CLASSIC AUSTRALIAN TELEVISION

HUNTER

Part 2

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Copyright 2013 Don Storey.  All rights reserved.


HUNTER
FEATURE ARTICLE
Part 1

 

HUNTER
EPISODE DETAILS
Part 1: Eps 1 - 31
Part 2: Eps 32 - 65

 

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INTERVIEWS

 

CHRONOLOGICAL
OVERVIEW

 

F.A.Q.

 

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As the series progressed, Tony Ward became more and more unhappy about what he saw as a lack of character development for his part of Hunter. Tony asked for more emotion, a little bit of language where it was warranted, and in general a more rounded character with failings as well as successes. "The key to success is in the writing," said Tony. "I can't be glamorous, amorous and exciting unless the writers put me in the situations. And then it's up to me to come across."
23 He discussed his concerns with Hector Crawford, and the problem was resolved temporarily.

The villainous Kragg, however, was continuing to grow in popularity, due in no small part to the unexpected depth and subtlety Gerard Kennedy was bringing to the role - some reviewers claimed that he had stolen the show. "I enjoy playing villains, I enjoy their truth, their confusion - there's more to explore," said Gerard. "I see the pathos of the person who has gone off the rails, and the misdirection of what is basically a desire in everybody to put things right, but it just becomes misguided."
24

There was much speculation in the media about Kragg's future. Various reports suggested that Kragg would be killed off; that he would be promoted as an enemy agent; that he would swap sides and become a goodie; that he would become a double agent; and even that he would become the major character with Hunter being less prominent. Tony Ward denied the latter point: "I am quite sure that my role as Hunter will not be diminished," said Tony. "I have seen scripts for this years series and I am very happy with them. Hector Crawford gave me his personal assurance that my status would remain unchanged, and that's good enough for me."
25

Kragg’s complex character and concomitant ideology was leading to an almost inevitable change of attitude. He was becoming dissatisfied with the CUCW, and the first hint of this apostasy occurred in 'The Snowy Mountains File', when Hunter confronted him and was able to talk him out of detonating a thermo-nuclear device. Later episodes further highlighted his growing dissatisfaction.

Patricia Smith was introduced as CUCW agent Georgie Savage in episodes 23 & 24, 'The Mirage File'. The producers were so impressed with Patricia's performance that her role was written into several more episodes than originally planned, and Georgie would become a major influence in Kragg's life. Patricia enjoyed playing the part, which was her first television role. "Georgie's more than just a girl with a gun; she's adventurous and has quite a sense of humour," said Pat.
26

Episode 28, 'The Jackpot File', commenced a plot line that ran through five episodes, and was arguably the high point of the series. A romantic attachment grows between Kragg and Georgie, and she helps Kragg realise that not everything is what it seems in the Council.

The next episode, 'Doves In The East' (originally titled 'The Lestrovic File'), sees the founder of the CUCW, Jan Lestrovic, in Australia to defect from the Council. Lestrovic was Kragg's mentor and taught him from boyhood, and now wishes to disown the Council, which he believes has degenerated into a crime syndicate operated by power-hungry manipulators. Vargon and Smith decide that Lestrovic must be assassinated, and Kragg tries to thwart the attempt. Kragg is unsuccessful, and Lestrovic dies by his side.

The theme continued through 'The Kragg File' (the last episode title with the 'File' suffix), and 'A Reason For Dying'. Kragg's disillusionment is at a peak and Smith and Vargon order Kragg to be killed. In an ensuing gunfight Kragg is critically wounded, and Georgie comes to his aid. Georgie wants Kragg to go to hospital, but he refuses, saying they will patch him up, put him on trial and either lock him away or extradite him. Hunter and Blake are trying to take full advantage of the situation to put the CUCW out of business once and for all, but have a race against time to find Kragg. In one instance Hunter unknowingly saves Kragg's life when he stops a Council assassin. Finally, Kragg decides to give himself up, but on his way collapses on the steps of SCU3 headquarters where he is found by Hunter.

In hospital, Kragg is without the will to live. When Georgie is beaten to death by CUCW thug Quint, Kragg gains new resolve and finally defects. Blake, aware that Kragg is an efficient agent (largely due to their inability to catch him in the past), invites him to work for COSMIC. Hunter is initially opposed to the idea, but Kragg proves himself (episode 32, 'A Job For Kragg'), and thus the tone of the series has changed - the demise of the Council is complete, and Hunter and Kragg now work side by side as agents of good.

Ronald Morse made his final appearance in 'A Job For Kragg', Mr. Smith being killed when Hunter, Blake and Kragg catch up with him in Sydney. The departure of Ronald Morse meant an alteration to the opening titles, and the opportunity was taken to include some more action scenes from recent episodes. Jack Hume returned occasionally as Vargon, his last appearance being much later in episode 61.

