CLASSIC AUSTRALIAN TELEVISION

THE LINK MEN


Copyright © 2014 Don Storey.  All rights reserved.


THE LINK MEN
EPISODE DETAILS

 

HOME

 

INTERVIEWS

 

CHRONOLOGICAL
OVERVIEW

 

F.A.Q.

 

LINKS


Two television stations premiered their own in-house police drama series in 1970. TCN-9 in Sydney came up with The Link Men, followed shortly afterwards by ATV-0 Melbourne with The Long Arm. At this point, the Seven Network was topping the ratings with Homicide, and the Nine Network was following the success of Hunter with their new series Division 4, all three being packaged by Crawford Productions in Melbourne. Whereas The Long Arm was made so that the 0-10 Network could 'cash-in' on the popularity of locally produced cop shows, the Nine Network had no such need, with Division 4 already rivalling the popularity of Homicide. The Link Men was simply an attempt by Nine to have a second successful local drama in its schedule, and in so doing prove that they could do without the expertise of outside packagers, and also give Sydney a show to counter the dominance of Melbourne-based productions.

Early plans were for a series based on the New South Wales police force '21 Division Special Mobile Squad', an elite unit operating from a central office and swooping on crime spots as required, in a similar manner to Scotland Yard's 'Flying Squad' in Britain. The concept was amended to follow a team of detectives from the Sydney CIB (Criminal Investigation Branch) who can be assigned to investigate any crime and who are not bound to any particular squad - hence the title The Link Men.

The series was created by Glyn Davies, a former Scotland Yard detective and British scriptwriter who came to Australia in 1967. His British credits include the series No Hiding Place and The Rat Catchers, and in Australia he spent one year with Crawfords, mainly working on Homicide. In early 1969 he was commissioned by TCN-9 to devise The Link Men.

There were big ideas for The Link Men. 26 episodes were to be filmed in colour, and, although set in Sydney, filming was also to take place in other state capitals. World-wide sales were envisaged, and to this end expatriate Australian actors with international reputations were sought to appear in the series. Names under serious consideration included Charles 'Bud' Tingwell, Michael Pate and Ray Barrett. "The whole concept of the series is very exciting," said Glyn Davies. "The series will be made in colour and will take full advantage of the magnificent scenery that is available in New South Wales."1

These ambitious plans were scaled back considerably, and by the time the pilot episode was made in October 1969, The Link Men was a black and white series using the film/video integration technique (film for exteriors, videotape for interiors). Locations were confined to Sydney, and it was aimed at a domestic market. TCN-9 considered the pilot episode to be moderately successful - it was not of a sufficiently high standard to go to air and was therefore never screened, but it showed enough potential that the go-ahead was given for 13 episodes to be produced.

The three actors chosen for the lead roles were Kevin Miles, Bruce Montague and Tristan Rogers. Kevin Miles had made guest appearances in a number of series and played a major role in the ABC series Delta. He portrayed Detective Sergeant John Randall, a dour and totally professional cop and head of the specialist 'Link Men' department. Aged about 40, Randall is a bachelor with no romantic attachments. He is touchy about interference in his work, unpopular with many of his colleagues, and inclined to make cutting remarks when people waste his time. "He's not infallible," said Kevin Miles, "he's blunt, and yet dignified and reliable."2

Bruce Montague was a British actor who had been in Australia for only three months before landing the part of Det. Sgt. Harry Sutton. Aged about 30, Sutton is the only married member of the team, an easy-going family man who can be tough and outspoken at times. His wife hates his job, and he and Randall do not share any great friendship outside of work. A compassionate man, Sutton sometimes lets his feelings get in the way of his work. Bruce Montague had previously worked with Glyn Davies in England: "I'm extremely pleased to be working to a Glyn Davies script, because he is a marvellous writer," said Montague. "He used to be a policeman, you know. It is a tremendous thing for an actor to have such a good writer behind him."3

Tristan Rogers was virtually unknown as an actor, having previously worked as a model. He played Detective Constable Ray Gamble, the junior member of the team. Gamble is in his early 20's, is impetuous, and a 'swinging bachelor'. He is often required to do the leg work for the team, and he sometimes clashes with his boss, Sgt. Randall. (Coincidentally, The Long Arm also featured a model turned actor in one of the lead roles - Lyndal Moor as Trish Towns).

Max Meldrum played a support role as Det. Russell, a forensic scientist, who appeared only as required. The depth of the part varied from episode to episode.

Experienced British producer and director George Spenton-Foster was brought to Australia to act as Executive Producer for the series. In effect, he functioned as one of three directors for the series, the other two being Jonathan Dawson and John Alaimo.  There were a number of other scriptwriters for the series in addition to Glyn Davies, including Tony Morphett and Peter Schreck.

