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I'VE MARRIED A BACHELOR


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I'VE MARRIED A BACHELOR
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Following the appointment of Talbot Duckmanton as General Manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in November 1964, programming took on a new direction within the public broadcaster. Shortly afterwards radio was separated from television within the ABC, and a Television Drama department was created.  Drama output became more prolific, and was channelled into three main genres: series (self-contained episodes), serials (continuing narrative) and the traditional one-off play. The first fruits of this new policy appeared in 1967: the long-running soap opera Bellbird and the critically-acclaimed crime series Contrabandits.

The Television Drama department did not have a monopoly on all forms of drama production, however. Ken Watts, the ABC’s Federal Director of Television Programs, formed a new unit out of the Light Entertainment department in 1967. The new Television Entertainment unit had a fairly wide canvas - over the next few years they produced sketch comedy shows (including The Greater Illustrated History Of The Glorious Antipodes Show and Australia A To Z), music shows (Hit Scene, The Magic Of Music), quiz, game and panel shows (Would You Believe, The Inventors) and drama in the form of situation comedy (The Thursday Creek Mob and A Nice Day At The Office).

Head of the new unit (with an ‘Executive Producer’ title) was Alan Morris, who had previously worked in light entertainment for a London company. The first sit-com produced by the new unit was I’ve Married A Bachelor in 1968. Written by Lyle Martin, the series concerned a couple of newlyweds - Peter Prentiss and his wife Molly - and took a light-hearted look at the marriage institution and the stereotyped roles of husband and wife.

Peter Prentiss is a typical Australian male who finds it difficult to give up his bachelor lifestyle. The ties that bind him to his mates, beer, poker games and rugby are hard to break. His loving wife Molly is somewhat tolerant of her husband’s ways, but she is not past carrying out some devious plans of her own to change the situation. Her ally in this constant struggle is her mother, Mrs. Molloy, from whom she often accepts help and advice. Peter has his own ally in the form of his best mate Mervyn MacGregor, who is a loyal friend but somewhat dim-witted, and a constant source of disaster in the Prentiss household.

Peter Whitford was cast in the role of Peter Prentiss, and June Thody (who previously appeared in The Mavis Bramston Show and the ABC mini-series My Brother Jack) played Molly. Merv is portrayed by Donald MacDonald, and Mrs. Malloy was played by Aileen Britton, who had a long career in film and theatre, including a major role in the 1937 film Tall Timbers.

The Director and Producer of the series was Brian Bell, and Alan Morris, as unit head, was Executive Producer. Initially seven half-hour episodes were made in black and white, using the video and film integration method (videotape for studio interiors, film for exteriors). The series was made in Sydney, hence why Peter plays rugby (the dominant football code in that city) rather than Aussie Rules football (the popular code in most other capital cities).

The opening titles consisted of a sequence of still shots alternating between Molly and Peter. Each shot of Peter shows him playing sport, cards, or drinking beer, and with each subsequent shot of Molly her smiling face slowly turns to an expression of frustration.

The first episode went to air in Sydney on October 30, 1968, and in Melbourne one week later on November 6. It was a scene-setter, opening with Peter and Molly preparing for their wedding, and established the basic premise of the series. Matters get complicated when Peter, a star player on the rugby team, is required to play in a grand final tie-breaker on their wedding day. Predictably, Peter makes it to the church on time - but only just - by scoring early in the game and then clobbering some players so he can be sent off the field. Subsequent episodes centred on the couple as newlyweds, and viewers quickly warmed to the series. Although I've Married A Batchelor wasn’t a ratings blockbuster, it was nonetheless quite popular.

The role of Peter Prentiss caused a little bit of concern for the Adelaide-born Peter Whitford. “I didn’t know whether I would be able to immerse myself in the role,” explained Whitford, “simply because I had never played sport. In fact I just hate sport. I know a little about Aussie Rules, I suppose because everybody in Adelaide lives and breathes it. When it comes to playing Peter Prentiss and having to play rugby in that first episode I went quite cold all over and I was terribly nervous. But they were very good to me and showed me how to barge away and somehow I struggled through."1

The critics gave the series a mixed reaction. Most agreed that it was well-acted and well-produced, but they could not agree on the standard of the scripts. Two reviewers in the same issue of TV Week gave a typical response: One wrote that “the show is a curious mixture of professionalism and unadulterated corn. The fault lies with some of the corniest, hackneyed lines delivered on television in the past few years.” The other thought that “the scripting was some of the best stuff to come out of an Australian production.”2

I’ve Married A Bachelor won a TV Week Logie award for Best Comedy Series in 1968. The ABC was pleased with the positive viewer response and gave the go-ahead for another seven episodes to be produced. The second series differed slightly from the first in two aspects: more guest roles were featured (most of the action of the first series fell on the regular cast), and the ratio of film to video was increased due to more exterior scenes being utilised.

Peter Whitford said he was looking forward to the second series so that he could “iron out” some minor mistakes he felt he made. “I wasn’t wholly satisfied with my performance in the first series,” he said.3  The second series was screened commencing in April 1969.

The opening titles for the second series were changed to an an animated sequence, with drawings of Peter alternately following his bachelor pursuits and reluctantly performing domestic chores, culminating in Molly and her mother catching Peter and Merv drinking at the local pub. For those interested in such minutia, the exclamation mark was dropped from the end of the title.

Several overseas sales were made, to countries including England, Scotland, New Zealand and Sweden. Peter Whitford attributed the success of the series to the writing of Lyle Martin and the direction of Brian Bell, while downplaying his own contribution: "I'm afraid I 'four-twelved' it a bit. Overplayed it, you know? Unfamiliarity with the medium."4

There were plans for a third series of I’ve Married A Bachelor, but by November 1968 the ABC announced that a third series would not proceed, and the total number of episodes stood at 14. A strange decision, considering the popularity of the show and the fairly large amount of foreign sales achieved for a black and white program.

I’ve Married A Bachelor was an enjoyable series. The comedy had a nice understated feel, and it was free of the syrupy, sentimental moralising that plagues many U.S. sit-coms. It was repeated several times, but has not been screened since the advent of colour television in 1975. The theme of newlyweds for a sit-com cropped up again in 1993 with the appropriately titled Newlyweds, however it was sufficiently different to I’ve Married A Bachelor to make any direct comparison between the two series invalid.

 

I'VE MARRIED A BACHELOR
EPISODE DETAILS

 

1. TV Week, Dec 14, 1968.
2. TV Week, Nov 30, 1968.
3. TV Week, Dec 14, 1968.
4. TV Times, Nov 24, 1973.



Peter Whitford as Peter Prentiss and June Thody as Molly Prentiss - the two principal cast members of I've Married  A Bachelor!.


Molly (June Thody) carries her husband Peter (Peter Whitford), still in his rugby gear, over the threshold.


Aileen Britton as Molly's mother Mrs. Malloy, and Donald MacDonald as Peter's best mate Merv MacGregor.


A scene from the first episode: June Thody (centre) as Molly with Aileen Britton and Don Philps as her parents.


I've Married A Bachelor first series opening titles.


June Thody as Molly and Peter Whitford as Peter Prentiss.


Peter Whitford and June Thody accepting the 1968 Logie award for Best Comedy, with host Bert Newton.


June Thody as Molly trying to get hubby Peter (Peter Whitford) and Merv (Donald MacDonald) away from the pub.


I've Married A Bachelor second series opening titles.


June Thody.