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A NICE DAY AT THE OFFICE


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A NICE DAY
AT THE OFFICE
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A Nice Day At The Office had its origins as one episode of the 1971 anthology series The Comedy Game. Produced in Sydney by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, it was hoped that some of The Comedy Game episodes could act as pilots and spin-off into a series on a regular basis, allowing the ABC to screen at least one Australian-made comedy a week. This intention was never fully realised, but several episodes did become series - including Our Man In Canberra, Scattergood - Friend of All, Aunty Jack and A Nice Day At The Office.

A Nice Day At The Office is a situation comedy satirising the public service. The two central characters, Ted Harvey and Sean Crisp, work in the Central Files office of a government department. Harvey is solidly entrenched in the career system of the public service and follows every rule in the book, an outlook completely foreign to the impetuous, irreverent Crisp. Their differing personalities often lead to clashes and petty ways of annoying each other.

The pilot episode screened as part of The Comedy Game on November 25, 1971. John Bell played the part of Crisp, and Neil Fitzpatrick had the role of Harvey, which was written with him in mind. The scriptwriters were Marcus Cooney and John Brendan, and the Producer was Maurice Murphy.

Even before the pilot was aired, a decision was made that A Nice Day At The Office would be one of the episodes to be made into a 13-part series. It was originally planned to record two episodes in December, with the remaining 11 episodes to be taped in the new year. However, there were some casting problems - Neil Fitzpatrick was only available for ten weeks, and at that point it was uncertain if John Bell would be available at all.

When it was confirmed that Bell would not be available, the search began for a replacement. Rod McLennan was cast as Crisp in time for the first episode to be recorded on December 23. Due to Fitzpatrick’s limited availability, the planned 13 episodes were cut back to seven, and the remaining six episodes were taped early in 1972. All episodes were recorded in front of a studio audience.

Maurice Murphy remained as Producer of the series, as did writers Cooney and Brendan, who wrote all seven episodes. Director of the series was Ric Birch.
There was never any suggestion that, due to Fitzpatrick’s limited availability, another actor should be found for the role of Harvey. “Neil was the wellspring,” said Murphy. “You can’t write comedy in a vacuum and hope to be able to cast it - it just doesn’t work that way. When you’re lucky enough to get someone as clever and talented as Neil Fitzpatrick, you start writing as fast as you can.”
1

Similarly, it was always intended that Cooney and Brendan would write every episode. “You have to keep the team together at least until the series is formularised,” said Murphy, “and a series can’t really become formularised in under 13 episodes. Since we have Fitzpatrick available for only ten weeks, we can make only seven episodes - all of which must be written by Cooney and Brendan.” 2

In the early days of The Comedy Game, Murphy became very confident that A Nice Day At The Office would become a series. So much so that he managed to persuade Cooney and Brendan to write two scripts without payment before the final decision was made.

When Rod McLennan replaced John Bell, Cooney and Brendan rewrote much of the character to suit McLennan. Murphy thought that Harvey and Crisp complemented each other well: “Harvey can’t condone anything this character does, but he grudgingly has to admire him. It’s a splendid partnership, a dual effort, working for each of them, as it has to. And McLennan’s Crisp has a marvellous Australian thing about him as well - a disrespect for everything. I suspect there’s something of Rod himself in it.” 3

One of the supporting characters is the head of the department, Claude Fogarty, played by Gordon McDougall, the addition of which, Murphy said, strengthened the cast: “Fogarty is a person both Harvey and Crisp can really hate - and the stronger the emotion, the bigger the laugh.” 4 Other supporting characters are office secretary Vicki Short played by Fay Kelton, and tea lady Mrs. Quiggley played by Maggie Dence.

A Nice Day At The Office commenced screening on February 15, 1972, in both Sydney and Melbourne. The series was made in black and white, using the film/video integration method (film for exterior location shots, videotape for interior studio scenes).

The filming of the seven episodes was largely uneventful, the biggest problem being the lack of co-operation from government departments for location scenes. “It’s very hard to convince officialdom there’s nothing wrong in being part of something funny,” said Murphy. “They say we’re sending up the public service, holding them up to ridicule - as if there weren’t areas of the ridiculous in what we all do. After all, I’m part of the public service myself.” 5

A Nice Day At The Office received mixed reviews from the critics. Phillip Adams in The Australian said it was pitiful, Bob Ellis in Nation said it was charming, and F.C. Kennedy in TV Times thought it was predictable but had potential. 6 Ratings-wise, the show did not make any great impact, faring no better or worse than any other ABC program in an 8:00 PM timeslot, perhaps indicating that most people who watched the series were loyal ABC viewers anyway.

While it may never be regarded as a classic, it was nonetheless quite an enjoyable series. “A Nice Day At The Office is infinitely better than the British stuff on our commercial channels now," said Murphy. "It probably won’t appeal to as many people as the Doctor series but it’s better than Please Sir! - better by far than 75 percent of situation comedies produced in Britain.” 6

Rod McLennan concurred: “The series was well-written and didn’t turn out too bad at all.” 7

 

A NICE DAY AT THE OFFICE EPISODE DETAILS

 


1. TV Times, Feb 12, 1972
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. The Australian, March 2, 1972; Nation, March 4, 1972; TV Times, March 11, 1972
7. TV Times, Feb 12, 1972
8. TV Week, Feb 17, 1973



The two principal cast members - Rod McLennan and Neil Fitzpatrick.


Neil Fitzpatrick as Ted Harvey.


Fay Kelton as office secretary Vicki Short.


Maggie Dence as tea lady Mrs. Quiggley.


Gordon McDougall as department boss Claude Fogarty.


A Nice Day At The Office opening titles.


Fay Kelton as Vicki with Rod McLennan as Crisp.


A scene from The Comedy Game pilot episode with John Bell and Fay Kelton.