CLASSIC AUSTRALIAN TELEVISION

INTERVIEW:
IAN JONES

 


Copyright 2004 Don Storey.  All rights reserved.


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This interview first appeared in TV EYE No. 5, June 1995.


lan Jones is a name well-known 'behind the scenes' in Australian television. He worked for many years at Crawfords performing a variety of functions from scriptwriting and directing to project development, and was involved with many of the icons of Australian television, including Homicide, Hunter, Division 4, Matlock Police and Bluey. Since leaving Crawfords he has been involved with many and varied film and television projects, including the mini-series Against The Wind and The Last Outlaw.

 

Did you have any involvement with the Crawfords live-to-air comedy series Take That in 1957?

No I didn't. Take That was done by Crawfords while I was working for Channel 7, but I had absolutely no connection with it. I was the director of Video Village virtually from its inception until I left Channel 7. 1 don't think I ever did a Wedding Day, but I directed several episodes of Consider Your Verdict, which would have been the first Crawford show I worked on.

Did you leave Channel 7 and go to Crawfords specifically to work on Consider Your Verdict?

No, I went to Crawfords as 'Executive In Charge Of Special Projects', which was one of those nebulous 'pulled out of the air' titles which really meant I could-work on practically anything. What in fact happened when I got there was that I was writing and directing documentaries of various kinds. A lot of my work in the early days was on the series of short four minute films called 'Export Action', which Crawfords were doing for the Department Of Trade.

Can you tell us anything about the development of Homicide?

When I went to Crawfords the pilot of Homicide had already been written. The script was written by Phil Freedman which in those days was called 'The Clumsy Thief'. It subsequently appeared as episode 24A retitled 'One Man Crime Wave'. My only impact on that pilot script was that I didn't like the detective's names. Det. Fraser was originally called, I think, Det. Stone or Steel, and it didn't seem to suit the character - Fraser suited the character more. I suggested the name Insp. Connolly before Jack Fegan was cast because of the Irish influence on police forces in Australia, particularly the Victoria Police. And, I have to say it, I wasn't mad keen about the name Bronson, but I thought two out of three was all right so far, so I shut up. And Bronson worked, so it didn't really matter. After that my major contribution was to direct the film sequences for the pilot.

What period of time elapsed between completion of the pilot and commencement of production of the series?

I can't remember exactly, but it must have been close to a year. For a long time a part of me was saying 'Don't kid yourself, it's not going to happen', while the other part of me was collecting locations, mulling over stories and generally tooling up for it.

Were any changes made to the pilot for it to conform with the series?

We didn't make any changes. Hector Crawford was very worried about the pilot - he didn't want to show it as the first episode, and when Lex Mitchell was leaving the show we had to decide either to not show it at all, or show it before Lex left. That's how it came in as episode number 24A, and nobody seemed to notice. In fact one critic said that 'Homicide keeps improving all the time'.

Apparently in Sydney, where they showed the later episodes first, some critics said they noticed an improvement when they eventually showed the earlier episodes.

Homicide had a weird impact on Australian audiences. They simply were not used to Australian drama, and what we were doing was really very different. On the one hand people were saying 'You're imitating Naked City', and in the next breath they were saying 'Why don't your detectives carry guns like American detectives? Why do they walk around a lot and knock on doors, why don't they jump out of cars and do dramatic things? Why aren't we seeing the big cities, why are you driving around suburban streets and chasing people through backyards and lane ways?' And we were saying 'This is what detective work is like'. An overseas visitor said that we were really doing something quite innovative - we were portraying suburban crime, and he said it hadn't been done before. It hadn't occurred to us that this was anything out of the ordinary, because we were portraying homicide investigations as they happen, and most homicide investigations take place in the suburbs.

There must have been a real pioneering feel doing Homicide.

We knew we were breaking fresh ground. People were first of all saying 'Why do the actors use exaggerated Australian accents?' and we said 'They're not, they're using their own voices'. In fact, we had several actors who had worked in radio and on stage saying it was the first time they had ever used their own voices in a role - they were always doing accents, playing Englishmen, or Americans or Swiss or Mexicans or whatever. At first there was a sort of national embarrassment about hearing your own accent coming back at you.

We were all incredibly excited and working incredibly hard. We had a four man film crew including myself: a cameraman, a grip, an assistant director and myself (director). That sounds unbelievable, but it worked because the assistant director was David Lee. David was almost a one-man film unit - as well as a great assistant director, he looked after all the cars, the wardrobe and the props. David and I jointly did make-up, if there were any guide tracks to do for post-synch (because we didn't record sound on location) David recorded them, David did police liaison, David was armourer, you name it - he was extraordinary.

