Simon Townsend's Wonder World
|Simon Townsend's Wonder World!|
|Presented by||Simon Townsend|
|Country of origin||Australia|
|No. of episodes||2,000+|
|Running time||30 minutes
|Original network||Network Ten|
|Original release||3 September 1979 – 1988|
Each episode of Simon Townsend's Wonder World! featured an introduction by Townsend as the studio host, accompanied by his pet and companion bloodhound Woodrow (Woodrow died in 1986 and was replaced at first with a sulphur-crested cockatoo and then with a baby Labrador retriever. A competition was run amongst the viewers to name the new puppy and as Townsend had recently won a Logie award, the puppy was named Logie.) Townsend would then present four individual magazine-style stories, each presented by a different reporter.
The stories covered many subjects. Two researchers, two cinematographers, two sound recordists, four reporters and four editors worked on the time equivalent of a feature film every week – about eighty minutes of screen time shot on 16mm reversal film. Stories were not scripted, relying upon the ingenuity of the reporter and the two-person crew.
Every show also contained a viewer segment, and a music segment – often produced by the program itself. For instance Simon Townsend's Wonder World! made the first ever music video to feature Australian band INXS. During the course of the series, Townsend and his reporters traveled all over Australia and to many and varied locations in America, the UK, Europe, India, Asia and the Pacific region.
Simon Townsend would always end every show with the same signature farewell – "And remember, the world really is wonderful!"
The program was conceived by Townsend in the early 1970s and was designed to be a fast-moving daily dose of informed entertainment for children, and be suitable for and attractive to older teens and adults.
Both the Nine and the Seven Networks helped Townsend make pilots for his concept, but neither network bought the series. However, in 1979 when the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal introduced a compulsory 'C' classification (making it a requirement for networks to broadcast only 'C' classified shows between 4pm and 5pm weekdays), Townsend saw the potential and offered the Ten Network, which were searching for a suitable children's program at the time, the opportunity to produce his show.
The first episode of Simon Townsend's Wonder World! went to air on 3 September 1979. At first the show was telecast only in the East Coast capital cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Before long other capital city and regional stations began signing up for the show.
By the end of 1980 the show was screening in every TV broadcast region throughout Australia. Soon it became the top-rating program on the Ten Network outside prime time – and sometimes its ratings were better than programs in prime time. For many years the Ten Network ran two episodes of Simon Townsend's Wonder World every weekday because of its ratings power – an old repeat show at 4pm followed by a new show at 4.30pm.
After more than 2,000 episodes, the show finished in 1988. The extraordinary success of Simon Townsend's Wonder World! has never been repeated by any other show, though many sought to copy its style.
Simon Townsend was originally keen to use the 1976 Bill Danoff song Afternoon Delight as the theme song for his afternoon TV show. In fact, this song was used as the opener when the show first went to air. However, when the meaning of the lyrics was pointed out to him, Townsend decided to commission a new and original theme song clearly linked to the eponymous host of the show.
As a consequence, Townsend hired Australian songwriter/producer Chris Pelcer to write a theme song for Simon Townsend's Wonder World!. Jon St Peeters sang this original theme. It was arranged and produced by Mike Harvey at EMI Studios Sydney in 1979, and released as a 33 by RCA that same year. It was simply titled "Wonder World!" on the record sleeve. In 1983, Simon decided to re-record this theme song. Jon St Peeters was by then working in the USA, and unavailable; so Simon cast around for a new voice and eventually settled on up-and-coming female singer, Naomi Louise Warne, who went on to achieve international fame as a blues singer, composer and instrumentalist. Warne's voice and style just edged out Edith Bliss, a reporter on Simon Townsend's Wonder World! who had released her own songs, possessed a good voice, and was keen to get the gig. Naomi Warne's version of Chris Pelcer's theme song for Simon Townsend's Wonder World! was recorded in 1983 and again released on a record, and it was used on the TV show every weekday afternoon for one season, then a new, upbeat re-recording by John St Peeters was used until Simon's show ended in 1986. Seven years later, in 1993, the Nine Network decided to re-launch Simon's show with a new host, Pascall Fox. The title was shortened to Wonder World!, and again ran every weekday afternoon on Nine for the next three years. It also used the same theme music as the original Simon Townsend's Wonder World! This version was sung by James Morley. At the time, Morley was the Bass Player for "The Angels". Simon Townsend is still the rights holder to the theme music and the program format.
Awards and accolades
Simon Townsend's Wonder World! won many awards, including five LOGIE Awards, a TV Star Award and many other trophies, certificates of commendation and popularity prizes. In 1983, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke presented Simon Townsend with a special – Prime Minister's Award trophy, commemorating the milestone of broadcasting the One Thousandth Episode of Simon Townsend's Wonder World! (as recorded in TV Week, issue of 9 June 1983.) The show still remains the highest rating children's program in Australian TV history.
Townsend was always a great supporter of new Australian talents. Simon's company Townsend Entertainments gave many people their first opportunity to prove themselves in the entertainment business. For example, Townsend Entertainments was the first production company in Australia to give a woman, Bronwyn Nicholas, a full-time position as a cinematographer (Cinematography having previously been a man's domain.) Another Wonder World! cinematographer Andrew Lesnie went on to win an Academy Award for his film work. Many others who are now well known in the film and TV industry got their first break thanks to Simon Townsend's Wonder World!. The program's alumni include: Jonathan Coleman who became a huge star in both Australia and England. Amanda Keller who also became a very popular local radio and TV personality. Angela Catterns who became a radio star. Edith Bliss who starred in both advertising and music. Philip Tanner and Maurice Parker became top producers, while Tanner and Brett Clements later made a fortune from board games that were inspired by a Wonder World! story on Crown & Andrews. Fiona Baker created many hit TV shows (like RPA) for the Nine Network and later for other TV networks, after getting her first job as a researcher on Wonder World! straight out of university.
The star reporters on Simon Townsend's Wonder World!, during its seven years on air, included:
- Jonathan Coleman
- Angela Catterns
- Hugh Piper
- Sandy Mauger
- Edith Bliss
- Sheridan Jobbins
- Alita Fahey
- Maurice Parker
- Phillip Tanner
- Hugh Munro
- Brett Clements
- Wednesday Kennedy
- Adam Bowen
- Carolyn Mee
- Malinda Rutter
- Catriona Rowntree
In 1992, two of Simon Townsend's former reporters Phillip Tanner and Brett Clements bought the rights to Simon Townsend's Wonder World and sold the concept to the Nine Network which re-launched the show. The successor's new name was shortened to Wonder World!. The "Wonder World!" theme song written for the show at Simon Townsend's request by Australian songwriter/producer Chris Pelcer, remained the show's theme until its final episode.
- Pascall Fox (famous for her brightly coloured hair, often red or orange. She was later one of the presenters of the Australian version of Ground Force in the early 2000s, and on the Australian version of the show Your Life on the Lawn 2003–2004.)
- Jodie Young (who went on to star in Sex/Life, and in 1998 posed nude for Australian Playboy)
- Nick Penn (celebrated comedian)
- Tony Johnston (who went on to produce many TV shows and to work overseas.)
- Liesl Macdonald
Later reporters included:
- Catriona Rowntree (who became a major star of the Nine Network in Getaway and other series.)
- Dave Kelly (who became a famous film editor and producer)
- Sonia Kruger (who became a star of the Seven network)
- Liesl Macdonald
Wonder World!, the Nine Network's version of Simon Townsend's original show, began production in 1993, and rated well in its three-year run.