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GTV-9 Melbourne made its second foray into series production in 1964 with the situation comedy Barley Charlie. GTV had achieved much expertise with local variety show production, and having just expanded their studio facilities, decided to try a situation comedy series to build upon the success of In Melbourne Tonight.

Barley Charlie featured Sheila Bradley and Robina Beard as Joan and Shirley Muggleton, two sisters who inherit a run-down roadhouse/garage from their Uncle Ted. It is situated in the fictitious locale of Frog's Hollow, located somewhere on the Hume Highway mid-way between Sydney and Melbourne. They also inherit the services of Charlie Appleby, a lazy, decidedly third-rate mechanic played by Eddie Hepple. Stewart Weller played a support role as Stinger, Charlie's best mate and 'partner in crime'.

Joan and Shirl were not happy about leaving their city flat and glamorous lifestyle, only to come to a small country town and run a business they have no interest in. Shirl in particular misses her city boyfriends, and Joan tries to make the place work so they can make a profit, sell up and return to the city. The girls are hindered by Charlie, a born loafer who wastes most of his time in the storeroom with his beer, radio and racing form instead of using his questionable mechanical skills repairing cars.

GTV went to great lengths to ensure Barley Charlie would be successful. An enormous set covering 900 square feet was constructed - it comprised a full-scale garage, mechanicís storeroom, cafe and kitchen, and was complete with electricity, gas and water. Care had to be taken to ensure that the service station style did not closely identify with any particular company's corporate image, yet it still had to look realistic. The set was designed by Quentin Mitchell, and could be cut into blocks for easy transportation. Hidden little doors and corners allowed cameras to be positioned for close-ups from various angles. Mitchell often wandered around during rehearsals adding wire, nails or other bits of rubbish to the garage and storeroom.

It was in their choice of scriptwriters that GTV went to their greatest expense. Rather than take a chance on inexperienced Australian writers, GTV imported English writers Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe. Chesney and Wolfe were the creators and writers of the highly successful British series The Rag Trade, and it was hoped they would be able to duplicate their U.K. success when they created Barley Charlie.

In fact, Chesney and Wolfe drafted six episodes and, having fulfilled the terms of their contract, returned to England. Australian playwright Alan Hopgood adapted the Chesney and Wolfe scripts and wrote the remaining episodes. The series had no title for the first month of production, even though two episodes had been completed, and how they arrived at Barley Charlie is a complete mystery.

Production and direction were handled by Rod Kinnear, a GTV technician who was generally regarded as a 'whiz-kid', with a string of successful drama plays to his credit. He was assisted by comedian Johnny Ladd, who was GTV’s comedy producer at the time. The series began production in late December 1963, the first two episodes being taped on January 3, 1964. 13 episodes were commissioned, and by this time GTV had already sold the series to New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and several regional stations.

The opening titles consisted of an animated sequence, accompanied by the theme tune which was an instrumental version of the traditional song 'Here Comes Santa Claus'.

The series was due to premiere in Melbourne in late February 1964, but in order to stockpile more episodes, it was re-scheduled to debut on March 17, and eventually appeared on March 31. It was screened in a 7:30 PM Tuesday timeslot, and in Sydney was seen at 7:00 PM on Mondays. Initial reaction was favourable - even the critics liked it!

Rehearsals were carried out during the week, and taping of the episode took place on Saturday. After the Friday night edition of IMT had concluded, a crew would work during the night moving the set from the rehearsal area to the studio, where it would be assembled ready for Saturday's taping - complete with freshly sprayed plastic cobwebs. On the Sunday the set would be moved back to the rehearsal area.

The scripts often required a level of ingenuity to find suitable props. One episode called for Joan to fall into a 44-gallon drum of oil, and as it was thought undesirable to drop Sheila Bradley into real oil, they used a drum of molten chocolate with a bit of black paint mixed in to darken it down. For another episode an American 'Thunderbird' car was needed. Arranging the loan of a car was straightforward enough, but the script called for the car to crash into the garage wall and damage the driver's door. A spare 'Thunderbird' door had to be imported specially and fitted to the car for the scene.

Most contemporary reports (and all of the GTV-9 publicity) credited Barley Charlie as being the first Australian produced situation comedy. This was not strictly correct, as Crawford Productions made a weekly 15-minute comedy series, Take That, for HSV-7 in 1957, although admittedly it was a live-to-air programme and was only screened in Melbourne.

Barley Charlie was somewhat of a showcase for GTV performers: - Joe McCormick, Bert Newton, Toni Lamond and Tommy Hanlon Jnr were among the GTV-9 personalities who had guest roles in various episodes.

Barley Charlie was an entertaining series, and although the action was confined to the studio it nonetheless had high production values. Viewers responded well to the show, and it achieved a rating of 31. In spite of its success, a second series did not eventuate largely due to Eddie Hepple and Sheila Bradley not being available. The final episode went to air on June 23, 1964, from which point most drama series produced at GTV-9 would be packaged by outside producers, as was done with Hunter and Division 4 from Crawfords.

Eddie Hepple later had a lead role in The Rovers as Captain Sam McGill, as well as appearing in episodes of most Australian series of the 60's and early 70's. He also tried his hand at scriptwriting, including some episodes of Homicide. Robina Beard became well-known for her appearances in a long-running series of detergent commercials ("You're soaking in it!").


The cast of Barley Charlie: Sheila Bradley as Joan Muggleton, Eddie Hepple as Charlie Appleby and Robina Beard as Joan's sister Shirley Muggleton.

The animated Barley Charlie opening titles.

Barley Charlie

Stewart Weller (left) had a support role as Stinger, Charlie's best mate. He is seen here with Eddie Hepple.

Sheila Bradley as Joan and Robina Beard as Shirley.

Barley Charlie commercial integration.

Floor Manager Gary Stewart in the kitchen area of the set during filming of episode 4 'The Inspector Calls'.