This interview originally appeared in TV EYE
No. 15, January 1999.
GARY GRAY (not to be confused with Gary
DAY of Homicide and Murder Call) is one of only a few
child actors who successfully continued into an adult career.
Starting out as one of the cast members of The Terrible Ten,
Gary later became well-known for his roles in Adventures of The
Seaspray and Bellbird.
You started out working for Roger Mirams, who
is still going strong.
About a month ago I went
to Sydney for Roger Miram's 80th birthday, who was the
producer of so much early television in Australia. He's quite an
extraordinary character actually, and an amazing thing is he's still
going. I asked him what he is doing now, and he said "I'm still
doing a bit of work for Grundy's, but I'm also working on a couple
of new projects". And he's 80 years of age! He'd just come back from
selling one of these concepts to German and French television and
he'd only been back a few days.
did you get involved in acting?
It goes back a long time
for me, to when I was about 7 years of age, around 1957 probably. My
mum sent me along to Crawfords where they were running an
'introduction to television' school, to train people in the art of
television technique. I remember it cost one guinea a lesson, which
was a lot of money in those days, and it was held on Saturday
mornings in a West Melbourne church hall. As a result of that I got
sent along to an audition, which was in the old boiler room at the
old factory out the back at Channel Nine. There was Roger Mirams,
Chris Stewart and Jim Davies, who were all expatriate New
Zealanders, and they had a company called Pacific Films.
story, as you probably know, is that he had been a war
correspondent, and later he came to Melbourne for the 1956 Olympics.
He actually had picked up the film rights for the Olympics - nobody
else wanted them - and he became the official film cameraman, and he was
responsible for so much of the footage from that event. I think it
was the beginning of film rights being considered an issue for
special events, and as a result a lot of other cameramen were barred
Anyway, he obviously liked Melbourne and stayed here.
He had this association with Chris Stewart, who ended up being the CEO of the Bank Of Melbourne, and a sound recordist from New Zealand
called Jim Davies. They had a small film company at the back of
Channel Nine, and they were about to embark on production of a
children's series. They had already done a pilot with a lot of their
friends, and they were looking for a young voice who could 'talk
proper', so I ended up auditioning for a narrator's part. I actually
got the job as narrator of the first episode of the Terrible Ten,
or The Terrific Adventures Of The Terrible Ten as it was
known, and at the end of that they asked me, "What do you do on
weekends? Would you like to come away when we shoot the next
episode?" Of course I said, "That'd be great!" I got 5 pounds for
doing the narration, which was quite good money, and I got 2 pounds
a day for going away Saturday and Sunday to be in these programmes. It
was somewhat less, but that was immaterial really, it was so much
Was that in Macedon?
Yes, although the first
episode we shot in Templestowe, but then very quickly we moved to
Macedon. Roger was doing a few TV commercials at that time to keep
the pot boiling to finance these other projects. So every Friday
night I'd get picked up at Toorak Station in a grey Holden station
wagon to go to Macedon. We stayed in the old Austrian embassy up
there, which had a vacant lot behind it, and they turned the old
hall into a miniature studio.
We had a crew of two: Roger, who was
the director and cameraman, and a sound recordist. Then they added
Bruce McNaughton as an assistant cameraman to Roger, and so the crew
exploded out to three, with Bruce as the first crew employee. Bruce
later went on to become a well-known cinematographer with his own
company. Roger used to write a lot of the scripts on the back of an
envelope, literally, and he would change it all the time during
filming. He would see something interesting and decide to write it
Apparently that used to happen as
late as Spyforce!
Ha ha! I'm sure that's
true! He always had an eye for what was 'commercial', so he'd change
things if he saw something that he thought people overseas would
like - scenery, or animals or whatever. So we went along doing that
for around about 6 or 7 years.
they ten minute episodes?
They were initially 15
minute episodes, probably only 10 in actual length, but they fitted
a 15 minute commercial timeslot, sponsored by the Bank Of New South
Wales on Channel Nine. I can remember doing promos sitting in deck
chairs with our names on the back, like they do in the movies from
the U.S.A. So our life was very much intertwined with Channel Nine
in those days, and even later when they built a studio out the back.
I think they called it Studio Nine and it was quite a substantial
studio, like a production studio with an edit suite and all that
sort of stuff. I can't remember what they actually built it for, but
not long after Pacific Films took it over and that became our home
for some years. Our interior scenes were done there and our location
scenes were still done at Macedon.
Sometime in that period we moved
in Macedon from the old Austrian Embassy to a guest house, and
eventually we moved to Woodend. At this stage the company was
becoming more prolific, this would be about 1963, and a series was
out called The Ten Again. They were churning those out for
the ABC and they had international sales, they'd sold stuff to 50 or
80 countries, I can't remember the exact number, but it was an
enormous amount of countries.
Ten Again was a half-hour series?
Yes. The Terrible Ten
developed into the half-hour The Ten Again. I think we did
50-odd episodes of The Terrible Ten, I'm not sure. We did a
season number, 26 or 39 or 52 quarter-hours, as seasons were in
blocks of 13 in those days. It was certainly more than 26 for
Channel Nine, then we moved to the ABC.
