drama production for the Seven Network largely emanated from ATN-7 in
Sydney. HSV-7 in Melbourne, by contrast, would usually buy programmes from
outside packagers using the studio facilities of HSV
Crawford Productions, whose credits include the landmark Homicide
however, HSV would produce a series completely in-house, and such was the
case with the 1969 situation comedy Joan And Leslie.
of Joan And Leslie lay in a change of direction by Seven Network
management, which would ultimately lead to a successful marketing campaign
dubbed the ‘Seven Revolution’. Charles Dorning had just been appointed
General Administrator of HSV-7, and wasted no time making a number of
changes, which included dropping Barry Jones’s current affairs programme
Encounter and the variety shows Time For Terry and
Sunnyside Up. Another change he planned was to commission a new comedy
series, and to this end he held discussions with British comedy
actor/writer Leslie Randall who visited Australia in April 1969.
just spent two years working as a writer in America, and prior to that he
and his wife, Joan Reynolds, had developed and played in a successful
comedy series in
titled Joan And Leslie. As the British series had not been seen in
Australia, it was decided to adapt it to Australian conditions, and
consequently it retained the same title.
Randall and Joan Reynolds arrived in Australia on
July 23, 1969, to begin pre-production for the series, with
filming to commence in August. A group of local writers assisted Randall
in the final drafts of the script, to ensure that the use of
colloquialisms was realistic and not over-done. Randall and Reynolds would
feature in every episode, with supporting cast members to be played by
local actors. Randall also functioned as Producer and Director of the
series, a task that was shared with Graeme Arthur.
was produced mostly on videotape in black and white, at HSV’s studios in
Fitzroy before a live audience (who were primed with sherry). Some
episodes had short film sequences shot on location, and the opening titles
were also shot on film.
centres around two middle-aged British immigrants, Joan and Leslie Randall, who have
just arrived in
Leslie is a ‘journalist’ who has secured a job with a newspaper writing an
advice column for lonely hearts under the pseudonym of Dorothy Goodheart.
Joan is his actress wife who, for the last four years, has been 'resting'
largely because she has been unable to find any acting work. Upon arrival
in Melbourne, they rent a unit in a block of flats, where they befriend
two other characters, Gina and Merv. Gina Cotter is ‘superintendent’ of the block of
flats, the Italian wife of an Aussie caretaker, and Merv Kelly is a
happy-go-lucky cousin of the Cotters, always partial to an opportunity to
make some quick and easy money.
and Leslie Randall played the title roles, retaining their own names for
the parts (Joan used her married name for the character, and her maiden
name on the credits). Merv Kelly was played by Stan Penrose, and Gina
Cotter by Leila Blake. Initial reports stated that Nevil Thurgood as
Gina’s husband Alf would also be a regular character, but he only appeared
in the first episode.
of Gina Cotter would prove troublesome. Initially the role was given to
former Italian opera singer Emilica Vera, because HSV-7 officials thought
she looked right for the part. However, it soon became apparent during
taping of the first episode that she was not suitable. A hastily called
production conference decided to replace her; fresh auditions were held,
and the part was given to Leila Blake.
By this stage
a production schedule had been established to tape one episode per week,
and a Melbourne airdate had been decided on for the series premiere. The scenes
featuring Emilica Vera were quickly re-shot with Leila Blake before taping
of episode two, in an attempt to get the first episode completed in time
for its scheduled debut. However, the editors struck problems with
matching the re-takes with scenes from the original episode, and
eventually the decision was reached to start screening the series with
episode two. Episode one was never shown as part of the series first
September, six episodes had been completed, and HSV-7 were very pleased
with the series. Although none had yet gone to air, Seven were confident
that they had a winner on their hands, and ordered a second series. This
situation arose because Randall and Reynolds were initially signed to a
13-week contract, which commenced from pre-production of the series, and
was near expiry. HSV renewed their contract to not only complete the
first series of 13 episodes, but to also make a second series of 13
episodes. This should have brought the total number of episodes to 26,
however only the original 13 were ever completed.
a family audience, Joan And Leslie premiered in an early evening
timeslot in Melbourne on
October 3, 1969, commencing with the second episode. The opening
titles consisted of a film sequence of baffled locals observing a
removalist truck driving through
with luggage on the back prominently labelled ‘Joan and Leslie’. Later
episodes had these scenes interspersed with shots of the cast pulling
silly faces. A voice-over proclaimed: “Channel Seven Melbourne presents
Leslie Randall and Joan Reynolds in Joan And Leslie”. The end
credits were superimposed over the final scene.
