Following the phenomenal
success of the Crawford police series Homicide (Seven Network) and Division 4
(Nine), in 1969 the 0-Ten Network decided it too should have a locally produced cop show. 0-Ten
had been operating for only a few short years (commencing 1964 in Melbourne and 1965 in
Sydney), and already seemed destined to a perennial third position in the ratings. Lacking
any sort of strong programme to draw audiences at all, let alone win a
ratings survey, it seemed logical to have their own version of the other
networks best performing shows. As
one ATV-0 executive told a television columnist: "We must have a programme
which will rate in the 40’s."1
The network approached
Crawfords for a police series, but at that stage the company was reluctant to produce
another cop show. Consequently, ATV-0 decided to produce a series themselves in-house
(under the banner of Ansett Television Films). Filming commenced in November 1969 on a
pilot episode for the series, to be titled The Long Arm.
The pilot episode was being filmed in secret
for later analysis at a network executive meeting, where it would be decided whether to go
ahead and produce a series. Television critic Veritas, writing for the
Melbourne Truth, got wind of the pilot and, when ATV-0 refused to comment, sneaked
in with a photographer while they were shooting a scene. Producer Ron Beck responded quite
angrily and ordered them off the premises, warning them not to publish the photographs,
but Veritas spilled the beans with the headline Sorry, Channel 0, I Know Your
The decision was made to proceed with the
series, and filming commenced simultaneously in Melbourne and Sydney on January 19, 1970,
as the action of the first episode takes place in both cities. Production was carried out
in Melbourne at ATV-0. The Long Arm was very much Ron Becks baby - he devised
the series (with Graham Ford), and presided over it as Executive Producer. Beck,
former producer of the long-running radio series Police File, told The Age
that he had been "keeping on the sidelines of TV waiting for the right venture to
Directors of The Long Arm included David Eastman and Colin Eggleston.
The dynamic theme tune was specially written for the series by Richard
The series was produced in black and
white and totally on film, rather than the more common film / video integration
favoured by most other local productions. Two film
units were used throughout the series. The first 13 episodes cost $120,000, and 19
episodes were made in all. Coincidentally, TCN-9 Sydney also
decided to produce a police series in-house at the same time. The result was The Link
Men, which was axed after twelve episodes.
The Long Arm centres on an
obscure department of the Victoria Police, headed by Inspector Dallas Buchanan, portrayed by
Robert Bruning. Buchanans squad is not identified, nor is the location of his
office, and his cases involve all manner of crimes - including those which would normally
be handled by other specialist units. His off-sider is Detective Constable Kim Riverton, played
by Sandy Harbutt. Sergeant Ted Driscoll, a regular support role played by Ken Goodlet, represents the uniform branch.
Another support role was
that of Inspector Mike Hammond, played by Tony Ward (who previously
had the title
role in Hunter).
Hammond is the New South Wales police department's counterpart to Buchanan, and appeared whenever the
action moved to Sydney. "The part has been written for me," said Tony prior to
commencing the role, "and gives me plenty of scope and interest."4 Looking back years later in a TV
Eye interview, Tony said, "The Long Arm never got off the ground - I don't
know who was writing that but it wasn't good stuff."5
There were two other regulars who
received equal billing on the series opening, but whose roles varied in size and
importance from episode to episode. They are Barbara Mason as Veleen
Towns, a wealthy socialite; and Lyndal Moor as Trish Towns, Veleen's
daughter. Lyndal Moor was a model turned actor, and won the New South Wales Model
Of The Year Award in 1969. (Coincidentally, The Link Men also featured a model
turned actor in one of the lead roles - Tristan Rogers as Det. Ray Gamble).
support roles were those of the office typist - early episodes had
Bethany Lee as Helen, later episodes had Cindy Wright as Barbara. Early
press reports stated that Bill Hunter, as Det. Sgt. Les Lee, would also
be a regular - however, he only appeared in the first episode.
The Long Arm emphasised
the private lives of the characters - and there was plenty of scope for developing the
human interest. Veleen Towns is the widow of a policeman murdered over five years earlier,
the person responsible never being caught. Her late husband was a colleague and good
friend of Inspector Buchanan, and the relationship between Buchanan and Veleen develops
into more than just good friends.
Trish Towns is Veleen Towns' 18-year-old swinging spoilt brat daughter, who bears a grudge against the police force
for what happened to her father. She matures somewhat as the series develops. And
Det. Riverton joined the police force after abandoning his medical studies, in order
to avenge his mother who was forced into prostitution. To round out the love interests and
generation gaps, Riverton becomes romantically involved with Trish.
