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YOUNG RAMSAY


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YOUNG RAMSAY
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With Australia’s wide variety of unique flora and fauna, it was perhaps inevitable that television programs would surface featuring cute, furry animals. Overseas they had Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and The Littlest Hobo, and Australia was not to be outdone - we substituted the 'common or garden' dog tales for the rather incredible adventures of Skippy the bush kangaroo.

A series about a country veterinarian was an obvious progression, and two very different shows utilised this basic concept: Woobinda (Animal Doctor) and Young Ramsay. Woobinda was a half-hour children's adventure series made in 1968 by NLT Productions. Young Ramsay was a 1977 one-hour drama series made by Crawford Productions.

Filming commenced on Young Ramsay in July 1977, two years after the great ‘gang-up’ when the three commercial networks cancelled the Crawford cop shows Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock Police. The company almost collapsed, but Crawford Productions bounced back, looking in new areas for new programs which resulted in much diverse product in the late 1970’s and on into the 1980’s. A series about the adventures of a country vet was well suited to this new direction.

Young Ramsay was conceived as a good wholesome family show, the result of a desire by Crawfords to find a series which would reduce sex and violence to a minimum, yet retain the interest of adults as well as children. The vet idea came about after a survey revealed that 84 percent of Australians have a pet, and 53 percent have two or more.

Henry Crawford was the Producer of the series, and Directors included George Miller, Simon Wincer and Rod Hardy. Crawford Productions made the series for the Seven Network, assisted financially by the Victorian Film Corporation.

Tom Richards, John Hargreaves and Serge Lazareff were the favoured contenders for the two male roles, Hargreaves and Lazareff being the final choices for the parts of Peter Ramsay and Ray Turner respectively. Hargreaves had previously appeared in the films Don’s Party and The Removalists, and the ABC series And The Big Men Fly and Over There. Lazareff previously had major roles in the series The Spoiler, The Rise And Fall Of Wellington Boots and Cash & Company.

Wendy Hughes was under consideration for the lead female role of Julie Lambert, however the part went to Barbara Llewellyn who had previously appeared in Class Of 74, The Box and Seven Little Australians. Vic Gordon (ex-Matlock Police) had a regular support role as Jack Lambert.

The title refers to Peter Ramsay, a youngish (about 30) city vet working in the Sydney racehorse community who becomes disillusioned with life in the big smoke. He moves to the country and joins the veterinarian practice of Jack Lambert in the fictional country town of Jindarra, located along the coast of Victoria near the New South Wales border. Jack is in semi-retirement due to declining health, and Peter is being groomed to eventually take over the practice.

Julie Lambert, Jack’s daughter, acts as nurse and receptionist for her father's practice. Julie stayed on with Jack when her mother left many years earlier, after deciding that being the wife of a country vet wasn’t for her.

Ray Turner is the local wildlife officer and park ranger, who is less rigid than the rule book dictates but is nonetheless a conscientious and well-respected officer. Peter, Julie and Ray’s work, plus their mutual love for animals, brings them together and they become firm friends.

The three lead actors struck up a good working relationship, and many of their scenes together are very effective. Hargreaves and Lazareff had previously worked together in the ABC series Over There. "We know each other well enough to do a little improvisation here and there," said Hargreaves, "and often it gets left in."1

Hargreaves stated that he didn’t like ‘super-fixit’ type TV heroes, and he was determined that Peter Ramsay would not be a two dimensional character. "I didn’t like the idea of playing a hero," he said. "When I first read the script I thought there was a real danger of Young Ramsay being an impossible combination of vet, psychiatrist, doctor, priest, chemist and social worker. In the script, Ramsay was not a person at all - just a device. And I won’t play devices. Neither will Serge Lazareff.

"So Serge and I worked on our roles, within the bounds set by the Crawford writers, to put a lot of our own ideas into the characters. I think Ramsay has turned out more of a victim than a hero. He makes mistakes, bumbles a bit. When the script required him to treat a snake, I made him terrified of snakes. I think this helps makes the character more believable, and more interesting to play."2

The character of Ramsay is all the better for it. Not a super-cool type who never puts a foot wrong, but rather a well-rounded personality with successes and failings. He is a very competent vet; sometimes he makes a fool of himself or confuses names but he always makes good under pressure or in an emergency.

