refused to allow them to admit they had both been in the wrong. Meanwhile Mummy MacDonald becomes obsessed with fictional daytime television serial Natalie Faces Life.
Deli staffing problems of a grumpy Aldo and an absent Roma lead to the temporary appointment of the clumsy Phyllis Pratt (Moya O'Sullivan). When Mummy and Prim are the only ones on duty at the wine bar one night Arnold and Liz and Herb and Flo crowd into the flat 1 kitchen to help out with the wine bar meals, leading to a (hopefully) humorous kitchen disaster and yet another collapse of Les's high-rise stacks of clutter.
Les's latest invention is the conveyor-belt baby cleaner, the Babymatic. Even an increasingly weary Alf is openly cynical about this new invention and expresses frustration with Les's constant crazy schemes. Norma meanwhile becomes positively furious at Les's absences to enlist investors, the mess in flat 1, and endless hours spent trying to perfect this latest contraption. And yet again Les plays at amateur detective and unofficial crime investigator, further angering Norma. As her frustration crosses from playful to serious Norma starts a close friendship with Gilbert Barton (Don Philps) and takes unexpected time off from the wine bar.
By mid-1975 the show's ratings had begun to decline to alarming levels. In August 1975, just as the raft of new characters were getting established, TV Week reported that the show's ratings had in preceding months dipped to as little as half what they had been only 12 or 18 months before. Newspaper reports speculated that several long-running characters including Dudley Butterfield, Vera Collins, the Whittaker's and the Sutcliffes faced the axe - claims all vehemently denied by producer Bill Harmon. [clxx] However ensuing storylines would reveal that there was some truth to these rumours.
Keen to reverse the ratings decline, Harmon had called the show's writers together, ordering them to revamp the show and inject more drama and cliffhanging situations. As had occurred during the Pantyhose Murderer storyline, a blanket ban on visitors to the set was instituted in an attempt to keep plot developments secret, and in an unprecedented step 40 completed scripts were discarded and fully rewritten. Harmon insisted that these rewrites were not to accommodate cast departures, but because a better storyline had presented itself. [clxxi]
The show's big new revamp storyline would prove to be Number 96's most famous incident: the bomb. Apparently when ordered to rescue the series from ratings doldrums the writers believed salvation would come with the sacrificial deaths of some high-profile characters and the ensuing publicity that such a move would generate, so they concocted a 'Mad Bomber' storyline to kill off some expendable characters, and then set about debating who should be killed. Their ultimate choices were extremely bold.
Certainly the bomb-blast episodes themselves were well-executed. There's much chaos in the building as Don and Dudley from flat 4 switch places with Lucy and Alf in flat 8 to save a pregnant Lucy climbing all those stairs. With suspense building we see an unidentified assailant planting a time-bomb in a carton of Spanish olives destined for the deli, constant cuts to the bomb ticking away as various characters go about their daily business, climactic shots within Vera's deserted flat (she had been unexpectedly called away on business) while the bomber's warning note, which has been slipped under her door, lies unread on the carpet. The note advised that the bomb was set to explode at 6 p.m.
After much build-up the deli was finally blown up on Friday night, September 5. Les finally discovered the note at 5:58 p.m., and he ran down the building's central stairway in an attempt to warn residents of the bomb. During this climactic sequence, to emphasise the suspense we are treated to an innovative four-way split screen showing Les on the stairs, the bomb's digital clock display, the crowded wine bar, and the deli.
After warning the shocked wine bar patrons Les runs into the deli, and with Aldo and Roma serving customer Miles Cooper the bomb goes off, causing a spectacular explosion. The episode ends with the closing credits shown (without the usual backing music) over rather grim pans across the devastated deli and wine bar strewn with smashed furniture and motionless bodies.
After an excruciating three day wait, Monday's episode quickly revealed that Les, Aldo, Roma and Miles had all been killed. Norma was severely injured, remaining in a coma for several episodes, though she would eventually recover to continue in the series. The heavily-pregnant Lucy, who had been upstairs in her flat, was uninjured but went into labour and was rushed to hospital where she gave birth to a baby girl who would be named Emma.
The aftermath of the explosion featured the brief reappearance of Aldo's long-departed daughter Rose Godolfus (Vivienne Garrett) who clashed bitterly with Arnold Feather over his handling of Aldo's burial. Arnold had arranged for Aldo and Roma to be buried within 24 hours of their death as prescribed by their Jewish faith. Unfortunately the consequence of this was that Rose, who had travelled from New Guinea after the explosion, had been unable attend the funeral.
Jack Sellars (Tom Oliver) also returned just long enough to uncover the identity of the mad bomber. Jack suspected the culprit was a current resident of Number 96 (weren't they always?) so he arranged a party in his hotel suite for the surviving residents. Apart from the apparent poor taste of holding a gay get-together while former neighbours are being buried, Jack caused further angst by announcing that some evidence pointing to the identity of the bomber existed at Number 96 before making his excuses and abruptly leaving the party he had arranged.
However it was all a cunning trap; Jack secretly made his way to Number 96 and lay in wait to see who would come to check on the "evidence". Sure enough Jack soon discovered an intruder creeping through flat 7...
...and it turned out that the Mad Bomber was none other than the scheming Maggie Cameron. It transpired that Maggie was not trying to kill anyone, she was only trying to scare the residents away so as to secure a vacant possession sale of the building, and thought a series of planted bombs would do the trick.
To ensure the building would be evacuated in time, Maggie slipped a warning note (cunningly addressed to herself) under the door of Vera's flat, where Maggie had been staying until that morning. Maggie believed Vera to be inside feverishly working on her fashion layouts, not realising that she had in fact been called away, and so the note remained unread until it was too late. With the revelation that Maggie was the mad bomber she departed the series in a blaze of publicity, and another great character bit the dust.
Just a few weeks after the bomb, in early October 1975, Alf and Lucy Sutcliffe suffered a traumatic experience when their new baby, Emma, was snatched from her pram which Alf briefly left in the street outside a grocer's shop. By the next episode the kidnapper, Stella (Anne Charleston), was discovered threatening to throw Emma off a cliff. Alf and Lucy arrived at the cliff where Lucy was able convince Stella to release Emma. After this experience Alf and Lucy promptly left Number 96 and resettled in Perth, never to be seen in the series again.
With these departures six major regular characters who had been in the series for all or most of its run had disappeared. Now the stage was set for an influx of diverse new characters and a new approach for the series.
The episodes after the bombing immediately show the program's new style. Now individual scenes seem longer, and episodes have a slower, more leisurely pace. While before there were many noisy, crowded and chaotic scenes with action and differing conversations overlapping, now there were fewer characters in each scene and overall the dialogue came out slower and things seemed generally more sedate.
Storyline wise the comedy sketches were markedly toned down. Now straight drama, romance and relationship storylines dominated the show. Though Dorrie, Herb and Flo, and Mummy and Daddy, carried on with their comedy scenes as before, with Les and Roma and Aldo gone, these comedy characters were now more in the minority.
New storylines would focus on the romantic and personal travails of the often rather flippant Prim who had begun working in the wine bar and had quickly become a key figure in storylines. Gary Whitaker returns and takes over the management role in the wine bar with military precision, and makes his dislike of Dudley apparent.
Gary becomes romantically interested in Prim who remains cool to his advances, expecting to be wooed. When David's mother Celia (Margaret Christensen) briefly returns, Prim, who had carried a torch for David, is angered to learn she is actually his wife not his mother. After that Prim shows much more interest in Gary. Meanwhile Dudley and Jaja revive their lusty and forbidden affair which they keep secret from Dud's lover Don.
Vera's sumptuous fashion salon opens and becomes a new location in the story. She soon moves in to Warwick's vacant penthouse apartment while Prim takes over flat 7. (The episode end credits now show both Vera and Prim as being in flat 7.)
Yet more new characters are drafted in. Vera's prim and conservative seamstress Eileen Chester (played by Patti Crocker who had acted in radio soap opera Blue Hills) and her daughters, sullen schoolgirl Debbie Chester (Dina Mann) and her scheming and rather domineering older sister Jane (Suzanne Church) move in to the flat vacated by the departed Alf and Lucy. Debbie is introduced to heroin by a school friend Theresa (Julieanne Newbould), and soon descends into the horrors of drug addiction.
Flo's new friend was the loquacious, story-telling train lover Arthur Partridge (Gordon Glenwright) who came to Number 96 with a pet cockatoo and his model train set. Glenwright had previously played a gruff Scottish handyman in Class of '74, and as that series became Class of '75 and switched to comedy his character seemed to be morphing into a Les Whittaker clone. At Number 96 Arthur's trains have soon taken over flat 3 and are used as a miniature food transport service shuttling food from the kitchen to the dining table in the sort of eccentric invention Les Whittaker would have loved.
Also introduced was Warwick's wife Muriel (enacted by Rowena Wallace showing her adroitness as an icy bitch that would later become celebrated through her role in Sons and Daughters). Muriel jousted with a shocked Vera who had assumed that Muriel approved of her affair with Warwick. In other developments sweet Liz Chalmers married Arnold Feather. They redecorated the bombed deli and ran the business together and set up home in flat 2. Flat 2 itself was also redecorated, and Norma Whittaker even got a new, soft waves ash blond wig.
The late 1975 episodes present engaging drama and a nice mix of new, varied characters and storylines. Despite this the fallout from the bomb lingered, with some fans horrified by the level of violence of that story and the abrupt departure of some of the show's best loved favourites.
In October 1975 TV Week reported that though the show's ratings figures for the week which included the bombing and its aftermath were up considerably on the figures for the preceding weeks, the ratings quickly dropped off again after the boost, with the show's ratings again running well below their peak. Overall TEN was placed as third in the ratings behind Channels Seven and Nine, a position it had not occupied since Number 96 had premiered. [clxxii]
Though it remained on-air another two years, Number 96 never again achieved the high ratings of before, and viewers began to drift away from the series. Producer Bill Harmon later regretted the cast-decimating bomb blast, admitting that he had panicked at the show's drop in ratings and had acted in haste.
