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CASE FOR THE DEFENCE


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CASE FOR THE DEFENCE
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Reg 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.

Both 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. The courtroom 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

In an 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.

John 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.

There 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.

There 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.

The 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.

Nine 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

By 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

In 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 low-20’s.

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 Halifax.

 

CASE FOR THE DEFENCE
EPISODE DETAILS

 

 

1. TV Times, July 26, 1975.
2. Crawford Productions conducted an experiment with a 90-minute episode of 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.


 
John Hamblin in the title role of John Case, a prominent Sydney defence lawyer.


Judith Arthy as Win Blake, also a lawyer with John Hamblin as John Case, the two lead roles in Case For The Defence.


John Meillon and John Hamblin in a courtroom scene from ep. 3, 'The Family Way'.


Robert 'Tex' Morton had a support role as Rupe, John Case's father.


Edward Howell played Wheems, a clerk who works in Case's office.


Max Osbiston played Proudfoot, a Crown prosecutor.


Case For The Defence did not have an opening title sequence - credits were superimposed over the opening scenes.


The closing titles were more extensive, featuring individual credits for the lead actors, including guest roles. In this example, from ep. 4 'The Man Who Died Twice', Grigor Taylor is one of the guest actors.


Case For The Defence commercial integration.


Lynette Curran has a touch-up from make-up girl Cherie Rawson-Harris, during taping of ep. 3 'The Family Way'. On the left is Sigrid Thornton.


John Case cross-examines a witness, played by James Condon, in a scene from ep. 4 'The Man Who Died Twice'.


Judith Arthy had only recently returned from England when she was cast in Case For The Defence.