CLASSIC AUSTRALIAN TELEVISION

INTERVIEW:
PAUL CRONIN

 


Copyright 2005 Don Storey.  All rights reserved.


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This interview originally appeared in TV EYE No. 7, December 1995.

Paul Cronin is very well-known to many Australians for two roles in three shows: Constable Gary Hogan in both Matlock Police and Solo One, and Dave Sullivan in
The Sullivans.

 

Was Matlock Police the first regular series role you auditioned for?

Yes, but I didn't get the role I auditioned for! I auditioned for the young detectives part, and then, lo and behold, they cast me as the motorcycle cop. And then straight after that I was used in the car park - they wanted to see how the other actors that were auditioning ran, they wanted to see their arm and leg action, and as I was still there they asked if I would mind pretending I was the baddie and run from here to there, and these other guys that were auditioning would catch me. So I didn't mind doing that.

What reason did they have for casting you as the motorcycle cop?

I don't know, only they could answer that. I suppose I typified the young Australian country policeman, as distinct from a city guy, because I'm a country boy born and bred - a farmers son. I really enjoyed the role of Gary Hogan. The first year I had very little to do; I would walk in saying 'Yes Sarge, No Sarge', ride the motorbike, deliver a summons, pull someone over, and then gradually the popularity of that character grew with the kids. It was the first role that really let the public see the motorcycle police on their screens at home. In Division 4 Teddy Hamilton was the uniform policeman and Pat Smith was the police woman, but they were just in the station - I had the full bit, the britches, the bike - I was a speed cop, which is probably the policeman that we all identify with. So gradually I got larger and better parts.

Can you remember your first guest role?

George Miller reckons that my first part was in a Homicide episode he directed called 'Doris And Daphne' (Ep. 273, from 1970 - Ed.). I can't remember, but he swears black and blue that he directed me first. I came in at that time when Crawfords had already done Consider Your Verdict and Homicide, and later Hunter and Division 4, and I had about 20 or 30 walk on roles with Homicide and Division 4 in the years prior to Matlock.

In my job I was able to take time off work to go and do whatever Crawfords wanted, and Henry (Crawford) said 'I think well cast you as a policeman'. And he did. This was a year before Matlock, and in every walk-on bit I had in Homicide or Division 4 I was always a young detective or a uniform cop. As a rookie I didn't know anything, and I'll never forget one day on Division 4 early in the piece: I was told to be down in South Melbourne somewhere at a certain time, and then I would be instructed. So I went down to the location, put on the police uniform, and they stood me in front of a house and told me to just stand there and pretend I'm guarding this house. Which I did, I stood there, looking up and down the street - and they all disappeared, I didn't know where they'd gone. It seemed like an eternity, it just went on and on, and traffic was going past and people were looking at me, and I couldn't work out where everyone had gone. I thought that perhaps they'd forgotten me, and I was wondering what the hell I was going to do - the caravans gone, my clothes were in the caravan and I was dressed up as a cop! Anyway, at long last someone turned up in a station wagon and said 'Thanks very much Paul, you can go and get changed now, the caravan is around the corner'. They'd been filming me, in a car going backwards and forwards, and I didn't see it, I wasn't looking for it. But I got forty dollars for that, which I thought was good-o.

We are very, very good at what we do in Australia, and I believe that Crawford Productions, guided by Hector, were the people responsible for setting up our industry. We did stuff that was way before its time, and we did it on a shoestring budget.

It's often been said that if it wasn't for Crawfords the industry wouldn't be here today.

Absolutely, it wouldn't be, it wouldn't be. Ten years ago, every time you saw an Australian film most of the names on the credits came from Crawfords. It was a wonderful time - Sydney actors would come down and they'd be cast in two or three shows, and they'd stay for a fortnights work. It should have gone on from there, but it hasn't.

