to create a separate Television Drama department within the Australian
Broadcasting Commission (ABC) in the mid-1960's was
vindicated by the success of their first two productions: the serial Bellbird and
the critically-acclaimed crime series Contrabandits. Department head David Goddard
presided over this success, and decided to follow up Contrabandits with another
series, Delta, in which he took an even more personal interest. Goddard took on the
responsibility of producing Delta himself, and even directed some episodes, in addition
to his normal duties as head of the department.
Delta was in the planning stages by late 1968, and production
commenced on April 21 the following year. The advent of Delta was a major factor in
the decision not to proceed with a third series of Contrabandits.
Delta was a very ambitious series. It did not follow any proven
and established genres, but instead chose to break new ground by following the adventure
and intrigue of a scientific investigation unit. It had a large budget, and it featured
extensive location filming. The series was produced entirely on film, at a time when most
local productions were integrated film and videotape. A special film unit was created for
the series, but despite the generous budget there were no plans for colour filming, and
the entire series was shot in black and white.
Delta was devised by Colin Free, who was also
Script Editor for
the series and wrote a number of episodes. Free had a very prolific output with the ABC,
being involved in many series including Contrabandits, Nice 'N' Juicy and
Music was composed and conducted by George Dreyfuss with the Melbourne
Symphony Orchestra. The closing theme was a slightly slower version of the opening theme.
The series title refers to the 'Delta' group, a fictional body loosely
based on the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation). The
relevance of the name is not clear - delta is the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, and
the organisation's symbol reflects this, consisting of the lower case letter enclosed
within an upper case letter. If 'Delta' is an acronym, no reference is made to what it
The 'Delta' organisation is an independent, non-profit research
establishment, on call to
anyone - individuals or groups, industry, community or government bodies. They are in
effect 'scientific trouble-shooters', utilising mobile laboratories equipped with the
latest instruments to tackle any sort of problem anywhere in Australia. The mobile labs
are backed up by scientists and research workers in many fields.
The 'Delta' group tackles a wide
range of issues from industrial espionage to disease and bushfires. The
organisation has a huge charter, which provides a solid basis for a TV
series - almost any facet of Australian activity could be utilised for
dramatic effect. David Goddard said Delta "had been designed to provide
the widest possible range of location and plot".1
In this it succeeded. Although primarily filmed in or near Sydney,
episodes were usually set in rural Australia, and filming took place in various locations,
including Lake Eyre in South Australia and the Awaba coal mine near Newcastle. Scripts
were based on scientific possibilities, and dealt with all sorts of problems and intrigue,
including pollution, share-dealing, forgery, mining, conservation - even faith-healing and
a lost satellite.
The two lead characters in Delta are scientist Jeff Mallow and
his assistant Inger Petri. They are members of a mobile field team, typically the front
line staff in any assignment.
It was reported that Robin Ramsay was originally considered for the
role of Mallow, but as it happened the part was played by John Gregg, who previously
appeared in Contrabandits. Gregg
said of the role: "Mallow is a fairly straight character in that he doesn't have any
character quirks. He's fairly precise and logical but inclined to be short-tempered at
times. Unlike the more impetuous Inger Petri, Mallow stays on an even keel."2
Inger was played by Kirrily Nolan, and was one of only a very few lead
roles for women at the time. "I think it's the most interesting Australian TV role
ever written for an actress," said Kirrily. "I see Inger as a woman trying to do
a job in what is essentially a man's world."3
This was Kirrily's first lead role. She had previously made guest
appearances in film and TV, however she was most widely recognised from a commercial for
'Ajax' cleaner. After repeatedly being asked, "Aren't you the 'Ajax' girl?", she
decided she would never do any more commercials.
"I like Inger," said Kirrily. "She is feminine only in
the nicest way. She is fairly direct in her approach, but she manages to remain a woman.
In fact she often pits woman's intuition against John Gregg's more factual scientific
information. And sometimes she comes off best. It's good she doesn't always win because
that wouldn't be human. Both roles are fairly well drawn and some of the problems we
explore are interesting."4
As the series is plot-driven rather than character-driven, the two
regulars were introduced quickly. We learnt more about their characters as the series
unfolded, but as the emphasis in Delta is on the assignment rather
than the characters, they were not explored to any great depth.
