This interview originally appeared in TV Eye No. 9, August 1996.
There are many 'unsung heroes' of Australian television, people who
have played a vital role in the production of the various series and yet received very
little recognition for it. Alan Rowe is one such person: primarily an entertainer, who has
also acted in various drama series playing the small but nonetheless important parts, and
a familiar face to many.
You had guest parts in many local drama
series, particularly the Crawford shows. What memories and moments stand out?
I'II always remember a Division 4 episode (No. 150, 'One More
War') where I was run over by a tram at Hanna St (South Melbourne) Depot.
In the sequence I had to steal a car, and the next scene was coming down
from St Kilda Rd towards the Hanna St Depot. I opened the door of the car,
jumped out and ran into the tram depot because the police were pursuing
me. I had to fall down in front of a tram that was shunting, and then pick
myself up and run down into a maintenance pit while a tram came along and
drove right over the top of me. The director said "Now, whatever you do,
don't stand up when the tram is going over the top of you". I said "You've
got to be joking! Why would anybody except a first class idiot stand up
when a great big double bogie tram is going over the top of them!" Gerard
Kennedy and Terence Donovan chased me around the depot, and eventually
caught me hiding under a seat in a tram. I enjoyed going down amongst all
the trams, they were all 'W' type, there weren't any of the modern trams
It was also a good episode for me because I had to drive a car
around South Melbourne being chased by the police - the car chase actually started filming
in Caulfield on one day, and the next day we were in the South Melbourne area. A lot of
the shows would work in different areas: somebody would knock you over the head down in
Sandringham, and that was the end of that day's shoot, and next day you would have to go
to East Kew to be picked up off the road - a totally different road, but it all looked the
same in the film.
There was a lot of sitting around at times, waiting and waiting,
sometimes you'd wait all day because they were so far behind. The worst thing was to wait
at a location and the crew didn't turn up because they were held up with the previous
scene. You might be waiting at Footscray and they'd be down at Sandringham or somewhere
still filming, and sometimes they'd have to send someone to tell you to go home - you got
paid for it, so it didn't matter, but you did wonder if you were in the right place.
On the Crawford shows you had a six week break between the exterior
and interior scenes, and you'd come back wondering what was that character you were
playing. The continuity girls would take polaroid photos, and you had to turn up exactly
the same as the day you knocked on the door. A running joke between us at Crawfords was
that you didn't know if you were in Homicide, Division 4 or Matlock
Police until one of the detectives turned up!
You also worked on many Grundy shows.
Yes. On Prisoner we had a different director for exterior
scenes and interior scenes, and one of them used to change the lines on the spot. So you'd
be sitting in the caravan, unlearning all the lines you'd practiced, and having to learn a
new set of lines with only minutes before the shoot.
I was doing a scene in the Hawthorn Gardens one winter morning
playing an alcoholic, and I really looked the part in old torn clothes - a real drunk
right at the bottom of the barrel. It was a cameo scene, and being a very cold morning I
had to go to the toilet. The toilet block was around the other side of the gardens, so off
I went, and as I'm standing in the toilet this fairly well dressed bloke walks in, and I
thought he must be one of the cameramen or something. So I said "Gosh, I needed this,
it's such a cold morning", and he edged away. So, being quick on the uptake I
realised this bloke was not with Grundy's, and I said "Look, I'm not really an
alcoholic, I'm an actor with Reg Grundy", which is probably the worst thing I
could've said, and he edged away more and then shot out of that toilet. I'm sure he must
have gone straight to a police station or something saying "There's an alcoholic up
in the gardens who thinks he's been acting with Reg Grundy!"
Do you remember the first drama series you
The first drama series would be Consider Your Verdict. I had
to remember to tone down my movements a fair bit, as being on stage doing musicals and so
forth is a totally different medium. My actions were too big, too exaggerated for
television, and in a close up a lot of your actions would disappear off the screen.
Television drama was new and you had to learn new techniques, and there were no schools to
teach you in those days, we didn't have NIDA or anything like that.
Did you always work in Melbourne shows?
Mostly Melbourne shows. I didn't do much interstate work - I didn't
need to, as Crawfords were very big down here, and later the Grundy Organisation was in
Melbourne when I was doing Prisoner, so there was no real need to go to Sydney.