"I had just returned from overseas to find that the ratings had dropped dramatically. So we decided that there should be a gigantic blow-up and that way we would get rid of those characters for whom we were finding it difficult to write. For instance it was becoming very hard to sustain the bickering between Aldo and Roma. We were searching around each week for sillier and sillier ideas to involve Les Whittaker and the character was simply becoming unreal. So we got rid of these three plus Maggie Cameron and Miles Cooper, during, or as a sequel to, the explosion. In hindsight, it was a stupid move. I killed off too many characters too quickly. But it's done now and we are stuck with it." [clxxiii]
Indeed the loss of so many long running favourites in one go was a jarring change in the series. Miles Cooper, a relatively minor short-term character, seemed to be the only disposable character of the bunch. Later deli scenes with various other characters operating the business never quite shined as they had before and Les Whittaker, in particular, was sorely missed. At least Maggie had not been killed allowing the possibility of Bettina Welch reprising the role for guest reappearances in the show, something that would indeed happen in June 1976 and for the show's closing episodes.
Of the bombing, Aldo's portrayer Johnny Lockwood admitted that "Naturally I wasn't happy. I was very sorry to be out of it." [clxxiv] The show's script editor Johnny Whyte, in June 1976, told TV Week that "it had to be done." Johnny Whyte explained,
"I really hate telling an actor that he's going to be written out and in this case it was particularly hard as I love the Les Whittaker character, but a lot of people had started to say they were beginning to dislike the character and it seemed the right thing to do at the time. Now I'm not so sure. Les and Norma were ideal together and I sometimes feel that something is lacking without him." [clxxv]
When Number 96 returned for 1976 there were further changes. Most obviously the show switched from screening five half-hour episodes a week to two one-hour episodes, which aired on consecutive week nights (The Box had switched from five half-hours a week to screening as one-hour instalments in 1975). This new arrangement, with its reduced weekly output, would remain until the end of the series.
Producer Bill Harmon explained the benefits of the new format to TV Week.
"It gives us a number of advantages. Firstly, we have to provide only two cliff-hangers a week instead of five. Secondly the longer format will mean less scenes thereby leading to greater development for each character at a more leisurely and realistic pace. I felt that we were pressuring too much with five episodes a week. It was not only pressuring the audience but it was pressuring the actors and writers with five cliff-hanger situations each week." [clxxvi]
Harmon also noted that the new format will "allow us to do a lot more exterior filming and we will now spend one day a week shooting outdoors to give the series a new look". [clxxvii] Late 1975 had seen an increase in the number of scenes shot outdoors, and the 1976 episodes began to utilise outdoor filming to a far greater extent than ever before. [clxxviii]
At times the real building used to represent Number 96 - actually located at 83 Moncur Street, Woollahra - would now be used as a filming location for scenes occurring on the street outside Number 96. (In one episode of this period Arnold Feather was heard to discuss a delayed deli delivery and compared their situation to was happening over at "Number 83".)
The "Sunshine Patio" (basically the cleared-out backyard of Number 96) was a new recurring location. Scenes set there were shot outdoors in a small enclosed area that indeed looked just like an inner city backyard. Special storylines would also feature sections of location footage.
A few months after the broadcast of the bomb storyline, producer Bill Harmon had conceded that killing off so many characters in one go had been a major mistake. At that time he also admitted that "we had too many people in the show last year. Our biggest problem was finding new characters that could run a long time. So we had a lot of chopping and changing and that didn't help." [clxxix] Unfortunately the constant cast changes continued and the last two years of the series are characterised by a high turnover of various new characters, most of whom fail to last out the series.
Liz was revealed as a deceitful schemer who was actually trying to poison her husband Arnold, and she was ultimately packed off to prison. Eileen was reunited with her estranged husband Ian (Stuart Finch) before both characters were devoured by a shark (!) in a storyline devised as a send-up of film Jaws. The now orphaned Debbie and Jane Chester remained in flat 4 and continued as key characters in the series. Warwick and Vera parted company; Warwick was out of the storyline and Vera returned to flat 7.
David Palmer and Prim Primrose and Arthur Partridge had also disappeared while yet more new characters were introduced. Just prior to their deaths Aldo and Roma had caught young orphan Kerry Braddon (Ashley Grenville) shoplifting in the deli, and they subsequently had made plans to adopt him. After their deaths Kerry became Arnold's ward and moved in to Number 96, living with Arnold and Dudley who now shared flat 6.
Sophisticated solicitor Laura Trent (Mary Ann Severne) moved in with Don and they became close friends and business colleagues. Meanwhile Norma's new love interest for a time was garbage collector Weppo Smith (Roger Ward). Gary organised Weppo's transformation into a professional wrestler with a penchant for quoting Shakespeare in the ring, with little Herb Evans as Weppo's trainer.
The biggest cast departure of 1976 was that of the highly popular original cast member Elaine Lee. After four and a half years of failed love affairs, as Lee told TV Week, the producers of the series "felt the character of Vera needed a rest and I couldn't agree more. There was very little for Vera to do. She had done so many things, been through so many emotions and had so many things done to her." [clxxx]
In the story Vera Collins was married in June 1976 and went off to live in Europe. Unfortunately the producers had not seemed to recognise that as "everyone's friend", the character had seemed to sit at the heart of the show, and one of Vera's key functions in the series had been to somehow hold all the disparate characters together. Her departure would leave visible gap in the ensemble.
As Number 96 chalked-up 1000 episodes, ready to take over flat 7 was the family of Reg's newly introduced sister, the conscientious Fay Chandler (Lynne Murphy). With an out of work husband Bernard (James Moss) engaging in earnest discussions about current politics and the economy, and teenage sons Grant (Michael Howard) and Lee (Stephen McDonald) who deceived their parents by neglecting their studies, Fay had little to laugh about. Grant hustled cash from anyone silly enough to part with it - including a smitten Don - while Lee tried his luck with Laura Trent. Like the Chester family, the parents were apparently deemed surplus to requirement and ultimately dispensed with. Bernard moved away before being killed off and Fay was sent to a mental asylum, and the focus was shifted to Grant and Lee.
Meanwhile Italian Carlo Lenzi (played by suave international film actor Joseph Furst) and his son Giovanni (Harry Michaels) took over running the deli and faced the difficult task of gaining a following what with the unceremonious way in which their predecessors had been removed from the series.
Stereotypically Italian and a modern-day Chico Marx, Giovanni's main schtick involved his eager-to-please clumsiness. Giovanni's awkward and amusing attempts to incorporate "everyday" Australian idiom into his vocabulary ("Oh stone da crows!") somehow seemed similar to a couple of earlier characters in the series. Funny that.
Meanwhile dashing Carlo romanced Norma Whittaker. However he was eventually succeeded in the deli by Giovanni's comically fiery Aunt Maria Panucci (Arianthe Galani). The comedy duo of Giovanni and Maria would last out the series.
Meanwhile the jiggling Jaja Gibson had clearly succeeded in turning a few heads, successfully outliving the other characters introduced at the time she had joined the series. By mid 1976 Jaja was working with Dudley and the newly introduced Miss Rhonda (Justine Saunders) in Dudley's new hairdressing salon. Rhonda was a beautiful aboriginal hairdresser who would become embroiled in a love triangle with Dudley Butterfield and Arnold Feather, and would then be raped by the Hooded Rapist as part of the show's latest whodunit storyline.
Despite initial publicity surrounding Rhonda's arrival that expected protests over the planned inter-racial love scenes and near nudity involving the character, Rhonda would be abruptly written out of the series once her portrayer's initial contract expired. In announcing the departure TV Week alluded to the unexpected nature of the decision to write Rhonda out of the show. Justine Saunders' quoted comments in the article added to the intrigue.
"I don't know where you heard about it, but yes, I suppose you could say it's true but I shouldn't really say anything about it at all. Naturally I'm very disappointed by the decision. I don't know what they have in mind for me - whether they plan to bring me back or whether I'll be out for good." [clxxxi]
Rhonda's storyline had involved the formerly camp movie fan Dudley Butterfield in a heterosexual love triangle. Both Bill Harmon and Johnny Whyte later recalled that one of their greatest regrets was allowing gay Dudley to turn bisexual, in the hope that giving him a female love interest would broaden his appeal with viewers. [clxxxii]
The character of Jaja had also been written out the series at the time, with her portrayer Anya Saleky given notice earlier the same month. The official reason stated was that scriptwriters had run out of ideas for the character. [clxxxiii] (A few weeks after the announced departures of Rhonda and Jaja the TV Week gossip column On the Grape Vine suggested that one of the recent cast axings came after an unnamed actress in the serial required 17 takes to get one of her scenes right.)
In late September 1976 Scene reported that Number 96 (and The Box) had done very poorly in the latest ratings. Scene speculated that "viewers have become bored by the present story lines" of the shows, and reported that the producers of both programs were told the serials could be axed unless they promise more interest and viewer appeal. [clxxxiv]
Scene said that Number 96 was responding with the returns of two departed cast members. Bettina Welch would make a return appearance as "Mad Bomber" Maggie Cameron, who returns for her trial. Abigail would also be back for a week in November 1976, as part of an attempt to launch a new spin-off series. [clxxxv]
With the show's reigning sex symbol Anya Saleky soon to leave, producer Bill Harmon in October 1976 described to TV Week the search for a replacement sex symbol.
"I never thought I would say it but I believe that the days of total nudity on television are just about through. A few years ago the shock value of nudity dragged the huge audiences. You only have to look back on the early days of Number 96 to realise that. But there has been so much nudity on television that the shock value has just about gone. That is why we may not necessarily be insisting that the girl chosen as the new sex symbol should have to shed all her clothes." [clxxxvi]
According to the report, the series had recently reduced the number of sex scenes - partly due to the difficulty in finding the right girl to radiate sexuality.
"We are desperate to find someone who radiates sex appeal even when she is fully dressed. It's not enough that she has to be attractive. She could be sensationally attractive yet not project sex appeal. And it doesn't follow that she has to be an experienced actress. Good actresses don't necessarily project a sexy image. There must be some magic about her - and that magic is damned hard to find. A few years ago we had it with Abigail. She was able to project that magic but we really haven't been able to capture it since." [clxxxvii]
These comments came as a prelude to a nationwide search for the right girl to become the show's new sex symbol. By this stage, not all actresses joining the series had a nude clause in their contracts.
"I'm not insistent these days about actresses having to strip. When they first join the company I always ask them whether stripping bothers them. If it does I point out that they would only be asked to strip if it was essential to the script - not just for the sake of taking their clothes off." [clxxxviii]
Harmon also described the program's planned new youth focus.
