TV and Theatre:Living in the ’70s

It’s a horror movie right there on my TV
Horror movie right there on my TV
Horror movie and it’s blown a fuse
Horror movie, it’s the six-thirty news
Horror movie, it’s the six-thirty news
And it’s shockin’ me right outta my brain

Horror Movie – Skyhooks – 1975 

Joanne bought herself a black and white television the year she started teaching, in 1971. It was a Healing, the cheapest she could find and it proved that you get what you pay for. It developed a habit of taking up to an hour before the picture would appear, so Joanne would switch in on when she arrived home from school in the hope she would get to watch something before the news.

Colour TV first arrived in Australia in 1975. Three years earlier, Bruce Gyngell (TV executive) famously quoted the then Prime Minister, Billy McMahon, who said that the Australian economy was in such a fragile state it could not afford the Vietnam War and colour TV.

It was at least two years later before Leo and Joanne became the proud owners of their Sony Trinitron Colour TV. The fact that they could only receive two channels (WIN 4 and ABC 2) did not worry them unduly but it did affect their viewing habits. The ABC was the public broadcaster and favoured current affairs, British comedy and drama and some Australian made content as well. WIN provided local news and American TV with advertisements so ABC became the channel of choice.

So much British comedy was pouring into Australia and it was good. The Two Ronnies, Dad’s Army, Are You Being Served?, Fawlty Towers, Steptoe and Son, Till Death Us Do Part and The Good Life poked fun at everything British but also matched Australia’s sense of humour.

Locally produced shows were popular.  Number 96 broke boundaries in what was acceptable on TV and Graham Kennedy was banned from appearing on live television after his infamous ‘crow call’.  Countdown appeared in 1974, hosted a year later by Ian “Molly” Meldrum and lasted fourteen years.  It was the most popular music program in Australia’s TV history.  Molly was a bumbling but endearing host who is credited with turning the Australian music industry around.  Video clips were a new thing.  Joanne and Leo were amazed at the colourful costumes of ABBA as much as their catchy music.

Australian comedy was quirky and a bit hit and miss.  The Aunty Jack Show hit Australian screens in 1972. Joanne and Leo watched it regularly, agreeing some parts were brilliant, some not so good. For some reason the writers chose Wollongong as the object for their satire, which had letter writers and the Lord Mayor in a flap.

Joanne was dedicated to an Australian TV series called Certain Women (1973-76).  It grew out of a six part mini-series showcasing six talented women actors and covered the issues facing women in the 1970s.

From watching mainly American TV in the ‘60s Joanne and Leo had changed their viewing habits.  That is not to say the US was forgotten.  They (mainly Joanne) watched the Partridge Family, M.A.S.H, All in the Family, The Brady Bunch and Mary Tyler Moore. As life became busier, the time for TV watching became less.

It was later in the ‘70s that friends suggested they all meet in Sydney to see The Applecart performed on stage, starring Keith Michel.  Joanne noticed a flyer advertising a performance of Henry IV at the Nimrod Theatre.  It caught her eye because she had studied that play at university and enjoyed the escapades of Prince Hal.  It was a memorable experience. Sitting in the front row they ducked as a sword slid across the stage. At interval the actors (but not John Bell) circulated with the audience and shared Middle Ages food with them, and mead of course.  

Falstaff and Prince Hal (Frank Wilson and John Bell) from ABC News Sat 6 Nov 2021 

That was the beginning of many visits to the Nimrod on a Friday or Saturday night. They would drive up the coast after a week of teaching, or a day of sailing on the lake, eat dinner at a nearby restaurant and rush to make it to the first act before lights out. Sometimes Joanne was so tired she simply fell asleep but some plays were so good she stayed awake the whole way through. Anything with John Bell in it was sure to see Joanne paying full attention. David Williamson’s Travelling North hit a chord. Everyone could identify with it. Some of his other plays had them yawning but you can’t win them all. The most horrifying play was The Choir, where the slow dawning of how the choir boys retained their high voices had the men wincing.

The Nimrod Theatre company was founded by John Bell, Richard Wherrett and Ken Horler and while it had its share of tried and trusted plays it promoted ‘good new Australian drama’ (and some not so good) from 1970 to 1985. By the time Leo and Joanne started it had moved from Nimrod Street, Kings Cross to Belvoir Street, Surry Hills but retained the name. John Bell went on to establish the Bell Shakespeare Company and is an Australian Living Treasure.