We had the film industry here in Australia, Soldiers Of The Cross and all that, but then the Americans came and built up Hollywood, and they've now got a stranglehold on world entertainment. Which is fine for them, but we missed our opportunity. The Crawford way of doing things probably had to come to an end because the networks money became so tight; the industry has changed forever. I don't know if there will be room for another Crawford Productions as such, because it is now too expensive to do drama in series form. They're mostly going for telemovies, although Blue Heelers proves me wrong, but it is very expensive to make an ongoing weekly drama.

I've said for years, even when I was at Crawfords, that we've got to start thinking global, we've got to start thinking of having a sale here but also having a sale elsewhere in advance. My face is seen in probably 70 or 80 countries - we are an identity and our product can and will be sold overseas, but there is not much backup taking place, not much progress to replace those programmes. We'd never be able to do The Sullivans again on that scale because of the expense. Co-productions, I think, are what we'll have to do in the future.

You were in an Australian-U.S. co-production A Place To Call Home, which was made at HSV-7.

It was great, I enjoyed that. I had the time of my life. Russ Mayberry was the director, Lane Smith (Perry White in Lois And Clark) was in it, and Linda Lavin, who was more of a theatre actress in New York, played the mother. I learned a lot from her. There were three of us who got guernseys in that: myself, Maggie Fitzgibbon and Mervyn Blake from Sydney who played the priest. We had a great time filming in Broken Hill, then down to Mildura, and then down to the Seven studios in Melbourne. They had four million dollars to make that telemovie, and it rated very well in America, with 80 million viewers. It was done on a scale that we'd never attempted at Crawfords before. I was cast for it in America - Vivian Clark, the lady on whose life it is based, saw me on The Sullivans in Los Angeles, and she had a bit of input with the production company, saying I would be ideal to play the guy. Greg Apps auditioned me here at a special audition for one person - me. There was going to be a series too. I was asked if I would be available to do a series, and when I said yes, they said 'It may not be shot here, it may be shot in America'. I said 'When can I come?'.

Were there any other offers that came about due to the success of that telemovie?

No. Nothing other than the possibility of a series.

They used an incredible, proper four-sided set at HSV in studio 8.

Yes. They brought out their script, director, producers, and they hired Crawfords as the wardrobe facility and the accounting and transport and all that sort of stuff. There were three of our actors, but they brought all the other actors out. It was amazing, and good experience for me. I was also complimented by Russ, who thanked me for my professionalism. I said 'You don't have to thank me, that's my job'. He said 'Oh, no, you're always there when I want you'. Which I was.

That's high praise from a top director from the States.

Very much so. It was a new experience for me, because I had only ever worked on Crawford television shows. My intention at Crawfords was to stay as long as I could - I think I did five years on Matlock. Solo One was 13 episodes, then Seven didn't want any more, even though it was a great little show to do. And then The Sullivans for six years. But by then it had run out of puff, it really had run out of puff. Other massaging could have taken place to make it work, but it didn't happen. The powers that be didn't agree with that, so it was going to go off the boil real quick, and it was too good a show, we all worked too bloody hard to let that happen.

The audience seemed to drift away because the war had ended and so many central characters had left.

It was the first time that Crawfords had done this type of thing. Other shows had a spread of characters, but The Sullivans had two central roles, Mum and Dad. Lorraine left at the two and a half year mark, but it appeared on air that she stayed longer, but that was its peak, I think, at about the third year. When the war ended, what could you do? Hector wanted me to stay on, and they were going to jump to the 50's, with the Snowy project, and he said to me it's all going to be cranked up again and Dave will get married, and as he's an engineer he will be heavily involved with the Snowy scheme. I said 'Great, that means well be doing outside filming up there', and he said 'Oh no, no! Five ton of salt down at the gasworks and well shoot tight - we cant afford to go up there!' I thought we've got to bite the bullet somewhere along the line - people won't accept that.

Would you would have been happy playing Gary Hogan for as long as Matlock went on?