So we just hurtled around the place in two vehicles: a station wagon which was loaded with equipment, and the police car which carried props and any necessary wardrobe in the boot, and that was it. We could bump in and out of a location in ten seconds flat - it was like a commando unit! It was very, very hard work, but very exciting. Working that way, we could do all the film scenes for an integrated film/video Homicide in two days. Our record was twenty minutes of film shot in two days.

You came from directing a control room at Channel 7 which uses a number of video cameras. Were you at the same time doing film work, or was Homicide with the single film camera a completely new area to you?

I'd been a film enthusiast all my life, and I worked in 1951 on the 20th Century Fox Kangaroo unit over at Port Augusta. I was a stand-in for Peter Lawford for two weeks, I was a horse-hand, I was a grip, and after that I made a couple of films with the Melbourne University Film Society. I made a film of my own, I was assistant director on another film and I was director of photography and consultant on others. So I actually had to adapt to control room direction, and I returned to my roots with Homicide.

Did the technical improvements with location sound come about because of an increase in the budget, or had you just developed new techniques for working with what you had?

A bit of both. The very first episodes had dubbed door slams, gunshots and, I think, footsteps, and that was it. The moment of truth was when we shot 'Flashpoint', the all-film episode, which was our first exercise with location sound. It took us seven days to shoot - we basically ended up shooting a feature film because the company wasn't used to working with all film. I think they judged the length of the script based on an ordinary integrated Homicide, and everyone was concerned that the script I had written wouldn't run 48 minutes - the television hour. So I was asked to write some extra scenes, which I did quite happily and they turned out beautifully, but, alas, we had to cut them. So we did end up shooting what would have been a television feature in seven days, but we could have done it a lot quicker if we hadn't been learning to do location sound.

Was the reason for doing 'Flashpoint' purely experimental?

Yes. I don't think I suggested it - it was a group decision to do a special all-film episode. I had an idea kicking around in my head which would have been very difficult to do integrated because of the amount of exterior scenes, so I trotted out that idea, wrote the script and we proceeded with it.

A funny thing, most of my favourite scripts were written around an actor who we ended up not getting, and 'Flashpoint' was one of those.

So the lead guest role wasn't originally intended for Norman Yemm?

No. Which is the supreme irony, because Norm's work in 'Flashpoint' was absolutely wonderful. I love Norm as an actor, and his physical contribution to a role like that is just gigantic. But the part was originally written for Ed Deveraux. I can't remember who suggested Norm for 'Flashpoint', but when they did I thought 'Yeah - he'd be terrific'. Ed's a good actor, but if ever anything should have been written for Norman Yemm, 'Flashpoint' was it.

Norman was reported at one stage to be Homicide's favourite villain.

Oh, he was. In fact, the part of Kragg in Hunter was written for Norman. I originally wanted Gerard Kennedy to play Hunter and Norm to play Kragg. What a double! Tony Ward was not my first choice for Hunter. But Tony made the role his own, and he worked very, very hard on Hunter, and I respected him very much. He made it his own - we had some problems during the course of it, but Tony made it work.

How much input did you have in the development of Hunter?

I came up with the idea of Hunter, but the show as it turned out isn't really what I wanted. Hector and I talked about a show based around Australian Intelligence on a Friday - our minds often worked together in a funny sort of way; we were very unalike in many ways, but very complementary - and I turned up on Monday with the idea of Hunter and even the title. I saw it as a series of half-hours played like a Saturday matinee serial - the whole idea was to build a serial of cliff-hangers, but at no stage did you take it seriously.

Similar to the serials of the late 40's and early 50's?

Well, touching reality a bit more than that, but not quite as tongue-in-cheek as Bond, but something between the two. I think we ended up falling between two stools - I don't know how good the original idea was, but Hunter did increasingly tend to take itself seriously, and that wasn't the original idea.

Was Gerard Kennedy selected for Hunter because of his guest roles in Homicide?