Opinions differ as to the effectiveness of Kragg swapping sides. It was acknowledged that a problem existed when Hunter and Kragg came face to face, as it reflected badly on the hero that Kragg always had to escape so he could be around for the next episode.

On the one hand, Kragg was portrayed as almost an equal to Hunter - a super-efficient agent, which reinforced his character not as a baddie but as a misguided idealist. Having Kragg defect was therefore a logical progression, and effectively gave the programme two heroes - a formidable team.

On the other hand, it was thought that Kragg’s defection could stretch credibility and public belief too far, and deprive him of the fanatical, brooding intensity which Gerard Kennedy excelled at playing.

An alternative would have been to promote Kragg into Smith's position, thus removing the personal confrontations with Hunter, but this would have diminished the depth of character that Gerard brought to the role and reduced Kragg to a one-dimensional baddie. As it happened, the public accepted Kragg’s change of heart. Many viewers who admired Gerard Kennedy’s acting ability expressed the feeling that it was now acceptable to like Kragg, whereas before they felt a bit uncomfortable liking a 'baddie'.

"We had to do something about Kragg," said Tony Ward. "Credit must be paid to Gerard's acting ability which won him a following. But he had the active role - it was Kragg who got up to all the tricks and left me on the defensive. The worst thing that happened was that when we came to grips I always had to let him go. After all, we had to have him back the following week."27

Writer and Film Director of 'The Kragg File', Ian Jones, regards it as one of his happiest experiences. "The scene I did with Gerry and Patricia Smith in a car parked on a country road was, and remains, my favourite scene I've ever done with actors. In the scene he was practically dying and wanted her to take him to Security Headquarters, and it had great atmosphere with the background of Gerry featuring peaceful grass blowing in the wind contrasting with the background of Pat being the bustling traffic on the highway."
28

Media reports continued to surface alleging that Tony Ward was being undermined as the principal in Hunter in favour of Gerard Kennedy, fuelled by rumours of a rift between the two actors (in actual fact Tony and Gerard were good friends). When the title of upcoming episode No. 40, 'The Late John Hunter', became known, it led to speculation that Hunter was to be killed off. When TV Week asked Tony about it directly he replied: "I've nothing to say. Why don't you ask Crawford Productions?"
29

Crawfords were tight-lipped about filming of scenes for the episode, which involved Hunter's apparent death in a parachute fall, and would neither confirm nor deny that Tony was leaving the series. The matter was compounded when motel scenes were filmed in secrecy with a skeleton crew, and the finished rushes held under lock and key. Producer Ian Jones would not divulge any information, saying only: "This was an experimental scene... different from anything we've tackled before. That's all."
30 A GTV-9 spokesman later stopped the speculation, and described the reports of John Hunter's death as 'preposterous', saying: "There is no question of Hunter being killed in that episode, or any other episode this year."31

Gabrielle Hartley played a guest role in episode 42, 'A Dark Reunion', as Leigh Sullivan, a British MI-5 agent and a girl Hunter once loved many years ago. She comes back into his life, only to be killed off at the end of the episode. "It would have been better to have her mortally wounded," said Tony later. "Then we would have had the trauma of whether she was going to survive or not; she could have recovered after an ep or two and joined us here and there - it would have been great. That could have gone on for ages and would have given a really strong female interest in the show. It was a golden opportunity missed."
32

Tony's disappointment with the character development of John Hunter continued, and his lack of confidence in Crawfords came to a head in mid-1968. Headlines were made when he was reported as 'missing', which severely disrupted the filming schedule of Hunter ('TV STAR VANISHES' screamed the front page of the tabloid Sydney Sun).
33 It turned out that, due to problems with an episode, Ward had unexpectedly been given a week's leave and took a sudden trip to America on July 13 at the invitation of his agent. The drama began when Crawfords wanted to recall Tony back earlier - Tony tried to inform them of his movements, but Crawfords did not get the message. The resultant free publicity - ‘TV spy disappears’ - was brilliantly exploited by GTV-9 publicist George Wilson.

Relationships between Ward and Crawfords were strained. Hector Crawford stated: "If Mr. Ward has a satisfactory explanation of his conduct and if he is prepared to bear the full cost incurred by his action, consideration will be given to continuing his employment."
34 During Tony's absence, Crawfords made interim plans to write in a new 'Hunter' agent - Hunter No. 6 - to replace him. Tony commented: "It would be a pretty funny series without Hunter. I can't understand all this fuss. I don't regret the trip for one minute (but) I am genuinely sorry and regret I caused Crawford Productions any concern."35 When Hector Crawford tried to discipline Tony for his absence, Tony said he would be quite happy to leave the series there and then.

