The Spoiler had its origins in a
proposed series called Vendetta, a pilot episode of which was shot
in 1967. Made by NLT Productions, Vendetta was shot on film in
colour, and concerned the efforts of an ex-policeman to prove that a
respectable businessman is the head of a crime syndicate. Mike Dorsey
(Captain Roke in Phoenix Five) was cast in the lead role. TCN-9
Sydney was an investor in the pilot, but they decided against
commissioning a series.
Fast forward to 1972, and
Robert Bruning's company (Bruning, Bell & Partners, later Gemini
Productions) was enjoying considerable success with their first venture
into television series production, the half-hour family series The
Godfathers. With production of The Godfathers due to finish in
July 1972, the Nine Network were keen to get another series from Gemini.
Bruning was pushing for a series called Crisis, centred on a social
welfare organisation, which was, as he put it, "a cross between the dramas
of the Sydney Lifeline organisation and Mod Squad".
A pilot episode was made and screened, but the Nine Network was not too
keen and nothing eventuated from it.
Clyde Packer, Managing
Director of TCN-9, arranged a meeting with Bruning and the Sydney and
Melbourne Program Directors. Nine wanted a police show, but Bruning was
not too enthused because he thought the market was already saturated with
them, and in any case it would only be imitative of the Crawford
Productions series (Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock
2 A private eye
series was then suggested, and Bruning dismissed that as well, stating
that the public would not accept it (prophetic words, considering the fate
of the new Crawfords private eye series Ryan the following year).
Bruning then told the
meeting that what was needed was a series about "a man alone", someone not
bound by the rules and regulations of the police force or any other
institution, someone who should be "a sort of anti-hero crusader".
The meeting gave him the go-ahead to develop the concept.
Gemini had bought the pilot
episode of Vendetta and the rights to the format from NLT
Productions. Bruning had been toying with the idea of The Spoiler
for some time (other titles under consideration were The Loner and
Fighting Dirty), but until now he never saw an opportunity to run
with it. He went to Melbourne to see writer Luis Bayonas, who wrote the
script. (Bayonas had written for the Crawfords police series, and had a
reputation for coming up with some 'out there' scripts). Bruning said the script was
superb: "Every character had meaning. There's a feeling of utter maturity
The Nine Network was
impressed, and they immediately commissioned 13 episodes without even
making a pilot, and took an option for a further 39 episodes. "It was a
tremendous vote of confidence," said Bruning.
Bruce Barry plays Jim
Carver, the 'spoiler' of the title. Carver is a Sydney detective who discovers that
Sir Ian Mason, a leading respectable businessman, is head of a crime
syndicate, and is kicked out of the police force because of his
investigations that have so far turned up no evidence of complicity. His
dismissal makes Carver all the more determined
to find the evidence he needs to bring Mason to justice.
Carmen Duncan plays Marie,
a barmaid in 'The Ten Commandments', a pub that Carver frequents. "Carver
has no proof of Mason's complicity and in each episode he has to chip away
at Mason's image to 'spoil' him," said Carmen. "This is where he needs me.
I play the part of an experienced woman who is not easily shocked. I run a
good class bar and fix Carver his scotches and pull his beer chasers while
he unloads his problems."
Slim De Grey plays Det.
Sgt. Eric Evans, an ex-colleague of Carver's, and his contact in the
police force. Although they have been mates for years, Carver often
strains the friendship to breaking point in his ruthless quest for
Serge Lazareff plays Teddy,
a young thug and Carver's underworld contact. "He's a rough nut," said
Lazareff. "Teddy has the morals of a Rugby prop forward, who will try and
get away with anything as long as the referee isn't watching."
A support role was that of
Sir Ian Mason, played by Ken Hunter-Kerr. Scriptwriters for the
series included Luis Bayonas, Cliff Green (who had worked on many ABC
shows), David Boutland and Ted Roberts (both who also worked for Crawfords).
Producer was Robert Bruning.
Carver was a rough, tough
character. When he needs information he often extracts it by force. He
drinks hard. He's a womaniser, and he treats his women rough. Robert
Bruning described the character as a "tough bastard",
and said that Bruce Barry was a
"natural" for the role because he "has a lean-bodied animal vitality and
radiates a predatory look".
Barry said the hard-drinking, fist-swinging womaniser was only a surface
view: "Beneath the granite facade beats a heart that cares about social
ills," he said, adding that the caring and reformative qualities of Carver
were instrumental in his decision to take the part.
Bruning was convinced the
series would be successful because of its "wonderful cast who complement
each other completely", because he has "the best writers in the country",
and because "the story is so gripping and believable". The notion that the
public might not warm to an anti-hero was dismissed. "Look at Ned Kelly.
He's about our greatest legend and you can't get a bigger anti-hero than
Ned. Our reputation, resources and personnel are swinging on this one. I
am prepared to take the risk. If it doesn't succeed, then it is only one
person's fault - mine."
