According to Andrew Mercado, the only time the producers of Number 96 felt they overstepped the mark was when they filmed a black mass sequence, featuring a Satanic high priest called De Como and an undercover lesbian witch played by Toni Lamond.
It’s gold-plated detritus like this that makes Mercado’s book Super Aussie Soaps the throwaway gift that demands to be kept.
Mercado admits the book almost drove him crazy. Many times I’d be sitting here at 2 o’clock in the morning typing some obscure fact into my computer going, -˜Who is ever going to give a fuck about any of this?’ he says.
The answer includes not just soap buffs, but anyone interested in how gay men and lesbians (as well as undercover dyke witches) have been represented in Australian culture. If nothing else, Mercado’s pop guidebook demonstrates how Australian television has been (at times) far more progressive than American broadcasting.
The character of Don Finlayson [in Number 96] isn’t just an Australian first, it’s a world first, he said. It’s literally the first recorded gay man in a TV show that isn’t a deviant or a child molester or a murderer or a pathetic victim.
Of course the book is about more than Number 96. There are old faves like Prisoner, but also the 80s revenge tragedy Return To Eden, 1995’s Echo Point (nicknamed What’s The Point?) and coastal crapfests Pacific Drive and Paradise Beach.
Mercado insists soaps are pure entertainment, but they can also be a barometer of our changing morals -“ and the early 70s soaps were the most accurate mirror of that era.
When you watch say Number 96 you see someone frying bacon and eggs in a frypan, in their nightie, with a fag hanging out their mouth, he says. Now you will never see that on TV today.
We won’t see Bec Cartwright having a fag any time soon, but Mercado insists soaps will endure. He also has nothing but praise for recent storylines, like Neigbours’ lesbian subplot.
For me it’s a great sign that they’ve actually become a little bit more progressive, he says.