Although it sounds more in keeping
with a soap opera than a crime series, The Long Arm is primarily a police show, and
the human interest only forms a sub-plot in the series. The private lives of the
characters are handled in a subtle and believable manner.
The four leads were selected by a system
called cross-pattern casting, in which each applicant was auditioned with
others, and, by a process of elimination, were assessed how they would perform together.
Robert Bruning was enthusiastic about the show: "I am pleased with the concept of
this one, and I believe it will offer us plenty of scope."6
Cases in The Long Arm
were drawn from authentic police files. The series dabbled in all sorts
of crimes - robbery, murder, fraud, etc. - and was not limited to one
particular line of investigation, or even one geographic location.
Buchanan’s cases were predominantly in Melbourne, but he would often
venture to Sydney, hence the regular appearances of Tony Ward as
NSW Inspector Hammond. Scripts from the radio show Police File were used as a basis
for many episodes.
Veritas, again writing in Truth, tried
to make a big deal about an attempted rape scene in the first episode, suggesting the
series may be unsuitable for its proposed 7:30 PM timeslot.7 Photographs were published
showing a sex maniac who knocks Veleen Towns unconscious, partly strips her and is then
disturbed by the arrival home of her daughter Trish. Barbara Mason (who had only just
returned to acting) said the scenes were not as daring as the photos made them look:
"I wasnt stripped half-naked, I was quite well-dressed, I just had my shirt
ripped off." She added that her husband was taking it quite well, after his golf
partner mentioned to him quite casually, "Oh, I saw photos of your wife being
The Long Arm premiered in
Melbourne and Brisbane on Monday, April 13, 1970; Sydney saw the show
two weeks later, but in Adelaide it was held over for another year. Critics were impressed and generally
agreed that, although there were faults, the series had strong potential.
The first episode, 'The Lion Was
First To Know', moves along quite well, with an intricate plot that spans two states: A
Sydney sex offender travels to Melbourne and attempts to rape Veleen Towns - which leads
Buchanans investigation back to Sydney, where Trish Towns is found at a Kings Cross
party by a police drug raid. The episode slows a little in establishing the characters,
which was perhaps unavoidable given their complexity.
General Manager of ATV-0, Max Ryan, got his picture in the act - his
photograph was used to represent the late husband of Mrs. Towns in the
first episode. However, in ep. 4 a flashback scene has Det. Sgt. Gerry
Towns played by Mark Albiston - obviously looking very different!
The second episode, Id
Trust Him With My Life, unfortunately abounds in coincidences. Trish Towns happens
to meet a man at the races who happens to be an embezzler and happens to work with a firm
handling some of her mothers finances. And, as in the first episode, Buchanan ends
up investigating a crime that happens to involve his close friends. The episode was not
helped by some of the race scenes filmed at Flemington, which were too long and boring -
no doubt attributable to ATV-0's then extensive commitment to racing coverage.
The long arm of coincidence continued throughout
episodes 3 to 7, all of which concerned crimes involving Veleen Towns or her daughter
Trish in one way or another (ep 3 Veleen Towns becomes potential victim
of a confidence trickster; ep. 4 a psycho killer haunts Veleen Towns
with voices of her dead husband; ep. 5 Trish Towns comes under the
attention of a crime syndicate boss; ep 6 Trish Towns is taken hostage
by a criminal at Sydney airport; ep 7 the groom is murdered at a wedding
that Veleen and Trish are attending). From episode 8 Buchanan finally started the investigation of typical
crimes that did not involve his friends. Consequently the roles played by Barbara
Mason and Lyndal Moor became less prominent, and in some episodes they
did not feature at all.
Many guest actors of note made
appearances in the series, including Gary Day, Gus Mercurio, Redmond Philips, Maurie
Fields and Serge Lazareff. Ron Randell, who recently moved to America, was brought back to
Australia by ATV-0 especially for a guest role in episode 3, The Harder They
Fall. (While here, Randell also appeared in an episode of The
Rovers, another locally-produced show for the 0-10 Network). Contemporary pop group Nova Express made a brief appearance in episode
4, Whispers In The Mike.
Episode 13, The Christmas
Break, was loosely based on the controversial Ryan-Walker case, which Homicide
had already adapted over a year earlier (episode 211, 'I, Mick O'Byrne'). (Ryan and
Walker escaped from Melbourne's Pentridge prison in December 1965, allegedly killed a prison warder,
stole a car, robbed a bank and escaped to Sydney. They were recaptured in Sydney in
January 1966 following an extensive manhunt through two states. Ryan became the last
person to receive capital punishment in Australia).