Did you move to studios at the ABC?
No, we stayed at the
Channel Nine studio and just sold the programme to the ABC.
So it was The Terrible Ten at Nine and
The Ten Again at the ABC.
That was the name
change. It moved from The Terrific Adventures Of The Terrible Ten
to The Ten Again at the ABC. By now Roger had established his
stock-in-trade and he was a great marketer of stuff overseas,
especially to Europe where kids are cooped up in apartments. He
capitalised on the Australiana dream of kids riding horses and the
'Our Gang' concept, and eventually he sold to Japan which was a big
The Magic Boomerang
would have been the next major production.
Yes. About this time is
when we moved from Macedon, where we were based on the Mount, to
Woodend. Which we eventually termed 'Holly-Woodend' because by this
stage The Magic Boomerang was coming on, they had 39 eps to
do of that, which was also an ABC sale. We had two units working,
and we took over the Mechanics Institute at Woodend and used it as a
studio. By then they were out of Channel Nine and had moved to an
office in Moray Street South Melbourne, a small building with an
edit suite and a sound mixing set-up. All the filming was done at
Woodend with the Mechanics Institute as a studio, where they built
some sets and employed carpenters and set-builders. The whole thing
was starting to take shape as a real operation. There were often two
units working and there were now about 12 to 14 people in the crew.
Then we took over the cinema across the road which had closed, so we
had two studios, one each side of the highway, and we moved into
shooting The Magic Boomerang.
By this time we had
established a company of 'senior' kids, of which I was one, and
David Morgan was another, plus Roger's daughter Joanne, Rodney
Pearlman, Gavin Ellis - a range of kids who had been around for a
while. We used to float other kids in underneath and we also used a
lot of local kids. Then David got the lead in The Magic Boomerang
and I played his mate in some episodes, and when I wasn't working on
a Ten Again episode I used to be Assistant Director on The
Magic Boomerang, and so I got a lot of behind the scenes
experience as well.
Your next series
was Adventures Of The Seaspray?
Yes. When The Magic
Boomerang started to wind down they developed an association
with Screen Gems in the United States. Screen Gems had a programme
developer called Dan Enwright - he was involved in that $64,000
Question quiz show scam - and he was keen for Pacific Films to
do a joint venture. So they decided to make a pilot for
Adventures Of The Seaspray, and off we went to Fiji. We
previously had a trip to New Zealand and I think to Fiji with The
Terrible Ten, as Roger loved the romance of all these exotic
locations. So we went off with one of our resident directors at the
time, an Irishman purporting to be an American called Joe McCormick.
We found out later he wasn't American at all, he was Irish, but he
was a hell of a nice guy and a bloody good actor. Joe had been a
radio actor in Australia for a long time, and had also directed a
lot of stuff, and he came along and played the lead in Seaspray
as the father. He also directed the episode and I played the son.
The pilot was shot in black and white and they eventually sold the
concept, and then they had to decide who was going to be in the
show. David Morgan and I auditioned, and I got the part. Jacki
Weaver and Susan Haworth auditioned for the girls role, Sue got the
part and Rodney Pearlman got the part of the younger son. So there
was me as the elder son Mike, Sue as the daughter Sue and Rodney's
part of Noah. They searched around England for an appropriate father
role and found this ex-New Zealand actor called Walter Brown. They
cast him in it and said "Off you go, do 39 eps", and we lived in
Fiji for eight months.
actually based in Fiji, not Australia?
Yes, it was based in
Fiji. We lived there for 8 months on two ships. We had the schooner
'Seaspray' plus a 112 foot cruiser, which was an old war-time patrol
boat. It had been turned into a tourist boat and we lived on that,
we filmed on the 'Seaspray' and we travelled the islands for eight
spent ten weeks in New Zealand. We were flown up onto Mt Cook on the
glacier to shoot some stuff and it was amazing. There was snow and
ice everywhere, and we were shooting away and suddenly we were
caught in a mist, a cloud, it was like someone just poured it out,
it was literally over us in about 15 minutes, we were enshrouded in
it. We had two guides with us and they said "We could be in a bit of
strife here!" We didn't have radio contact, and the guides said
we're going to have to make a decision before nightfall whether to
stay up here, because the plane can't get in to get us out. There
were 16 of us, and the director, Eddie Davis, was about 73 years of
age; certainly in his early 70's. He was reasonably fit, but old.
They had brought him out from the U.S., where he had worked on Cisco
Kid, Bat Masterson, Tombstone Territory, all that
sort of stuff. So all 16 of us had to get roped together, and we had
to go trekking through this mountain, missing all the crevasses,
with the guides leading us. We had to climb up to a hut, which is
there for exactly this sort of thing - people stuck on the glacier.
There were 16 of us in this hut for the night, which was only
designed for 8 people, and in the hut was a radio. We put all the
cameras in an ice cave where they would be protected from the
weather. Fortunately the next day the weather cleared and we made
our way back down. It was quite exciting.