Oh yeah! It was axed by 0-10. I remember Sir Reginald Ansett in Melbourne kept it going for 12 or 13 episodes on his own money, because he and Hector were good mates, but the other co-funders had dropped out. In Sydney they had about 12 months supply on the shelf and they didn't want to commit to any more. There was a bit of fun and games going on in the networks - in 1975 Division 4 went, then a couple of months later Seven cancelled Homicide, and we finished production on Matlock in September. One of the very few shows being produced in Australia at that time was mine - Solo One. We had the pick of every actor in Australia - hardly anyone was working.

You were a survivor of that great series massacre.

Yes - the popularity of the motorcycle policeman was a natural spin-off. Henry Crawford and I got going and put it together. We shot the pilot on two weekends before the Matlock crew dispersed. We did it with a mini-crew - there were only about half a dozen on the crew, myself, the motorbike and my dog. We all pitched in, because we needed it - there was a production drought, nothing was being fired up, nothing was being bought.

The concept of Solo One came up before Matlock had finished?

Oh yes, but only after it was announced that Matlock was going.

Why did Solo One end up on Seven instead of 0-10?

Ah, thereby lies the tale. I was heavily involved with it, and we made the pilot on 16mm film, but who was going to buy it? Ten didn't want it, and Seven eventually committed to 13, but then they wanted to change the format. They wanted to blow it out to one hour, and they also wanted it to be more aggressive, more adult, more this, more that, and Hector and I both said 'That'll kill it - that'll kill it'. Hector said they'd do another show as that sort of programme, and they did - called Bluey; Lucky Grills was in it and did a great job. But we only did the 13 of Solo One and that was it.

I can't quite remember the timing of all this, but I asked Hector if I could borrow the film because I had a mate in the ABC. Now I remember the ABC were buying absolutely nothing from outside at this time in 1976. I took Solo One down to them, and this mate of mine said 'Don't be upset if they walk out - I've arranged for a few people to have a look at it during their lunch hour in the theatrette, but don't be upset if they walk out, because they usually go to the pub for lunch'. So I showed the episode and they all stayed for the whole half hour and watched it right through. As a result of that they were going to commission 26 episodes for the ABC.

That would have been a significant achievement.

It was going to be a first. But blow me down, the Fraser government axed $11 million a week later from the budget of the ABC. We nearly made it, and I was thrilled that we got that far. I knew damn well then that there was no-one else in the world that we had to fear - we have the writers, producers, directors, camera people, technical people, wardrobe, set builders, painters - all the creative people are here, or they were here, some have gone overseas. You can't make a living on a hit or miss basis like we are now - a film here, a film there, some get up, some don't - there is not much industry here now. I know that we can make very good product without copying anybody - just by being ourselves, and if we do just that the rest of the world is intrigued. We proved it with The Sullivans.

Solo One was critically acclaimed, and many heads were being scratched when Seven didn't pick up another series.

The sequel to it all is that, some time after I was cast as Dave Sullivan, Hector called me into his office and said the powers that be at Seven want to crank up Solo One again. Hector told them 'The star is not available - Paul is in The Sullivans on channel Nine'. They said 'Get someone else', and Hector paid me the greatest compliment and said 'No - It won't work. Solo One is Paul'. So it didn't happen.

Times have certainly changed from the days of Homicide, Division 4, Matlock, etc. Today television is dominated by soaps.

But look at Blue Heelers - out there on its own - wonderful stuff!

It's like a throwback to the old days when the drama series was the dominant program - Matlock updated.

Of course it is. Matlock revisited. And that I take a great deal of pleasure out of because we did it; Crawfords took the risk and ploughed new ground.

After The Long Arm was cancelled and Channel 0 indicated they wanted a Crawfords cop show, there were reports that the series would be based on the Vice Squad.

In fact I can recall that the first script was headed 'Vice Squad' as a tentative working title. That first episode was Ian Jones' baby, and he did a great job with that. And of course he did a great job with the introduction of The Sullivans too.

Was typecasting ever a concern for you, after playing only two roles?

