CLASSIC AUSTRALIAN TELEVISION

HEY YOU!


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HEY YOU!
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Television began in Australia in 1956, initially limited to the two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. The ‘BAPH’ cities - Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart - received television in 1959-60, and in the early 1960’s it was extended to country areas. In 1963, the government decided to licence one more commercial channel in the five mainland state capitals. The new television station commenced transmission in Melbourne in 1964, followed in 1965 by Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

In the original Sydney - Melbourne market, TCN-9 Sydney was affiliated with HSV-7 Melbourne, and GTV-9 Melbourne with ATN-7 Sydney. Later changes in ownership would see the emergence of the Nine Network (TCN-9 Sydney, GTV-9 Melbourne, QTQ-9 Brisbane and NWS-9 Adelaide) and the Seven Network (ATN-7 Sydney, HSV-7 Melbourne, BTQ-7 Brisbane and ADS-7 Adelaide). In addition, the public-owned Australian Broadcasting Commission had its own network across the nation. The licensing of an extra commercial channel in 1964-5 saw the formation of the 0-Ten Network (TEN-10 Sydney, ATV-0 Melbourne, TVQ-0 Brisbane and SAS-10 Adelaide).

As the new arrival in the field, the 0-Ten Network was granted extra time to conform to regulations laid down by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, particularly concerning local drama content. Although they were quite prolific with local variety, and in 1965 produced the imaginative children’s show The Magic Circle Club, it was not until 1967 that the 0-Ten Network ventured into the field of local drama.

ATV-0 Melbourne took the lead with an in-house production, the situation comedy series Hey You! Created by John-Michael Howson and Godfrey Philipp, the same team who devised The Magic Circle Club, Hey You! was a half-hour sit-com set in a suburban Melbourne boarding house. Described in publicity material as a ‘down-to-earth’ series, the comedy revolves around the inhabitants of the boarding house – a layabout Australian, an English con-man, an eccentric spinster, a sensitive wimp and a genteel landlady.

The main character is ‘Ocker’ Ramsay, an indolent bludger who spends his time loafing about in his room drinking beer and reading comics. Ocker’s late mother was a very good friend of the landlady, and before she died the landlady promised she would look after her boy – and Ocker takes full advantage of this by living rent-free and drawing unemployment benefits. Ocker is played by Colin McEwan, a former regular on The Magic Circle Club. “Ocker’s not a bad guy at all,” said McEwan. “He’s not the sort of chap you could take home to meet the folks – not even his own folks – but he’s a likeable sort of fellow.”1

The first episode introduces the character of Major Hugh T. Worthington, who comes to stay at the boarding house. Worthington is an Englishman who passes himself of as a ‘Major’, a title he has created for himself. The reality is that he is nothing more than an opportunistic, fast-talking con-man out to dupe the gullible colonials. The ‘Major’ was played by Ernie Bourne, who was also a regular on The Magic Circle Club. Bourne described the character: “He used to be batman to the real Major Worthington in India, and has assumed his identity to impress people in the ‘colonies’. Basically a very lonely man... pathetic, a compulsive liar, without being very good at lying.”2

Early episodes see a clash of personalities with the ‘cultured Englishman’ and the ‘dinkum Aussie’, but as the series develops the conniving Major and the impressionable Ocker often team up in dubious get-rich-quick schemes.

The landlady is Mrs. Myrtle McNugg, a kind-hearted widow played by Margaret Reid. “She’s a kindly soul under a rough exterior,” said Margaret. “She has a deep sense of respectability, and that’s why she gets annoyed by Ocker, and why she is apparently taken in by Major Worthington.”3

Sue Israel plays Miss Farthingale, a daffy, eccentric spinster who dabbles in mysticism. Sue described the character as “a bit of a weirdo, timid and fluttery, and living in a world of her own. She is the type of person, pitied or ignored by those around her, who is destined never to succeed in anything.”4

A support role is played by George Whaley as Simpkins, another lodger in the house who appears as required. Simpkins is a sensitive type who works in a boutique, and finds the idiosyncrasies of the other boarders upsetting to his highly-strung nervous system.

