1979-1981 - 188 x 60 minute episodes - Produced by
Crawford Productions for the Seven Network
Crawford Productions had successfully melded police procedural drama with domestic soap opera with Cop Shop. As that series sustained top ratings for the Seven Network, a second, similar series was created by Crawfords for Seven.
The new series, Skyways, was set in an airport. Crawford Productions had previously looked to the sprawling, multi character Arthur Hailey tome Hotel to create a weekly series / soap opera hybrid titled Hotel Story which was ambitious in scope, albeit mostly confined to studio sets and shot on videotape. Unfortunately Network Ten who initially commissioned the series pulled out of the deal after only seven episodes had been produced, and before any had gone to air.
In any event the same route was followed for the premise of this series whose stories and characters seemed closely affiliated with those of Arthur Hailey's Airport, a bestselling novel that gives its overall premise in the title. Like the novel, Skyways presented a regular staple of airport and airline personnel with personal, professional and family problems, and some examination of the activities of passing travellers. Stories focusing on the passengers moving through the airport would feature defecting athletes, customs cheats, drug smugglers, pimps and prostitutes, and escaping fugitives.
Their activities would be examined in stories basically self-contained to a single episode or the two episodes screened over one week, and were enacted by weekly series guest stars. These events would involve and be dealt with by the show's cast of regular characters - the airport management and administration personnel and the various pilots and flight attendants. Story events ostensibly concerning the weekly guest characters would frequently affect, comment on, or present a counter point to the program's ongoing storylines of the regular characters.
Skyways was created by Crawford Productions' senior writer Terry Stapleton, and executive producer Jock Blair, previously producer and storyliner of The Box and one of the initial creative forces behind The Sullivans. The producer was former Cop Shop producer Graham Moore. Interiors were videotaped in the Cambridge Studios in South Melbourne while location footage was shot at Melbourne Airport. Skyways premiered in Melbourne on 9 July 1979 and the series broadcast two one hour episodes each week in the "adult" 9.30 pm slot.Skyways' timeslot put it opposite The Don Lane Show, a popular chat variety series that aired twice a week on Channel Nine. Skyways had in fact been commissioned by Seven as part of a deliberate strategy to compete with The Don Lane Show. [i]
Said Seven's program manager Glen Kinging:
"We believe the best chance of beating Lane is with an Australian program. The one that is working at the moment is a soap opera. With Cop Shop and Skyways together we'll have two really good hours." [ii]
The opening storyline focuses on the passing over of Paul McFarlane (Tony Bonner) in the appointment of new head of the Pacific International Airport. The retiring Harold Forbes (Charles "Bud" Tingwell) had unexpectedly appointed Derek Powell (Ron Falk), from the United Kingdom, whose credentials seemed impeccable. The pompous and patrician Derek dislikes Paul's methods, and declares he wants Paul fired, though he does seem to like the cool, stylish and efficient Louise Carter (Tina Bursill).
Beautiful young flight attendant Jacki Soong (Deborah Coulls) attracts the attention of lecherous pilot Doug Stewart (Bruce Barry), and befriends fellow flight attendant Robyn Davies (Judy Morris). Robyn, who reveals she has just painfully ended a relationship, becomes Jacki's new flatmate. When Jacki goes out with Doug Robyn's departing lover Chris makes one final visit. Robyn's partner is revealed as a woman, played by Lisa Dombrowski, with a lesbian kiss to hopefully provoke added first episode audience interest.
Derek quickly demonstrates that he lacks the temperament to handle the sorts of dramas the incumbent would face. After revealing himself as a panicky coward in a hostage drama orchestrated by a man whose wife has absconded with their son on an outgoing flight, Paul was quickly appointed to the role.
Paul's first order of business was to make a final decision on the appointment of his assistant manager, a role that had been promised to the elegant but ambitious Louise. Paul personally delivered his evaluation of her character, telling Louise she was "ruthless and a manipulator and you're not going to be happy until you run this place." Luckily for Louise, this was just the person he wanted, and she was appointed to the role. This was also fortunate for the success of the series, as Louise was the show's standout character, and her portrayer Tina Bursill emerged as perhaps the show's most charismatic figure.
Paul was divorced but lived with his adult children. They were troubled and irresponsible Alan (Andrew McKaige) and bright business college student Mandy (Gaynor Martin). Alan was in the shadow of his disciplined and professional father, and felt hopelessly inferior and unable to live up to his exacting standards. Poor Alan struggled with the constant clashes that he judged as "bad news", "a real downer", and, "a heavy scene". Mandy ran the household and was referred to by Paul as his "chief adviser".
Also introduced was the hopefully amusing mismatch romance between air traffic controller Simon Young (Ken James) and bright and attractive Kelly Morgan (Joanne Samuel), who seemed to manage the information desk for the entire airport single handed. Simon was presented as calm and controlled in the control tower when directing air traffic or talking down stricken planes. At other times he was a nervous and jumpy virgin, under the thumb of his manipulative, overbearing and disapproving English mother Mrs Young (Irene Inescourt), a widow.
