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GOOD MORNING,
MR. DOUBLEDAY


Copyright © 2013 Don Storey.  All rights reserved.


GOOD MORNING, MR. DOUBLEDAY
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Good Morning, Mr. Doubleday was an attempt at a situation comedy concerning a teacher at a country high school. Produced in 1969 by Fremantle International, it wasGood Morning, Mr. Doubleday purchased by ATV-0 Melbourne as a ‘ready-to-go’ half-hour series to fulfil local content requirements. The series was directly based on an American school comedy, Mr. Peepers, of which Fremantle International had purchased the concept.

Doubleday was significant for being the first Australian series to be shot entirely on video - including exterior scenes - using the newly-developed ‘Back-Pack’ portable camera. The camera had previously been used by ATV-0 on Hey You! and The Magic Circle Club, and ‘portable’ was considered somewhat of a misnomer by those crew members who had to lug it around, as it weighed about 25 kilograms!

Most series at that time were an integration of film and video, film being used for exteriors and video for interiors. As technology developed through the 1970’s, many more series would be made entirely on video as an economy measure. Although the quality of video was not as good as film, Doubleday at least managed to avoid the unevenness of film/video integration.

The majority of the 26 episodes were written by Ron McLean and/or Rosamund Waring. Producer and Director for the first 20-odd episodes was Ron Way, and Assistant Producer was Ralph Baker, an ATV-0 staff member. Towards the end of the series Ron Way left to work on The Rovers, and Baker took over the role of Producer, while ATV-0 staffer Rob Weekes became Director.

Barry Crocker auditioned for the title role, but it was Gerry Gallagher who was chosen to play Robinson Doubleday, the bumbling science teacher at Kannabri High School in rural Victoria. Doubleday is devoted to his work, with an incessant pride in his school, and although he is a bumbler in his own life, this aspect is not exaggerated and he is actually quite an intelligent person and an excellent teacher. Gallagher showed quite a flair for the role, portraying Doubleday as an interesting and believable character.

Doubleday’s girlfriend, home economics teacher Jenny Hamilton, was played by Katy Wild in what was her first major role in Australia. Katy came from England, where she made guest appearances in various series including The Avengers and Z Cars, and films including The Deadly Bees. She was credited as ‘introducing Katy Wild’ on the first episode’s opening, which totally ignored her extensive British experience and her previous guest role here in an episode of Woobinda (Animal Doctor). Reviewers were impressed with her performance, and Listener In-TV’s resident critic described her thus: "Miss Wild registered as something rather special. A promise of real TV material here. A pretty girl, but with an appealing quality, giving her a value beyond mere superficial prettiness."1

Other cast members were Alan Lander as Wes Tobin ('Tobe'), a history teacher and Doubleday’s best mate. Kay Eklund portrayed Beryl Garney, an eccentric English teacher. The portrayal of her character was very much 'over the top', and was dropped after 11 episodes.

Support roles were played by William Hodge as school principal Bates, and Robert Brockman and Naomi Swart as students Walter Murdock and Madeline Donetti. In later episodes Joy Mitchell made regular appearances as Sandra Hunter, Tobe’s fiancee, as did Tony Bazell as Jenny’s father.

Doubleday’s class was made up of ten students from high schools around Melbourne, with an average age of 16, who were used as 'extras'. To portray a contemporary school with accuracy and credibility, the producers found the advice of the ‘extras’ invaluable, realising that there had been many changes since their own school years. Gerry Gallagher received a considerable amount of fan-mail from teenagers praising the series: "One reason kids believe in the series," he said, "is that we've heeded their advice. Kids today talk, think and react in a totally different way from when we were at school."2 Ron Way agreed: "On a few occasions I've given the kids a direction based on something in my own schooldays, and I've been greeted with stony silence. There have been many subtle shifts in lifestyles and attitudes among teenagers. Our writer, Ron McLean, has spent a lot of time just talking to kids, to understand them better."3

Exterior filming took place at Kyneton, Victoria, where the local school masqueraded as Kannabri High, and one complete episode was filmed entirely on location at Kyneton. Interior scenes were shot at the ATV-0 studios in Melbourne. The show had a limited budget - two days rehearsal were allocated, with filming taking place on Saturday afternoon.

Concerned Victorian education officials showed some trepidation towards the series, as they were not convinced that Doubleday was their idea of an ideal school teacher. Ron Way and Ron McLean were able to assure them that Doubleday would be a credit to the profession, albeit larger than life in some of his dilemmas.

The first episode was a scene-setter, and was rather limp due mainly to the inordinate amount of time devoted to the supposedly funny antics of the eccentric English teacher. When the narrative centred on the other three cast members the series showed some of its potential, and this was the opinion of most reviewers, who adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach before passing judgement. Gerry Gallagher said, "I hope everyone will give the series a chance to settle, because basically it has plenty of potential and the cast and crew are dead keen to make this a winner."4

The standard of episodes varied greatly, and critics became more hostile as the series continued in its low-key vein. The mostly believable characters, who were without cliché or caricature, suited the understated feel of the series and made some episodes genuinely enjoyable, whereas other episodes were bland, boring and simply not funny.