"There will be more stories of appeal to younger viewers and we are already working on some of these scripts." [Of the mid 1975 ratings slump, ratings had by then] "recovered to a satisfactory level. We made changes to the show this year which worked well. We did more filming outdoors and all of this filming had a point to it. We just didn't show cars going down streets. And the series was lengthened to an hour and shown twice a week instead of five half hours a week. Segments became longer, and this, plus the extra half hour we gained each week by switching to the hour format, enabled us to spend more time on production. It showed. We are the only locally produced dramatic series on commercial networks which has been a ratings success this year." [clxxxix]
Meanwhile the departure of Les had sparked an outcry from viewers of the series and after the deluge of complaints, the show's makers had a rethink about their decision to kill off the character. So twelve months after the bomb Gordon McDougall was returned to the show playing Les's long lost look alike brother Andrew, the Earl of McCraddanow (a tongue-twisting name reportedly invented by the show's then production manager, Paul Seto). For his new character Andrew the Scottish McDougall spoke with a slowed down version of an old-fashioned East of Scotland accent and grew a beard, which was specially dyed for that grey streak look. [cxc]
Andrew proved to be somewhat unlike the popular Les having been devised as a stereotypical penny pinching Scot, though he had a similar warm and friendly manner. Aside from the beard McDougall now had a different hairstyle and wore the smarter Tweeds of a distinguished Dandy, making him also seem somewhat a clone of the recent Arthur Partridge character, a train-loving eccentric who had a similar smart wardrobe and grey-streaked beard.
Like Arthur, Andrew moved in to flat 3. In the flat Andrew took the place of Flo, who had married Sir William Mainwaring (Les Foxcroft) and moved to Point Piper for a time. Flo was now credited in the centre corridor spot reserved for guest characters and recurring actors whose character did not reside at Number 96. Thankfully popular Flo fell into the latter category, remaining a lead character in the program's storylines.
Gordon McDougall summarised his activities away from Number 96 for TV Week.
"When I was written out I was disappointed, but the long run in the show had allowed me to put a bit aside so it wasn't as if I was suddenly destitute. And I had plenty of notice to organise other things - a season with the South Australian theatre Company first then various bits and pieces in television and the movies. I finished up my spell out of the show with a season at the Old Tote here in Sydney so I was never unemployed." [cxci]
Unfortunately the depiction of Andrew as a mysterious and apparently sinister character who was diametrically opposed to loveable Les, and who neither looked nor sounded like him, seemed to defeat the purpose of having Gordon McDougall back in the series. But nevertheless it was good to see him back. In any event Andrew never really caught on and was written out of the show after six months.
As part of the drastic revamp of the series for 1976 Johnny Whyte switched from acting as story editor of Number 96 to a new role developing new projects, and he enlisted Joel Kane, top US comedy and soap opera writer, as a special writing consultant on Number 96 and to help develop new projects. [cxcii] Back onNumber 96, story editor duties would now be handled by Ross Napier. [cxciii]
It was decided to spin off various characters from Number 96 into their own series, and by the end of 1976 pilot episodes for these speculative new projects were shot. The footage from all these pilots went to air, cunningly incorporated into episodes of Number 96. Proposed spin offs included a gritty 60-minute legal drama entitled A Law To Himself in which Joe Hasham would reprise the role of Don Finlayson... except rumour had it that in this new show the character would no longer be gay.
Joe Hasham's co-stars in the series would be fellow Number 96 actors Dina Mann and Suzanne Church who played sisters Debbie and Jane Chester. In A Law To Himself they would act as Don's assistants. [cxciv]
The other spin offs were all planned as 30-minute situation comedies. Mummy and Me starred those popular Number 96 stalwarts Mike Dorsey and Wendy Blacklock in a series following Reg MacDonald's misadventures as an advertising executive with he and wife Edie living in the penthouse apartment above the office. Mummy and Me would also feature the returning Nigel Morgan (John Allen), seen in Number 96 as Reg's work colleague at the TH who boarded in flat 5 for two lengthy stints where his boisterous manner usually upset regimented Reg's routine.
Then there was Fair Game, a saucy comedy about three divorced women sharing a Kirribilli flat. The cast included Elaine Lee returning as Vera, with Lynette Curran and Abigail playing her flatmates.
With Abigail's original Number 96 character Bev earlier transformed into Victoria Raymond and then killed off, she here portrays a new character named Eve, a sexually aggressive playgirl who Vera had befriended in Europe. Their co-star Lynette Curran was known for her long running role of the sexy Rhoda in Bellbird, and had appeared nude in the 1973 sex comedy film Alvin Purple. Here her character, Samantha Minerver, is a straitlaced recent divorcee intent only on reviving her marriage.
Also in the Fair Game pilot footage was Peter Flett, who previously portrayed Marilyn MacDonald's beau Michael Bartlett in 1974. Here he would play Joe Minerver, the womanising ex-husband of Samantha who falls into a sexy trap laid by Eve. Presumably intended as regular character for Fair Game was Vera's houseboy, the monolithic blond bodybuilder Hans Schmidt (Horst Pladdies). As Hans learned English from Australian wharfies his few English phrases are rather crude, with his standard greeting being "You getting any?" His general ineptitude with the language meant his dialogue usually consisted of a few short repeated phrases, and grunts.
Finally Hope'll Help would have featured Chelsea Brown, the former star of US sketch comedy series Laugh In and now a regular fixture on Australian television variety and panel shows. In the spin-off Brown would continue her newly introduced Number 96 character, vivacious American singer and all-round do-gooder Hope Jackson, in her new job working for a small telephone answering service.
The footage from all pilots went to air within standard episodes of Number 96 where it was spliced in with the show's usual day-to-day action. Most of the pilot footage went to air in late 1976 episodes while the Hope'll Help segments were seen in April 1977.
In his TV Week column, Terry Fetherston would later reflect on the quality of the four spin-off pilots. He commended Mummy and Me for being funny and for being sufficiently different from Number 96 to allow the series to work, while singling-out for praise the strong performance of John Ewart, who plays the harassed chief of the advertising agency. [cxcv]
However Fetherston deemed Fair Game the best of the pilots. He noted that "Abigail is the surprise packet of the pilot and proves that, given the chance, she is a most competent actress with a flair for comedy". Also commended is actor Terry O'Neill, with his character described as an "excellent foil for the divorcees in the role of the prissy and distinctly square landlord". [cxcvi]
Of A Law To Himself Fetherston praises the "tension, the tight story, believable dialogue, and a good performance by Joe Hasham". However, he ultimately judges the idea to suffer from an "identity crisis", and detects problems in the transformation of "gentle, tormented homosexual lawyer Don Finlayson into an aggressive legal crusader operating outside the confines of his profession and, presumably, heterosexual into the bargain". [cxcvii]
Sadly Hope'll Help is deemed unfunny. While its star Chelsea Brown is praised for her good acting and talent for comedy, Fetherston feels that this show, lacking as it does much in the way of action, is not the vehicle for her. [cxcviii]
Unfortunately the characters seemed unable to make the successful transfer to another genre. Outside the familiar formula and framework of Number 96 where they had originally been developed, the characters and the comedy surrounding them did not seem to work.
In the case of Fair Game, the bedroom farce antics seemed more silly than funny. Also, the transformation of Vera to a flippantly lascivious and witty wise cracker - though well played - was a bit of a stretch. Despite this, Abigail is great fun, gives a good performance, and looks fantastic in the footage.
Neither the broadcasts of the pilot footage within Number 96 episodes nor the special presentations to the Networks and the press after Number 96 ended provoked much interest. Sadly none of the spin off ideas got off the ground.
In November 1976 Abigail discussed with TV Week the circumstances of her return to Number 96 for the Fair Game footage.
"A few months ago Bill Harmon asked me if I would consider going back into Number 96. I refused the offer. I felt the two and a half [sic] years I played Bev Houghton was long enough to be tied to one thing - even though, of course, I would be coming back as a different character. So Bill went away and came back with the idea of the spin-off series, with me playing an entirely different sort of character - an older lady, more mature than Bev was, and with more brains I suppose. This time I was interested. The idea appealed to me because there were elements of comedy in it and I felt the character, Eve, was so very different to Bev Houghton." [cxcix]
At the time Abigail also reflected on her overnight firing from Number 96 in 1973.
"There were problems and something had to give. Without going in to details it was me who had to go. And overnight Vicki Raymond came in as Bev Houghton. Poor love, I didn't envy her having to take over a role like that. It must have been terribly difficult taking over an established character. But it had been done in series such as Peyton Place and viewers accepted it in time. But any bitterness there might have been, either on my part or from elsewhere, ended a long time ago. I first worked with them again on the 1000th episode special Cash Harmon made and I suppose that was an indication that the hatchet had been completely buried. It felt a little strange going back to the studio - but at the same time it was nice." [cc]
Abigail said that while she missed the limelight after first leaving Number 96, she didn't miss her original character who was prim and flirty and yet secretly a virgin afraid of sex.
"The character of Bev Houghton was really quite ridiculous and completely unbelievable. Surely nobody is quite like she was. That's why I was so interested in the spin-off idea. Eve is so different to Bev - a very self-confident lady, very self-assured - and I'm sure she would be much more fun to play in a series." [cci]
By 1977 the ratings of Number 96 had fallen further, and the time slot changes made the previous year had not helped. In March 1977 emergency meetings between producer Bill Harmon and Channel Ten executives were held to decide the show's future, and at that time Harmon announced that unless the show's ratings improved significantly within a few weeks production on the series would end. [ccii] The pragmatic imperatives of the production were clear in Bill Harmon's comments to TV Week.
"I've always said that if our average rating got down to a 16 I'd think very seriously about the future. Well, as you know, our figures have got below that mark and now is the time to have a good hard look at the situation." [cciii]
At the time it was no secret that the program's popularity was on the wane, and there was much media speculation about the show's future and reports of its declining fortunes. Press reports following the appointment of new Ten Sydney general manager Ian Kennon noted that in future all Number 96 scripts would be closely vetted by the station. Bill Harmon was quick to reply that these reports were misleading.
"That's exactly what has been happening all along. The scripts have always gone to the station for approval before production starts. These reports make it sound like something new." [cciv]
Bill Harmon at the time observed that ratings fluctuations were a fact of television life.
"We've had our ups and downs several times over the years and each time we've come back. Every series goes through periods like that and we've been no exception." [ccv]
Harmon reported that at this time, the ratings dip was something experienced across all Network Ten shows, not just Number 96.