Mrs Young, a recurring character for the program's first few months, stifled Simon with her constant coddling while disapproving of any potential romance with an Australian girl. Simon lived at home, sleeping in his single bed in a room decorated with aviation posters. His lonely mother strictly monitored his movements and liked nothing better to sit with Simon watching BBC plays on television, while disapproving of Australians, who she considered ill bred.
Dependable Ken James had seemed adept at smoothing over bumpy story lurches and enlivening slow spots in his previous long running serial role in The Box. There he seemed skilled at maintaining his largely comical portrayal of egoistical yet insecure TV star Tony Wild despite the apparently conflicting elements of the character. Unfortunately in Skyways he seemed unable to nail his new character down. At times James seemed to be playing a caricature of a meek and downtrodden English boy with a clipped and precise accent, yet in his appearance he looked much too old to pull this portrayal off.
James also seemed unable to sustain Simon's accent. In several scenes it wavers in and out as the dialogue progresses. In the control tower scenes where Simon was an accomplished professional his "English" accent seemed to desert him entirely. Then in the nervous interludes where Simon tries to woo a bemused Kelly, James seems to be doing an impersonation of the popular Arnold Feather character from Number 96 where Simon suddenly develops a heretofore absent verbose and punctilious vocabulary. While Arnold seemed funny, Simon sadly just seems like a clone.
Through the run of the series actor Peter Byrne had an ongoing supporting role as another air traffic controller, Jerry Anderson. With Simon the lead character, Jerry's sole function in the series was to act as someone for Simon to converse with in the control tower, and to occasionally take some of the air traffic control dialogue.
As if downtrodden mother's boy Simon and his manipulative mother didn't provide enough irritating fussiness, Skyways also presented efficient but officious administrator George Tippett (Brian James). Pompous and self-important, George was always complaining, and was fond of making "nice of everybody to let me know" type sarcastic jibes when he was apprised of a change in the schedule or given a new problem to deal with.
More interesting were those portraying the dashing pilots and the attractive and compliant female flight attendants. Bruce Barry relied on his natural screen presence and charisma as apparently womanising married pilot Doug Stewart who romanced attractive attendant Jacki Soong. Doug charmed Jacki into accompanying him on a layover (in both senses of the word) in Hong Kong. Jacki put aside her reservations in conducting an affair with a married man after he convinced her that his marriage to Wendy (Anne Charleston) was effectively now just a formality, and that he was not in the habit of having a new flight attendant romance with each international trip.
In a surprise revelation Doug proved to be troubled and restless when attempting to make love with Jacki. Soon it seemed apparent that his "worrying problem" mentioned in the program's initial publicity was impotence. He secretly checked out of the suite, leaving the hotel porter to relay the message to the surprised Jacki that he has changed hotels and will see her on the flight back to Australia.
Meanwhile the handsome and polished Federal Airways first officer Nick Granger (Bartholomew John) is chosen as poster boy for a big new airline promotion. Disapproving George insists it is false advertising given that Granger has never landed an actual passenger jet for real and has only been chosen for the advertisements due to his handsome visage. Nick is flying back in from Adelaide with Captain Gardener (Terry McDermott) when a crack in the craft's windshield prompts the shocked captain to keel over with a massive heart attack. As the flight attendant Robyn Davies helpfully declares, "shouldn't we get the nose up? We're losing altitude!"
Despite having never actually landed a passenger jet before, nervous Nick, with the help of Simon Young in the tower, manages the feat with aplomb. And just in time for the media launch of the airline promotion which would be presumably assisted by this actual heroic act. (Simon had eased Nick's nerves by telling him to imagine that the plane load of passengers he is carrying are not there - something that the episode's audience could easily do as well, since we never get to see any of them.)
In ensuing episodes Robyn, a lesbian, spurned Nick's romantic overtures and instead pursued her heterosexual flat mate Jacki Soong. In some well executed scenes Robyn attempted to seduce Jacki, who politely rejected her advances. Then in turn Nick tried to seduce Robyn ("I'll make you whole again"), and she again rejected him. Soon afterwards Robyn was stabbed to death in the shower in an episode cliff-hanger. The whodunit storyline that followed eliminated the various suspects, which included another of Robyn's spurned lovers, the lascivious Liz Miller (Sandra Lee Paterson), leaving Nick as the prime suspect. The killer was ultimately found to be the crazed Fiona Woods (Dina Mann), an obsessed and murderously jealous admirer of Nick Granger.
To cope with all this crime was airport security officer Peter Fanelli (Bill Stalker), a tough former policeman with a short fuse and tendency for violence. Just like Cop Shop's JJ he was basically above board but sometimes bent the rules. Also like JJ he had a live in lady friend of dubious background: Fanelli was shacked up with Faye Peterson (Kris McQuade), a former prostitute and heroin addict he had rescued from the gutter during his time as a police detective. Now she is trying to improve herself by reading Dickens. Fanelli admits he has never head of the author, and disparages himself as just a "dumb Dago."