Censorship came to The Long Arm
in what should have been episode 8, The Line Between Is So Thin. The plot
involves an ex-soldier mentally disturbed by the Vietnam War, who runs amok in a park and
shoots dead several people. One scene showed actor Ollie Ven Skevics being shot through
the eye in close-up, and there was much gruesome make-up amongst the other
corpses. The episode carried a strong anti-war message, and included actual
footage of the Vietnam War.
Intended to air on June 1, 1970, ATV-0
voluntarily withdrew the episode at the last minute, following a censored photo being
published in a newspaper highlighting the gory make-up. A station spokesman variously
described the episode as "dwelling far too long on the violent scenes,"9 "showed too much
"too morbid,"11 "too sick,"12 and "too gruesome and had political connotations which were thought
to be too strong."13 The violent scenes were re-written and re-filmed, and the episode, much
toned-down, was re-scheduled as number 17.
There was much speculation that ATV-0
actually withdrew the episode for political reasons, and not due to the excessive violence.
There was an obvious and strong anti-war message throughout the episode, which was contrary
to the then federal Liberal Government policy of support for the Vietnam War. Actor Ollie Ven Skevics
spoke out on the issue: "Frankly I think the episode was considered too strong
because it showed the effects the Vietnam war can have on a sensitive young man. I thought
this one would have been the best Long Arm episode yet. It was realistic, well
filmed and pulled no punches. The network says it will be screened with all the violence
edited out, but when the controversy dies down, I think The Line Between Is So
Thin will be allowed to die with it."14 As it happened the reworked episode was not shown until the series
entered repeat runs.
One of the guest actors in the episode was
Michael Pate, who had recently returned to Australia after spending many years as an actor
in Hollywood. While filming the episode, Pate (who had been appointed to
of Executive Producer of Drama at ATN-7 Sydney) accepted an offer by Ron Beck to act as
Producer for The Long Arm. Beck explained that although their Directors David
Eastman and Colin Eggleston were very good, they needed the assistance of an experienced
Producer, particularly as The Long Arm was made entirely on film: "Michael
will take over the work of translating the script into film. A lot of people have
criticised our scripts but I am not sure that they have been to blame. The Director who
photographs movie scenes needs all the time and assistance he can get to make the most of
even the best script."15
only three weeks in the job Pate resigned. He left because he wished to return to Sydney for personal reasons,
and Beck emphasised that there had been no quarrel or disagreement.
In early July 1970, ATV-0 announced
that it was cancelling production of The Long Arm. Filming ceased at the end of
July, with the final episode going to air in August. The network initially approved 13
episodes, and subsequently gave the go-ahead for a further 13, however the decision to
cancel saw production truncated after 19 episodes had been completed.
The show was dropped largely due to financial
reasons. TEN-10 Sydney was alarmed by the cost of the series, which averaged over $20,000
per episode, and were unable - or unwilling - to pay for their share of the production
costs. An ATV-0 spokesman said the channel was satisfied with the quality of the programme,
and the decision to cancel was made reluctantly.16 ATV-0 General Manager Max Ryan issued an official statement full of
gobbledegook about "entering a new financial year with a new programme policy and a new
network philosophy," and therefore "it had been considered imprudent to continue
with an expensive production such as The Long Arm".17
Another factor that caused the cancellation
was difficulties with scripts, there being some dissent between the writers and 0-Ten
executives. In fact Tony Morphett disowned an episode he wrote - No. 19, 'The Enforcer'.
"I did write a script with that title," said Morphett. "It was for an
episode that was set in Sydney and was very different from the one that
was screened. When I saw the changes that had been made to what I had
written, I told the producers that I considered it wasn't mine, and I
didn't want my name on it."18
Also, the ratings were considered
unsatisfactory, particularly interstate. Ron Beck said that under the circumstances he
thought dropping the show was for the best: "Channel 0 just wasnt able to cope
with a production such as this. Its a big disappointment to me because the show was
getting better all the time, but I believe its been dropped on orders from high
Ratings for the series were not
great, especially when compared to the Crawford police shows Homicide and Division
4, and the cancellation of the series really came as no surprise. Director David
Eastman was very outspoken about the shows demise, laying the blame squarely at the
feet of ATV-0: "If there was one single fault that contributed to the failure of The
Long Arm, it was the lack of planning.
"Within a week of arriving at
ATV-0 we had to start shooting. There was no time for production conferences. We
didnt get draft scripts or outlines we got full shooting scripts. When they
had to be modified, the writers needed six weeks to do the re-writes; we needed them in
six hours. They had no hope of catching up. At times we were filming only a week ahead of
what was going to air."