When we started the
Seaspray series back in Fiji we had David Baker and Joe
McCormick directing. We were on the first episode, the first
production with Screen Gems, and it was scheduled to be turned
around in six days. After three weeks we hadn't shot the first
episode! We had some problems with rain, but Joe was disorganised -
he had a lot of personal problems at the time and the whole thing
was a debacle. Then they flew David Baker in. He'd done a lot of
work for Roger, he was quite a crazy character, and he got things
rolling again, but the Yanks just couldn't handle him at all. So by
episode 3 we had an American director come out, Eddie Davis, and he
was a consummate professional, with a long history in film-making. So
with all his experience he came along and totally reorganised
everything and we shot the first of his episodes in 4 days. He knew
all the short cuts, things we'd never seen before. He wouldn't even
bother shooting the reverses in reverse, he'd just swing the camera
a few degrees, say 'look left (or right)' and 'action'. He wouldn't bother
re-setting up as long as the background was different and your
eye-line was right. So he got the whole thing rolling and then we
were on a very slick production schedule. We went from Fiji to New
Zealand, from New Zealand to New Guinea, then we came to Australia,
all up it was about 14-16 months filming.
Were any episodes filmed in Melbourne or
certainly filmed one in Melbourne - Keith Eden was the guest star.
Most were done in Fiji. The ship, 'Seaspray', was based in Nelson in
New Zealand, and that's where we started. We took it to Fiji, back
to New Zealand, then to Melbourne, and from there to New Guinea,
then back to Northern Australia.
That was it, apart from
some pilots. We did Birds Of Paradise College, a pilot for
Screen Gems at about the Seaspray time. Fred Betts was the
headmaster, and Kay Eklund was one of the teachers. Liza Goddard was
in it and a whole lot of gorgeous girls, and I was just at the age
when I found gorgeous girls very interesting - although they were
just a little bit older than me and out of reach. We did another
pilot for Screen Gems called Wildes Of The Outback, Owen
Weingott played the father and I played the second eldest son, and
Gary Day played the eldest son and I think Sue Haworth played the
daughter. It was shot in Sydney and in Alice Springs, and we hired a
DC-3 to fly to Alice. They cast John Meillon in the lead guest role
and we shot that at the old Artransa site in Sydney. However, John
was having some personal problems at the time and he was replaced by
Wyn Roberts. Both those pilots never saw the light of day.
Was there a reason Joe McCormick didn't
continue in the series of Seaspray?
The Yanks didn't want
him - he was overweight and a bit too old. Joe had actually played
Superman for a while on the radio - he was a very successful radio
They wanted someone who would
better fit the 'hero' stereotype?
Yes, the classic sort of
agile, tanned, good-looking figure, and a bit younger - which Walter
You obviously had guest roles in
the ubiquitous Crawford shows, plus a regular part in Bellbird.
Oh yes. When I came back
from Fiji, what could I do? I'd been an actor all my life, I was now
16 years of age, so I then started working in theatre for a year or
so, and of course did all the regular guest appearances in
Homicide and all that sort of stuff. Then I was asked by the ABC
to audition for a part in Bellbird as John Quinn's son, which
Jonathon Sweet eventually played. So I missed out on the role, but
they said they've got another part coming up in about eight weeks,
and I didn't audition for that, they just cast me. I was in
Bellbird for about nine years on and off. During that period we
produced a feature film of Bellbird, Terry McDermott, Fenton
Rosewarne and myself, called Country Town. I wasn't in
Bellbird every week - they way they constructed it they had 15
actors, and they'd write the scripts and budget it so you'd actually
work 4 weeks in six or 5 weeks in 8 or something like that, it was
that sort of ratio. So you had to pick up other work, and I was
lucky. Eddie Davis put me in Colour Me Dead with Tom Tryon,
plus I did the whole gamut of Crawford stuff, Division 4,
Hunter right through to The Last Of The Australians and
Young Ramsay. About 18 years ago I started to develop some
business interests, and my present business is going along quite
nicely, but I've also kept in touch with the industry by doing
Why was the film called
Country Town rather than Bellbird?
Because the ABC wouldn't
let us use the name Bellbird. In fact, the ABC were going to
take out an injunction against us, but it turned out that they
didn't own the characters. They owned the name Bellbird, but
they didn't own the characters. The creator of Bellbird,
Barbara Vernon, wrote the script, and that's how we were able to go
ahead - as long as Barbara Vernon wrote the script we were safe. But
we couldn't call it Bellbird, so it became Country Town.
Would you ever go back into acting?
Yes I would, one of my
ambitions is to indulge myself in it sometime in the future. The
great thing for an actor to have is financial independence - it
means the difference of going for a part that you have to
get, or going for a part that would be nice if you got it. As a
working actor I was lucky - I worked all my life from when I was 7
until I was 30, but the reality for most actors these days is that
in between jobs they have to do other things, like wear panda bear
suits and parade around shopping centres to earn a crust. And I
didn't want to be in that situation with a wife and family. But I'd
like to do some acting again because I enjoy it - I was brought up
from age 7 to 17 and beyond making films, so it's a big part of my