Seven’s faith in
the series was misplaced. Viewers did not warm to the series, and the
critics panned it. A TV Week reviewer called the show ‘revolting’,
alleging that Randall and Reynolds “seem to have brought their out-of-date gagbook with them”.1
Despite the adverse criticism, an HSV-7 spokesman said they would still go
ahead with the contracted 26 episodes: "We are convinced of the show's
potential. It's not hilarious, but it's a good family comedy, and we think
it could turn out to be a 'sleeper'."2
It was reported that after the initial episode went to air, the studio
audience for the next taping jumped from an average of 70 to a record of
criticism of the series came from the Australian Writers Guild. Members of
the Guild were quoted in the press as saying the first episode aired
(actually episode 2) was ‘worse than diabolical’, and the Guild wrote to
HSV General Administrator Charles Dorning to officially disassociate
itself from the programme. A Guild spokesman, scriptwriter David Boutland,
was quoted in Melbourne newspapers as saying the standard of scripting in
Joan And Leslie was so low that he did not want people to think
that the show was scripted by resident Australian writers.3
the Victorian branch of the Guild had tried to get Australian scripts
accepted for the show were dismissed by Leslie Randall. “It’s all lies,”
said Randall. “There have been no submissions from the Australian Writers
Guild. No scripts have ever been submitted for Joan And Leslie at
any time - no outlines, no drafts, and no suggestions have ever been
submitted to myself as Co-producer, to Charles Dorning or to HSV-7. Joan
and I arrived in Australia to play in a series of situation comedy. To say
that we should not bring our own scripts is as ludicrous as suggesting
that the cast of ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ should not bring the script, or
that Tommy Leonetti should not sing songs that he has sung in America. The
Australian Writers Guild, as a body of presumed professional writers, has
attacked the work of established professional writers. I have not heard of
such a thing anywhere else in the world.”4
nail in the coffin for Joan And Leslie came from HSV-7’s inability
to sell the programme to interstate stations. Without the financial help
of other network channels, the series had very little hope of survival.
This, coupled with the lukewarm Melbourne ratings, was sufficient for
HSV-7 to cut their losses and buy out of the contract, truncating the
series at 13 episodes. Interstate sales eventually followed at ‘bargain
basement’ prices, and
ATN-7 finally showed the series during the 1971-1972 summer ‘silly season’
series was axed, Joan Reynolds and Leslie Randall returned to England,
having finalised their connections with HSV-7. “They have made a very
generous financial settlement,” said Randall. “They have paid us in full.”
Of the television situation in Australia, Randall, somewhat patronisingly, said: “I’d hate to get
caught up in what we now know is the TV scene in Australia. Joan and I
came here because we wanted to help develop Australian TV. We wanted to
help build up the industry. But with the exception of people such as
Hector Crawford and Jack Neary, there doesn’t seem to be any development
here. We have too much sense of humour to be bitter about it, but there is
no way in the world in which we could be induced to stay in Australia.”5
audiences have always been partial to good British comedy, however
a mediocre offering. It suffered from some ‘over-the-top’ acting by the
two principals, and, although intended purely for a
local audience, it was basically a British comedy masquerading as
Australian, and that is essentially why it did not work.
another attempt was made to produce a British-style comedy in Australia
with the serial Birds In The Bush (known in the
as The Virgin Fellas).
Intended primarily for an English audience, it fared much better in the UK
than Australia. Later, established British shows made Australian versions
with varying degrees of success - Love Thy Neighbour, Doctor
Down Under, Father Dear Father and Are You Being Served?
JOAN AND LESLIE
TV Week, Oct 25, 1969.
2. TV Week, Oct 18, 1969.
3. TV Week, Oct 25, 1969.
4. TV Week, Oct 25, 1969. ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ was a contemporary
stage play, and Tommy Leonetti was a popular singer of the time.
5. TV Week, Dec 27, 1969.
Hector Crawford was the head of Crawford Productions, and Jack Neary was
one of the principals of NLT Productions.