Kirrily: "Australian writers are still inclined to make characters
such as Inger and Mallow rather precious, and always doing the right things. But viewers
like to see characters with faults and prejudices. They like to see characters on the
screen and be able to say, 'Now that's just the sort of stupid thing I would do'."5
John Gregg concurred: "Because the pair have to be diplomatic in
their approach to human problems, there isn't any really strong characterisation."6
A third cast member was Kevin Miles, who played super-efficient
scientist Brian Fitch. Fitch's supercilious manner proved a great foil for Inger's
Delta premiered in Sydney on September 25, 1969. Melbourne
viewers saw the series the following day. It was shown in an 8:00 PM timeslot
nationally, either on
Thursday or Friday night depending on regional programming.
The opening titles were very unimaginative, consisting of an aerial
view of the 'Delta' mobile lab travelling along an isolated country road. Titles and
credits were superimposed over this scene, with the 'Delta' symbol leaping up at the
screen at the last minute.
The series received a mixed reaction from the critics. Some praised it
as an excellent production, others thought the pace was too slow compared to offerings
from the commercial channels. Perhaps some critics missed the point - Delta is an
intelligent series, and it thrives on typical ABC drama understatement. It was not
intended as a mindless time-filler for couch potatoes.
Another regular support character was introduced in the final episode
of the first series, although it was not planned that way. The episode, titled 'R.I.P.', was
being filmed on location in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. During rehearsals, the original guest
actor contracted for the episode, Katy Wild (Spyforce, Good
Morning, Mr. Doubleday, Our Man In The Company), fell from a horse and broke
her leg. "I couldn't work for six months," said Katy, "my part was
replaced by Patsy Trench. I lost nine episodes of Delta and three
of Barrier Reef."7 Patsy Trench (who previously appeared in the childrens sci-fi
series Phoenix Five) was called in as a last minute replacement, and Producer David
Goddard was so impressed with her acting ability that she was signed up for
the regular role
in the second series.
Patsy plays the part of rebellious 'Delta' employee Jackie Stuart, an
expert scientist who also has a proclivity to 'rub people up the wrong way'. "She's
not really a bitch," said Patsy of the character, "but she is tremendously
independent, tough-minded and has no regard whatsoever for others."8
The first series finished screening in December 1969, and the second
series went to air in July 1970. There were 12 episodes in the first series, and 11 in the
second, making a total of 23 episodes. The second series was screened in a Friday night
timeslot in all states.
The new series also had a large budget. Episode 14, 'Look Thy Last', had
segments filmed on location near Newcastle - underground! Producer David Goddard said,
"'Look Thy Last' was the first time an Australian film crew has filmed a drama down a
coal mine. It was very important and exciting for the crew to work so far
An even more exotic location was a dried salt lake in South Australia.
Episode 17, 'Deathwalk', had segments filmed at Lake Eyre, but the crew ran into severe
problems. Because of the remote location, eleven days had been allowed for the shoot, but
it ended up taking 17 days when unexpected rain - the first in 14 months - flooded the usually dry lake.
Director of the episode, Wolfgang Storch, said, "The yearly average
rainfall is supposed to be two inches, but we had 75 points in three days. During the
fourth and sixth days we encountered vicious sandstorm winds up to 40 miles an hour. This
meant part of the crew had to help hold down the hut we were filming in.
"On the ninth day it began raining persistently for two and a half
days, during a scene in which the cast were to be found wandering in a desert-like
atmosphere. Lake Eyre was covered in six inches of water, and we had to re-shoot scenes in
sand-dunes near Newcastle and Cronulla (NSW)."10
In most states the second series was seen at 8:00 PM, following
the half-hour current affairs program This
Day Tonight, which put it out of alignment with the commercial stations one-hour slot
at 7:30 PM. In spite of the awkward timeslot, Delta developed a solid following,
although its overall rating in Melbourne was only 7. "Even from the start we received
a great deal of mail from children and other viewers," said Kirrily Nolan. "A lot
of the children asked us to stay at their properties when next the Delta team was
in their district."11
There was no romance between Inger and Mallow, although to many it
would have been an obvious character development. "As a matter of fact I'm rather
disappointed that Inger and Jeff didn't become engaged or have a romance," said Kirrily. "Viewers would perhaps have become more interested in the two of us if there
had been some romance. However, I don't think our lack of romance spoilt
bit. Perhaps it could have made it better, that's all."12
Although Delta was plot-driven rather than character-centred,
and lack of romance notwithstanding, Inger Petri and Jeff Mallow were in competent hands.