Initially there were tensions around Faye's shady past and the possible implications it could have on Peter's career, and the potential for blackmail. It was a source of tension for Fanelli, and for Faye who knew she was the source of airport gossip and cocktail party whispers. Stuffy Paul initially had problems with Faye's past, vetoing her appointment as shop assistant at an airport duty free store. Eventually he reconsidered, and gave her the job.
Early episodes also explored the return of Paul's estranged wife Elaine (Carmen Duncan). The marriage had collapsed years before; with Paul preoccupied with his career, the neglected Elaine had been tempted into an affair. Alan had discovered this, which is what had originally sent him off the rails, and he remained bitter towards his mother. Mandy planned Paul and Elaine's reconciliation with a series of romantic dinners, and it seemed they would get back together, and even Alan mended his relationship with her.
Elaine and Paul had differing approaches when Mandy started a relationship with the more experienced Steve Eagle (Frank Howson), a musician friend of Alan's. Mandy was a virgin and Steve wanted to take her on a weekend away, which Paul forbade. With Paul at a conference in Canberra with Louise, Elaine took Mandy and Steve to a swinging party fuelled by pilfered airline liquor and marijuana thrown by flight attendant Anne Williamson (Kathryn Dagher) who, with Kelly, had moved in to Jacki's flat. Moody Mandy proceeded to get drunk at the party, while Elaine flirted with Steve. In the end hot-headed Steve raped Elaine while Mandy slept it off. Paul, himself plagued with guilt having slept with Louise while in Canberra, returned to find that Elaine had told Mandy she had slept with Steve, and Mandy vowing that she hated Elaine.
While stern Paul was able to smooth things over initially, the fractious family stayed fractious. Feeling that she was missing out on life by being stuck at home acting as wife and mother, Elaine soon left the family and jetted off to a new life in Fiji, working with her new beau Marcel (Frank Gallacher).
It was also revealed that Doug was in the habit of visiting prostitutes. When Peter Fanelli is called in to the airport hotel to move along working girl Sally he discovers Doug sharing her hotel bed. (Sally, played by Angela Menzies-Wills - the only girl to keep her clothes on in 1977 sex film Fantasm Comes Again - provides a full frontal nude flash in this, her single scene in the series.) Despite this Doug restarts his love affair with Jacki, supporting her as she tracks down her long-lost brother in Bangkok.
The format of Skyways was that each episode would focus on the particular drama of a guest character, and would also examine the way this affected and advanced the ongoing narratives of the regular characters. The guest character story would reach its conclusion towards the end of the episode. A new thread with a new character would be introduced at the episode's close which clearly presented the new problem, and that incident formed the episode's cliffhanger. The next episode would then explore this newly introduced problem.
For instance when an episode closed with a newly introduced man shooting himself in the airport car park, the following episode examined his background and the reasons for the deed. Paul haplessly had to witness the wealthy parents of the suicide victim confront the truth that the father's controlling and inflexible attitude, and fervent disapproval of what they judge to be the son's rather ill-advised personal association, led to feelings of rejection and inferiority and ultimately the suicide.
While the embarrassed, euphemistic manner in which the bereaved parents refer to the son's ill-advised relationship suggests he might be gay, the script ultimately confirms that he was actually at the airport to fly out to visit a "girl". Nevertheless, for a minute, the implication of a homosexual liaison had been planted - just as Alan's behaviour and 1960s hippie slang might well be trying to hint at a drug habit, something that is also subsequently explicitly disavowed in dialogue after the seed was sown.
In any event following the series of heated clashes over the perceived irresponsibility of his son Alan which just leave the lad feeling inferior, the suicide incident prompts Paul to make amends with the boy. Later, two episode guest stories, following the format of Cop Shop, became common. These two part stories would be sandwiched between episodes with a self-contained guest story.
Overall the series worked well for viewers happy to accept an all new guest cast and a new self-contained storyline inserted into the drama each week. The program's airport setting, which included an adjacent hotel, allowed a wide range of possibilities in the guest storylines. Given that their mere presence in the airport locale with some interaction with the regular characters was the only proviso for the inclusion of a guest character, a wide range of stories, from serious to comic, could occur. Unlike a crime drama series where basically any guest story would involve some sort of crime, all sorts of drama could readily be depicted by Skyways.
Probably the strongest element of Skyways was its well-drawn and charismatic batch of regular characters. The beautiful, intelligent and accomplished Louise, working to make it in a male dominated arena, and the somewhat inscrutable, but temperamental and troubled security man Fanelli were the main standouts.