Eastman went on to criticise the
production facilities: "There was nowhere at ATV-0 where we could build a permanent
set of the detectives office. A stage was in use for Showcase,
that left only B stage which wasnt soundproof. After a lot of arguing we
were allowed to put up scaffolding and makeshift fibreglass sound insulation. But we still
had to share the place with the accounting department. We were allowed to film only when
they didnt want to use their adding machines. The only way we could get quiet was to
start shooting in the afternoon and go on until three in the morning.
"But I think the worst feature of the
series, and probably the one that eventually killed it, was the sound. All our exterior
sound went to air just as it was recorded. If an express train went by while we were
shooting, you heard it on the programme."20
An ATV-0 spokesman responded to Eastman:
"We did jump in fast, but that shouldnt have been a handicap to someone of
David Eastmans experience. Its true studio A is a production
studio, but we were able to allot two days to The Long Arm by working weekends. We
have just spent a lot of money on studio B and it is now soundproof. It is
also true that the noise from the computer caused a problem. But we didnt want to
waste valuable daylight hours in the studio so we filmed outside scenes during the day and
used the studio at night when the computer wasnt working. It was only a problem
during wet weather."21
The Long Arm certainly has
faults. Often it has a 'stagey' atmosphere; occasionally the dialogue is a bit stiff; the
sound quality varies considerably and is often woeful; and sometimes the directing and/or editing leave a lot
to be desired, particularly when the number of tight shots make it
difficult to follow the action. At other times the atmosphere of a police station, indeed of the whole
police infrastructure, is notably absent.
Some episodes appear to have been
rushed to completion. No. 8, The Big Circle, which had its airdate advanced to
replace the censored Vietnam episode, has a very clever script, but the final
product is extremely difficult to follow, leaving viewers wondering just what exactly is
going on. Careful analysis of the episode reveals that every scene is important, yet the
final product lacks cohesion, pace, drama and direction.
Later episodes had
improved vastly, but there were still problems with sound quality, and
occasionally other technical glitches, such as one scene in the detective's office where
shots of Inspector Buchanan are very much out of focus. And sometimes there
were dialogue problems,
one instance being a scene from episode 18, ‘Only A Wave Away’, when Buchanan apprehends a criminal:
Buchanan: "Alright, whats
Criminal: "Nothing I had
nothing to do with it!"
Buchanan: "Well, thats
Put simply, The
Long Arm lacks the same polish and finesse that Homicide and Division
4 excel in. The series had strong potential and was improving all
the time, but the audience had not stuck around to see it.
Robert Bruning: "The Long Arm was
unfortunate in a whole lot of respects. It was hastily assembled and hastily thrown into
production. Whilst on one hand you have to applaud the enormous investment that Channel 0
had in it - and I am the first to praise this - as an actor I feel we were never able to
justify this considerable investment by 0 and the high hopes the channel held for its
The Long Arm was
repeated several times in late night time slots, which ceased with the advent of colour transmission. Robert
Bruning moved on to the role of Producer,
forming the company Gemini Productions, which was responsible for the series The
Godfathers (in which he also played one of the lead roles) and The Spoiler; later Bruning produced a host of telemovies
including the critically-acclaimed The Alternative. Sandy Harbutt wrote, produced and directed the cult
biker movie Stone, which he initially wrote as a potential Long
Arm script. The 0-Ten network decided they still wanted their own cop series, and
they commissioned Crawford Productions to make Matlock Police
- which became their first big ratings-grabber, and coincidentally featured short-lived Long Arm producer Michael Pate in a
THE LONG ARM EPISODE DETAILS
1. Veritas, Melbourne Truth,
Nov 15, 1969.
3. Melbourne Age, April 9, 1970.
4. TV Week, June 1970.
5. TV Eye No. 2, May 1994.
6. Melbourne Listener In-TV, Jan 31, 1970.
7. Veritas, Melbourne Truth, March 28, 1970.
8. TV Week, June 6, 1970.
9. Melbourne Age, May 29, 1970.
10. Melbourne Listener In-TV, May 30, 1970.
11. Melbourne Truth, June 6, 1970.
12. TV Times, June 3, 1970.
13. TV Week, June 20, 1970.
14. Melbourne Listener In-TV, May 30, 1970.
15. TV Times, April 8, 1970.
16. Melbourne Listener In-TV, July 11, 1970.
17. TV Week, July 1970.
18. TV Times, Sept 2, 1970.
19. TV Week, July 1970.
20. TV Times, Sept 2, 1970.
22. TV Week, Oct 17, 1970.