"I'm very optimistic about the future. We're bringing in a whole line-up of new characters and new situations which will give the show a whole new look and a new feel." [ccvi]
True to Harmon's word there were several changes and new developments in the series. Publicity described yet another "new look" for the show, while Network Ten gave assurances that the show has "improved out of sight". [ccvii] Meanwhile several long running characters were to be written out of the series. Norma Whittaker, Gary Whittaker, Andrew Whittaker, Lee Chandler, Laura Trent, and Flo's new husband Sir William Mainwaring were all slated to go. Their portrayers were in late 1976 given notice that their contracts would not be renewed. [ccviii]
What with the thinning of familiar faces in the cast, the producers were lucky enough to re-establish Point Piper socialite Lady Claire Houghton in the series. A highly popular semi-regular during the show's early years, Thelma Scott reprised the role making many appearances during the show's final months in which Claire acted as Svengali to her young boy-toy Grant Chandler, attempting to arrange a singing career and television stardom for the young gigolo.
Meanwhile the wonderful Marilyn MacDonald (Frances Hargreaves) who had left the series in June 1975, also returned, playing a key role in the show's storylines for the final few months. As reported by TV Week Hargreaves had been one of the show's most popular characters in her day, receiving hundreds of fan letters each week. Hargreaves seemed happy and enthusiastic about her return.
"I think it's marvellous, I'm happy about it and really looking forward to starting work. When I was written out Marilyn was sent on holiday to Spain. I don't know how she'll be written back in. I'll just have to wait and see - just like everyone else. [ccix]
Don and Dudley, who had long since split, remained friends while Don took up with a new boyfriend, American architect Rob Forsyth (John McTernan). Unfortunately a scheming Jane Chester set her sights on Rob, and made several attempts to seduce him and to break up his relationship with Don. Dudley meanwhile briefly became a television star until he was fired from the network due to interference from Claire Houghton.
Meanwhile Arnold Feather temporarily departed and was replaced by his ocker, womanising twin brother Chook Feather, also played by Jeff Kevin. Chook had Aunt Maria in romantic pursuit while saving his serious romantic attentions for young Debbie Chester.
The resultant episodes did seem rather eccentric. Veteran comedy characters Dorrie and Flo and Mummy and Daddy MacDonald continued their vaudeville antics while the intervening dramatic storylines hit new heights of shock and violence. Dispensed with was the location film work. Outdoor street scenes set outside Number 96 would again be shot on the studio set representing the building frontage. In the title and credits sequences the filmed shot of the building taken for the 1973 feature film version of the serial would be replaced by a water colour painting of the building.
In perhaps the silliest change, Norma's Bar was closed and replaced by Duddles Disco. Opened by Dudley Butterfield in partnership with Lee Chandler, the disco featured ghastly disco covers and even worse decor which included what seemed to be a large urinal fitted above the bar.
In conjunction with the disco came the addition of American actor and television comedienne Chelsea Brown to the cast. Scene reported that Brown's arrival was part of the show's "new young image in a determined bid to boost ratings and win over a younger audience." The wine bar would turn "swinging", said the report, and several regulars including Norma Whittaker would be "phased out for short periods." Brown would also sing in the series, and was reportedly just one of "several new young regulars introducing more comedy to the series". A few nude scenes were reportedly planned for 1977 too, however these would be "just glimpses - to keep audiences guessing". [ccx]
With appearances in the musical film Sweet Charity (1969), a regular role in comedy series Laugh In, and a role in the 1972 exploitation film The Thing with Two Heads under her belt, Brown's credentials for the "swinging" comedy role certainly seemed in order. In her role of American singer Hope Jackson, Brown indeed brightens things up with her vivacious personality. Along with cast member Michael Howard she would occasionally take to the tiny stage in the disco to belt out bouncy love songs or slow ballads.
Aside from these performances, other disco music was provided by The Executives (a band that also performed the highly catchy theme for series The Young Doctors). Various tracks performed by The Executives, Chelsea Brown and Michael Howard would subsequently be featured on a spin-off record album.
Producer Bill Harmon explained the changes to the series to Scene.
"We'll be adding some new faces - people on the fringe, rather than residents of the apartment. Number 96 isn't going disco, though. There will be a swinging wine bar and comedy characters - audiences get tired of too many hard stories." [ccxi]
The report also noted that falling ratings for Number 96 had worried executives for some time. Harmon said that Number 96 "lives and dies by its ratings. After five years it is still in the top 10 in Sydney, but there is no way we could maintain the enormous audience we had at the beginning. The other channels have been fighting like hell to knock us off." Harmon agreed that 1977 was a crucial year for the series and that Number 96 would ultimately run its course, "but while we maintain our ratings, we can continue." [ccxii]
The show's makers hedged their bets of course. Despite the infusion of new younger characters and hip new elements, those highly popular pensioners Dorrie and Flo retained their major roles in the series. However, seeing them uncomfortably perched in the disco sipping orange juice amongst the flashing lights seemed wildly incongruous.
With Norma and the wine bar phased-out of the series, actor Gordon McDougall found himself written out of Number 96 for the second time. His original character Les Whittaker had been killed-off in the bomb blast, after which the producers quickly realised it had been a mistake to get rid of him. So, in September 1976, Gordon McDougall was brought back as Les's long lost look-alike brother Andrew, who formed a close association with Les's widow Norma. Gordon McDougall faced his second departure with equanimity.
"The character apparently didn't work and with Sheila Kennelly (Norma Whittaker) being written out and the wine bar changing into a disco there really wasn't any room for me in the show. These things happen in the television business and I can't question the decision. But I can't really see myself working there again. What would they do with me?" [ccxiii]
Of her impending departure Sheila Kennelly told Scene,
"We were just dispensable. That was that, darling. The location of the wine bar was ideal for the discotheque. They want to give Number 96 a younger image." [ccxiv]
Gordon McDougall and Sheila Kennelly finished work on the series in February 1977. Their exits were seen in episodes screened in Sydney two months later. [ccxv]
During early 1977 series creator and writer David Sale was absent for some time while travelling overseas. When he returned he saw several changes in the series that he thought were ill-advised. In the 2006 documentary Number 96: The Later Years, Sale reported that he objected to the increased levels of violence in the series. Sale named Dudley's heterosexual liaisons and the transformation of the wine bar into Duddles Disco as especially silly mistakes.
Aside from prompting the departure of two highly popular cast members, having a suburban disco as the show's primary meeting place for its range of different characters seemed ridiculous, and the spin off pop music album released to tie in with the disco was hardly a chart topper. The silly disco idea was well and truly sunk less than three months later with the departure of Dudley from the series, when actor Chard Hayward decided to leave the show. Poor Dudley would be machine gunned to death during a hostage drama within Duddles Disco in June 1977, just two months before the show's demise.
Chook Feather then found himself with far greater problems than fending off an amorous Aunt Maria. After attacking a bikie who had insulted Giovanni, Chook found himself on the receiving end of torture and torment at the hands of a gang of vengeful Nazi bikers.
Unfortunately the Nazi bikers storyline backfired badly on the makers of the show when several members of Sydney motorcycle gangs took exception to the portrayal. Executives of the show were in fear of reprisals after receiving what were interpreted as veiled threats.
In the storyline Giovanni is crucified by the biker gang, and later Chook Feather is tied to a stake and a fire lit around him. According to TV Week these scenes, along with the overall portrayal of the bikers as brutal sadists, provoked complaints from the Bikers' Brotherhood of New South Wales, as well as from general viewers who considered the scenes to be unnecessarily violent.
Actor Harry Michaels who, as Giovanni, had already been crucified by bikers in the show, soon received a visit from some local bikers who complained to him about the media giving all bikers a bad name. "They said that by making the bikie gang on Number 96 excessively violent we were only making the image of bikies worse," He told TV Week. Michaels advised the bikers that they should direct their concerns to the producers of the show, and soon afterwards a member of the brotherhood arrived at the offices of Cash Harmon Television, presenting executives with a letter of complaint. [ccxvi]
The producers ultimately agreed for a disclaimer to be read at the beginning of four episodes of Number 96. The disclaimer reiterated that all Number 96 storylines are purely fictional and not based on real people or events. It also specifically apologised to the Bikers' Brotherhood for the portrayal of the bikie gang. [ccxvii]
This last-ditch revamp also entailed an influx of new characters to hopefully help freshen-up the show. Edie MacDonald's psychiatrist Dr Harold Wilkinson (Dave Allenby) moved in to flat 7, setting up consulting rooms there. Harold was pursued by a love-struck Marilyn and had his hard-living granny Opal (Nat Nixon) as boarder. A drinker and gambler, Opal was always luring the residents of Number 96 into card games and lottery draws, which quickly led to an on-going feud with a disapproving Dorrie.
In other developments Marilyn was bound to a bed clad only in black knickers while an apparently kinky attacker Manuel (played by Elaine Lee's ex-husband Garth Meade), whips out a torch and magnifying glass, slips down her panties, and takes a peek at her bottom. As Marilyn later informs the police, Manuel's weapon was "big and black and it had a magnet on the side". It is later revealed that Manuel was searching for the number of a Swiss Bank account which was reputedly tattooed on Marilyn's bottom.
Then a jealous Claire Houghton takes some racist pot shots at the African-American Hope Jackson who has been spending too much time with Claire's young chauffeur Grant Chandler. Claire finally realises her ambitions to seduce Grant, but feeling remorse the next morning seeks the advice of Dr Harold Wilkinson, before firing Grant, who tells her to rot in hell.
And what of Dorrie and Flo? Well with Herb away on a lengthy overseas tour they discovered oil in the back yard of Number 96 and attempted to take out mineral rights with a shyster lawyer. Meanwhile in flat 5, Mummy and Marilyn struggled to keep secret the news that Reg was soon to receive a knighthood, or so they thought.
A new whodunit storyline was launched when Jane, Rob and Claire all receive poison pen letters. Various characters attempt to deduce the identity of the anonymous author. Don lashes out at Debbie after deciding she has written the letters. Claire accuses Dr. Harold of writing them, and he in turn accuses his granny Opal of listening at the door to hear the various secrets revealed by his patients, causing Opal to have a heart attack.
Ultimately, Rob received a blackmail demand and went to the designated motel room to make payment. There, in the episode's cliff-hanger, he was seen to angrily confront the blackmailer...
...in the next episode it is revealed that Rob has confronted his own alternate, evil personality in the mirror. Revealed as the psychotic blackmailer with a split personality, Rob subsequently sent Don to a motel room for a blackmail payment of his own, having set a rifle to fire on who ever opened the door. However the scheme did not run as planned and Rob accidentally fell victim to his own booby trap.