Yes. I'II never forget: Terry McDermott was leaving Homicide, and there was a bit of tension over his decision to go. Terry just wanted to leave - to stop appearing in the show. I suggested we build an episode around his departure and he should go out in a realistic 'blaze of glory'. So we came up with the idea of 'Vendetta', with this criminal who breaks out of Pentridge and shoots Sgt. Mackay, and is conducting a vendetta against the Homicide cops. I turned up on location the first day to shoot scenes with this dastardly criminal character Peter James O'Brien, and I had spent the weekend sorting out the prison clothes that O'Brien was going to wear - this guy really had to be the part. I hadn't worked with Gerry before, and here was this man - tall, quite slim, a wonderful face, quite a mop of black hair and smoking a Corncob pipe, but very quiet, intelligent, very serious, and sensitive. And I thought 'lt's a great head, but they've cast the guy on a photo - it's never going to work'. Anyway, I talked to Gerry and we had a great chat, and then he got into costume and we started talking about the part, and in 10 seconds flat I was looking at Peter James O'Brien - it was just extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary. We proceeded to do the scene where he dived down a flight of steps and crashed into a warder and beat his brains out with a carbine, with the help of stuntmen Max Reed and Peter Armstrong, and never looked back. He was a total natural, a wonderful, wonderful actor to work with.

I wanted Gerry to play Hunter, but when Tony got the part it was suggested that Gerry play Kragg, and I could see that he would make a wonderful Kragg. But then we had two men with straight black hair, and we wanted to provide some contrast, and that's how Gerry came to have his crew cut. And of course the turn around from Hunter to Division 4 was instant, he was playing Kragg one week and Banner the next week, so Banner had a crew cut too.

Was the role of Kragg originally conceived as just simply a villain rather than the more complex 'misguided idealist'?

Kragg was originally just a beaut fun villain. The 'misguided idealist' who 'saw the light and cleaved to the way of imperialism and capitalism' was a development of the increased gravity of Hunter which I didn't argue with, I loved it. I wrote and film directed 'The Kragg File' where he actually changed sides, and it was one of my very happiest experiences. The scene I did with Gerry and Patricia Smith in a car parked on a country road was, and remains, my favourite scene I've ever done with actors, as opposed to an action scene or whatever. In the scene he was practically dying and wanted her to take him to Security Headquarters, and it had great atmosphere with the background of Gerry featuring peaceful grass blowing in the wind contrasting with the background to Pat being the bustling traffic on the highway.

Gerry was recognised as an enormous asset to the show, and I think when he effectively became Hunter the original concept was vindicated when we saw the job Gerry would have done as a hero. There was an idea in the company that a hero had to have, and I quote, "matinee idol good looks", but that was not the case, and the success of Kragg as a character proved that.

Hunter then had two heroes, although Tony was still the star. Did you think that affected the series?

I think we steadily lost the plot. Hunter was being pulled in too many directions. The great strength of a company like Crawfords can also be it's greatest weakness, and it's great strength was a very good creative team - but a very good creative team is in danger of becoming a creative committee.

When Tony left the series and Rod Mullinar was brought in to replace him, it was Kragg who effectively became the hero. Was it intended at that stage that Hunter would go on indefinitely with Kragg assuming the Hunter role?

Yes. Channel 9 wanted to continue Hunter, but there was a general feeling that we could do something better with Gerry. We came up with Division 4 as a better vehicle for Gerry, which succeeded in that regard. The tragedy with Division 4 is that its original concept wasn't followed through. It was originally going to be called 'Saints And Sinners' and be set at the St Kilda police station. We built replicas of the charge counter area and CIB room at St Kilda - even the picture hanging on the wall of the CIB room was the same as the picture in the real CIB room. We lived with the St Kilda cops, we went with them through a day's work, through a night's work - Terry Stapleton and I spent an extraordinary 12 hours from 5 PM on a Saturday to 5 AM on Sunday with uniform blokes and C.I. blokes, we spent a day with the C.I. Sergeant, we went around with some of the detectives. Division 4 was a fine police drama, but it would have had it's feet totally planted one thousand percent in reality if we had been able to carry through the St Kilda concept. Brian Dixon, MLA I think he was then, objected - he didn't want to give the idea that St Kilda was full of crims and prostitutes because it would be bad for tourism and all that. I think it was a short sighted view because setting it in St Kilda would have given it a cosmopolitan ambience which Division 4 never gave being set in the amorphous Yarra Central.

Which show was your favourite?

My favourite of the police dramas was Matlock, because I love the country, I love getting out of the city and suburbs. By setting it in a fictitious place like Matlock, broadly based on Shepparton, you've got everything you can do in an ordinary crime show with the complete range of country backgrounds, country crime, and, in a city of that size, elements of suburban crime. At it's best it would put a very accurate picture of country life as it existed in the 70's on the screen.

Do you think that Matlock really found its feet in the later colour days when the country aspects came to the fore?

Yes, it was a show that screamed for colour, although I was very pleased with a lot of the black and white eps. The production design was very effective. After setting the scene with the title shots filmed down around Warragul and Traralgon, we were able to work around Lilydale to Box Hill, where we had a stretch of country which gave us a tremendous range of backgrounds, and on day shoots you could recreate practically anything in rural Australia.