So you never worked on Skippy or Boney
or anything like that?
No, I never did any of those. Not that I wouldn't have done them,
it's just that with Crawfords and the ABC and things like The Long Arm there was
always plenty of work down here.
Any memories of The Long Arm?
It didn't last for long. The episode I did was shot in Glen
Waverley, and I had to run through a cow paddock near Dandenong Creek in a nice pair of
trousers and jacket, which were my own clothes too, and when a shot was fired I had to
drop - and guess where I dropped! It was a cow paddock - there weren't any cows where I
was running, but they had been there not long before! Down I went right on cue, and when I
got up 'Oh no, look at my trousers'. But they had them cleaned for me.
Did you work on Rush or Cash &
Company / Tandarra?
No, I never worked on those. I worked on Tony Ward's show, Hunter
- in one episode I was very much out of character playing a boutique manager with a very
posh accent, it was great to do such a different part, it came over quite well and I got a
few accolades from people for it. Then for your next part you could be a drunken club
owner or something like that.
I was in Bellbird, playing Norm Evans, a character who had
been injured in the war and had a bit of a gammy leg and walked with a limp. And because
it was an 'in and out' part, the character would be in for one week and then wouldn't be
in it for two weeks, and I would be doing other work in between. So I had a continuity
problem - I would have to stop and think 'Now wait a minute - which leg is gammy!' Terry
McDermott was in Bellbird at the time.
Why were you cast as a barman 18 times in a
That's a good question, considering that I'm a teetotaller! I never
used to argue about the parts I got, I was glad to be working. Some parts might have 16
scenes, others may only have one or two scenes.
You've also worked in commercials.
I did quite a few commercials. I went to an audition for a 'Coles
And Garrard' (opticians) commercial, and they thought I looked the part, so they gave me
some lines to read - 'Your glasses won't be a moment, Mrs. Jones'. The man from the
advertising agency leapt up and said "That's it!" It was just what they were
looking for in a voice. I did three different ads over a period of nine years for them,
with that catch-line 'Are you Mr. Coles or Mr. Garrard?'. Often when I was on a train
people would leave their seat and come up to me and I'd be expecting a question like 'Am I
on the right train for Flinders Street?' but they would ask 'Are you Mr. Coles or Mr.
One time I went to the bank and as I was standing in line waiting
for a teller a woman sidled up to me and said "You had no right to talk to that girl
the way you did last night!" I said "I beg your pardon!" and she said
"You had no right to talk to that girl the way you did. No man should talk to a woman
like that!" I said "I'm sorry, but I think you've got the wrong person. I don't
understand what you're talking about." She said "You know what I'm talking
about! Men should not be allowed to talk to a girl in that way!" Suddenly the penny
dropped. I'd been in Prisoner, and we were about 12 weeks ahead I think at the
time, and my part had been in the episode the night before. I said "But that's only a
film! That's not me, that's the way the director wants me to do it." She said
"Doesn't matter - I don't think you should talk like that to a woman!"
Did you work on Ryan at all?
Yes, I worked on Ryan. I was a scientist, and for some reason
or another they altered the script and I had to re-learn it. That was quite a good show.
Like Hunter, that was good, that was very good. Matlock Police was good too,
I liked working on that because we went to some good locations in the country. I had a
good part in one episode of that playing a father whose son was killed driving a getaway
car, and of course the father has the double shock of learning that not only is his son
dead but that he was also a criminal. Then he had to go home and tell his wife - it was a
very challenging part. Many of the parts were quite challenging, and quite varied, and
often the same night I would be doing something completely different, perhaps out
entertaining at a Rotary dinner or a Melbourne Town Hall concert doing comedy.
Did you find it more satisfying playing a
variety of different roles than having one ongoing part?
Yes. I was always freelance, I was never tied to a contract. As long
as I was working at my craft and earning a living I was happy. I sometimes thought it
might be nice to have a permanent role in a series, but then I would have to give up
entertaining at the clubs, and all the trips to the country centres and the wonderful
people you meet at the various dinners and functions. I wrote all my own comedy and I
enjoyed it - it was a good way to earn a living. The entertaining was there long before
the acting - I'm primarily an entertainer, the acting was basically a side-line.