Skyways attempted to be expansive in scope with its airport setting and the confluence of international travellers, occasional aircraft crises and troubled landings, and the international stopovers of the inflight staff. Unfortunately, with the program's budget and output of two episodes each week, this was difficult to execute effectively. Low budget high output programs such as these, for practical and financial reasons, are only feasible when shot on videotape with the talky interior sequences shot in the studio. The result was that the long stretches of the drama that occurs indoors looked bland. The program's rather meagre, cramped and very beige office sets certainly didn't help matters.
To open out the action, colour separation overlay (or "chroma key"), video effects were utilised extensively. That way the windows outside the airport manager's office could show taxiing planes while the control tower scenes would indeed show the vista of runways and takeoffs. The external shots had been recorded months before and were matted into the studio footage using video effects.
Unfortunately these effects when used in drama productions attempting to visually create a real space look extremely unconvincing with the often different visual quality of the two pieces of footage and the hazy lines that separate the joined images - something accentuated whenever anyone steps in front of the inserted video. Overall the artificial look of the many shots including these effects is very distracting and certainly detracts from the drama.
The program also featured a significant amount of footage shot on location at Melbourne Airport. Certainly these scenes look more effective than the chroma key segments, however the (then) gloomy, brown brick interior walls of the expansive terminal buildings hardly come up well in the videotaped footage that ultimately appeared on screen. After all, the real life airport was not specifically designed or decorated to show up well on television. In many airport interiors it seems only the natural light in the space was used; with the video cameras of the day the resultant footage looks spare and bland.
While Cop Shop too was contained mostly in videotaped interiors shot on sets, when the action of that series went outside the footage was frequently videotaped in down market Melbourne streets, so the mundane look of the footage was appropriate, and did not seem incongruous with the show's studio scenes. In any event, they were not trying to look luxurious or majestic. The attempts by Skyways to include spectacular airport footage never really came off.
By September 1979 actor Kerry Armstrong, released early from the Network Ten serial Prisoner, entered Skyways in the recurring role of country girl Angela Murray. In the story Angela arrives in the city seeking adventure, but finds that her free spirit and good looks are a recipe for trouble in the big smoke. Kerry Armstrong compared the new character to her Prisoner role, telling TV Week that:
"Unlike Lyn, who was unsure of herself and naive, Angela is a very cluey lady. It gives me a chance to use a different voice too. Lyn Warner had a high-pitched country wail. Angela will be more sophisticated." [iii]
Of the proximity with her Prisoner appearance producer Graham Moore assured TV Week that there would be no problems with the two characters appearing on air simultaneously. "We think she's a very talented young actress and we wanted Kerry for this role because she was the right person for it," he said. Of the recurring nature of the part and how frequently she would appear Moore explained that "we'll just have to wait and see how the character develops." [iv]
By the end of 1979, highly popular former Crawfords star Gerard Kennedy had begun making appearances in the recurring role of Gary Doolan, manager of Trans Asia Airways. A few months after his first appearances went to air Kennedy was signed to the series on a more permanent basis when series lead Tony Bonner announced his intention to quit his role. [v]
Bonner had also left his key role in Cop Shop at an early stage of the series, and as he explained to TV Week this was for strategic career reasons:
"As an actor I can't see the benefit of playing the same character for 10 months each year unless the character is a highly individual one where the writers are specifically writing to explore different avenues or levels of that person's life. Unfortunately, writers are unable to do that with Skyways because it is a two hour format. I think a year is enough. It doesn't allow the character to become boring. I think it is unethical for an actor to put his hand out at the end of each week when he's not putting thought into the development of his character. The joy of doing a long running character is the opportunity it gives you to explore different levels. My goal is to extend myself and to find characters that I have to research and then can put their hat on to capture, or recreate, some aspect of that person. Whatever my peers say about me, personally or professionally, I doubt they'd ever say I was lazy or uncreative." [vi]
On leaving Skyways Bonner went into a role in feature film The Man from Snowy River.
In some ways mirroring Bonner's viewpoint, in March 1980 The Age newspaper critic Brian Courtis offered an extended evaluation of the current batch Australian television drama series. In his In View column, Courtis opined that the "soapy" style of many dramas produced an "enervating effect on our writers and actors." Courtis observed that plots "are basic, cliched, and over segmented and, because of this, dialogue is simplistic and unimaginative." [vii]
Skyways, he felt, "contains a group of excellent actors forced into predictably banal situations." Courtis felt that while Tony Bonner has proved himself a fine actor on many Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) shows:
"He has never looked more wooden than he has as the airport manager at Pacific International. And it's the script that makes him so. Bill Stalker, Tina Bursill and Joanne Samuel have also never been allowed to deliver the performances promised in early episodes and, as the series rolls on, have been forced into producing caricatures." [viii]
When Bonner's character departed, in the story Gary Doolan was appointed to his position as head of Pacific International Airport, while Louise Carter got Doolan's old job as head of Trans Asia Airways. Gary's portrayer Gerard Kennedy had been a popular favourite in Crawford Productions police drama Division 4 some years prior. Here he was a charismatic presence in the series; in the opening titles sequence Kennedy received the 'and' credit.
