The Box (TV series)
|Country of origin||Australia|
|No. of series||4|
|No. of episodes||611|
|Running time||30-60 minutes|
|Original network||The 0-10 Network|
|Picture format||Black and White (1974)|
|Original release||11 February 1974 –|
11 October 1977
The Box was produced by Crawford Productions who at the time was having great success producing police drama series in Australia. The Box was Crawford's first soap opera, and was launched as a reaction to the enormous success of the rival adult soap opera Number 96.
The Box was a drama set in fictional television station UCV Channel 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. Like many TV soap opera/serials of the time it also span off into a feature film adaptation.
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 British series The Flying Doctor (1959). Other programs produced by the station included children's show "Holliday Farm", chat program "Girl Talk", and period drama "Gully Rider".
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, 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 adaptation 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.
For the 1976 season, Jock Blair returned as the program's producer and announced his plans to refocus the series to emphasise adult drama as it had done in its first year.
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 adaptation 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.
Later cast additions included:
Deborra-Lee Furness was a recurring one-line extra in episodes produced in late 1974.
Barrie Barkla, Judy Nunn, Ken James, Ken Snodgrass and Lois Ramsay appeared throughout the series' entire run. Barrie Barkla actually worked at a TV station (CTC-7 in Canberra) before moving to Melbourne to play his role as the station manager in The Box. After The Box finished up, Barkla moved to Perth where he worked as a presenter for STW-9
Peter Regan, who played the part of TV host Gary Burke, went on to become host of ABC's Quest variety series in 1976-78.
|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|
|8 August 1975|
A feature film adaptation was produced 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.
Channel 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.
The film was shot on 35 mm on new sets at Crawford Productions' Abbotsford studios over four weeks in early 1975. Part of the budget was contributed by the Australian Film Development Corporation. Marilyn Vernon appeared in several full frontal scenes that were probably deemed too explicit for TV while Belinda Giblin was seen topless again just as she had been in the TV series.
In late 2014 Volume 1 of The Box, featuring a selection of episodes from the first year, was released by Crawford Productions. In 2015 Volume 2, which features another selection of episodes from the first year of the series, was released. The releases are described as containing a "selection" of episodes due to a small number of episodes that are excluded as the original tapes were missing or damaged. Each release contains the equivalent of 50 thirty-minute episodes (the first episode is feature length). From the first DVD of 50 episodes, six are excluded as they were missing or damaged. One episode is missed in volumes 2's run of 50 episodes.
The run of episodes continues in Volume 3 which was released in September 2015. Volume 3 contains 50 episodes and there are no missing episodes in this run. Volume 4 was released in January 2017, again with an unbroken run of episodes.
- 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