The opening titles commence with a shot of the squad's police car, an unmarked Holden Monaro GTS (which generated much interest among the petrol-heads). The car drives over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the subject shifts to various shots of street scenes and detectives running, finally cutting to the three faces of the detectives, which then merge into one from whence the title The Link Men appears. The dynamic theme music for the series was specially composed by Geoff Harvey.

The New South Wales Police Force co-operated in the making of the programme, and a retired detective was engaged to provide advice on police procedures. Executive Producer Spenton-Foster stressed the level of authenticity achieved for the series: "The Link Men go about solving crime in exactly the same way as real policemen," he said.4

The Link Men premiered in Melbourne on January 14, 1970, and in Sydney the following day. Critics were unimpressed by the first episode, citing a lack of decisive acting and lack of crisp direction, resulting in a lack of believability. Mostly, the critics agreed that the series had potential and expected it to get better.

The first episode, 'Home Run', featured former Homicide regular John Fegan in a guest role. The story is often told how Nine Network owner Frank Packer offered Fegan some advice on how to handle a fight scene. In a demonstration, Fegan landed Packer on the floor. Packer then ordered Fegan's dismissal, but when it was explained that it couldn't be done without seriously disrupting filming schedules, not to mention breach of contract issues, Packer responded, "Well, sack him when he's finished!". (Contrary to the entry in Moran's Guide To Australian TV Series, this incident had nothing to do with the series cancellation.)5

A mild controversy came to The Link Men when film editors were told to delete a nude scene featuring guest actor Elke Neidhardt. The scene, from ep. 8 'Dishonoured Samurai', showed Elke lying on her stomach on a bed, and was replaced by a similar scene with a sheet covering the lower half of her body. Elke said that she understood that she would be able to play the part wearing a swimsuit under a sheet: "When we were ready to shoot the scene, someone said I had to take all my clothes off," said Elke. "We had quite a row about it, but the whole studio was waiting and I didn't want to be too difficult, so in the end I took my clothes off. They shot the same scene twice - once without any clothes and once with a sheet covering me to my hips. They ended up using the alternate shot with the sheet. You wouldn't have seen all that much anyway - only my bare bottom. I wasn't exactly thrilled about appearing nude, so I was very pleased when things turned out the way they did. I thought at the time that perhaps Channel Nine was just trying to get some publicity out of having someone in the nude, but it didn't work anyway."6

Michael Latimer was appointed as Producer of the series in February 1970, and reportedly declared war on the Melbourne made series Homicide and Division 4: "I want to turn The Link Men into Australia's number one detective series," he said.7 History would prove him to be unsuccessful in that endeavour.

One episode was scrapped after extensive production work had been undertaken. 'Where Did You Meet Carol Johnston?' had reached the stage where it was scheduled for screening in Sydney on February 26 (even being listed in programme guides), before TCN-9 decided the episode was sub-standard and withdrew it before completion. This incomplete episode, together with the completed but unaired pilot, placed The Link Men in a uniquely detrimental position - it was the only series from the era in which two episodes were considered to be of such a low standard that they should not be screened. (Of course, there have been many shows of an even lower standard that have been screened!)

By late February 1970 it was reported that The Link Men had been extended for another 13 episodes with a bigger budget, but TCN-9 was not happy with the series in its present form and it would be given a new direction. Consideration was given to introducing an Emma Peel-type character as seen in the British series The Avengers, and Janet Kingsbury, Jeanie Drynan and Carmen Duncan were all considered for the role. Various reports stated that the format could be changed, and the 'link men' may become Commonwealth Police responsible to the Prime Minister. Another report said that a 'glamour girl' would be added to the cast and producer Michael Latimer was spending his mornings on Sydney beaches to find her!8

Tristan Rogers resigned from the series to pursue his career elsewhere, and therefore would not appear in the new episodes. TCN-9 considered his departure temporary, and his last appearance was scheduled for episode 14, in which Det. Gamble would be beaten up by a criminal and 'sent away to recover'. It was not intended to replace Det. Gamble; instead it was proposed to enlarge the role of Det. Russell played by Max Meldrum.

Producer Michael Latimer said TCN-9 may even be prepared to scrub the Link Men concept entirely - however, he stressed that "this is most unlikely at this stage".9 Scripts for the next 13 episodes had not yet been commissioned in case further changes were implemented.