Barbara Llewellyn preferred the part of Julie Lambert to her earlier role of Barbara in The Box:  “Julie is more my age, whereas Babs was supposed to be 18. I identify with Julie’s love of the country and of animals, and she has a stronger feeling of being a woman, of having more strength and being more stable within herself. She is the middle point in the friendship between Peter and Ray, and I think John and Serge have a marvellous rapport going in their performances."3

Serge Lazareff was also enthusiastic about the show: "It has a nice, relaxed atmosphere, and I think John Hargreaves and I have struck up a good working relationship that results in a light, cheerful show."4

Jindarra’s rural setting - a coastal location with farmland, National Parks and close proximity to mountain ranges - enables all manner of animal cases to crop up, not just dogs and cats. The scenery is superb - the series was filmed on location on the Mornington Peninsula, at Tooradin and around Healesville. In some ways the series can be seen as fulfilling the rural potential so evident in the earlier Crawfords series Matlock Police.

The first episode of Young Ramsay is not a ‘how-we-all-happened-to-end-up-here’ scene-setter. Rather, it jumps in with Peter already established in the practice, albeit only just, with old Jack still showing him a few of the ropes. Backgrounds of the characters are unfolded slowly throughout the series; for instance, we know that Peter became disenchanted with life in the city, but it is not until episode 10 that details of his life in Sydney are revealed. The series thrives on understatement, and a large degree of its success is because the characters are ordinary, everyday Australians.

As in any series of this kind, animals play a large role, and all sorts of creatures were featured: horses, ducks, native birds, wombats, kangaroos, snakes, dingoes, sheep, cows, and of course dogs and cats. Christine Powell, a veterinarian, was engaged to obtain and supervise the various animals for the series, and the writers made sure her work was cut out for her - amongst the weird and wonderful requests she received was to find a four-metre python who looked bilious!

As would be expected, there were some problems working with so many animals, including the inevitable bites and scratches. A goanna and a galah were featured in one episode, and the goanna seemed determined to eat his co-star. Another episode used a duck, and, as Henry Crawford explained, "Ducks have a habit of going to sleep at the strangest times. Also they don’t read scripts very well."5

A highly trained Old English sheepdog, very experienced in making commercials, was featured in the first episode. The script called for him to be disobedient, which of course went against all his training, and it took a lot of filming waiting for him to make a mistake before the right scenes were obtained.

Dingoes were featured in one episode, which posed a few legal problems because of laws regarding dingoes in captivity. A scene where the dingo is on the prowl, sniffing the wind, required elaborate fishing wire leads to keep track of the animal in case it decided to suddenly take off. Another episode (the early episodes were filmed during winter) required the birth of a foal, and the producers had to mount a large search to find a birth out of season.

There were also many human guest actors. Sigrid Thornton, Briony Behets, Peter Sumner, Rod Mullinar, Brian James, Sam Neill, Bill Hunter, Michelle Fawdon, John Howard and Penne Hackforth-Jones are just a few actors of note who appeared in the series.

Pop singer Colleen Hewett gave an excellent performance as a blind girl in episode 2, ‘Mr. Frederick’s Great Great Grandson’. As part of her research for the role she went blindfolded for several days, and also stayed a couple of nights at the blind institute to get to know the dog she would be working with.

Child actor Beau Cox, who was well-known for the ‘it hurts’ Band-Aid commercial, appeared in episode 5, ‘A Happy Place In The Sky’. He won a TV Week Logie Award for Best Performance By A Juvenile for his role in the episode. "We had seen six-year-old Beau Cox in those commercials," said producer Henry Crawford, "and realised that he had a most appealing face that could be used to great advantage. I talked it over with writer Sarah Darling and commissioned the script for the episode about a little boy who fantasised about a sick dragon. Having the script and the actor was not enough. It needed the right director to pull it off, and I believed David Stevens was the only man to do it. He was overseas at the time, so we brought him back specially to direct that episode. Even so, we didn't go ahead with it until David had talked to the boy in Sydney and decided for himself that it would work. The result was of award standard."6

Young Ramsay avoided the predictable, cliched drama common in many U.S. programs. There were no syrupy-sweet endings - sometimes an operation was not a success and a patient would die; most of the time events resolved themselves satisfactorily without any melodrama.

