Grundy Productions (later known simply as the Grundy Organisation) had a
long and successful track record as a packager of quiz and game shows. The
company ventured into drama with the soapie Class Of 74, and in
1975 turned their attention to ‘serious’ adult drama. To this end they
procured the services of prolific writer and producer Ron McLean, whose
credits included Spyforce and Silent Number. In July 1975 Grundys made a pilot for a police series that McLean had devised, King’s Men,
which was soon followed in August by a pilot for another series that McLean
dreamed up, the courtroom drama Case For The Defence.
pilots were made for the Nine Network, and Grundy Managing Director Lyle
McCabe said, “Both King’s Men and Case For The Defence will
be screened and we’re confident one of them at least will become a
series.”1 That confidence was not misplaced, as
Nine commissioned both series to go into production in 1976, with filming
of Case commencing in May.
Case For The Defence
was the first 90-minute drama series produced for Australian television.2
The feature-length format had proved popular with American imports such
as Columbo, McCloud and Name Of The Game.
Case For The Defence
was a courtroom ‘whodunit’ series. Previous examples of the genre made in the 1960’s,
Consider Your Verdict, Divorce Court and The Unloved,
were almost completely confined to a courtroom set with the narrative
focusing on the trial. Case For The
Defence was significantly different, as events prior to the cases
coming to court were a major part of the storylines, and were backed up by extensive location filming.
scenes actually made up only a small proportion of each episode. Executive
Producer Reg Watson said, “Shooting of the series in Sydney should finish
around the middle of August (1976) and although there will always be a
sequence in the courtroom there will be a lot of outside action, too. In
the first episode we have cars overturning and exploding.”3
obvious play on words, the series central character is John Case, a prominent Sydney
defence lawyer.4 Case was played by John Hamblin, whose credits included a
major role in Class Of 74 and a presenter on the children’s
series Play School.
Case lives with his girlfriend Winsome Blake, also a lawyer, who is called Win for short
- another play on words. She is separated, but not yet divorced, from a
husband who mistreated her. She refers to boyfriend John as ‘Case’. Win is
played by Judith Arthy, who had appeared in a number of guest roles in
Australian productions in the early to mid 60’s, before pursuing her
career in London. Judith had only recently returned from Britain when she
was given the role in Case For The Defence.
were a number of support roles in the series. Robert ‘Tex’ Morton played
John Case’s father, Rupe. A widower for 15 years, Rupe is often on hand to
help or hinder. He approves of Win, and would like to see her and John get
married (which would provide yet another play on words, as her name would
become Win Case). Edward Howell played Wheems, a clerk who works in Case’s law
office and has a penchant for selling raffle tickets. Max Osbiston
appeared as Proudfoot, a Crown prosecutor.
were early press reports that the outcome of each episode would be decided
by a ‘jury’ of actors appearing in the show. This idea was not proceeded
with, and each episode was fully scripted from start to finish.
series consistently followed a tried and true formula. John
Case always seemed to get the baffling cases that, on the surface, appeared impossible to defend.
Each episode had Case and friends involved in a certain amount of
sleuthing, with a myriad of suspects and many plot twists
and turns. The real culprit would then be
revealed at the end of the show. Although the format was predictable, it was very well written,
with competent acting and direction, and had high production standards.
The only valid criticism of the show is that it was produced on
videotape, rather than film, which gave it a cheap and amateurish look.
Case For The Defence
did not have an opening title sequence as such, the main credits being
superimposed over the first scenes after the opening ‘teaser’. The end
credits were more extensive, featuring individual credits for the main
actors, both regulars and guests.
Episode 4, ‘The Man Who Died Twice’, featured former Matlock Police
and Silent Number regular Grigor Taylor in a lead guest role. An
excellent, well-scripted episode, Taylor later singled it out as a high
point in his career: “I’d say that High Rolling (a feature film)
and an episode of Case For The Defence, where I played an Israeli
secret service man, are probably the only things I’ve done that I’ve been
one hundred percent happy with.”5
Contemporary singer Mark Holden made his acting debut in episode
5, ‘Without Consent’. He later had a major part in the soap opera The Young
Doctors, which is often incorrectly credited as his first dramatic
acting role because it went to air before the Case episode.
90-minute episodes were produced of Case For The Defence,
which included the pilot episode. (Nine 90-minute episodes equates in time to
roughly 13 one-hour episodes, then the standard length for a television
series). A decision had not been made by Nine as to when the series would
be played, but the Program manager of TCN-9 Sydney, Lynton Taylor, was
considering playing them once a month in a timeslot shared in rotation
with Columbo and McCloud. “Being 90 minutes long is a new
format for an Australian production,” he said. “I want to see two or three
episodes before we decide when we’re going to air.”6
late 1976, the popularity of the American 90-minute programs began to
wane, and consequently Nine decided to defer playing Case For The
Defence. The series eventually went to air in May 1978 in Sydney, not
on TCN-9 but on rival channel TEN-10. Nine sold the first run rights of
the series to TEN-10, as the latter channel was falling short of its local
content requirements. “We bought it from Nine because we needed more local
drama content,” explained a TEN-10 spokesman. “We reckoned we’d be six or
seven hours short for the year. There was quite a gap between the end of
Number 96 and the beginning of The Restless Years.” The
spokesman also suggested that Nine did not want to screen the series
because it would be giving a ‘free plug’ to TEN’s soapie The Restless
Years, which had started in late 1977 and also featured John Hamblin
in a lead role.7
Melbourne, GTV-9 retained Case For The Defence in its vaults, until
it eventually screened the series during the 1979-80 summer non-ratings
season. The series was sold overseas to England, where it was screened in
a late-night timeslot during 1978, and drew respectable ratings in the
The series was never
repeated, and Case For The Defence has been largely forgotten by
the viewing public. Which is regrettable, as apart from its historical
significance as Australia's first 90-minute drama, it was actually a
good quality show, and deserves to be seen again.
Locally-produced feature-length drama series came into
vogue in Australia again during the 1990’s with telemovie series such as The Feds and
CASE FOR THE DEFENCE
1. TV Times, July
2. Crawford Productions conducted an experiment with a 90-minute episode
Division 4 in 1971, which was the first feature length episode made
of an Australian series. Subsequently, other feature length 'special'
episodes were made of various series, but Case For The Defence was
the first series produced with 90 minutes as its standard length.
3. TV Times, May 15, 1976.
4. King's Men was also a play on words - it was centred on Insp.
Harry King based at Kings Cross.
5. TV Times, Oct 29, 1977.
6. TV Times, May 15, 1976.
7. TV Times, May 20, 1978.