By the time of episode number 100, broadcast in Melbourne and Sydney on 4 August 1980, Louise learns she was partly appointed for window dressing: there can be strategic and marketing benefits in having a female company boss. (And her stylish beauty won't hurt at press conferences and corporate meetings.) Louise discovers that her supposed assistant Geoff Goodwin (Jeff Kevin) actually earns more than she does, has greater authority, and that airline owner Sir Joseph Miles (Michael Duffield) actually turns to Goodwin for the crucial executive tasks.
When Louise objects to Goodwin's and Sir Joseph's handling of a scheduling clash by rerouting a KLM jet, she cunningly schemes with Doolan to deal with the stacked up planes in a way that will prove subtly embarrassing for the airline.
Expecting an unfavourable reaction to her scheme Louise executes it as a sort of coup de grace prior to her planned resignation. She is surprised when Miles is impressed with her skills, offers her a pay rise, and organises a swift transfer to Hong Kong for Goodwin. Meanwhile a friendly and co-operative relationship with Doolan has also been forged. Doolan himself had also been manipulated by Sir Joseph, who had been secretly instrumental in Doolan's appointment. Doolan too called Sir Joseph's bluff, and remained in his position where the interplay between Gary Doolan and Louise Carter emerged as a highlight in the series.
Alongside this airport management intrigue the weekly (two episode) guest story featured Mike Preston as a faded cockney comic Harry Green. When Harry is held over at the airport en route to his scheduled farewell performance in New Zealand, he begins to dwell on his situation of not being able to keep audiences entertained as he once had, leading to a halfhearted suicide bid. Harry's storyline also involves his beleaguered agent Brian McKenzie (Jon Sidney), struggling to prop Harry up while his own marriage to Ilona (Penne Hackforth-Jones) falls victim to her infatuation with another traveller Sven Sorenson (Serge Lazareff).
When Harry is forced to step in to support a traumatised Brian it serves as the booster needed to restore his confidence. Meanwhile Ilona comes to her senses after Sven is revealed as a thief and a con artist; their problems patched up the three make their exits as their flight leaves for New Zealand where Harry presumably gives a successful farewell performance. Mike Preston said of his role:
"It's one of the best guest roles I've ever played. The story of Harry Green is so true to life. His crisis is a frank reaction of the way many showbiz people react when they find they can no longer attract audiences." [ix]
By this stage regular cast members Bruce Barry (air captain Doug) and Deborah Coulls (flight attendant Jacki) had departed. Kelly had married Simon and she now worked as secretary to the head of the Pacific International Airport. Though Paul exited the series by moving to London, his children Alan and Mandy stayed on. Alan was now the barman at the airport bar and started a romance with Angela, while Mandy became engaged to Nick.
Mandy was now a flight attendant for the fictional Trans Asia Airways. In the story her first flight as a trainee took her to Hong Kong. While Jacki Soong's Hong Kong stopover with Doug at the start of the series had been depicted via grainy stock footage film intercut with Jacki on a hotel room studio set attended to by an Asian porter, this time fresh location footage would be shot. Mandy's portrayer Gaynor Martin was flown specially to Hong Kong and Crawford Productions hired a local crew to shoot footage of her visit which was used in the episode featuring Mandy's stopover. At the time Gaynor Martin expressed enthusiasm for the series in an interview with TV Week.
"Crawfords want Skyways to be as close to reality as possible and, for that reason, research trips to Hong Kong like mine will prove invaluable. That's why Australian television is going ahead so fast, because we are aiming for authenticity and quality like never before." [x]
Indeed to help keep things accurate Skyways had its own technical advisor, former pilot Captain Stuart Archbold. Three years after retiring from flying 747s for Qantas, 60 year old Archbold became the series' advisor when it began production. He was previously a fighter pilot in World War II and had flown with Charles Kingsford Smith in the Southern Cross. After the war he piloted various commercial jets and had made two flights in Concorde before his 1977 retirement. Tragically Archbold, who had become a close friend to many of the regular actors on the show, was killed in a glider crash during a production break in early 1980. [xi]
As the series continued the range of different weekly stories with wide variations in style and tone - and enacted by familiar television performers - helped keep things interesting.
In a story that screened December 1980 actor Lesley Baker, previously the Prisoner thug Monica Ferguson, played a guest role that followed her real life situation of being mother to a disabled son. Baker, who had left Prisoner to care for her three year old son who has Psycho-Motor Retardation due to brain damage at birth, agreed to the role as it was true to the actual problems faced by such parents.