However the most famous 1977 development was the nude antics of Harold's patient Miss Hemingway (Deborah Gray), who shocked many of the residents with her habit of not wearing any clothes at all. Bill Harmon had previously announced the show's new sex symbol would only need to radiate sex appeal and not necessarily go nude. Apparently the show's makers had been unable to find the right girl, or perhaps the viewing figures had prompted a panic response? In any event with ratings in decline the makers of the show had gone back to the original selling point of Number 96 and returned sex and nudity to the series. [ccxviii]
Miss Hemingway's schtick featured her slinking into Harold's consulting rooms in an expensive mink coat, which she soon slipped off to reveal that she wore nothing at all underneath. The scenes would showcase full frontal nudity in a big way, however the storyline was played for comedy rather than titillation. In the story, as Miss Hemingway's treatment progressed, the mink would be slipped off to each time reveal that she had added an article of clothing. She gradually became fully clothed.
Deborah Gray's unveiling was publicised as being Australia's first ever full frontal television nude scene, and she has gone down in the Australian TV history books as holding that honour. Officially, a distant skinny dipper had been glimpsed in police drama Matlock Police, male and female naturalists were shown full frontally nude in wide shot in the nudist retreat episode of The Box in May 1976, while a bit part actress fleeing Dudley's burning bedroom had already revealed a brief frontal flash when her towel slipped in Number 96 in November 1976.
Nevertheless the uninterrupted views of Gray's anatomy were the first time full nudity was displayed front and centre in mid shot on Australian television. Rather than a quick flash Miss Hemingway would parade around nude for an entire scene. She would be shown in medium and mid shot, and the nudity was the focal point of her character.
Soon other characters were getting in on the act. Within a week's worth of episodes that first aired in early June 1977 viewers were treated to more female full frontal nudity, and full male nudity too. Giovanni's latest conquest Candy provided yet another glimpse of full female nudity after Aunt Maria unexpectedly returned home in a bedroom farce comedy sequence. Meanwhile when Jane Chester became a prostitute and was horrified when her client was revealed to be recently-arrived fellow Number 96 resident Toby Buxton (Malcolm Thompson) expecting to be whipped, viewers finally saw full frontal male nudity in the series, albeit in a split-second flash.
The show's earlier nude scenes had always caused the Channel Ten switchboard to light up with viewers calling to complain, unfortunately Miss Hemingway's full-frontal strips, calculated to bring some much needed controversy and interest to the fast-fading series, provoked just three complaints. [ccxix] Was it because viewers had become blasé after so many years of nude glimpses? Was it because the nudity worked as crucial element of the storyline and was effectively deployed in a comedic manner, with viewers accepting the comedy of the situation? Or was no one watching - or caring - any more?
Ian Kennon, the then general manager of Channel Ten in Sydney, conceded the change in public taste.
"When a bare breast was shown on Number 96 five years ago, we got two-hundred complaints, but now, when we show full-frontal nudity, we get only four or five complaints. We have told our producers the era of nudity is over. It attracts no more complaints, so what is the use of showing it?" [ccxx]
It was true that the show's ratings were well down. Though the Miss Hemingway storyline reportedly resulted in an increase in ratings inmost areas, continued low ratings in the crucial Melbourne market sealed the fate of the series. [ccxxi]
Herb Evans returned in time to witness one of Miss Hemingway's final unveilings, and a final raft of new characters was introduced. Derek Costa (Stephen O'Rourke) was a policeman who becomes Don's flatmate and is dubbed a hero for his actions during the siege in which Dudley was killed. Leaving the force he subsequently worked as Don's assistant in his new Private Investigating business.
Also introduced was Derek's girlfriend, travel agent Ros Halliday (played by Johnny's daughter Joanna Lockwood) who Jane became sexually attracted to. The mysterious student Toby Buxton moved in and soon befriended Debbie. Then future A Country Practice star Shane Porteous came in as a leader of a religious cult.
Later Joanna Lockwood would describe her six-week stint during the dying days of the series.
"The show was going through its death rattles at the time, and nobody seemed to care much so long as I said my lines and didn't bump into the furniture. I had 70 scenes during that six weeks' work - and 68 of them were rehashing the same dialogue, trying to persuade my policeman 'husband' to give up the force." [ccxxii]
Well if nothing else at least such scenes got her into shape for playing policeman's wife Valerie against Peter Adams in Cop Shop.
Despite the continued efforts to revamp Number 96, in late April 1977 declining ratings finally resulted in the cancellation of the series.
At the time TV Week had reported that though the recent revamp and reintroduction of nudity had improved the show's viewing figures in most areas, in Melbourne the ratings remained low. TV Week surmised that the Melbourne ratings could lead to the show being dropped in that city. Without screenings in Melbourne, the series would no longer be viable for the network. Earlier that month the show had been renewed for 13 weeks, and TV Week had suggested that this might be the program's final renewal. [ccxxiii]
On the weekend of 23 April 1977 the decision was made to cancel the serial due to poor ratings in most capital cities, particularly Melbourne. The cast were informed of the cancellation on the show's set at lunchtime on the Monday. [ccxxiv]
In making the announcement to the cast, Ian Kennon, the general manager of Channel Ten in Sydney, explained that the show was rating well in Sydney, but not in other areas. Producer Bill Harmon said that the decision followed "lengthy weekend conferences" and that he hoped that by the time production ended, the company would be busy developing new projects: "It's a feeling of losing a friend. It's like a friend going on a trip - something else will take its place." [ccxxv]
Of the cancelation original cast member Pat McDonald admitted,
"I shall miss it desperately. It's like the family's grown up and splitting up. [...] There was a tremendous silence when they told us." [ccxxvi]
The final episode was taped in Sydney on Friday, 15 July 1977. [ccxxvii] The finale went to air in Sydney on 11 August 1977. With episodes now going out in Melbourne at the reduced rate of one hour a week, it was not seen there until 22 December that year.
Audiences had apparently tired of the sexy drama mixed with vaudevillian comedy and touches of melodrama, and attempts to shift the emphasis onto young and funky newcomers had failed. Australian audiences were switching over in droves to situation comedies and action series flooding in from the US such as Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Starsky and Hutch and The Six Million Dollar Man. Meanwhile, on the soap opera front, it seemed broad comedy and camp characters were out. Indeed The Box, Number 96's sexy stable-mate, had folded a few months before.
Producer Bill Harmon remained philosophical about the demise of the series.
"Not too many local products have as much success over such a period as Number 96. But obviously tastes change over a period and lately the series has been falling off in popularity to the stage where it is no longer an economic proposition for the network." [ccxxviii]
In late 1976 two new Australian serials had been launched on Channel Nine to overwhelming popular response, thus revealing the changes in public taste occurring at that time. One of these, The Sullivans, was definitely at the opposite end of the spectrum from Number 96. The story of a Melbourne family torn apart by World War II, The Sullivans was thoughtful, serious and technically accurate with only subtle comedy touches, and despite appearances by such actors as Chantal Contouri and former The Box sex symbol Belinda Giblin, it contained few outwardly sensational elements.
The other successful new series was The Young Doctors. Though it may not have won any awards for acting or writing, the show's charismatic young cast and romantic storylines attracted a large teenage audience in its early evening time-slot. The show would run many years, and on an episode by episode basis it would ultimately overtake Number 96 in longevity, producing 1396 half-hour episodes to Number 96's 1218.
In the event Ten launched The Restless Years at the end of 1977. Again this show eschewed the camp comedy of Number 96 and, as an outward expression of those elements that Number 96 attempted to introduce during its later stages, was clearly focused upon younger characters, their romantic entanglements and the everyday social problems they faced.
As work wound up on Number 96 various actors looked back at their time on the show for TV Week. Actor Joe Hasham, who had portrayed Don Finlayson the show's entire run, expressed both sadness and relief at the demise of Number 96.
"Almost six years is a long time in one job at my age. At the end of each year I had to sit down and wonder if I was doing the right thing staying in the show. But I did, and I'm very thankful for the financial security it has given me. Although I've got to admit it became a bit tedious in the later stages. It became like any job. After that length of time a person is likely to start losing initial enthusiasm. But all in all it has really been a wonderful six years. There were an awful lot of good times - and some bad times. Bad times like when one of the long-running characters was written out and we all lost a close friend and a workmate." [ccxxix]
Said Jeff Kevin,
"Probably the greatest thing about working on a show like Number 96 was the freedom that was given an actor to develop a character the way he saw it. It gave me the chance to try myself out as at actor - and it also gave me the chance to fall flat on my face if something didn't work. Then there was the marvellous ensemble feeling about working in a show like that. It sounds corny - but we really were like a big family and I'm going to miss the whole thing." [ccxxx]
Pat McDonald, who had played the domineering Dorrie through the program's entire run, said,
"As you know I've always been a great supporter of the Australian television industry and for that reason, more than any, I think Number 96 has made an enormous impression on the business. It has been a pioneer in a lot of ways and it will be remembered years from now for that reason, if not for any other. How do I feel now that it's ending? Sad, naturally, but also very proud of having been in this show that gave so much pleasure to viewers and so much work to people like me and people on the technical side" [ccxxxi]
Veteran performer Ron Shand, who played Dorrie's husband Herb, said that,
"It gave me an enormous knowledge of television production that was perhaps lacking a bit before I joined the cast. It also gave me a great feeling of what it's like to work as part of a team and I'll never forget that. [ccxxxii]
Their main co-star Bunney Brooke explained,
"The show gave me a regular income but I couldn't assess what I have got out of it in monetary terms. You couldn't buy the happiness I got from working with such a great bunch of actors and actresses and the love the public has given me. I am proud of what the public have felt for me and if I have given them half of what I received back, then maybe that's what my job is all about." [ccxxxiii]
Of sustaining her characterisation Brooke reported that,
"I had to use my wits, intelligence and knowledge because we worked at a tremendous pace. I am going to miss Flo. She has been such a part of me, and I am going to miss the funny little flat where Dorrie, Herbie and I lived. We were three ordinary people, unaware of what was happening in the other flats in the block." [ccxxxiv]
Overall Brooke expressed mixed feelings about the program ending.
