The Box (TV series)
Fred 'Cul' Cullen
|Country of origin||Australia|
|No. of series||4|
|Running time||30-60 minutes|
|Original channel||The 0-10 Network|
|Picture format||Black and White (1974)
|Original run||11 February 1974 –
11 October 1977
The Box was produced by Crawford Productions who at the time was having great success producing police procedural television series in Australia. The Box was Crawford's first soap opera, and was launched as a reaction to the enormous success of adult soap opera Number 96.
The Box was a drama set in fictional television station UCV-12. It featured elements that satirised the Australian television industry. Characters in the series were said to be modelled on Australian television figures of the day, and many self-referential elements featured. Like Number 96 the series was famous for its adult storylines, frequent nude glimpses, and sexual content.
Along with constructing characters modelled on real-life Australian television figures of the day, The Box presented various fictional programs produced by UCV-12 that commented-on real-life Australian programs. Police procedural Manhunt, which was lumbered with a dim and accident-prone lead actor Tony Wild (Ken James), was much like the police series produced by Crawfords at that time. Variety program Big Night Out was an In Melbourne Tonight style production. Later the medical drama Mercy Flight seemed connected to early Australian series The Flying Doctor (1959).
The initial episodes of The Box emphasised sex, scandal, the political machinations of station personnel, and featured several nude scenes. The first episode showed a sexy young woman named Felicity (played by 20 year old Helen Hemingway) seduce Big Night Out host Gary Burke (Peter Regan). Felicity then announced she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl, causing the station to try to cover-up the scandal. Scheming bisexual television magazine journalist Vicki Stafford (Judy Nunn) exploited the situation and had Felicity pose for a nude centerfold with Tony Wild. Vicki also kissed Felicity, in Australian TV's first ever lesbian kiss. Felicity was soon revealed to be over 18, and schemed her way into the station to appear on Big Night Out. Vicki later switched to working for the station as well, first in the publicity department, and then producing and presenting chat and news style programs.
The Box also featured an openly-gay television producer, the flamboyant Lee Whiteman (Paul Karo), and gossipy tea lady Mrs Hopkins (Lois Ramsey). Mrs Hopkins' son Wayne (Bruce Kilpatrick) was released from prison during the show's first year. When he fell in love with Lee, Mrs Hopkins was forced to accept that her son was a homosexual. Lee also clashed with Gary Burke upon taking over as producer of Big Night Out. Gary continually schemed to retain his position on the show.
A feature film version of The Box produced at the end of the first year of production featured most of the regular series characters but had a stand-alone story. The film emphasised comedy to a greater degree than the series version at that time.
The program's second year (1975) increasingly emphasised comedy, much of it focused on Tony Wild. Enid Parker (Jill Forster) arrived as a jolly but frumpish spinster secretary. Enid was perturbed when her glamorous sister, the scheming Emma (also played by Forster), showed up and impersonated her. Lee had a brief relationship with closeted newsreader John Barnett (Donald McDonald). Cheryl Rixon appeared on a recurring basis in 1975-1976 as television starlet Angela O'Malley, and appeared nude in the series several times.
Production commenced at the studios of Melbourne's ATV-0 (now ATV-10) in October 1973. The first episode screened on ATV-0 on 11 February 1974 at 9.00pm. The program was initially shot in black and white, before switching to colour production in late 1974.
Initially The Box proved a huge hit, ranking as Australia's second most popular show in 1974. (Number 96 was Australia's highest rating television production that year.)
A feature film version of the series was produced in January 1975 and released later that year. It placed a greater emphasis on comedy than the series at that time, and featured several scenes featuring full frontal nudity. The film's sets were later moved to the television studios to be used in the series. In the show's storyline an office fire in October 1975 explained the change in appearance.
Production of the series was in half-hour episodes for the first two years. In some regions two episodes were aired consecutively in one-hour blocks. Other regions broadcast the serial as five half hour installments each week, stripped across each weekday evening. Starting with the 1976 season, episodes were compiled in one hour installments.
In Melbourne episodes screened as two, one-hour episodes each week throughout 1976.
Production on the series ended 1 April 1977 due to declining ratings and the closing episodes screened through 1977 in a late-night timeslot. The final episode was broadcast in Melbourne 11 October 1977.
The original cast was: George Mallaby, Peter Regan, Fred 'Cul' Cullen, Belinda Giblin, Barrie Barkla, Helen Hemingway, Judy Nunn, Paul Karo, Ken James, Monica Maughan, Kay McFeeter, Graeme Blundell, Briony Behets, Fred Betts, Lois Ramsay, Ken Snodgrass. Later cast additions included Ross D. Wylie, Lynda Keane, Vanessa Leigh, Delvene Delaney, Luigi Villani, Tracy Mann, Jill Forster, John Stanton, Geraldine Turner, Davina Whitehouse, Syd Heylen, Tony Barry, Cheryl Rixon, Tristan Rogers, Noni Hazelhurst, Judy McBurney, Ian Smith, Barbara Llewellyn, Anne Louise Lambert, Maurie Fields, Don Barker, Penny Downie, Christine Broadway, Ross Skiffington, Gary Day, Tom Richards.
Barrie Barkla, Judy Nunn, Ken James, Ken Snodgrass and Lois Ramsay appeared throughout the series' entire run. Barrie Barkla actually worked at a real-life TV station (CTC-7 in Canberra) before moving to Melbourne to play his role as the station manager in The Box.
|Directed by||Paul Eddey|
|Produced by||Ian Jones|
|Written by||Tom Hegarty|
|Based on||story by Tom Hegarty
|Starring||Barrie Barkla, Fred Betts, Belinda Giblin, Ken James, Paul Karo, George Mallaby, Judy Nunn, Lois Ramsay|
|Edited by||Philip Reid|
|Release date(s)||8 August 1975|
|Running time||100 mins|
A feature film of the same name was produced in colour in January 1975 featuring much the same cast as the series at that time. The film also featured Graham Kennedy playing himself, and Cornelia Frances in the key role of Dr S M Winter, an efficiency expert brought in to improve operations at UCV-12. Robin Ramsay played Winter's assistant Bruce. Marilyn Vernon as starlet Ingrid O'Toole, and Leonie Bradley, credited as "Nature Girl", provide nude glimpses, as does the returning Belinda Giblin. Keith Lee played Price, and Robert Forza appeared as Channel 12's clapper loader.
UCV-12 is in financial difficulties. The company board calls the bluff of managing director Sir Henry Usher (Fred Betts), forcing him to call in a systems expert to improve station operations. Station staff are initially surprised to learn that the expert, Dr Winter, is a woman, named Sheila (Cornelia Frances). Various attempts to first impress, and then to hinder Dr Winter end disastrously. A feature film, Manhunt, directed by Lee Whiteman and starring Tony Wild, is produced with hopes to increasing station income. Thanks to Wild's ineptitude the resultant footage is a disaster but the film finds unexpected success when reworked as a comedy.
- Albert Moran, Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series, AFTRS 1993 p 91-92
- Webster, Allan. Box Turns on the Heat. Observer TV. 28 December 1975, pp 4-5.
- Beilby, Peter. Australian TV: The First 25 Years. Cinema Papers: Melbourne, 1981. p 45.
- Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998 p289
- 'Australian Films At the Australian Box office' Film Victoria accessed 28 Sept 2012
- David Stratton, The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival, Angus & Robertson, 1980 p301