In Skyways, Baker played Gladys Skinner. Gladys is mother to a 25 year old disabled man Danny (Peter Finlay) who finally reconnects with the man she suspects to be Danny's father, Father James O'Neill (Kit Taylor). Baker explained the formation of her role to TV Week." I requested that the script be altered in a couple of places in line with what I know the problems to be, and the writer and producer agreed." [xii]
Then in January 1981 Judy Nunn had a guest starring role as Bessie Langhurst, an Amelia Earhart type aviatrix flying an antique World War II Beecraft Staggerwing bi-plane that mysteriously lands on the field adjacent to the airport that had been the old landing strip, decades before. Bessie wears 1940s aviation gear and is the image of a woman flyer who mysteriously vanished on a solo flight in 1944. [xiii]
Former Number 96 regular Bunney Brooke had also had a guest starring role in Skyways, which had been taped in June 1980. The actor later described the role, her post Number 96 career, and the breakup of a long term relationship for TV Week:
"I took on all sorts of little parts because I was frightened of the Flo Patterson character from Number 96. I had to prove again that I was an actor, not just a character. The end of that relationship knocked me rotten, it was very important to me and I had a breakdown. I couldn't handle it and I've handled a lot in my time. And I was really trying to make a decision about getting out of the business. I didn't want to stay in it if I wasn't offering anything. Number 96 was a tremendous peak for me and I began to think maybe I didn't have it any more, maybe I didn't have any more characters left in me. It was a good time to take stock of myself. Then the episode of Skyways came along and it really was the first thing I was game to attempt. I was scared doing it and I was nervous even though I didn't look it. But I managed to come up with something entirely new and I realised I hadn't lost it. That role restored my belief in myself." [xiv]
After just over a year on air, TV Week had reported that Skyways was rating well in Melbourne, but was less popular in Sydney. To address the issue, the series producers planned to include Sydney set - and shot - storylines. [xv]
Kerry Armstrong was returned to the series to reprise her role of Angela Murray on a recurring basis in early 1980. By July that year she had been signed to the series on a permanent basis that would see her in the series until June 1981. Armstrong explained to TV Week that "They have decided to expand the character and give her more depth." Said series producer Graham Moore "Kerry's character is very successful and adds a lot of colour. She causes a few shocks at Pacific but she is totally lovable. We are glad to have Kerry back." [xvi]
Also brightening up the series was attractive blond model Kylie Foster who joined the series playing naive country girl Belinda Phipps who creates a stir by moving in with straitlaced George Tippett. It was Foster's first ever professional acting role, and she impressed the producers with her talent to the extent that her initial three month contract was extended to six months. Said Graham Moore "Belinda Phipps has a great involvement with George Tippett which gives us good storylines." [xvii]
A later addition to the regular cast was popular comedian and former Bellbird veteran Maurie Fields who came in as the airport's lazy new deputy head porter Chas Potter. A comedy character for the series, Chas was quickly nicknamed The Judge - because he sits on cases for so long - and he usually just ordered the junior porters around instead of doing any lifting himself. Despite also being somewhat a nosey stirrer and the shop steward of the porters' union, Chas was overall a pleasant person. His portrayer Maurie Fields summed up the character for TV Week.
"I think he's a very real character - I've met a lot like him in my life. There's a touch of comedy in the role - and I like playing comedy. He's one of those real bumblers who would never admit it." [xviii]
Meanwhile original cast member Joanne Samuel announced her intention to leave the series in early 1981.
"It was a very difficult decision for me to make. Crawford Productions have been very good to me and the cast means a lot to me. But I just felt that the character had gone as far as she could. I was beginning the feel frustrated by the scope of the character and I felt that as an actress, there are other things I'd like to try to extend myself." [xix]
Ultimately Crawford Productions convinced Samuel to continue with the series several weeks beyond the expiration of her original contract to allow her character, Kelly, to be written out of the storyline in a satisfactory way. Graham Moore gave a prelude to Kelly's departure. "Kelly is about to come in for a fairly stormy period in her life. She will play a vital role in the storylines before we, unfortunately, have agreed to write her out." [xx]
In the story, Kelly was attacked by a colleague and nearly raped. It took some time for her to reveal the identity of the attacker and eventually go through the court case. All of this put a lot of strain on her marriage to Simon. Kelly sought counselling but eventually left Simon to go to the USA with the counselor, bidding Simon a tearful goodbye.
It had also been announced that Bartholomew John would also be leaving. A new regular actor was being sought to play the replacement for his character of Nick Granger, who would reportedly be nicknamed "Biggles". [xxi]
However any concerns that the departures of Kelly Young and Nick Granger might affect the popularity of the series soon became moot. Before they had even made their on screen exits it was announced that production on the series would end. News of the program's cancellation came in February 1981, and it was reported production would cease 17 April. Said cast member Ken James.
"The cancellation came as no great shock because, during the past 12 months, there have been reports that Skyways wasn't rating very well in Sydney. The series has also been running for two years, which is a long time. I like to think of it as ceasing production. Channel 7 has been very good to give us 12 weeks notice. Normally they'd only give us four. Television is a business. You only produce what the public want to see. And they like police shows." [xxii]
Andrew McKaige, another original cast member still in the series, said that "It's perhaps the best thing that could have happened in the long run. I've been in it for two years and it's time for me to move on." [xxiii] Meanwhile fellow original cast member, Bill Stalker, presented his own take on why the series ended.
