Bellbird (TV series)
|Created by||Barbara Vernon|
|Country of origin||Australia|
|No. of seasons||10|
|No. of episodes||1,562|
|Running time||15 minutes (excluding commercial)|
|Original release||28 August 1967 –|
23 December 1977
|Related shows||Country Life (film version)|
Bellbird is an Australian soap opera serial set in a small fictional Victorian rural township of the show's title. The series was produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation at its Ripponlea TV studios in Elsternwick, Melbourne, Victoria. The opening title sequence was filmed at Daylesford, Victoria.
Having run for 10 years, from 1967 until 1977, it was the longest-running soap opera/serial ever produced by the ABC. It ended the same year as commercial broadcast series Number 96 and The Box, which had run 6.5 and 4 years respectively.
Production and broadcasting
The series was screened from 28 August 1967 to 23 December 1977. Although Bellbird was not Australia's first television serial (the first was Network Seven's Autumn Affair), it was the first successful soap opera and even spawned a feature film and tie-in novel. The show's ratings were modest but it had a devoted following, especially in rural Australia. During most of its 10-year production run, 15-minute episodes of Bellbird screened from Monday to Thursday nights during the lead in to the 7:00 pm evening news bulletin. In 1976, the series was screened as a single one-hour episode each week, before switching to three half-hour instalments per week during its final season.
While the series plots concentrated mainly on small-scale interpersonal, domestic and local relationships, issues and conflicts, there were occasional moments of high drama. One of the most celebrated was the death of the character of the local stock and station agent, Charlie Cousens, played by founding cast member Robin Ramsay. When Ramsay decided to leave the series in 1968, his character was written out in dramatic fashion, with Cousens plunging to his death from the top of a wheat silo. The death scene has figured prominently in retrospectives of great moments in Australian television, and its celebrity meant that it became one of the few segments from the early years of the series that has survived. Other notable 'deaths' across the course of the series included those of local farm girl Hagar Grossark (Barbara Ramsay), who drowned during a local flood, and the tragic 1974 'death' of major character Rhoda Lang (played by founding cast member Lynette Curran) who was killed when her car was struck by a train at a level crossing.
The show's storylines followed the lives of the residents of the small fictional country town that gave the show its title.
Bellbird featured a regular cast of 46 actors over its 10 year run (see links, for actor information). Principal cast members included:
|Peter Aanensen||Jim Bacon|
|Lesley Baker||Cheryl Turner|
|Elspeth Ballantyne||Lori Chandler|
|Bruce Barry||Michael Foley|
|Julia Blake||Elaine Thomas|
|Carl Bleazby||Colonel Jim Emerson|
|Dorothy Bradley||Rose Lang|
|Anne Charleston||Wendy Robinson|
|Moira Charleton||Olive Turner|
|Lynette Curran||Rhoda Lang|
|Penny Downie||Kelly Jameson|
|Beverley Dunn||Mary Campbell|
|Keith Eden||Gil Lang|
|Maurie Fields||John Quinney|
|Sheila Florance||Dossie Rumsey|
|Penne Hackforth-Jones||Ginny Hill|
|Brian Hannan||Roger Green|
|Gabrielle Hartley||Maggie Emerson|
|Alan Hopgood||Matthew Reed|
|Brian James||Ian Bennett|
|Lynda Keane||Ruth Grossark|
|Patsy King||Kate Andrews|
|Stella Lamond||Molly Wilson|
|Anne Lucas||Glenda Chand|
|Bob Maza||Gerry Walters|
|George Mallaby||Jerry Cochran|
|Terry McDermott||Max Pearson|
|Maggie Millar||Georgia Moorhouse|
|Dennis Miller||Constable Des Davies|
|Carmel Millhouse||Marge Bacon|
|Rod Mullinar||Scott Leighton|
|Gerda Nicolson||Fiona Davies|
|Terry Norris||Joe Turner|
|Tom Oliver||Tom Grey|
|Anne Phelan||Kate Ashwood|
|Louise Philip||Christine Jackson|
|Michael Preston||Father John Kramer|
|Robin Ramsay||Charlie Cousens|
|Gregory Ross||Chris Lang|
|Sean Scully||Ron Wilson|
|Ian Smith||Russell Ashwood|
|John Stanton||Leo Hil|
|Ross Thompson||Terry Hill|
|Bryon Williams||Adam Lockhart|
|Clive Winmill||Tony Buckland|
Later shows featuring members of the cast
The cast of Bellbird became household names to the viewing audiences and a number went on to appear in the Network Ten cult series Prisoner. In 1979, two years after Bellbird ended its run, Elspeth Ballantyne, Patsy King and Sheila Florance worked together once again in the iconic series playing guard Meg Jackson Morris (prison governor), Erica Davidson and inmate Lizzie Birdsworth respectively. Ian Smith, Brian James, Anne Lucas, George Mallaby, Lesley Baker, Maggie Millar and Tommy Dysart were others. Whilst in later years, Prisoner would star former Bellbird alumni Gerda Nicolson and Maurie Fields as Governor Anne Reynolds and prison officer Len Murphy respectively.
Actor Alan Hopgood would go on to appear in Neighbours as Jack Lassiter. Ian Smith and Anne Charleston, who had also appeared in small roles in Prisoner as Ted Douglass and Lorraine Brooks, went on to appear as long-term and husband and wife characters Harold and Madge Bishop. Whilst Number 96 star Tom Oliver would play long-standing character Lou Carpenter.
Episodes of Bellbird were screened in the UK in 1972. After the initial 52 episodes had been screened, Actors Equity in Australia insisted the ABC increase the price of the episodes so as to pay the actors more. As a result of the price increase, the UK broadcaster purchased no further episodes.
In 2004 it was reported that the ABC taped over the master tapes of the series, something which series cast member Alan Hopgood had complained about in a TV Times article in 1976: "They are just wiped off and another episode run over them ... This failure to preserve the program is criminal, to my way of thinking."
One complete black-and-white episode is available to be viewed at the Australian Mediatheque at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne, while several colour episodes are known to exist in the hands of private collectors.
Film and novel
The series was the first soap opera in Australia to spin-off into a feature film version and tie-in novel, entitled Country Town (1971). It focused on Bellbird's problems during a severe drought. Many future soaps followed suit, spawning their own film versions, including Number 96 and The Sullivans.
In 1971, Bellbird was the fifteenth most popular show in the country.
- "Bellbird". Aussie Soap Archive. Archived from the original on 14 July 2018. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
- "Prisoner stars before Prisoner".
- Albert Moran, Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series, AFTRS 1993, p. 77.
- Andrew Mercado (27 November 2004). "Soap: It's just what the great unwashed need". The Age.
- TV Times, 11–17 December 1976, p.10: "Home-Truths From Bellbird"
- "TELEVISION RATINGS". The Canberra Times. Vol. 45, no. 12, 803. Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 6 May 1971. p. 8. Retrieved 20 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.