"We were a big family and there were days when we loved each other, hated each other and became angry with each other. But if anyone was ill, everyone rallied around and helped out and this included the crew as well. Everyone did a mammoth job." [ccxxxv]
Mike Dorsey who had chalked-up three and a half years as Daddy when the series ended declared that,
"There will never be another show like Number 96 on Australian television. It has to be remembered as one of the greats. I had fun in the show even though we worked hard. But it was good for my acting and it was good becoming disciplined in learning lines week after week." [ccxxxvi]
Dorsey found the job of learning lots of new lines every week difficult at first. "But once I had my character established it became easier," he said. Of his main co-star Wendy Blacklock, Dorsey said that "Wendy is a great actress and we had a great rapport on the screen together." [ccxxxvii]
Indeed, they had such a great rapport that their characters lived on after the series ended. As Wendy Blacklock explained,
"We are not going to say goodbye to Reg and Edie McDonald. With Bill Harmon's blessing we are doing a husband and wife comedy routine in the clubs. We found doing charity performances last year that the public was greatly interested in seeing 'Mummy and Daddy' in the flesh, so we decided to do an act." [ccxxxviii]
The series writers who had initially created the characters for Number 96 wrote most of the show's comedy material. Bill Harding, who wrote for The Norman Gunstan Show, contributed material, and Dorsey and Blacklock themselves contributed some sketches. [ccxxxix] In the 2006 documentary Number 96: The Later Years, Blacklock recalls that these club shows continued for a period of about 18 months to two years after the demise of the series.
This had not been the only spin-off for Reg and Edie. In January 1978 TV Week had reported on plans for yet another spin-off idea featuring Mike Dorsey and Wendy Blacklock and the second television spin-off pilot trading on their popular Mummy and Daddy characters. [ccxl]
The actors were reportedly set to star in a $68,000 pilot, titled Oh Mummy, Oh Daddy, to be offered to the commercial networks. Taped at the studios of ATN7 in February 1978 the one-hour special was based on comic strip characters - the high cost was due to the copyrights of Superman and Ginger Meggs - and a series of the same vein was proposed. Each episode would have a particular theme and open with a couple - played by Dorsey and Blacklock - emerging from a dream situation, and the series would combine sketches with serious acting. Meanwhile the show's producer, Warren T. Smith, added to the confusion by noting that it was being planned as a variety-oriented series, with the involvement of various musical groups. [ccxli] However television networks were apparently nonplussed, and the series never saw the light of day.
Despite the eventful nature of some of its earlier storylines, Number 96 went out quietly in episodes first screened in Sydney in August 1977. In the rather downbeat closing storylines the building has been purchased by a mystery buyer. Dorrie finally agrees to terminate her lease thereby allowing the sale to go ahead, at which point - to the horror of the recently returned Norma Whittaker - the mystery buyer is revealed to be none other than Maggie Cameron. Meanwhile, Arnold's latest love Vicki Dawson (Kay Powell) anxiously awaits news of her kidnapped baby son Simon.
The residents are horrified by the prospect of Maggie demolishing Number 96 for a new development, however when it emerges that both Dorrie and Herb's signatures are required to terminate their lease, Herb naturally refuses to sign, and Number 96 is saved. Meanwhile Dorrie's on-going feud with recent arrival Opal seems finally resolved for good after their latest clash, a disagreement over a winning lottery ticket, is sorted-out.
There is more good news as baby Simon is found unharmed, and Arnold and Vicki are promptly married in time to hold their reception in Duddles Disco prior to the show's final curtain call. Unfortunately, news that the sale has fallen through does not filter through to Giovanni in the deli. At Opal's suggestion (for a cut of the profits) he had held a closing down sale successfully clearing the deli's entire stock, including the cash register, while Marilyn's pronouncement that she is to become a nun seems nullified when she falls madly in love with Giovanni's newly arrived brother Sergio.
In the end, rather highlighting their depleted numbers, the entire cast happily gather in the Disco to toast the happy couple, with even Maggie Cameron making an appearance. Maggie smugly admits that she wasn't really the buyer after all, leaving the impression that her prank was calculated to provoke the residents into fighting the imminent sale.
Despite the fact that a grinning Maggie - the Mad Bomber who had killed four residents including Norma's husband - hands Arnold a large gift-wrapped box, the series does not end with the entire cast blown up in a bomb explosion. Instead, Dorrie makes the final speech, but is horrified to learn that Edie is not in attendance. Reg explains she is upstairs working, having been suddenly gripped by an idea for the novel she has been contracted to write. "Why wasn't I told?" gasps Dorrie. "...And will somebody mind telling me what Mrs MacDonald could possibly find to write a novel about...?"
...while Edie begins typing her novel,
"Once upon a time there was a building called Number 96..."
And so the story closed. The episode ends on a triumphant note with many of the cast from over the years the series ran returning for a traditional curtain call farewell before a live audience, and cast member Ron Shand is shown switching off the studio lights for the final time.
Page originally uploaded May 2000
Last updated 24 February 2013
Ian McLean's comprehensive Number 96 website which includes an exhaustive list of character profiles, casting information, fascinating behind-the-scenes trivia, and a synopsis for each of Number 96's 1218 episodes, was used as a reference in the preparation of this page.
[i] Beilby, Peter. Australian TV: The First 25 Years. Cinema Papers: Melbourne, 1981, pages 146-147.
[ii] Beilby, Peter. Australian TV: The First 25 Years. Cinema Papers: Melbourne, 1981, page 147.
[iii] Beilby, Peter. Australian TV: The First 25 Years. Cinema Papers: Melbourne, 1981, page 147.
[iv] Marshall, Valda. 'Nude' show to go ahead. The Sun Herald. 26 December 1971, page 50.
[v] Chipperfield, Mark. "Living in the shadow of Number 96." The Eastern Herald. [The Sydney Morning Herald weekly supplement]. 18 September 1986, page 2.
[vi] Clarke, David and Steve Samuelson. 50 Years: Celebrating a Half-Century of Australian Television. Random House: Milsons Point, NSW, 2006, page 142
[vii] "Bold series to test viewer reaction." The Age - TV-Radio Guide March 10-16, 1972. 9 March 1972, page 12.
[viii] Schembri, Jim. "How a classic still shows the way." The Age Green Guide. 9 March 2000, page 10.
[ix] Clarke, David and Steve Samuelson. 50 Years: Celebrating a Half-Century of Australian Television. Random House: Milsons Point NSW, 2006, page 142.
[x] "Control Board Under Fire." TV Week. 1 April 1972, page 5.
[xi] "Control Board Under Fire." TV Week. 1 April 1972, page 5.
[xii] "Control Board Under Fire." TV Week. 1 April 1972, page 5.
[xiii] "Sex on TV... the way it was." TV Week. 29 August 1981, page 6-7.
[xiv] "Sex on TV... the way it was." TV Week. 29 August 1981, page 6-7.
[xv] Schembri, Jim. "How a classic still shows the way." The Age Green Guide. 9 March 2000, page 10.
[xvi] Moody, Mary. "David's Baby is Doing Fine!" TV Week. 18 November 1972, page 32
[xvii] Moody, Mary. "David's Baby is Doing Fine!" TV Week. 18 November 1972, page 32
[xviii] "One Thousand Nights of Number 96." TV Week. 5 June 1976, page 6-7.
[xix] "One Thousand Nights of Number 96." TV Week. 5 June 1976, page 6-7.
[xx] "Life with Father! - It's a lot like a murder mystery." TV Week. 13 October 1973, page 28.
[xxi] "Life with Father! - It's a lot like a murder mystery." TV Week. 13 October 1973, page 28.
[xxii] "Life with Father! - It's a lot like a murder mystery." TV Week. 13 October 1973, page 28.
[xxiii] "Life with Father! - It's a lot like a murder mystery." TV Week. 13 October 1973, page 28.
[xxiv] Marshall, Valda. 'Nude' show to go ahead. The Sun Herald. 26 December 1971, page 50.
[xxv] Fetherston, Jerry. "The Man Who Brought Nudity to Australian TV." TV Week. 2 July 1977, page 6-7.
[xxvi] Fetherston, Jerry. "Black Mass Segment was Not Good Taste!" TV Week. 19 August 1972, page 16-17.
[xxvii] "To strip-or not to strip?" TV Week. 17 June 1972, page 6-7.
[xxviii] "To strip-or not to strip?" TV Week. 17 June 1972, page 6-7.
[xxix] "To strip-or not to strip?" TV Week. 17 June 1972, page 6-7.
[xxx] "To strip-or not to strip?" TV Week. 17 June 1972, page 6-7.
[xxxi] "To strip-or not to strip?" TV Week. 17 June 1972, page 6-7.
[xxxii] "To strip-or not to strip?" TV Week. 17 June 1972, page 6-7.
[xxxiii] "To strip-or not to strip?" TV Week. 17 June 1972, page 6-7.
[xxxiv] "To strip-or not to strip?" TV Week. 17 June 1972, page 6-7.
[xxxv] "The Blonde Bombshell Who Knocked Back Alvin Purple!" TV Week. 3 August 1974, page 20.
[xxxvi] "The Blonde Bombshell Who Knocked Back Alvin Purple!" TV Week. 3 August 1974, page 20.
[xxxvii] "Beth's Tired of Being a Sweet Young Thing!" TV Week. 15 June 1974, page 15.
[xxxviii] "One Thousand Nights of Number 96." TV Week. 5 June 1976, page 6-7.
[xxxix] "Board Slams Top Programs!" TV Week. 8 September 1973, page 13.
[xl] Smark, Peter. Ebenezer column: "Whipped off the air." The Age. 5 July 1973. page 2.
[xli] "Maggie - The Tough Girl with a Soft Centre." TV Week. 19 October 1974, page 25.
[xlii] Clarke, David and Steve Samuelson. 50 Years: Celebrating a Half-Century of Australian Television. Random House: Milsons Point, NSW, 2006. page 151-60
[xliii] "Number Crunch." The Herald Sun, Weekend supplement. 8 July 2006, page 8.
[xliv] "How Number 96 Changed My Life." TV Week. 25 November 1972. page 53.
[xlv] "Aldo Still Gets the Laughs!" TV Week. 17 February 1973, page 25.
[xlvi] "One Thousand Nights of Number 96." TV Week. 5 June 1976, page 6-7.
[xlvii] Mercado, Andrew. Super Aussie Soaps. Pluto Press Australia: North Melbourne, 2004, page 45.
[xlviii] Fawcett, Tony. "The Double Life of Mrs. Godolfus!" TV Week. 4 August 1973, page 20.
[xlix] Fawcett, Tony. "The Double Life of Mrs. Godolfus!" TV Week. 4 August 1973, page 20.