Bruce Montague at this point was both defensive and optimistic about the series: "Give the series a go," he said. "I do not think I am being bumptious when I predict The Link Men will become the top crime series in Australia. I have complete faith in saying that. I am well aware of the shortcomings of the series. We all are. I'll agree there is not yet enough action in the series. It is too slow. But I hope that will be rectified in a few weeks' time. I'll also agree that the characters of the three policemen have not yet properly developed. It will take a number of scripts before our characters begin to really gel so that we come over as human beings. Our problems are still many. First of all we have to settle down into the series. Any series has to do this. One of our greatest problems is antiquated technical equipment, which is responsible for a great deal of the slowness viewers probably sense. Australia is hopelessly outdated with its studio equipment. This makes a great deal of difference."10

Of course, these comments make one wonder how long a series should take to get its act together. Crawford Productions do not have this problem, and viewers should not be expected to persevere with a programme in the hope that one day it might get better. Montague also considered the ratio of video (70 percent) to film (30 percent) was too high: "I am hoping for a greater percentage of film - which gives a glossier, higher quality finish - will be used in later episodes. But filming is expensive and our present budget does not allow it."11

TCN-9 managing director Clyde Packer reappraised the position on The Link Men, and decided to cut the losses. The order came down from on high that production would stop a few days hence on March 6, after completion of the twelfth episode.

The cancellation of the series led to an outburst of public statements from the cast and crew, with mixed feelings being expressed, and much apportioning of blame. Tristan Rogers said the series was doomed after episode five: "I had resigned when the final blow came on March 6," he said. "I was surprised it came so soon, but I certainly wasn't surprised that it happened. Things were cataclysmic. We just couldn't do anything right. There was a lot of talent in the production unit, but the unit as a whole was never allowed to settle down. They kept hiring and firing new people. Another problem was the strain of shooting an episode every five days. This meant actors working on two, and sometimes three different episodes in the same week. There was never enough time for rehearsal. I told them after episode five that I'd just do my best for the rest of the series and say good-bye."12

Kevin Miles said he was "terribly sorry" that the series had been dropped, whereas some TCN staff members were glad to see the end of a "dreary series which just had to go".13

Bruce Montague was philosophical about it: "I'm an actor. I've been in about 50 percent successes and in about 50 percent failures. This is just one of the failures. Personally I feel that the series would certainly have picked up in about another four episodes. A number of things that were worrying me earlier in the series were beginning to work out. We were already using a greater percentage of filming rather than videotape."14

Producer Michael Latimer blamed nearly everything. "I don't think the public gave us a chance," he said. "In particular a number of journalists seemed ready to slam the series. I know Mr. Packer needed an awful lot of courage to make the decision to drop the series. I do not criticise his decision. He is a businessman and I am not. If The Link Men was not making money then it had to be scrapped. I do say that some of the earlier episodes were bad. The scripts were poor. Furthermore, since the series began about a quarter of the team was replaced. They were replaced by good people, but it does make things hard."15

Executive Producer George Spenton-Foster had both positive and negative things to say. He cited poor scripts as a significant factor: "Of the first 13, only two were good enough for a director to work on".16 He also said that ideas and talent had been thwarted by TCN-9 management, people with false credentials from overseas had been given important production work, back-stabbing and squabbling was occurring between different groups, and many people had to work in excess of 80 hours a week.17

Spenton-Foster accused two of the cast of acting like 'prima donnas'. "They counted one another's close-ups and competed against a third actor in the series," he said. "They fought over billing and quibbled over nearly every piece of publicity anyone in The Link Men received. This caused a gigantic problem. The two actors behaved like children.

"I personally was very disappointed when a nude scene of actress Elke Neidhardt was deleted from the episode 'Dishonoured Samurai'. I thought the scene was good, tastefully done and as a matter of fact I thought Miss Neidhardt looked very nice indeed. But viewers saw Miss Neidhardt partly covered by a sheet.

"We suffered from antiquated equipment, a studio one couldn't swing a cat in, shortage of staff. Added to this is the fact that a similar series made in England or America would have three times the budget. Production teams would be allowed nearly twice as long to edit one episode. However, to make up for these deficiencies in Australian television is this wonderful excitement and enthusiasm which Australians have.

"On the credit side I'd like to say I feel very sorry for the managing director of TCN-9, Mr. Clyde Packer. I believe he genuinely wanted the series to succeed. Again on the credit side I would like to praise the studio cameramen, the lighting engineers, the designers and the film cameraman, Steve Richards, whose work was superb. There are three performers whose work in the series impressed me a great deal. They are Diana Perryman, Clarissa Kaye (both guest actors) and Kevin Miles.

