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.
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.
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.
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.
Murphy remained as Producer of the series, as did writers Cooney and
Brendan, who wrote all seven episodes. Director of the series was Ric
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.”
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.”
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.
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
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.”
Other supporting characters are office secretary Vicki Short played by
Fay Kelton, and tea lady Mrs. Quiggley played by Maggie Dence.
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).
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
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.
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
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.”
Rod McLennan concurred: “The series was well-written and didn’t turn out
too bad at all.”
NICE DAY AT THE OFFICE EPISODE DETAILS
1. TV Times,
Feb 12, 1972
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