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 was 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
1970s, 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,
took over the role of Producer, while ATV-0 staffer Rob Weekes
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.
Doubledays 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 episodes 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-TVs 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 Doubledays 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, Tobes fiancee,
as did Tony Bazell as Jenny’s father.
Doubledays 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
Good Morning, Mr. Doubleday
was actually trying to break new ground by starting a series with a low-key approach
would gain momentum. Producer and Director Ron Way stated that he believed that comedy
should be based among real scenes and real people: "Ive never believed in
caricature on TV - larger than life comedy doesnt work too well in the intimacy of a
sitting room. Thats 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
Ron Way went on to say that producers
should stop under-estimating their audiences: "Were 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,
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
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.
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
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
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 Ways 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 didnt work - they could change but he couldnt. I
think we should have concentrated more on the schoolroom scenes. We havent 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 Productions Matlock Police.
Doubleday theme song
If we should raise
our standards high
We all shall thank thee, Kannabri
As through the futures 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.
4. Melbourne Truth, Feb 15, 1969.
5. TV Times, March 26, 1969.
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.