Joe Hasham On Number 96, Australian TV Soap That Featured First Gay Character

Joe Hasham On Number 96, Australian TV Soap That Featured First Gay Character
Image: The cast of the Australian TV show 'Number 96'.

In 1972 Australian TV was rocked by a controversial and provocative soap opera, Number 96 which became hugely popular for the five and a half years it was on the air.

The show, which focused on a group of flats in a Paddington apartment block, soon became synonymous with eyebrow-raising sexual content, including nudity and an openly gay character.

Now, Lebanese-Australian actor Joe Hasham, who played gay lawyer Don Finlayson for the duration of the series run, is looking back at the show which made him a star.

The Night Australian Television Lost Its Virginity

Hasham spoke with Star Observer from his home in Malaysia where he has lived since 1984, and where he runs the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre with his wife Faridah.

Hasham recalls with a laugh how the show’s publicist, Tom Greer, summarised Number 96 as “The night Australian television lost its virginity.”

“I think it brought a whole lot of stuff to Australian audiences who in those days were pretty uptight about a lot of things, particularly about homosexuality; about anything to do with LGBTQI; they were not very understanding,” Hasham says.

The show quickly became a phenomenon. “You could tell when 96 came on because if you walked down the street and people had their television on, you’d be able to hear what’s going on because practically everybody was watching…It was just amazing. It was truly amazing.”

First Aussie TV Show To Show A Gay Relationship

What was particularly impressive was the show “was the first show to ever have a homosexual relationship and have a gay guy who was just a normal sort of fella.”

Number 96 was blessed to have had the most incredible creator in David Sale and the most wonderful producers in Don Cash and Bill Harmon,” says Hasham.

“They were very brave individuals, and they said, ‘Let’s do it.’ They went to the network and the networks said, ‘No fucking way! We can’t play this! We can’t do this.’ But Don, Bill and David insisted that if they wanted the show, it had to be that way, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. It was the best decision the network ever made. It went from being the poorest network in the country to the richest.”

Hasham’s portrayal of a gay character  ‘did more for the acceptance of sexual minorities in Australia’ than most anything before it, according to Justice Michael Kirby. The show also featured a bisexual character and a trans actor playing a trans character (Sydney showgirl Carolle Lea played the role of Robyn Ross).

I Didn’t Want To Fuck It Up

While Hasham, who is heterosexual, was excited to play the role, he recalls his biggest fear was disappointing his gay friends.

“I found it harrowing for the sole purpose that I didn’t want to fuck it up. I didn’t want people saying, ‘Oh, what the hell? What does he know about being gay?’”

“During that interview, they laid out the premise of the role my character would play and they could sense I was a bit concerned. They said, ‘Is there something wrong?’ I said, ‘Well, no, no, I love the idea of it, but I’m a bit frightened because I have so many gay friends that I don’t want to disappoint them.’” Hasham notes “most of [his] friendships; emotional friendships, were placed within the gay community.”

While Hasham’s character became a fan favourite and he remained one of the show’s stars for the entire duration of the show’s five-and-a-half-year run, Hasham’s father wasn’t particularly thrilled with his son playing a gay character.

Questions Over Actor’s Sexuality


Joe Hasham

“When it was revealed that my character was gay, I happened to be at home that night. I was there purposely because I knew that was the night that the revelation was going to happen, and my father was sitting there watching it with me. As soon as my father heard the line about me being homosexual, he stood up and said, ‘Why couldn’t you play the murderer or something?”’

Because his character was gay, Hasham’s sexuality was also questioned by many of the show’s fans. “Over the years of Number 96, because of the popularity of my character, I got a lot of covers in TV Week, TV Times, and Woman’s Day. My face was there all the time. When I got married and we had our first child… the rumours were going around town ‘he only got married because he doesn’t want people to know he’s gay,’ and of course, I didn’t rebuff any of this. I just let it go. You want to think I’m gay? Fine! That’s perfectly okay with me.” 

Indeed, Hasham was fully on board when it came to his character’s sex life.  “I had so many hunky boyfriends. That was wonderful,” he says. The show never shied away from the sexuality of his character and dared to go where no one had gone before; into the bedroom.

Gay Kiss On Australian TV

Hasham recalls when his character kissed another man and “brought television to its knees. There’s an actor, John Orcsik [who was] very handsome, very macho. And there was a scene of us in bed.”

“There was a kiss and I mean, it wasn’t just a normal kiss. It was a great kiss and we both enjoyed it,” Hasham says with a laugh

“I think when it went to air they edited it out…I mean we had nudity. We had people running around naked…we had fully naked women. We had rape, we had incest.”

“I get people coming up to me saying, ‘you know when I was watching you on Number 96, my parents wouldn’t let me watch it. So I’d sneak down the stairs and I’d hide and I would watch it.’ It was one of the shows that you’d have to watch because it was so outrageous.”

Hasham remains proud of his role and how it helped to change the public’s perception of who LGBTQ people were, and made ordinary Australians “aware  there are other people in the world. There are there are people who are just like you but they just have different preferences.”


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