[l] "Number 96! It's an Education." TV Week. 25 November 1972, pages 36, 44.
[li] "Number 96! It's an Education." TV Week. 25 November 1972, pages 36, 44.
[lii] "Number 96! It's an Education." TV Week. 25 November 1972, pages 36, 44.
[liii] Fetherston, Jerry. "The Man Who Brought Nudity to Australian TV." TV Week. 2 July 1977, page 6-7.
[liv] Fetherston, Jerry. "The Man Who Brought Nudity to Australian TV." TV Week. 2 July 1977, page 6-7.
[lv] Fetherston, Jerry. "The Man Who Brought Nudity to Australian TV." TV Week. 2 July 1977, page 6-7.
[lvi] Fetherston, Jerry. "There's No Sex in The Unisexers!" TV Week. 25 January 1975, page 6-7.
[lvii] "Unlocking the door to Number 96." Brisbane Times. 30 August 2008. URL: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/news/entertainment/unlocking-the-door-to-number-96/2008/08/29/1219516741498.html Accessed 12 March 2009.
[lviii] "Tom the Shrewdie Cashes In!" TV Week. 29 December 1973, page 8.
[lix] Fetherston, Jerry. "There's No Sex in The Unisexers!" TV Week. 25 January 1975, page 6-7.
[lx] Fetherston, Jerry. "There's No Sex in The Unisexers!" TV Week. 25 January 1975, page 6-7.
[lxi] Pinkney, John. "They're spraying anti-septic on Number 96." The Age. 28 July 1972, page 2.
[lxii] Livingstone, Ian. "Norma's a Hearty Sheila." Scene. 11 December-17 December 1976, page 7.
[lxiii] "Aldo's Mate was Nearly a Priest!" TV Week. 14 October 1972, page 34.
[lxiv] "Satan Comes to No. 96!" TV Week. 4 November 1972, page 6-7.
[lxv] "Satan Comes to No. 96!" TV Week. 4 November 1972, page 6-7.
[lxvi] "Satan Comes to No. 96!" TV Week. 4 November 1972, page 6-7.
[lxvii] "Satan Comes to No. 96!" TV Week. 4 November 1972, page 6-7.
[lxviii] "Satan Comes to No. 96!" TV Week. 4 November 1972, page 6-7.
[lxix] "Satan Comes to No. 96!" TV Week. 4 November 1972, page 6-7.
[lxx] TV Week . 21 October 1972, page 5.
[lxxi] "Satan Comes to No. 96!" TV Week. 4 November 1972, page 6-7.
[lxxii] "Satan Comes to No. 96!" TV Week. 4 November 1972, page 6-7.
[lxxiii] Fetherston, Jerry. "Black Mass Segment was Not Good Taste!" TV Week. 19 August 1972, page 16-17.
[lxxiv] Fetherston, Jerry. "Black Mass Segment was Not Good Taste!" TV Week. 19 August 1972, page 16-17.
[lxxv] Fetherston, Jerry. "The Man Who Brought Nudity to Australian TV." TV Week. 2 July 1977, page 6-7.
[lxxvi] Moody, Mary. "David's Baby is Doing Fine!" TV Week. 18 November 1972, page 32.
[lxxvii] "Will the real Pantyhose Murderer please stand up!" TV Times (Melbourne edition), 6 October 1979.
[lxxviii] "Robyn Changes her Address." TV Week. 19 August 1972, page 36.
[lxxix] Schembri, Jim. "How a classic still shows the way." The Age Green Guide. 9 March 2000, page 10.
[lxxx] Broom, Ralph. The Sun. 1 April 1977, page 46.
[lxxxi] "No. 96 Stars Carpeted!" TV Week. 16 December 1972, page 5.
[lxxxii] "No. 96 Stars Carpeted!" TV Week. 16 December 1972, page 5.
[lxxxiii] "No. 96 Stars Carpeted!" TV Week. 16 December 1972, page 5.
[lxxxiv] "No. 96 Stars Carpeted!" TV Week. 16 December 1972, page 5.
[lxxxv] "No. 96 Stars Carpeted!" TV Week. 16 December 1972, page 5.
[lxxxvi] "Fans Rally Around Abigail." TV Week. 10 March 1973, page 13.
[lxxxvii] "Joe Shocked over 96 Axing!" TV Week. 6 January 1973, page 7.
[lxxxviii] "Joe Shocked over 96 Axing!" TV Week. 6 January 1973, page 7.
[lxxxix] Moody, Mary. "Joe Takes the Plunge!" TV Week. 6 January 1973, page 6.
[xc] "Fans Rally Around Abigail." TV Week. 10 March 1973, page 13.
[xci] "Fans Rally Around Abigail." TV Week. 10 March 1973, page 13.
[xcii] "Fans Rally Around Abigail." TV Week. 10 March 1973, page 13.
[xciii] "Search for the new Abigail." TV Week. 24 March 1973, page 13.
[xciv] "Candy is Dandy." TV Week. 21 April 1973, page 2-3; 35.
[xcv] "Those Sexy Scandalous Sisters!" TV Week. 18 August 1973, pages 20, 37.
[xcvi] "Candy is Dandy." TV Week. 21 April 1973, page 2-3; 35.
[xcvii] "Abigail of No. 96 is sacked." The Age. 5 June 1973, page 2.
[xcviii] "I was not fired, Abigail claims." The Age. 6 June 1973, page 3.
[xcix] Chong, Florence. "The Frustration of Being Abigail." Scene. 10 July-16 July 1976, page 8.
[c] Mercado, Andrew. Super Aussie Soaps. Pluto Press Australia: North Melbourne, 2004, page 47.
[ci] "Candy is Dandy." TV Week. 21 April 1973, page 2-3; 35.
[cii] "Those Sexy Scandalous Sisters!" TV Week. 18 August 1973, pages 20, 37.
[ciii] "Viewers Won't Accept a New Bev, Says Abigail." TV Week. 16 June 1973, page 12.
[civ] "Viewers Won't Accept a New Bev, Says Abigail." TV Week. 16 June 1973, page 12.
[cv] "New Sex Siren Collapses!" TV Week. 14 July 1973, page 5.
[cvi] Scott, Eric. "Vicki Farewells Number 96!" TV Week. 9 February 1974, page 6-7.
[cvii] Dudding, Howard. "Loveable Flo tops them all!" TV Week. 15 March 1975, page 20.
[cviii] "Dorrie and Flo are best mates!" TV Week. 28 April 1973, page 29.
[cix] Dudding, Howard. "Loveable Flo tops them all!" TV Week. 15 March 1975, page 20.
[cx] Dudding, Howard. "Loveable Flo tops them all!" TV Week. 15 March 1975, page 20.
[cxi] Dudding, Howard. "Loveable Flo tops them all!" TV Week. 15 March 1975, page 20.
[cxii] "Dorrie and Flo are best mates!" TV Week. 28 April 1973, page 29.
[cxiii] "Dorrie and Flo and their dream home." TV Week. 7 July 1973, page 10.
[cxiv] Mercado, Andrew. Super Aussie Soaps. Pluto Press Australia: North Melbourne, 2004, page 46.
[cxv] Marshall, Valda. "Carol Raye does an Auntie Mame." The Sun-Herald (The Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday edition). 16 September 1973, page 84.
[cxvi] "The Baroness turns Executive". TV Week. 25 October 1975, page 25.
[cxvii] Waby, Heather. "Toffee Tongue Carol with a Bog Irish Pedigree." TV Week. 24 September 1977, page 8.
[cxviii] Scott, Eric. "Vicki Farewells Number 96!" TV Week. 9 February 1974, page 6-7.
[cxix] Scott, Eric. "Vicki Farewells Number 96!" TV Week. 9 February 1974, page 6-7.
[cxx] TV Week . 30 March 1974, page 5.
[cxxi] Pike Andrew, and Ross Cooper. Australian Film 1900-1977. Oxford University Press: Melbourne, 1980, page 352.
[cxxii] "Naughty 96 on Film." Movie News. 10(4), 1974, 18-19.
[cxxiii] "Naughty 96 on Film." Movie News. 10(4), 1974, 18-19.
[cxxiv] Elaine Lee in DVD commentary to the film, released July 2006.
[cxxv] "Unlocking the door to Number 96." Brisbane Times. 30 August 2008. URL: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/news/entertainment/unlocking-the-door-to-number-96/2008/08/29/1219516741498.html Accessed 12 March 2009.
[cxxvi] Pike Andrew, and Ross Cooper. Australian Film 1900-1977. Oxford University Press: Melbourne, 1980, page 352.
[cxxvii] Bertand, Ina. Oxford Companion to Australian Film, The. (Brian McFarlane, Geoff Mayer, Ina Bertand, Eds.) Oxford University Press: South Melbourne, 1999, page 80-81.
[cxxviii] "Lovely Rebecca Won't Strip Again!" TV Week. 22 June 1974, page 20.
[cxxix] "Lovely Rebecca Won't Strip Again!" TV Week. 22 June 1974, page 20.
[cxxx] "Lovely Rebecca Won't Strip Again!" TV Week. 22 June 1974, page 20.
[cxxxi] "Rebecca Speaks Out." TV Week. 1 August 1981, page 13.
[cxxxii] "Rebecca Speaks Out." TV Week. 1 August 1981, page 13.
[cxxxiii] "The Double Life of 96's 'Mummy'." TV Week. 20 December 1975, page 8-9.
[cxxxiv] "The Double Life of 96's 'Mummy'." TV Week. 20 December 1975, page 8-9.
[cxxxv] "Judy Bounces Back!" TV Week. 9 February 1974, page 22.
[cxxxvi] "Frances Gets Her Big Break!" TV Week. 1974.
[cxxxvii] "Marty Salutes the Army." TV Week. 20 December 1975, page 20.
[cxxxviii] "Jan Sighs for the Slim Old Days!" TV Week. 7 December 1974, page 39.
[cxxxix] "Jan Sighs for the Slim Old Days!" TV Week. 7 December 1974, page 39.
[cxl] Fetherston, Jerry "So That Was '74!" TV Week. 28 December 1974, page 6-7, 34.
[cxli] "Tom the Shrewdie Cashes In!" TV Week. 29 December 1973, page 8.
[cxlii] "Why I Quit Number 96!" TV Week. 14 September 1974, page 15.
[cxliii] "Tom's Home from the Sea." TV Week. 8 August 1981, page 29.
[cxliv] McLean, Ian. "Number 96 Home Page." URL: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~lindsay96/eps/1974A.html . Accessed 4 March 2010.