Character development was also balanced and realistic. There was no romance between Julie and Peter or Ray, although the matter was hinted at. Rather, the three were just good friends. Julie explained to her father at the end of the first series that she liked Peter a lot, but was not in love with him; likewise for Ray. No hearts and flowers, just realistic relations between realistic characters.

Initially thirteen episodes were made and there were no plans for a second series. The end of the first season brought events to a natural conclusion - Jack Lambert died after a bout of ill health; Peter Ramsay found romance with a local widow which was left at the ‘let’s see how it works out’ stage; and the friendship between Peter, Julie and Ray was cemented.

Young Ramsay premiered in November 1977 on the Seven Network, and continued to be screened during the summer non-rating season. Why the series was relegated to this ‘throwaway’ time-slot is puzzling, as it was well-received by both critics and the viewing public.

Almost two years later a decision was made to produce another 13 episodes of Young Ramsay, and filming commenced in May, 1979. Again made for the Seven Network with financial assistance from the Victorian Film Corporation, it was also pre-sold to various independent country stations.

Producer of the second series was George Miller. Like many others in the industry, Miller learnt his craft at Crawford Productions working on Homicide. In later years he would leave Crawfords to work on shows such as Cash & Company and Against The Wind, only to return for other projects like The Sullivans and Young Ramsay. Miller explained in a Cinema Papers interview: "I heard they were doing another 13 episodes of Young Ramsay. This fills me with joy, because I have always felt it is an excellent program. I owe Crawfords a great deal for training me, and I believe that training has kept me in work over the years. Because I owe them that I am always happy to go back; they are like a family. But I must stress that one of the reasons I have always kept going back is because they consistently produce programs of high standard."7

The second series had two major changes. For some obscure reason the theme tune was altered - the pleasant and evocative music of the first series was replaced by an insipid and uninspiring tune. The opening footage remained the same or similar, and the visual association thereof only served to remind viewers of the superior original theme.

The most significant change was a new cast member. Barbara Llewellyn was not in the second series, her place being taken by Louise Howitt as Cassie McCallum. Louise previously appeared in The Young Doctors and the ABC mini-series Loss Of Innocence. Why the change occurred is something of a mystery. Barbara Llewellyn was available and happy to be involved, but she was not asked to do the second series. Perhaps it was thought that the character development between Peter, Ray and Julie had gone as far at it could go, and a new direction needed to be taken.

The eventual choice of Louise Howitt for the role took place after what George Miller described as "the most exhaustive bit of casting I’ve been involved in".8 Three lengthy audition sessions were held in both Sydney and Melbourne, the last of which required the girls to engage in activities such as riding horses, climbing over logs and patting wet dogs who had just been swimming in dams. Louise told TV Week: "If the character I’m playing is to have any glamour, it will have to come from within. This time, clothes and make-up and other external things won’t have any glamour at all."9

The first episode of the second series has Peter on the lookout for a new nurse / receptionist. It is explained that Julie moved away from Jindarra following the death of her father, and Peter is looking after the practice on his own - and barely coping.

After a succession of unsuitable applicants, Peter finds Cassie McCallum, who it would appear is just perfect for the job - except that she doesn't want it. Cassie was raised in the bush by her father, who was constantly moving around looking for work, but now she has a well-paid job in the city working in advertising. She has inherited a run-down farm in Jindarra, and eventually decides she could not go back to the big smoke - and subsequently takes the job. George Miller stated: "The character of Cassie is based on a real person - a female advertising executive who came with me on a 500-mile horse riding trip through the Victorian Alps."10

Cassie is an interesting and well-rounded character, and Louise Howitt gave an excellent performance in the role. As would be expected from a vet’s assistant, Cassie has a deep love of animals, which, like Julie before her, is partly attributable to her background. Julie’s fondness for animals was nurtured by her upbringing as a vet’s daughter; with Cassie it is due to her bush background - which is taken a step further by making her very sensitive to the environment.

