Mardi Gras / World Pride (Part One)

Though I thought I knew pretty much everything about Number 96, the Australian television drama/comedy from the 1970s, I learned a lot more on Thursday night.

As part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival, a group of friends and I went to the screening of a documentary about the significance of the television program for its portrayal of LGBTQIA+ characters, a Q&A with Joe Hasham who played the groundbreaking character, Don Finlayson, and a special mash-up episode of the program focussing on both LGBTQIA+ themes, and the program’s great comedy.

“Wendy doesn’t remember the storyline at all”, Joe Hasham told us about the mash-up episode which featured the otherwise meek and mild character of “Mummy” becoming the publicity officer for “Gay Liberation”. He was referring to the actor, Wendy Blacklock now aged 91 who attended the screening, along with Harry Michaels who played the character, “Giovanni”. Many of the other actors are no longer alive.

As I looked around the cinema, there were many people who, like me, are of an age to remember Number 96 from their childhood, even though it was an “adult” program.

My friend Graeme sums it up well.

Number 96 was such an important thing for me when I was growing up as a Gay teen in Adelaide. Mum and dad initially wouldn’t let me watch it so I would sneak out of the house about 8.25pm each night and go next door to the St. Clairs and watch it with their family. Later Mum & Dad found out what I was doing, watched the show and loved it so we could watch it together at home. Seeing such a positive role model as Don Finlayson, a Gay lawyer, night after night, really helped me (and soooo many other kids like me) psychologically. I might have been living in a city of a million people but I felt incredibly isolated, alone and got bullied all the time, called a ‘poofter’ etc. etc. In the show Don Finlayson was the character everyone turned to for sensible advice, help and he was very dependable. But the whole show was such a positive influence on me – showing different types of people, lifestyles and different people all interacting together – and there was so much fun and comedy in the show. And you believed that these characters were real, the acting was fantastic. And last night, seeing actors Joe Hasham, Wendy Blacklock being there some 50 years later and still happy to celebrate what they achieved in the 70s was just blissful for me. The documentary about Number 96 was good too – some terrific footage from the show. The Q&A session with Joe Hasham was terrific – he is still so engaged, articulate and fun. A straight man who played a seminal Gay role and had absolutely no problem in doing it – then or now. He had nothing but positive things to say about his time on the show. Then they showed an ‘episode’ of the show (really an edit of bits of 3 or 4 episodes put together) on the big screen and it brought back all those wonderful memories – the cinema was full of people who also grew up with Number 96 and the atmosphere was joyous. So much clapping and laughter! Then my friends and I went to a pub nearby and had some drinks and talked about the night and what the show had meant to us. It was just a perfect night.

Joe Hasham
Joe Hasham speaks at the Number 96 screening.

One of the things that made me smile on the night was seeing the actor Henri Szeps, who is probably best known for the series, “Mother & Son”, kissing Don Finlayson. Even though I’ve seen many episodes of the program I don’t remember this particular one, where Henri plays a bisexual man.

I work with the radio announcer, Josh Szeps (Henri’s son), and I mentioned this to him today. He smiled in recognition, and with the proudness that comes from being a gay man himself, adding that his mother, Mary Ann Severn also played a lesbian character.

Josh works for ABC Radio Sydney, which broadcast today from the Mardi Gras Fair Day.

I was also there, part of the staff-led ABC Pride group. “Pride Groups” are becoming increasingly popular in larger Australian workplaces. These groups are all about welfare and support for LGBTQIA+ staff. They’ve played a role in gaining equal access to a range of things, including leave entitlements, and support for transgender people. In the context of Australian media, all of the major networks now have such groups, except Channel 7.

ABC Pride is a volunteer staff group, pictured here with Managing Director, David Anderson who is also the ABC Pride Executive Sponsor. The ABC also has staff groups around Indigenous, Cuturally & Linguistically Diverse, and Disability.

I was there at 7.30 this morning to help with bump-in, and finally left at about 3.30 pm. It was a long, exhausting day. By nature, I’m slightly introverted, and can often find myself overwhelmed with large public interactions. In a group setting, I’m quite good with four or five people but often find myself struggling with larger groups. It took me a few hours to “recover” from the record crowds at Fair Day.

If Fair Day is anything to go by, next weekend’s Mardi Gras parade will be one of the biggest on record.

After a few years of COVID restrictions, and the launch on Friday of Sydney WorldPride, people seem to be “itching” to get out and about again.

Flag raising for World Pride at Sydney Town Hall on Friday night.

As well as the Number 96 screening, a friend and I also went to see last night’s screening of the documentary, “All The Beauty and the Bloodshed”. Nominated for an Oscar, the documentary tells the life story of Nan Goldin, the photographer, and her decades of activism. It was a compelling film, both for the story, and the way it was told. I’d highly recommend seeing it.

The next few weeks include a fair few Mardi Gras/World Pride-related activites, so you can expect a few updates.

4 Replies to “Mardi Gras / World Pride (Part One)”

  1. In a comment on the FB Number 96 page, I remarked to Joe that while he did not make me gay, he had a good bit to do with it. He kindly replied and understood.

    Mummy was a great character. I am rather envious of you being at the performance. I know about Joe Z and he was on tv tonight. Henri was a consummate actor.

    There is so much more I could say, and great colour from your friend Graeme.

  2. Hello James,
    Enjoyed reading your post about your first couple of days of World Pride. Glad you had a good time at Fair Day.
    I remember Number 96 quite well although never watched it much. Just snippets now and again. Can’t remember what we watched as a family that far back. I think I mainly feigned disinterest in case I was ‘found out’. Internalised homophobia I guess. Still lingers a bit.
    Would not have recognised Joe Hasham. He has changed a lot. I seem to recall that he went to live in Malaysia quite a few years ago.
    Enjoy Mardi Gras next Saturday. Will look forward to your post about that. I’ll watch on telly.
    Hope you are well.

    1. Thanks Rod. I think the ABC Pride float is on at about 8.15pm. I was supposed to march last year too, and then Lismore flooded, and I went home. Looking forward to marching up Oxford Street again.

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