We migrated to Australia from Manchester where we had lived in a real Coronation Street-kind of environment. Maybe that upbringing explains what I would go on to do with my career.
There was no show business in my family, but I lied my way into a job with the ABC in Melbourne and began as a journalist.
At the time, I was dating a girl who belonged to the Repertory Players and she asked me to come along with her. I got bitten by the bug and soon became involved in the Melbourne theatre scene, writing revues and performing in them. It was a wonderful time.
I decided I didn’t want to stay in journalism, so I headed back to the UK and landed roles on stage and in some movies. But after a while, I was homesick and so returned to Melbourne in 1964 with my then boyfriend.
When he got a job in Sydney, we moved, but I had the number of only one work contact -“ a man named Barry Creyton. I called him and he asked me to come to Channel 7 to see a pilot of a show he was working on. It was called The Mavis Bramston Show.
So I began writing for them, and later became executive producer. The Mavis Bramston Show was what Australia needed at that time. It was satirical, it sent people up, it was irreverent and naughty. Bishops were condemning it from the pulpits.
After the show finished, I then wrote a couple of novels, Come To Mother and The Love Bite. One day, I had an urgent phone call from my agent about a new TV series. The producers took me around to a block of flats at 83 Moncur St in Woollahra and said, That’s the location, now we need you to create a series.
I was about to leave for London for work in three days, so I went home and, at 9pm with a bottle of Scotch by my side, set to work.
By midnight, the outline was completed with all the characters based on people I knew. By the time the Scotch was finished, I also came up with the title -“ Number 96.
Then I delivered it. And it was dreadful -“ it truly was shocking. But Channel 10 loved it. The night it premiered was called the night Australian TV lost its virginity.
The show was this amazing hit. If you want to see what Australia was like in the 1970s, it is all there on Number 96 -“ the people, the clothes and the attitudes. It was a series of many firsts.
Don Finlayson, as played by Joe Hasham, is called the first sympathetic gay character on TV in the world. He had a boyfriend and we featured them many times in bed together.
There was some pressure from the network to turn Don straight, but the producer stood firm and announced, If you try to do that, we will take the show to another channel.
I knew Don had really worked as a character when I was on the bus one day and I heard two old ladies talking about the show. When one said with real concern, I wonder when Don will get a new boyfriend, I knew then I had done something good with the show.
Number 96 has now been released on DVD and I am glad the show continues to be held in such affection. I never set out to make it outrageous -“ I set out to be truthful. I am glad it is now on DVD as so much of my other work has been lost -“ an entire series of The Mavis Bramston Show ended up in landfill in the Channel 7 car park.
My next TV venture after Number 96 went down in history as the greatest flop in Australian history -“ Arcade. It was just a disaster.
I wrote a pilot for another series titled Canberra Wives, about the women who run the men who run the country. I thought it was good, but not one network would touch it because they were scared of the political repercussions.
I have been associated with two of the groundbreaking shows on Australian TV -“ Mavis and Number 96 -“ and I am proud of that. But I think TV is something you do when you are very young, and I had got it out of system.
Then I met my partner Rob and we have been together for 25 years. I kept writing novels, including Hidden Agenda and Twisted Echoes, and I also wrote show material for performers like Julie Anthony and Toni Lamond.
I was talking to Toni’s musical director Ron Creager one day about how I would like to write a musical. Later that same day, I pulled in to the video shop and found a copy of the movie, Careful He Might Hear You. I called Ron and said, I think I have our musical.’
The show opened in Canberra six years ago and got great critics. It was rough, but I knew we had something good there, so I have kept polishing it since. Now I just want to find someone to put it on a stage in Sydney, as I really think it would have an audience.
In recent times, I have been writing my memoirs. At first I thought no one would be interested in what I had to say, but there are so many great names in it and I am telling all the stories.
It is fun and it tells it all. It is interesting to write as you look back across all the years. It is a bit like therapy, only with many more laughs.
Interview by John Burfitt