In some ways, I was a rather precocious child. Really? Are you sure about that? No way! Unlike other children of my generation, I was allowed to watch some of the more “adult” television programs screened on Australian. For example, I loved Number 96. As I wrote on the fortieth-anniversary screening of the show…
I think I was eight or nine when I was first allowed to stay up and watch “Number 96”. Perhaps mum and dad knew something back then? This was in stark contrast to school friends who were forbidden from watching the show, as it had featured nudity, homosexuality, black magic and all manner of terrible things. Unlike many people who describe scenes of watching the program through partially open doors, mum and dad allowed me to watch the show without restriction. A friend tonight mentioned how her older siblings were also allowed to watch the show from an early age, as it allowed their parents to begin the open discussion about things like sex. Perhaps that’s what mum and dad also had in mind, or perhaps, due to their age, they were less hung-up about these things?
Set in Sydney, “Number 96” was an incredibly popular television show. Inevitably, it wasn’t long before there was a Melbourne “equivalent”, “The Box”, set in the fictitious television station, “Channel 12”. Like “Number 96”, “The Box” had its fair share of scandal. But in contrast to the staid, rather boring lead gay character, “Don Finlayson”, “The Box” had “Lee Whitehead” who was wonderfully, outrageously camp. I loved his character. The contrast between the two shows was further illustrated recently in an email conversation I had with someone who noted the following:
Number 96 was written by gay men in Sydney, hence its strong female characters. The Box was written by straight men in Melbourne who’d all worked on cop shows – and the women are all doormats and sluts.
As an adult, I haven’t watched enough episodes of “The Box” to know if I agree with this. While there are lots of “Number 96” clips available online, there’s not a lot when you search for “The Box” on Youtube. In some ways it seems to be one of the “forgotten” shows of Australian television. For example, at the screening at Sydney’s Alexandria Hotel, which featured guest appearances by Judi Nunn, Tracey Mann, Lois Ramsay and Cornelia Francis, the younger member of the audience were more inclined to remember them for “Home & Away”, “Sweet and Sour” and “The Weakest Link”. This was further re-enforced when I told work colleagues about the screening the following day. But I still remember the show with fondness, even if specific memories of the show are a little weak.
It was a fun night. It was great to see such legendary Australian actors sitting comfortably in the midst of a bunch of 40-60-year-old Australian television geeks. And it was great to remember a time of Australian television when comedy and drama were so comfortably combined. And my favourite quote from the movie? It was when Mrs H (the tea lady) called one of the characters a “trumped-up little poof”. Very un-PC these days, but I’m determined to do my best to bring it back into the lexicon :)