"I have the awful feeling that The Link Men debacle has set back the Australian TV industry by five years. This is a great pity because in our different ways we all worked so hard to make the series a success. But let's face it - one can't argue about a rating of eight, which the series was receiving."17

Michael Latimer, in a letter to TV Week, refuted some of Spenton-Foster's claims. "The strife attributed to the series is grossly exaggerated," he wrote. "There were teething troubles that were not seen to in time. That is all. By the time all of the problems had been solved it was too late and a promising future was never realised." Latimer also dismissed Spenton-Foster's claim that two actors behaved liked prima-donnas as "absolutely laughable". "During the time I was associated with the series I much admired the ability and sheer professionalism of the actors I believe he means. I am only sorry that as far as the series progressed neither was given the chance to show his true talent."18

Tristan Rogers looked back on the series in 1976: “It was a big break for a young actor and I was terribly excited about it. Unfortunately, it turned sour. It was the first show of its type attempted in Sydney and it suffered from too much interference from executives. Too many cooks finally killed it off. If it had been left to find its level, it might have gone on. But they wanted an instant success and fiddled with it too much when it didn’t work out that way.”19

The Link Men at times looked very amateurish, with awkward action and direction more suited to a stage play than a television series. At other times, it could look very polished and professional indeed. However, although the series was improving, the awkward moments were very obvious and would have caused many viewers to switch off. It was an enjoyable series, but it still paled in comparison to Homicide and Division 4 from the Crawford stable.

The failure of The Link Men was soon followed by the demise of The Long Arm. The 0-Ten Network finally found a successful local drama with Crawford Productions' Matlock Police; the Nine network of course already had the very successful Division 4 (also from Crawfords), but it would be a long, long time before Nine would attempt another in-house drama production.

After The Link Men, Kevin Miles moved directly to a lead role in the ABC series Dynasty, and over the years has appeared in many theatre, film and television roles, including a long run in the 1980's serial Carson's Law. Tristan Rogers appeared in guest roles in many other Australian series before moving to America and becoming well-known for his role in the U.S. soap General Hospital. The Link Men was repeated several times in off-peak timeslots, but has not been seen since the advent of colour television in 1975.

 

THE LINK MEN EPISODE DETAILS

 


1. TV Week, Aug 30, 1969.
2. Australian Women's Weekly, Feb 4, 1970.
3. TV Week, Oct 18, 1969.
4. TV Week, Jan 10, 1969.
5. Albert Moran, Moran’s Guide To Australian TV Series, (Australian Film Television & Radio School 1993), p. 272. The errors in this work are numerous.
6. TV Week, April 11, 1970.
7. Melbourne Listener In-TV, Feb 28, 1970.
8. Ibid.
9. TV Week, Feb 28, 1970.
10. TV Week, March 7, 1970.
11. Ibid.
12. TV Times, March 25, 1970.
13. TV Week, March 21, 1970.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. TV Week, May 2, 1970.
18. TV Week, May 23, 1970 (NSW edition).
19. TV Times, Jan 3, 1976.



The cast of The Link Men - Tristan Rogers, Kevin Miles and Bruce Montague.


Kevin Miles as Det. Sgt. John Randall, head of the 'Link Men' team.


Bruce Montague as Det. Sgt. Harry Sutton.


Tristan Rogers as Det. Const. Ray Gamble.


The 'Link Men' attend a crime scene. Not a scene from an episode, this was actually a posed publicity photograph, and the 'victim' was a Nine Network staff member.


Max Meldrum had a semi-regular support role as Det. Russell, a Forensic scientist.


The Link Men opening titles.


An advertisement for The Link Men.


Four days before its premiere, the cast of The Link Men came to Melbourne for a promotional visit. They are seen outside the GTV-9 complex in a back street in Richmond.


Bruce Montague and Michael Latimer during filming of ep. 1, 'Home Run', in which Latimer had a guest role. Latimer would later become producer of the series.


Bruce Montague as Det. Sgt. Harry Sutton.


Filming for ep. 10, 'The Quiet One'. Director Jonathan Dawson and cameraman Stephen Richards are on the left, with Max Meldrum, Bruce Montague and Kevin Miles on the right. The 'corpse' is cameraman Nicholas Lee.


Kevin Miles, Bruce Montague and Max Meldrum.


Assistant Director Ron Gaist stood in for a regular actor during rehearsals for ep. 10, 'The Quiet One'. He is seen here with Bruce Montague.


Don Pascoe, Tristan Rogers and Kevin Miles in a scene from ep. 10, 'The Quiet One'.


Tristan Rogers as Det. Const. Ray Gamble.


Kevin Miles, Tristan Rogers and Bruce Montague.