How did Michael Pate get the role in Matlock, an actor with a lot of American experience with still a bit of an American accent?

I don't remember in detail. We auditioned a lot of people - they even auditioned one actor, Ken Wayne, in London. Michael made it work, he gave a very strong performance. My great memory of the Matlock auditions is the casting of Gary Hogan. Terry Stapleton and I had created Gary Hogan and we had a very clear picture of Gary as a 19-20 year old motorbike cop, very young, very country. Paul Cronin arrived to audition for the detective role, which Grigor Taylor ended up getting, and Terry and I took one look at Paul and said 'We were wrong about Gary Hogan, Gary Hogan isn't 19 or 20, this is what Gary Hogan is like', Paul just fitted it, he fitted it like a dream.

Is that one of the reasons why Solo One became a spin-off?

Yes. That was Henry Crawford's idea, as I recall, to capitalise on the great appeal and impact of Paul. The impact of that character was extraordinary. Motorcycle cops at that point didn't have a terribly good image. They were regarded as heavies and storm-trooper types, and the impact of Paul Cronin's performance as Gary Hogan was to make people look at motorcycle cops in a different way. Guys were wanting to join the police force saying they want to be a motorcycle cop like Gary Hogan, and perhaps some motorcycle cops even started behaving like Gary Hogan - it was extraordinary. And of course motorcycle cops didn't have radios on their bikes when we did Matlock, that was a mock-up, and subsequently it became part of the equipment so they started to look more like Gary Hogan.

Life imitating art.

Exactly. I thought it was great because working on the police shows you developed a great affinity with the police and we worked very close with them. We were told that Homicide was affecting public attitudes to the police and improving their image, because people were starting to look at police work from the other side of the fence. We found that exciting - we felt we were helping.

Did you have much to do with the development of Ryan?

No. I was critical of the idea of doing a private eye show which seemed to me rather more like a copy of an American concept than Australian. I had always been very attached to the idea of a private eye show back in the days when we were looking for a show for Gerry after Hunter. I came up with the idea of Kragg seeing a middle aged to elderly man being knocked around by a couple of hoods, so Kragg goes to his rescue and helps him back to his office and discovers to his absolute amazement that this guy is a private detective. He's got this very crummy little office in a run down building with a very middle aged secretary, and Kragg helps him out on something which blows up practically while he is there, and ends up becoming part of the team.

Leaving COSMIC?

This would be after Kragg had left COSMIC and all that behind him and is searching, searching, searching... It would have been a spin-off series from Hunter. The idea was to have Keith Eden as the middle aged to elderly private eye, and I think it would have been fun.

What about Bluey? Was it intended as a replacement for Homicide?

I cannot remember the exact genesis of Bluey. My great memory is that it was going to be set in Sydney. Jock Blair and I went up to Sydney and liaised with the NSW police, looking at the scene there. They were very co-operative, and Sydney is a wonderful place to film. I thought it was an ambitious but exciting move to go to Sydney. Bluey would have been a very different show in Sydney - it would have been of great benefit for Bluey in every way, and I think it was sad that it didn't happen.

Was Bluey the last Crawfords series you helped develop?

The Sullivans was the last. I had resigned from Crawfords and Hector asked me to stay on and help get The Sullivans started.

Do you subscribe to the theory that the cancellation of Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock was a conspiracy?

A thousand percent - it was a gang-up. It was a very dark day for Australian television - not just because of what it did to Crawfords, or what it tried to do to Crawfords, but because of what it meant. Somebody could write a book about all that - maybe they will. It was not Australian television's finest hour. Channel 7 had their 'Hall Of Fame' function recently, and I was talking to some of the old timers, people who had been behind the cameras since the beginning, and I think they share my feelings about it. We had some terrific ideals about the industry, and what the industry could achieve, and looking at the industry today - I'm disappointed. The 'Hall Of Fame' function was held on the Man O Man set, and I just looked around and I thought 'This is where we are, this is where we are'. I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm not saying it's bad, but it isn't where I, or anybody, wanted to go in 1956. But if that's what the public want, they've got what they deserve.

Do you think the industry might have taken a different path if Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock weren't cancelled and were allowed to run their natural course?

I couldn't say that. But I think it was a pity that shows like Against The Wind and The Last Outlaw had to be done outside Crawfords. Nearly all the talent used in those shows was Crawfords trained, and I include myself - I learned so much at Crawfords.