"When I first looked at the scripts it looked like the adult sex sizzler of the 1980s but then it became Little House on the Prairie with wings. Suddenly I found myself comforting kids in wheelchairs. The first fortnight Fanelli lost his 'bastards', the next fortnight he lost his 'bloodies' and he had little to say after that." [xxiv]
In Sydney, in 1981, Skyways screened on Saturday nights - Australia's least watched and least important timeslot. [xxv]
A few weeks before the end of the series Peter Fanelli abruptly resigned from the airport, bidding an emotional farewell to Louise with whom he had developed a romantic connection. Bartholomew John who played pilot Nick Granger had already left the series and in his place had come Kit Taylor as brusque pilot Tim Barclay who flew for Trans Asia Airways. Taylor immediately received an opening titles credit, and was first billed to boot.
Though Fanelli's farewell had suggested a future for his affair with Louise, this seemed to have been abandoned when Louise and Tim became romantically involved. In the closing episodes Tim had suffered a head injury and it was feared he could be blinded for life. He declared to a horrified Louise that if he couldn't fly, he didn't want to live.
Kelly continued in the series almost to the end, finally bidding Simon farewell in the show's penultimate episode. Gary Doolan had by now married the elegant Janet Patterson (Susannah Lobez). Another new recurring character at the end of the series was Barbie Beach (Penelope Stewart), a shy young office secretary who worked with George Tippett.
The final episode has George in a panic to organise a reception for the arriving Prince and Princess of Wales on the same day as his formal interview for the job of Assistant Airport Manager. In the end the royal visit goes off without a hitch and George eventually learns he got the job. Sir Joseph is also still around, and in the closing episode he is reunited with a young woman believed to be his long lost daughter from Korea. Meanwhile Tim Barclay finally has his bandages removed and learns his eyesight has been saved - he will fly again. In addition his budding romance with Louise seems secure.
Angela, who now works on the airport information desk, seems put out when she learns Alan might be leaving to take up a journalism cadetship. However their romance seems to be back on track when she learns he will be covering the airport beat. Then there's more good news when Simon reveals to Mandy the contents of the package he received from Nick, who is attending a training course in Hawaii. Nick has asked Simon to present an air ticket to Hawaii and engagement ring to Mandy; she is overjoyed and makes plans to reunite with her new fiance.
In the end it is left to a triumphant George Tippett to experience a series of flashbacks of some major events from the series as he stands on the airport's outdoor viewing deck.
Skyways had spent two years on air, with the final episode originally going to air on 27 July 1981 (due to differing production schedules, Fanelli had already made his onscreen Cop Shop debut by this point.) A total of 188 one hour episodes were produced.
The anonymous TV Week columnist The Watcher bemoaned the show's demise. The Watcher praised Skyways for its high technical standard and its cast of "top performers" and noted that the series featured some very important technical innovations. The Watcher observed that in the Australian television industry it seems that programs must either "win big, or miss out altogether," and in the columnist's opinion the key reason the series ended was because the network failed "to get its programming act together." The Watcher also pointed out that in its two year run, Skyways failed to win a single award for itself or its crew. The column quoted one unnamed actor as recently saying "I can't accept the show was so bad that we didn't even rate a mention in any award in that time." [xxvi]
Proposed as a replacement for Skyways was the new police drama series The Squad. Ian Crawford of Crawford Productions said that "We believe the time is right for an action police show. The Squad will look at police procedure from the point of view of the detectives and will explore their working relationships in considerable depth." [xxvii] A key element of The Squad was that it was set, and shot, in Sydney. Though a pilot was made with TV Week publicity trumpeting the program's cast which included John Gregg, Frank Gallagher, Ken Goodlet, Roger Ward, Louise Howitt and Andrew Clarke, The Squad never went into regular series production.
One Skyways cast member who beat the axe was Gaynor Martin. Martin, who played Mandy in the series, was contracted directly to Crawford Productions. As she explained to TV Week, "When I joined the series two years ago, I signed a contract with Crawfords, not Skyways, for three years." Martin admits that when Hector Crawford announced the program's demise she had tears in her eyes,
"It came as such a shock and I thought of the friends I'd be losing. It's the first time I've been involved in something like this." [xxviii]
The day after production on Skyways ended Martin described the final taping sessions for TV Week.
"It was so sad. It was awful. I hated it. I kept looking around the studio at the various sets and thinking how much I was going to miss all the friends. The final scene called for me to be quite emotional - that was easy. But I wasn't emotional for reasons involved in the scene. I was emotional because it was the end of a great two-year run." [xxix]
In the event Martin was added to the regular cast of Crawford's new Network Ten series Holiday Island as the beautiful but mercenary schemer Kylie.