Unlike the Vendetta
pilot, The Spoiler was shot in black and white using the film/video
integration method (film for exterior location work, videotape for
interior studio scenes). The budget was around $16,000 per episode, making
it a very cost-effective project for the Nine Network. By comparison, the
Crawford police dramas cost between $19,000 - $24,000 per episode, which
in itself was only a fraction of the budget of an overseas show.
Bruning said he was able to
keep his costs down because he used freelance writers, had low overheads,
and had a small number of staff, albeit very well paid. "Yes, I pay well,"
said Bruning, "but they must be prepared to work hard and long. My price
for big money is you must be dedicated. If you're stupid enough to work in
this business, then you've got to be dedicated. If you're not, I don't
want to know you."
Bruce Barry admitted that there were some
flat moments in writing, acting and production in the early episodes,
which he attributed to the show's $16,000 an episode budget, but
considering those restrictions he thought each episode was "just bloody
Critics generally agreed that
the standard of later episodes was better than the earlier ones.
Michael Laurence, one of
the Directors of Gemini Productions, was a prolific writer who scripted
every episode of The Godfathers and its spin-off The People Next
Door. He also had a lead role in the first 26 episodes of The
Godfathers, and made regular guest appearances thereafter in both
series. He did not,
as one might expect, contribute any scripts for The Spoiler, mainly
due to his other writing commitments. However, he was chosen for a guest
role in ep. 8, 'Bye Bye Baby', playing a maniacal killer. "It's a challenge," he said.
"The character is a suave playboy type who is hired by businessmen to
seduce their wives, then murder them."
A Sunday newspaper ran a
report alleging that the New South Wales Police Force were dissatisfied
with The Spoiler and felt badly treated by the production company.
It was a good story, but there was one problem - it was not true. "We have
had nothing but the fullest co-operation from the NSW Police Force
throughout our entire production," said Associate Producer David Hannay.
"In fact, a member of the force's public relations department contacted me
this morning to try to sort out the rumours. He agreed there was no truth
in the stories. We had an agreement with the force that they would not
require a credit on The Spoiler. They have been of great assistance
to us during production of the program. They have lent us some of their
men, and vehicles, to aid the authenticity of the show."
The Spoiler gained
some notoriety for gratuitous nudity. A number of girls come into contact with Carver who end
up in various states of undress, usually for no reasons of any pertinence
to the story. Judy Morris plays a girlfriend of a criminal in ep. 12,
'Catch As Catch Can'. "I'm very careful about what I do," said Judy. "The
Spoiler doesn't require me to do frontal nudity but I have done some
naked back film in it. It seems to be a drawcard these days."
Carla Hoogeveen (who later
appeared in Class Of 74, the Homicide movie 'Stopover' and
Bobby Dazzler) played a high class call girl in ep. 2, 'The Price'.
A nude scene required her to pose for Carver before removing her garment
and embracing him. Carla was nervous about the scene and asked for the
studio to be cleared, and managed to do the scene satisfactorily in one
take. Director Alister Smart was happy with her performance: "The scene
was very tasteful, with just a glimpse of Carla as she embraces Bruce
Barry," he said.
18 Which of course
raises the question:
if there was only a glimpse then the nudity could not have been essential, so why was
it included? Carla later spoke of the part in a TV Eye interview: "That
was a bit on the tacky side. As a young actress you really had to be
careful, and you needed a good agent who watched what jobs you did. Being
new, you're such a total innocent and have no idea of the perils in the
industry. You want to do the job professionally, and so you do whatever is
asked. At that point you don't know how to distinguish between something
that is relevant and something that isn't. And they persuade you to do it,
and their reasons seem all very logical, and you trust them, and you
assume they've risen above thinking in a tacky way."
Kathryn Dagher appeared
topless in ep. 3, 'The Leader', playing a girl that Carver picks up and
takes back to his flat. The scene required her to walk across the room
wearing only panties before putting on a bathrobe. A Channel Nine
spokesman said the scene was handled tastefully and should not offend or
cause many viewer complaints. Kathryn said she had no problem with the
scene: "I suppose for television it will be quite spectacular, but there
was really very little to worry about. I think the scene was probably
necessary for the effect and for that reason I wasn't concerned. If a girl
is walking around an apartment like this one was it's quite probable she
wouldn't be worrying about clothes. I don't like screen nudity for the
sake of it, but if it's used in context with the story there is nothing
Because of the
scene Kathryn was asked by Channel Nine to pose topless for some publicity
photographs. "I didn't mind posing for the photographs, because I
understood it was to help promote The Spoiler," said Kathryn. And
so it was - a photograph appeared on an invitation for journalists to a
reception to meet the cast of The Spoiler. However, Kathryn was annoyed:
"I don't mind the pictures because they show me as I appeared in the
episode," she said, "but they have been taken out of context and used for
an invitation. I resent the photographs being used like this without my
permission. I am very worried about getting bad publicity because of
It is ironic that the pictures had only
limited distribution to a handful of people, and the only publicity was a
result of her objection being reported.