"There were some very good episodes in the later series, but it was a bit late," Tony told TV Eye. "I got out, and I guess I brought the series to an end because I lacked confidence in Crawfords. I felt they had not got the thing under total control and it was going to slip and go down hill, and I thought I'm not going down hill with it."
36 It was publicly announced in mid-August that Tony would be leaving the series before the end of the year. "I told Crawfords that it was my wish that I be released and we came to an amicable agreement," said Tony.37 The question of how many more episodes he would record was left open, and he actually went on to do all but eight episodes of what he was contracted before Crawfords finally released him in October.

The scripts were the single biggest factor contributing to Tony's dissatisfaction. "The firm has shown initiative, courage and ambition and has made a valiant effort," he said. "But 39 episodes of Hunter this year was far too ambitious. This outstripped the ability of the scriptwriters."
38

Speculation was rife on the future of the show now that its main character was departing. Would the series be cancelled? A GTV-9 spokesman said, "We have no plans to end it prematurely."
39 The Nine Network had an option on the series for 1969, but considered themselves not involved in domestic arrangements between Tony Ward and Crawfords. To cancel a top-rating series did not make sense, but nor did it make sense to continue Hunter without Hunter.

Would Kragg assume the prominent role in the series? Both Crawford Productions and the Nine Network were very much aware of Gerard Kennedy's popularity, and it appeared logical to capitalise on the impact he made by continuing the series with Kragg as the central character. The dilemma then would be whether to retain the well-known Hunter title or rename the series 'Kragg'.

Would another actor take over the role of Hunter? It had always been apparent in the scripts that 'Hunter' was a codename for the status of an agent, and in fact the character played by Tony Ward was 'Hunter No. 5', so theoretically someone else could easily have assumed the ‘Hunter’ role. The problem was that Tony had become so indelibly associated with the role that it was doubtful if viewers would accept another 'Hunter'.

Tony's final appearance was in episode 57, 'Misadventure', when John Hunter was put on trial and executed by a firing squad in an iron curtain country, after being severely let down by a British agent during an overseas mission. Tony refused to allow Hunter to be seen to die on the screen, thus leaving the way open for a possible return at some future date. The execution scene was filmed at the Old Melbourne Gaol, and was handled very effectively - Hunter is led to the execution area, refuses to wear a blindfold, the firing squad take aim, shots ring out and pigeons fly off from the roof. We do not see him die, and prior events plant a seed of doubt making a potential 'phoney execution' storyline within the realms of possibility.

Anne Morgan as Julie Coleman plays a major part in the episode as she discovers - too late - that her feelings for Hunter are reciprocated. The ambience and mood of an oppressed foreign nation was ably captured in the episode, and to heighten the feeling Scriptwriter Howard Griffith 'invented' a language for the country. He was forced to play the part of a court prosecutor when the Producer couldn’t find an actor who could cope with the ‘new’ language.

A new agent played by Rod Mullinar, Gil Martin, was introduced to the show in the previous episode as a replacement for Tony Ward. Mullinar, an Englishman recently settled in Australia, said he was working on a Homicide episode when he heard a rumour that he would be offered the Hunter role: "I found it hard to believe, but on Friday my agent told me Crawfords were giving me the job. I was terribly pleased and accepted immediately."
40

Martin is a suave, keen, cool, action-type; a few years younger than Kragg and a bit snooty. There is some conflict between Martin and Kragg, as Martin is looked upon with favour by COSMIC chiefs who still distrust Kragg’s background, and Kragg looks down upon Martin as an inexperienced amateur. Nonetheless, the two agents worked very well together, and it was widely tipped that either Martin or Kragg would be promoted to 'Hunter' status, and the series would continue.

The programme did continue, with a completely revamped opening title sequence, and the Nine Network were happy for the series to go on indefinitely. "They tried to make it work by putting me in that (Hunter) role in the organisation," said Gerard. "I was playing a sort of co-Hunter role with Rod Mullinar, but it was a bit difficult, it didn't really work. The other alternative was to change the name of the show because they wanted to keep me going, and keep a spy show going. I think it had possibilities, because you could have included that evil background. That was one of the successes of having Kragg on the goodies side, because you never quite knew whether he was trustworthy, there was always that little niggling doubt."
41

Crawfords, however, were doubtful that Hunter could remain viable, and they were looking for a better vehicle for Gerard Kennedy. Ian Jones had an idea for a 'spin-off' series in which Kragg leaves COSMIC and, whilst soul-searching, teams up with an older private detective. Nothing came of it, and planning was focussed on a new police show, Saints And Sinners, with Gerard cast in a lead role. Nine, who were keen to retain Kennedy’s services, were persuaded to drop Hunter and purchase the new show, later renamed Division 4. Frank Packer, owner of the Nine Network, threatened all sorts of reprisals if it did not rate as well as Hunter.