Actor Bill Stalker also survived the demise of Skyways, and he was moved over to Cop Shop to reprise his character Peter Fanelli. In the story, having endured the loss of girlfriend Faye who was killed in a parachuting accident, Fanelli left the airport and returned to the police force - making the switch to the Cop Shop series as a new Riverside detective. Then actor Brian James reprised his Skyways character of the pompous prig George Tippett in the later stages of Holiday Island.
Tina Bursill enjoyed continued success in a series of high profile roles repeating her Skyways persona of a cool, elegant businesswoman. First she played a senior, high powered executive in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation series Winner Take All in 1982. According to the TV Week gossip column she even designed her character's wardrobe for the show. [xxx] Later, in the popular soap Prisoner, Bursill was a big success as a businesswoman of a different variety: the cruel and ruthless brothel owner Sonia Stevens.
Skyways also marked the first screen pairing of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan - later the romantically linked teen stars of Neighbours. In Skyways they guest starred in one episode as eleven-year-old squabbling siblings temporarily left stranded at the airport by their pilot father.
In the late 1980s Channel Seven repeated Skyways in Melbourne on weekday afternoons. The series was screened in the United Kingdom on Astra Satellite channel Lifestyle during 1990, stripped Monday to Friday in an afternoon slot. Starting January 2006 the WIN Television network in Australia repeated Skyways at 3.00 a.m. each Thursday morning as part of its Crawford's Australian Classics series.
Originally uploaded May 2000
Updated 11 February 2013
[i] Groves, Don. "The flying soap opera that may wash Don away." The Sun-Herald. (Sydney Morning Herald). 1 July 1979, page 15.
[ii] Groves, Don. "The flying soap opera that may wash Don away." The Sun-Herald. (Sydney Morning Herald). 1 July 1979, page 15.
[iii] "Prison Break for Kerry." TV Week. 7 July 1979, page 19.
[iv] "Prison Break for Kerry." TV Week. 7 July 1979, page 19.
[v] "Gerard Joins the Skyways Crew." TV Week. 5 January 1980, page 27.
[vi] Pangallo, Frank. "'Boyish' Bonner Battles the Age Barrier." TV Week. 9 May 1981, page 32.
[vii] Courtis, Brian. "Banality and predictability." The Age. 27 March 1980, page 2.
[viii] Courtis, Brian. "Banality and predictability." The Age. 27 March 1980, page 2.
[ix] "No Laughs for Mike's Funnyman." TV Week. 26 July 1980, page 37.
[x] "Mandy's Hong Kong." TV Week. 10 May 1980, page 90.
[xi] Johnson, Jackie. "Stars Pay Tribute to Skyways Crash Victim." TV Week. 31 May 1980, page 49.
[xii] Fraser, Jill. "Skyways Role is Real-Life." TV Week. 18 October 1980, page 31.
[xiii] "Judy's Flying High." TV Week. 3 January 1981, page 63.
[xiv] Richter, Christine. "Bunney Fights her Way Back." TV Week. 30 May 1981, page 67.
[xv] Johnson, Jackie. "Series Takes Off, Bound for Sydney." TV Week. 26 July 1980, page 37.
[xvi] Johnson, Jackie. "Kerry Makes a Comeback." TV Week. 26 July 1980, page 37.
[xvii] Johnson, Jackie. "Carry On, Kylie." TV Week. 26 July 1980, page 37.
[xviii] Perrett, Janine. "Maurie the Loafer at Last." TV Week. 25 October 1980, page 17.
[xix] Fraser, Jill "Skyways Star Quits." TV Week. 3 January 1981, page 19.
[xx] Fraser, Jill "Skyways Star Quits." TV Week. 3 January 1981, page 19.
[xxi] Fraser, Jill "Skyways Star Quits." TV Week. 3 January 1981, page 19.
[xxii] Johnson, Jackie. "Grounded Skyways Stars Take it on the Chin." TV Week. 7 February 1981, page 29.
[xxiii] Johnson, Jackie. "Grounded Skyways Stars Take it on the Chin." TV Week. 7 February 1981, page 29.
[xxiv] Robertson, Fred. "Big Bill." TV Week. 27 June 1981, page 18.
[xxv] Groves, Don and Jacqueline Lee Lewes. "Soapies down the drain?" Inside TV column, The Sun-Herald. 8 March 1981, page 51.
[xxvi] The Watcher. "Exit the Show That Had It All." TV Week. 4 July 1981, page 34.
[xxvii] Johnson, Jackie. "Grounded Skyways Stars Take it on the Chin." TV Week. 7 February 1981, page 29.
[xxviii] Johnson, Jackie. "[Grounded Skyways Stars Take it on the Chin.] ...But Gaynor Beat the Axe." TV Week. 7 February 1981, page 29.
[xxix] "New Series for Skyway's [sic] Gaynor." TV Week. 9 May 1981, page 5.
[xxx] "On the Grapevine." TV Week. 9 January 1982, page 21.