[cxlv] Groves, Don and Jacqueline Lee Lewes. "Overflow of TV soapies." The Sun Herald: Sunday 20 January 1980, p.42.
[cxlvi] McLean, Ian. "Number 96 Home Page." URL: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~lindsay96/eps/1974B.html . Accessed 4 March 2010.
[cxlvii] Groves, Don and Jacqueline Lee Lewes. "Overflow of TV soapies." The Sun Herald: Sunday 20 January 1980, p.42.
[cxlviii] McLean, Ian. "Number 96 Home Page." URL: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~lindsay96/eps/1974C.html . Accessed 4 March 2010.
[cxlix] "No. 96 Axe Swings Again!" TV Week. 30 November 1974, page 4.
[cl] Fetherston, Jerry "So That Was '74!" TV Week. 28 December 1974, page 6-7, 34.
[cli] McLean, Ian. "Exclusive DVD news! Beware The Pantyhose Strangler!" Have Phasor, Will Travel. [Blog] 17 May 2008. URL: http://therinofandor.blogspot.com/2008/05/exclusive-news-beware-pantyhose.html . Accessed 18 May 2008.
[clii] "Aldo and Roma Dropped!" TV Week. 2 November 1974, page 5.
[cliii] "No. 96 Axe Swings Again!" TV Week. 30 November 1974, page 4.
[cliv] "No. 96 Axe Swings Again!" TV Week. 30 November 1974, page 4.
[clv] "Chantal's the Loner of No. 96." TV Week. 26 October 1974, page 25.
[clvi] "Little Sister Grows Up!" TV Week. 18 January 1975, page 3, 37.
[clvii] "Tea with sympathy." The Age. 20 May 1975, page 2.
[clviii] Fetherston, Jerry. "There's No Sex in The Unisexers!" TV Week. 25 January 1975, page 6-7.
[clix] "Tired, Tired Formula." TV Week. 28 June 1975, page 17.
[clx] "J.J.-The TV Cop with a Difference." TV Week. 18 February 1978, page 70.
[clxi] "The Baroness turns Executive." TV Week. 25 October 1975, page 25.
[clxii] "Nudes Come Home to No. 96!" TV Week. 14 June 1975, page 13.
[clxiii] "The Great No. 96 Cover-Up!" TV Week. 12 July 1975, page 8.
[clxiv] "Nudes Come Home to No. 96!" TV Week. 14 June 1975, page 13.
[clxv] "Nudes Come Home to No. 96!" TV Week. 14 June 1975, page 13.
[clxvi] "Problems Over a Female Sex Fiend." TV Week. 19 July 1975, page 15.
[clxvii] "The lady is a lady." TV Week. 24 January 1976, page 22-3.
[clxviii] Dudding, Howard. "96's Cover-Up Sex Symbol." TV Week. 12 June 1976, page 8.
[clxix] Dudding, Howard. "96's Cover-Up Sex Symbol." TV Week. 12 June 1976, page 8.
[clxx] "96 Stars Won't be Axed." TV Week. 9 August 1975, page 5.
[clxxi] "96 Stars Won't be Axed." TV Week. 9 August 1975, page 5.
[clxxii] TV Week. 11 October 1975, page 15.
[clxxiii] "Number 96 on the Revival Trail." TV Week. 21 February 1976, page 6-7.
[clxxiv] "Number Crunch." The Herald Sun, Weekend supplement. 8 July 2006, page 8.
[clxxv] "One Thousand Nights of Number 96." TV Week. 5 June 1976, page 6-7.
[clxxvi] "Number 96 on the Revival Trail." TV Week. 21 February 1976, page 6-7.
[clxxvii] "Number 96 on the Revival Trail." TV Week. 21 February 1976, page 6-7.
[clxxviii] "96 Faces New Year Shake-Up." TV Week. 13 December 1975, page 5.
[clxxix] "Number 96 on the Revival Trail." TV Week. 21 February 1976, page 6-7.
[clxxx] Kusko, Julie. "Vera Looks Back with a Smile" TV Week. 19 June 1976, page 8.
[clxxxi] "96 Axe Falls on Justine." TV Week. 31 July 1976, page 15.
[clxxxii] "Will the real Pantyhose Murderer please stand up!" TV Times (Melbourne edition), 6 October 1979.
[clxxxiii] "96 Axe Falls on Justine." TV Week. 31 July 1976, page 15.
[clxxxiv] "Abigail Bounces Back." Scene. 25 September-1 October 1976, page 3.
[clxxxv] "Abigail Bounces Back." Scene. 25 September-1 October 1976, page 3.
[clxxxvi] "In Search of a Sex Symbol." TV Week. 16 October 1976, page 27.
[clxxxvii] "In Search of a Sex Symbol." TV Week. 16 October 1976, page 27.
[clxxxviii] "In Search of a Sex Symbol." TV Week. 16 October 1976, page 27.
[clxxxix] "In Search of a Sex Symbol." TV Week. 16 October 1976, page 27.
[cxc] "Gordon is Back... and Bearded." TV Week. 20 November 1976, pages 30, 34.
[cxci] "Gordon is Back... and Bearded." TV Week. 20 November 1976, pages 30, 34.
[cxcii] "First Aid for Number 96." TV Week. 6 March 1976, page 42.
[cxciii] "One Thousand Nights of Number 96." TV Week. 5 June 1976, page 6-7.
[cxciv] "The Box on the Skids." TV Week. 25 September 1976, page 5.
[cxcv] Fetherston, Jerry. "Old Shows Never Die - They Just Spin-Off." TV Week. 11 June 1977, page 16-17
[cxcvi] Fetherston, Jerry. "Old Shows Never Die - They Just Spin-Off." TV Week. 11 June 1977, page 16-17
[cxcvii] Fetherston, Jerry. "Old Shows Never Die - They Just Spin-Off." TV Week. 11 June 1977, page 16-17
[cxcviii] Fetherston, Jerry. "Old Shows Never Die - They Just Spin-Off." TV Week. 11 June 1977, page 16-17
[cxcix] "Abigail Makes Series Comeback." TV Week. 20 November 1976, pages 20; 37.
[cc] "Abigail Makes Series Comeback." TV Week. 20 November 1976, pages 20; 37.
[cci] "Abigail Makes Series Comeback." TV Week. 20 November 1976, pages 20; 37.
[ccii] "Number 96 in Doubt." TV Week. 19 March 1977, page 13.
[cciii] "Number 96 in Doubt." TV Week. 19 March 1977, page 13.
[cciv] "Number 96 in Doubt." TV Week. 19 March 1977, page 13.
[ccv] "Number 96 in Doubt." TV Week. 19 March 1977, page 13.
[ccvi] "Number 96 in Doubt." TV Week. 19 March 1977, page 13.
[ccvii] "Number 96 Tries Again." TV Week. 30 April 1977, page 16-17.
[ccviii] "The Axe Falls at 96." TV Week. 4 December 1976, page 5.
[ccix] "Frances Returns to Soap Opera." TV Week. 1 January 1977, page 14.
[ccx] Rauber, Marilyn. "Chelsea Drops In, Too." Scene. 15 January-21 January 1977, page 4.
[ccxi] Rauber, Marilyn. "Chelsea Drops In, Too." Scene. 15 January-21 January 1977, page 4.
[ccxii] Rauber, Marilyn. "Chelsea Drops In, Too." Scene. 15 January-21 January 1977, page 4.
[ccxiii] "Gordon Goes by the Bard." TV Week. 22 January 1977, page 14.
[ccxiv] Livingstone, Ian. "Norma's a Hearty Sheila." Scene. 11 December-17 December 1976, page 7.
[ccxv] Livingstone, Ian. "Norma's a Hearty Sheila." Scene. 11 December-17 December 1976, page 7.
[ccxvi] "Police act on bikie fears." TV Week. 4 June 1977, page 15.
[ccxvii] "Police act on bikie fears." TV Week. 4 June 1977, page 15.
[ccxviii] "Deborah Will Add Glamor to the Soap Opera." TV Week. 19 March 1977, page 14.
[ccxix] Fetherston, Jerry. "The Man Who Brought Nudity to Australian TV." TV Week. 2 July 1977, page 6-7.
[ccxx] Cockington, James. Mondo Bizarro - Australia in the Seventies. Mandarin, 1994.
[ccxxi] "...And the End in Sight for the Series." TV Week. 30 April 1977, page 5
[ccxxii] "Joanna's big strip." TV Week. 19 November 1977, page 19.
[ccxxiii] "...And the End in Sight for the Series." TV Week. 30 April 1977, page 5
[ccxxiv] "The number's finally up for Number 96." The Sydney Morning Herald. 26 April 1977, page 2.
[ccxxv] "After five years the number's up for '96'." The Age. 26 April 1977, page 3.
[ccxxvi] "The number's finally up for Number 96." The Sydney Morning Herald. 26 April 1977, page 2.
[ccxxvii] "Jeff Wants to Get to the Church On Time." TV Week. 21 May 1977, page 15
[ccxxviii] "'96' Raises the Dead Characters." TV Week. 7 May 1977, page 13
[ccxxix] "The Lights go out at 96." TV Week. 13 August 1977, pages 27, 38.
[ccxxx] "The Lights go out at 96." TV Week. 13 August 1977, pages 27, 38.
[ccxxxi] "The Lights go out at 96." TV Week. 13 August 1977, pages 27, 38.
[ccxxxii] "The Lights go out at 96." TV Week. 13 August 1977, pages 27, 38.
[ccxxxiii] "The Lights go out at 96." TV Week. 13 August 1977, pages 27, 38.
[ccxxxiv] "The Lights go out at 96." TV Week. 13 August 1977, pages 27, 38.
[ccxxxv] "The Lights go out at 96." TV Week. 13 August 1977, pages 27, 38.
[ccxxxvi] "The Lights go out at 96." TV Week. 13 August 1977, pages 27, 38.
[ccxxxvii] "The Lights go out at 96." TV Week. 13 August 1977, pages 27, 38.
[ccxxxviii] "The Lights go out at 96." TV Week. 13 August 1977, pages 27, 38.
[ccxxxix] "The Lights go out at 96." TV Week. 13 August 1977, pages 27, 38.
[ccxl] "Variety Pilot is a Dream Come True." TV Week. 21 January 1978, page 21.
[ccxli] "Variety Pilot is a Dream Come True." TV Week. 21 January 1978, page 21.