The final episode of Hunter, No. 65 'The Send Off', was completed on December 20, 1968. COSMIC bosses have to choose between Kragg and Martin for promotion to 'Hunter' status, which includes an important and dangerous assignment in Hong Kong. Both men were set-up in a situation to gauge their reactions; Martin passed the test and gained the promotion. Kragg left COSMIC to marry his girlfriend Heidi Frankel (played by Lee Tholen), who was introduced in the previous episode. Rod Mullinar later stated, "I’d known all along that I was just filling a gap until the series was axed. But I was still disillusioned when it happened."
42

The new police series, Division 4, took the place of Hunter as the Nine Network's flagship Australian drama. Gerard Kennedy played the role of Detective Frank Banner, and because the change from Hunter to Division 4 was immediate, Banner had to retain Kragg’s crew-cut hair style. In fact, exterior scenes for the first Division 4 episode were being filmed at the same time as interior scenes for the final Hunter episode. Patricia Smith also featured in Division 4 as WPC Margaret Stewart, and it was rumoured that Rod Mullinar would also be cast as a detective. As it turned out, Terence Donovan landed the other Division 4 role, however Mullinar later scored the title role in the Crawfords private-eye series Ryan. Tony Ward went on to regular support roles in The Long Arm and Dynasty before becoming a reporter with the original A Current Affair, and Nigel Lovell became a producer on Homicide while continuing to act in various guest roles.

The popularity of Kragg was exemplified when Gerard Kennedy, a keen sailor, was in his boat in the Southern Ocean, 400 miles south-west of Tasmania: "There I was, miles from nowhere," said Gerard, "and this fishing boat pulled up and the fellows in it yelled out 'G'day Kragg!' "
43 

Tony Ward, who watched every episode of Hunter, looked back on the series with affection. "When we were out on location we changed behind hedges or in cars, we did our own make-up, it was nothing like it is these days, but we didn't complain, we were so enthusiastic about what we were doing. We worked all sorts of hours, 6 or 7 days a week, there was no overtime, and there were no replay fees. It was good to be part of the pioneering, it was great fun to be in. I wouldn't have missed it for the world."44

Hunter was repeated many times, often in a late night timeslot. It was last shown in 1974, prior to the introduction of colour television. Hunter was way ahead of its time - it still stands up very well today, and is long overdue for a return to our screens.

 


HUNTER EPISODE DETAILS

 

 

23. TV Week, Jan 20, 1968.
24. TV Eye No. 13, Dec 1997.
25. Melbourne Listener In-TV, March 16, 1968
26. Australian Women's Weekly, May 15, 1968.
27. Melbourne Listener In-TV, June 1, 1968.
28. TV Eye No. 5, June 1995.
29. TV Week, July 6, 1968.
30. Ibid.
31. Melbourne Listener In-TV, July 6, 1968.
32. TV Eye No. 2, May 1994.
33. Sydney Sun, July 18, 1968.
34. TV Week, Aug 3, 1968.
35. TV Times, July 31, 1968.
36. TV Eye No. 2, May 1994.
37. TV Week, Aug 24, 1968.
38. Melbourne Age, Nov 7, 1968.
39. Melbourne Listener In-TV, Aug 17, 1968.
40. TV Times, Aug 28, 1968.
41. TV Eye No. 13, Dec 1997.
42. TV Times, July 8, 1972.
43. South Australian TV Guide, Feb 2, 1974.
44. TV Eye No. 2, May 1994.

 

 

 


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The Hunter crew filming on a rooftop location. Tony Ward is holding the rifle.

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Gerard Kennedy as Kragg.

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Anne Morgan played a support role as Julie Coleman, a secretary to Mr. Blake who often got involved in the action.

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Tony Ward and Gerard Kennedy in a scene from episode 25, 'The Friend In Need File'.

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Patricia Smith as Georgie Savage, a short-lived support role in which she became a major influence in Kragg's life.

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Jack Hume as Vargon.

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Hunter
end credit titles as used for episodes 15 - 57

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Hunter and Kragg on the same side, but Kragg is still not fully trusted by Hunter.

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Gerard Kennedy as Kragg with Tony Ward as Hunter, on their first assignment together, from episode 32, 'A Job For Kragg'.

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Tony nonchalantly reads about his 'disappearance' in a Sydney newspaper.

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Filming scenes for Hunter.  With Tony in the lower picture is Anne Morgan in her support role as Julie Coleman.

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Tony Ward with guest actors Janice Copeland (left) and Jill Forster.

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Hunter, Blake and Kragg at SCU3 headquarters.

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A publicity picture epitomical of a master spy - flying a plane accompanied by a hot chick.

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Rod Mullinar as Gil Martin.


Opening titles for the final episodes 58-65, after Tony Ward left the series.

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Commercial integration used for episodes 58 - 65.

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Newspaper advertisement for the final Hunter episode.