Yet the second series lacks some of the finesse of the first. By not including Barbara Llewellyn in the cast, the chemistry that existed between Julie and Peter and Ray is missing. There is also a greater tendency towards ‘everything-will-work-out-just-fine’ happy endings - it is just that little bit schmalzier. While it is still a very good production by any standard, these factors cause the second series to pale marginally in comparison to the first – which is not helped by the prosaic theme tune.

Unlike the first series, there was more than a hint of romance in the second, and the series concludes with both Peter and Ray asking for Cassie's hand in marriage - with Cassie choosing to marry Peter.

Production of the second series was completed in September 1979, and it was poorly programmed by HSV-7 in Melbourne. Premiering in February 1980, it was preceded by a repeat run of the first series. The show was then taken off air in March to make way for football telecasts, and did not resume until October - which did absolutely nothing to encourage viewers to follow the program.

In addition to the award won by Beau Cox for Best Performance By A Juvenile for episode 5 of the first series ('A Happy Place In The Sky'), the second series picked up three awards in 1980. Roger Simpson won an Awgie (Australian Writers Guild) award for ep. 17, 'Natural Selection'; Kevin Dobson won a Penguin award for Best Television Play Or Telemovie Direction for ep. 24, 'Dreamtime'; and the series scored a Sammy award for Best Children's Series.

New regulations governing children's programs were laid down by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal in 1979, and many series, old and new, were submitted for a ‘C’ classification. This meant they would be permitted to be screened during certain periods of the day which were specifically dedicated to childrens programming. Skippy was one series which received the ‘C’ classification, even though it was ten years old at the time. Young Ramsay, however, missed out. The ABT had high praise for the series and gave it special commendation, but were unable to award the ‘C’ classification because a prerequisite was that the program had to be made specifically for children, which Young Ramsay was not.

Although Woobinda (Animal Doctor) was the first veterinarian series to be made in Australia, Young Ramsay is definitely the more sophisticated and superior production. Several other series have since been made featuring animals - of particular note is The Keepers, a 1984 ABC production which followed the path taken by Young Ramsay. Crawfords next venture into the genre was in 1985 with the successful half-hour series Zoo Family. Young Ramsay11 has been repeated a few times (although on some occasions only the first series was screened), and, after an absence of over 15 years, was again repeated in 2008 by the Seven Network.

 

YOUNG RAMSAY EPISODE DETAILS

 

1. TV Times, Nov 5, 1977.
2. TV Week, Nov 26, 1977.
3. TV Week, Nov 19, 1977.
4. Ibid.
5. TV Times, Nov 5, 1977.
6. TV Week, Jan 21, 1978.
7. Cinema Papers, Sept 1979.
8. TV Week, May 19, 1979.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Certain reference works have consistently misspelt Ramsay as Ramsey, including: Tony Harrison Australian Film And Television Companion (Simon & Schuster, Sydney, 1994) p. 359; and the erroneous Albert Moran Moran’s Guide To Australian TV Series (Australian Film Television & Radio School, 1993) p. 497. The correct spelling is evidenced by the opening title stills.



Barbara Llewellyn as Julie Lambert and John Hargreaves in the title role of Peter Ramsay with their co-star from the first episode.

 
Vic Gordon had a support role as veterinarian Jack Lambert. He is pictured here with Barbara Llewellyn.


Serge Lazareff as Wildlife Officer Ray Turner.


John Hargreaves and Barbara Llewellyn.


First series opening titles.


Barbara Llewellyn.


Briony Behets had a guest role in episode 6, ‘Yellow Dog’. She is pictured here with three of the dingoes that were featured in the episode.

 
Louise Howitt as Cassie McCallum, Peter Ramsay’s new assistant. Louise replaced Barbara Llewellyn in the second series.

 
Second series opening titles. The imagery remained almost identical to the first series with only minor changes for new cast member Louise Howitt, and the main title shifting from the bottom of the screen to the centre. However the music changed significantly, a bland and insipid tune replacing the melodic theme of the first series.


John Hargreaves as Peter Ramsay making a donkey of himself in a publicity shot for the second series.

 
Another publicity photo for the second series, with John Hargreaves as Peter Ramsay, Louise Howitt as Cassie McCallum and Serge Lazareff as Ray Turner.


Serge Lazareff