A pilot episode was made in January 1967, and ATV-0 executives were very impressed. Thinking that they had a winner on their hands, they soon gave the go-ahead for a series of half-hour episodes, filmed in black and white. The creators of the series were actively involved in its production: John-Micheal Howson wrote the scripts for every episode, and Godfrey Philipp was the Producer and Director for the entire series.

Design Director Brian Thomson assembled a set of the boarding house in the ATV-0 studios, which was almost a complete shell of the real thing. To add authenticity to the set, Thomson spent a few weeks scavenging around building wreckers’ yards for old-style stairways, leadlight doors and other typical architectural items from period houses.

The series was recorded before a live audience, with the intention of having real laughter instead of the irritating ‘canned’ variety. Godfrey Philipp said that although it placed a greater demand on the cast and crew it achieved a spontaneity missing from shows with ‘canned’ laughter.5

Hey You! premiered in Melbourne on 12th August, 1967, in an 8:30 PM Saturday timeslot. In Sydney, it was shown at 9:00 PM on Tuesday, first screening on 26th September, 1967. Concerns about earthy and risqué dialogue, primarily from the character of Ocker Ramsay, were a factor in choosing the late timeslots. Colin McEwan defended the dialogue, stating that any doubtful language was there for authenticity: “Why, even Homicide uses everyday language when it’s considered necessary.”6 By today’s standards, the language in Hey You! is very tame.

Hey You! got off to an impressive start in Melbourne, doubling the ratings for its Saturday night timeslot. However, by November the situation was not looking good. The series was banished to a late timeslot, approximately 10:00 PM, following the Saturday night movie. An ATV-0 spokesman denied the change was detrimental for the series: “We have completely altered the Saturday night programming, giving Hey You! a better chance because it will be following a good movie. It is basically a change of format, based on surveys, to get a better programme line-up.”7 The reality was that the series was not doing too well, achieving an average rating of only 9.

ATV-0 executives considered some format changes for the show, including dropping Sue Israel from the cast. It was thought that her character of Miss Farthingale was too off-beat and outlandish. Ultimately, however, ATV-0 made the decision to axe the show, and production of Hey You! was halted after 16 episodes.

The only incident of any note during production of the series occurred when Sydney author Romy Hill announced she was considering taking legal action over the show. Advance publicity suggested to her that Hey You! had a theme similar to scripts for a sit-com set in a boarding house that she submitted to TEN-10 Sydney some three months previously. They were returned by TEN-10 because of the similar ideas to Hey You! which was already in production. Hill was shown a special preview of the show with her legal representatives, but nothing more was made public concerning the matter.

Following the demise of The Magic Circle Club, and concurrent with production of Hey You!, series creators John-Michael Howson and Godfrey Philipp took their bat and their ball across to the ABC, where they adapted The Magic Circle Club into the innovative and highly successful children’s series Adventure Island. Hey You! was repeated several times in off-peak timeslots, but has not been screened since the introduction of colour television in 1975.

 

HEY YOU!
EPISODE DETAILS

 

1. TV Week, Aug 12, 1967.
2. Melbourne Age, Aug 11, 1967.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. TV Week, Aug 12, 1967.
7. TV Week, Nov 4, 1967.



 Hey You! opening titles. The theme music was a simple piano tune, and a gruff voice-over yelled out the title.


Colin McEwan as 'Ocker' Ramsay.


Ernie Bourne as 'Major' Hugh T. Worthington.


Margaret Reid as landlady Myrtle McNugg.


George Whaley as Simpkins.


Sue Israel as Miss Farthingale, with Margaret Reid and George Whaley.


The Major and Ocker engaged in a deep philosophical discussion.


The fast-talking Major duping a gullible Mrs. McNugg.


Mrs. McNugg, Miss Farthingale and Simpkins in a quandary over the antics of The Major and Ocker.


Ocker, with beer can and smoke in hand, having a go at The Major.