A strip scene in ep. 6,
'Deadline Sunday', was voluntarily censored by the Nine Network. The scene
showed a drunk undressing a stripper in a Sydney club and, unbeknownst to
him, an undercover operative was filming the whole sequence. Nine Network
executives considered the scene too hot for television (although it would
be tame by today's standards), and decided to cut the scene for fear of
offending viewers and causing the Broadcasting Control Board to intervene.
The scene was replaced by a glimpse of a photograph of the man in the
incriminating situation with the stripper.
Production of the first 13
episodes was almost complete when The Spoiler premiered in Sydney
on September 18, 1972, with the first two episodes shown together as one
feature-length instalment. Gemini Productions were hoping the option for
another 39 episodes would be taken up shortly afterwards, but it was not
to be. The show achieved low ratings from the outset, and the Nine Network
cancelled the series after the initial 13 episodes.
GTV-9 in Melbourne and
QTQ-9 in Brisbane decided that the Sydney response was so bad that they
would not even bother showing it in a prime time slot, and they held it
over for screening during the summer non-ratings period. Brisbane started
playing the series in November 1972 (slotted against the Best Of
Homicide, guaranteeing that almost nobody would watch it), and in
Melbourne it languished for another year before finally commencing in
November 1973. Melbourne, as in Sydney, coupled the first two episodes
together, whereas Brisbane showed them in their original form as two separate
episodes. GTV-9 also screened the series in a different sequence to that
shown in Sydney.
TV critic 'Veritas',
writing in the Melbourne Truth, said the formula for The Spoiler
was a good one and criticised the Nine Network bosses for their
heavy-handed attitude. "It's a damned outrage that the Nine Network should
put the kibosh on the series without giving it a proper airing around the
"It's a great pity, but I
think The Spoiler was ahead of its time," said Carmen Duncan. "I
really don't think Australian audiences were ready for an anti-hero like
Jim Carver. His character was often unpleasant and abrasive and the more
pleasant sides to his nature just didn't come across. I also believe that
the show didn't appeal to women. I learnt very early in my career that
women have a great say in what shows the family watches on television."
TV Week critic Jerry
Fetherston analysed the failure of the show, suggesting that The
Spoiler was an ambitious program that broke new ground, but the
departure was too radical. The anti-hero was an aggressive, boozing
chauvinist who belted the crooks and treated women like dirt, and was a
sort of warring psychopath tolerated by the police and not understood by
anyone. The show downgraded women, upgraded the law of the boot and took a
dog-eat-dog view of society. There was very little for men to identify
with, and certainly nothing to appeal to women.
F.C. Kennedy, the TV
Times resident critic, found a different fault: he lamented the lack
of sleuthing in the show, stating that when Carver needs information he
simply asks his friends Sgt. Evans or Teddy and they fill him in, which
alienates all fans of the detective genre.
Robert Bruning accepted
full responsibility for the failure of the show. He said it was acceptable
for the central character to drink and swear if it was tempered with the
character's vulnerability, but this had not emerged particularly in the
early episodes. "In those early episodes Bruce Barry was made to drink and
swear like nobody else has ever done on television here. The way he
emerged in the series was best summed up by a writer who said to me: 'He
never suffered, did he?' That statement put the finger on much of what
went wrong. There was no humanity... nothing that women in particular
could identify with."
Bruning also said the
writers were not at fault - they had written with great enthusiasm, but he
had not given each story greater supervision and had allowed too much
'looseness' between the writers and himself, resulting in too many
situations being crammed into each episode. Nor were the actors to blame:
"I have no complaints about the actors - they were all good," he said. "It
was an enormous undertaking, as I soon found out, to produce The
Spoiler. The show's failure affected me terribly."
The Spoiler was
certainly an ambitious project, and an imaginative departure from the
stereotypical crime show format. Criticisms about the central character's
lack of humanity and the show's attitude to women are legitimate, but the
suggestion that the series was ahead of its time and audiences were simply
not ready for it is just as valid. Unfortunately there is no opportunity
to reassess the show today, as the original two-inch master tapes were
wiped and no copies of any episodes are known to exist.
SPOILER EPISODE DETAILS
TV Week, Oct 2, 1971.
2. TV Week, Oct 2, 1971 &
Sept 9, 1972.
3. TV Week, Sept 9, 1972.
Listener In-TV, Sept 2, 1972.
8. TV Week, Oct 28, 1972.
9. Melbourne Listener In-TV, Sept 2, 1972.
10. TV Week,
Sept 9, 1972.
11. TV Week, Nov 18, 1972.
12. TV Week, Sept 9, 1972.
14. TV Week, Nov 18, 1972.
15. TV Week, Sept 16, 1972.
16. TV Week, Nov 4, 1972.
17. Melbourne Listener In-TV, Sept 16, 1972.
18. TV Week, Oct 14,
TV Eye No. 8, May 1996.
20. TV Week, Sept 2, 1972.
21. TV Week, Sept 23, 1972.
22. Veritas, Melbourne Truth, Jan 6, 1973.
23. TV Week, Dec 30, 1972.
TV Week, Jan 13, 1973.
25. TV Times, Oct 21, 1972.
26. TV Week, Jan 20, 1973.