No. A senior person in the Nine network came up to me after the first showing of The Sullivans and shook me by the hand, and said 'I've got to tell you, I was against you playing this role. I could only see you as a motorcycle cop'. And I said 'I'm glad you were wrong!'

Which was your favourite series?

I loved Solo One. It broke all the rules - as an actor some say you shouldn't work with children or animals. Well, I did and I loved it. Actors are notorious for getting that extra scene or walking over someone else, but it is not necessary. You get better results by giving.

How did your dog get into Solo One?

We needed a dog and there was no money in the budget to pay for one! I had a dog, a Rottweiller-Doberman cross, Toby Two was his name. He was totally untrained, and it was a bit of a push and shove to get him to do what we wanted him to do, but he did it.

I enjoyed Solo One, I thought it was a good little show and it was meaningful, it was inoffensive, and there was a little lesson in it for every kid. Remember, the kids were the ones that would come up to me when we were filming Matlock and talk to 'Gary'. I believe that character was helpful to the Victoria Police in showing the policeman as your friend. There were only three of us in Solo One:- myself, and Aileen Britton as Aunty Nan and Keith Eden as Joe Porter. I still believe that today, because of the economics, that is the sort of production that will work. A small regular cast, and you only need a small crew, as there are now video cameras that are quite adequate. But it all comes down to money.

Do you think Pay-TV will help?

Absolutely. There has always been a dearth of requirement for new product, and with Pay-TV in time new product will have to be made. We are able to make quality product here cheaper than anywhere else, and that's why the Gold Coast studios are busy all the time, and Rupert Murdoch is going to be building his new studios at the Sydney showground.

Hopefully those with good business sense and artistic creativity will produce that work that we need in this country.

I hope so. I miss it. I would dearly love to get back and do something of quality. I'm not really interested in doing anything that's not - we've all worked too hard to go backwards. My heart wouldn't be in it unless I felt that we were contributing something to make the next step better, and I'd love to get my teeth into that and help.

People I meet say 'When are you going to go back. We love Matlock Police'. It's interesting, about 50% of them remember me for Matlock, and 50% for The Sullivans. I would have thought The Sullivans would have been closer to 90%, because it's more recent and is repeated, but, no it's not, they remember the work I did in the police shows equal to The Sullivans. Anyway, they say 'When are we going to see you back in a series?', and I always say 'Have you got a good script?' And the second question is 'Have you got any money?', because they're the two things you've got to have. And then the third ingredient is: Lets take a risk. We know we can produce it properly, act it and direct it and build the right sets and do wardrobe, we know we can do all that, so what do I mean by lets take a risk? I'm saying to the exhibitor, whoever it might be, 'Are you willing to take a risk, given that we've got all these things in place?' And the answer at the moment is 'No, we're not', because they've got to be very careful where they spend their money.

Lost opportunities. This is what gets to me. We create opportunities, they just leap out of successes that no-one knows about. For example, Gerry Kennedy, why is he not working? A large investment was made in all of these people but that investment has never been gone on with. Take my own case with Lorraine - two people, and they could be two leads out of any show - in America those people would go on, they would be massaged into the next project and the next one and the next one. What sort of rating do you think a Paul Cronin / Lorraine Bayly show would have in another setting? You've already got 80 countries that would pick it up, and we'd all get work. I'm not saying this as a complaint, not at all, I'm just saying there are opportunities that have been missed. It's just like throwing money away, it's a waste.

It's hard to see why they can't say 'Lets move this person into another vehicle and keep them in the public eye, because they're business, they're a success'.

At Crawfords this was probably already the case; Gerry went from Hunter to Division 4; and I started as a rookie, then Matlock, Solo One, Sullivans. It was Hector that insisted I play Dave in The Sullivans. I didn't think I had a ghost of a chance. I'll never forget the auditions - at the end of the day it was between me and Terry Donovan. Terry was up in Sydney and didn't come down for the second audition, so I got the guernsey. Either of us could have played the role, but, things being equal, Terry should have been picked up to go into something else.