Good Morning, Mr. Doubleday was actually trying to break new ground by starting a series with a low-key approach that would gain momentum. Producer and Director Ron Way stated that he believed that comedy should be based among real scenes and real people: "I’ve never believed in caricature on TV - larger than life comedy doesn’t work too well in the intimacy of a sitting room. That’s why Doubleday is so low-keyed, under-played. We want our characters to be first and foremost believable. That way, the laughs they win will have more value."5

Ron Way went on to say that producers should stop under-estimating their audiences: "We’re presenting Doubleday as a reasonably intelligent comedy series, a series inhabited by people who can put more than a couple of words together."6

Comedienne Mary Hardy made a guest appearance in an early episode as physical education teacher Phylis McTaggart. Her character was very successful, in stark contrast to the overdrawn character of Beryl Garney played by Kay Eklund. The producers saw the potential of having Mary Hardy in the series as a regular, and she replaced Kay Eklund as a permanent cast member from ep. 12 (although she was usually credited as 'special guest star').

Guest artists were minimal, with most of the stories being carried by the regular characters. Assistant Producer Ralph Baker appeared in one episode as 'Deadly Earnest', a character he portrayed as host of the ATV-0 late-night Aweful Movies horror flicks.7 Inevitably the episode (segments of which were filmed on location at Hanging Rock) concerned a haunted house.

Doubleday failed to make an impact with viewers. Starting out in the prime time slots of 7:30 Sunday night in Melbourne and 7:00 PM Saturday in Sydney, low ratings soon caused the show to be buried after 9:00 PM on a weeknight. The decision was then taken to halt production after episode 26, due for completion in August 1969.

Why did the show fail? The low budget did not help, and commencing filming at short notice without a pilot resulted in the early episodes lacking punch. Gerry Gallagher stated at the time: "The introduction of Mary Hardy and fast cutting added pace without altering our intention of not being heavy-handed in our humour."8 By then it was too late - although the ratings tripled that of the American Rat Patrol which it replaced, the failure to grab and hold an audience with the early episodes saw many viewers abandon Doubleday when Nine slotted the popular U.S. sit-com Julia against it.

Gerry Gallagher was outspoken about the demise of Doubleday, claiming the series "wasn't given a chance".9 "Too much variation in settings put us in comparison with shows such as Dick Van Dyke with their big budgets and hours of rehearsal, against poor old Robinson Doubleday's two days' rehearsal and Saturday afternoon to shoot."10

The biggest single factor working against the show was the standard of the scripts. The writers worked in Sydney, where Fremantle International was based, and had no contact with the cast. The scripts would be sent down to Melbourne one week before filming, and they were little more than copies of the original American Mr. Peepers scripts, with the relevant details crossed out and altered.

Ralph Baker and Rob Weekes would receive the script on Saturday, and tweak it on Sunday to give better timing and improve pacing and impact. "There was nothing in them," commented Baker, "they had no climax, no anything. I just altered little bits here and there to try and make something of them."11 In fact, one of the later episodes was completely re-written by Baker and Weekes.

Baker also said that Ron Way’s directing style was ‘slow’ - for example, he would start with a still shot, then have a person walk into it, then look at the camera and finally say something. Baker and Weekes had ideas on how to improve the show, and when they assumed the production and directing responsibilities they were able to implement some of them. But at that late stage the decision had already been made to cease production.

Gerry Gallagher stated on reflection: "Doubleday being a low-key character made it hard for other characters centred on him. Some of them didn’t work - they could change but he couldn’t. I think we should have concentrated more on the schoolroom scenes. We haven’t had schoolroom humour in Australia much lately."12

Australian school humour, in fact, had not appeared on Melbourne screens since the Crawford live-to-air comedy series Take That in 1957. Later the classroom would feature in more sober settings with the Grundy productions Class Of 74/75 and Glenview High. Good Morning, Mr. Doubleday was repeated a few times in quiet timeslots prior to the introduction of colour television. ATV-0 presided over one more in-house production flop, The Long Arm, before finally achieving local production success with Crawford Production’s Matlock Police.

Doubleday theme song

If we should raise our standards high
We all shall thank thee, Kannabri
As through the future’s distant days
We all shall go our separate ways

And when temptation draws us nigh
We will remember Kannabri
At seasons end our thoughts shall fly
To childhood days at Kannabri

 

GOOD MORNING, MR. DOUBLEDAY EPISODE DETAILS

 

1. Melbourne Listener In-TV, Feb 15, 1969.
2. TV Times, March 26, 1969.
3. Ibid.
4. Melbourne Truth, Feb 15, 1969.
5. TV Times, March 26, 1969.
6. Ibid.
7. The Ten network stations had a different Deadly Earnest host for their Aweful Movies in each capital city. In Adelaide it was Hedley Cullen, and in Brisbane it was Shane Porteous.
8. TV Times, June 18, 1969.
9. TV Week, Sept 20, 1969.
10. TV Times, June 18, 1969.
11. Interview, 1993.
12. TV Times, June 18, 1969.



Gerry Gallagher in the title role as school teacher Robinson Doubleday.


Katy Wild played Jenny Hamilton, a teacher and Doubleday's girlfriend. After Doubleday, Katy had lead roles in Spyforce and Our Man In Canberra / Our Man In The Company.


An advertisement for Doubleday.


Doubleday opening titles.


The original Doubleday cast: Gerry Gallagher, Katy Wild, Alan Lander and Kay Eklund.


Alan Lander and Katy Wild during rehearsal.


Gerry Gallagher and Alan Lander bumbling about chasing butterflies in a scene from episode 2, 'Poor Butterfly'.


Kay Eklund, Alan Lander and Gerry Gallagher chasing butterflies in another scene from the same episode.


Above and below: Two more scenes from episode 2, 'Poor Butterfly'.