Kirrily Nolan and John Gregg did an excellent job portraying the two characters,
developing a rapport between them which added depth and interest to the show.
Asked whether he preferred Delta or
Gregg replied, "Delta is better in the sense that is has much wider scope.
was tied down like Homicide and Hunter. You are a Customs man or a policeman
and you do the job in a certain way. But in Delta each episode is different.
"Even in Delta we have to do tedious things such as
carrying a lot of plot lines. I find this dissatisfying at times. Quite often the good
stuff is written for the guests because writers find it easier to create new characters
than to write for the established ones. But somebody has to keep the plot moving and this
is generally the lot of the regulars like me."13
"The best aspect of Delta," said Kirrily Nolan,
"was that it set out to do something entirely new. The idea of a series based on a
scientific team was original. Of course this made it a little difficult at first for all
of us. But I'm glad it wasn't a cops and robbers show. I would have loved Delta to have been made in colour so
that the series could be sold overseas. Judging from the reaction of some overseas people
I know who saw the series, I'd say that other countries would probably be fascinated by
The ABC did manage at least one overseas sale - to Britain in
Two Delta episodes won awards: Episode 1, 'The Short Sell', won
an Australian Film Institute Bronze Reel Award; and Tony Morphett was joint winner of an
Australian Writers Guild Awgie award for Best Script For A TV Drama Series for episode 19, 'A
Touch Of DFP'. (The award was shared with John Dingwall for Homicide episode 208,
"Everyone Knows Charlie').
When Delta first went into production it was expected to have a
longer life than Contrabandits, although initial planning was only for two series.
David Goddard said he thought Contrabandits had exhausted most of its possible
script situations, whereas Delta had the potential to last longer.15 As
it happened the original two series planned were all that were produced.
There were a number of reasons why a third series did not eventuate.
ran over budget, not least because of the problems filming the South Australian episode,
which could explain why only 11 episodes were made in the second series, instead of 12 as
in the first series. Also, David Goddard was not finding it easy running his department in
addition to producing Delta and occasionally directing episodes. These factors plus
internal politics led to Goddard resigning from the ABC and returning to England in 1970.
Goddard's successor was John Cameron, and the Drama department gained a
new steadiness under his direction, while continuing to build on the foundation that
Goddard had established. This transition, coupled with the budget over-run, caused
any ideas of a third series of Delta to be forgotten. The next series to be
produced by the ABC Drama Department was Dynasty, adapted from the novel by Tony
Although the ABC had produced quite a few drama programs previously,
and Delta were the foundation stones in the establishment of a viable TV Drama
department within the Commission. The department continued to produce high quality drama
in-house for the next twenty-odd years, after which the ABC pursued a policy of
co-productions with outside packagers.
The cast moved on to many and varied things, all appearing in
various film and television roles. Kevin Miles went directly to lead roles in
The Link Men and Dynasty,
and John Gregg had the central role in the 1979 ABC series The Oracle.
A script from
the second series, episode 14, 'Look Thy Last', was used in 'Close-Up', a
textbook for students.16
Delta has not been screened since the mid-1970's, in common with
most Aussie productions of the era. It is the sort of material that should be released on
ABC Video/DVD, but probably never will.
DELTA EPISODE DETAILS
1. Melbourne Age, Sept 26, 1969.
TV Times, Nov 12, 1969.
TV Times, Nov 26, 1969.
TV Week, Nov 8, 1969.
TV Times, Nov 26, 1969.
TV Times, Nov 12, 1969.
7. TV Times,
July 15, 1970.
TV Week, Feb 21, 1970.
TV Times, July 29, 1970.
TV Week, Aug 22, 1970.
TV Times, Nov 12, 1969.
TV Week, Aug 22, 1970.
15. Melbourne Age, Sept 26, 1969.
16. Don Reid, Frank Bladwell,
Close-Up - Scripts From National Television's Second Decade, (Macmillan Australia 1971)