Many people don't realise we had an industry because our own product is never seen. One of the functions of TV EYE is as a reminder that there is some great television sitting in vaults, and unless it turns up on Pay-TV people will never ask 'Why aren't we doing this again?'

Only by doing that will you create an environment to bring the youngsters through. Hector said to me a long, long time ago 'Paul, you've got to keep practising your craft, practising your craft. You can go to all these colleges and learn, learn, learn, but it's got nothing to do with it - you've either got it or you haven't'. He said some kind things about my work, and I didn't do years of study, it's just something that happened, that I wanted to happen. I actually wanted to be behind the cameras, because it fascinated me as a little kid seeing the images on the screen. But I ended up on the other side. The motion picture industry fascinated me, and my first job was with Crawfords.

Did you just walk up to Crawfords and say 'Give me a job?'

I wanted to learn about the industry and I felt Crawfords was the only place to learn. Division 4 and Homicide were on at that time, and Henry Crawford gave me a two page script and told me to go away and learn it. I came back a few days later, and he sat at his desk and he read the other part, and I acted out my part. I only got through the first page when he said 'That's alright, we just wanted to see if you could learn a line. I think we'll cast you as a policeman'.

Which Australian actors did you admire from your youth?

Chips. But again, we didn't follow it through. There was Chips Rafferty, there was Michael Pate, Bud Tingwell, Erroll Flynn, Rod Taylor, Ray Barrett, etc., etc., and they had to go overseas because there was not enough here to keep them going. Acting is fraught with unemployment.

The only way you get better as an actor is, as Hector said, by practising your craft. But there are no opportunities to do that anymore. The range I had in The Sullivans, I venture to say, was the greatest range for an actor to play in any television series to that date. Boy, I was stretched a few times - I really had to dig deep to find the right emotions and the right setting in your mind for what the script was calling for. It was a great role!

Dave Sullivan was obviously more of a challenge than Gary Hogan.

Oh yes. Gary Hogan was a dream, I didn't know when I was well off! The Sullivans was terribly demanding. There were only four or five of us that stayed for the whole run - myself, Steven Tandy, Susan Hannaford, Vivian Grey, Reg and Vicki. What kept you going was the standard, and when that standard was dropping it was all over for me.

After The Sullivans I worked for Channel 10 for two and a half years, but with the change of management there was no real sense of direction, and I didn't really do anything. I did the pilot of Amateur Hour for Gordon French, and that was it because he then left, and then others left. Otherwise, we were all set to go and I think Amateur Hour would have worked. The other project we did was the Matthew And Son telemovie, for Johnny Young's company. It was based on the life of Dr John Birrell, the police surgeon, who was instrumental in the .05 and seatbelt legislation. A fascinating man - I met him, and he was a great character to play. Ten Brisbane, Ten Melbourne and Ten Adelaide committed to a series - they had a 7:30 timeslot allocated for it and all - and the only fly in the ointment was Ten Sydney. They would not commit. The telemovie rated well when it did go to air. It was a very, very well constructed show, but Johnny's company collapsed after that, and I left channel Ten. Then I did A Place Called Home, and I've done a couple of pilots, one of which was for Don Burke, a sort of country Burke's Backyard.

But who knows what the future brings. I know that there is product that is yet to be made and there are a number of us who would love to be a part of it. Most of us at the end of the day just want a programme to work on, and have the opportunity to do it. There is no question in my mind that we can't do it.

Hopefully Pay-TV will change that.

Hopefully, because it can generate so much, so many jobs and so much good for Australia. We know we can export the product - the cultural cringe that was there 20 or 30 years ago has gone. Perhaps we could do a reunion of Matlock Police. All the actors are still available, although we're all much older now, and I don't know if I could scrub up on the motorbike again. But it would rate its head off if we did a telemovie called Return To Matlock - in wheelchairs!