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MRS. FINNEGAN


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MRS. FINNEGAN
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Mrs. Finnegan is an obscure situation comedy that has long been forgotten by most of the viewing public. In fact, forgotten is not strictly accurate as most people were unaware of its existence in the first place.

An in-house production by ATN-7 Sydney, Mrs. Finnegan centred on a widow in a working class suburb and her layabout son. Michael Pate, who had recently returned to Australia after spending many years as an actor in Hollywood, had been appointed to the position of Executive Producer of Drama at ATN-7 Sydney, and in this capacity presided over the establishment of the series. 13 half-hour episodes were completed, with production commencing in October 1969. It was made in black and white using the film/video integration process (film for exterior location scenes, videotape for interior studio scenes).

Originally titled The Finnegans, the series was renamed to highlight the central character. Dolore Whiteman was cast in the title role of Mrs. Jessie Finnegan who lives in the fictitious Sydney working-class suburb of Hurstfield. A 55-year-old widow, Mrs. Finnegan grew up during the depression and has had to struggle to get by all her life.

Her layabout son Darby, played by Reg Gorman, is 28 and has never been able to hold down a steady job in his life. Darby is lazy, but nonetheless is always coming up with grand ideas and get-rich-quick schemes that never come to anything. Somewhat dim-witted, Darby appears intelligent only when in the company of his best mate Hilton Harper.

Hilton, portrayed by Max Cullen, is slovenly and even more slow-witted than Darby. The part was in effect Cullen's debut as a comic actor, as he had previously been known for his roles as a 'heavy' in various crime shows. In fact, when the pilot episode was being made, Michael Pate had Cullen last on his list of actors to audition. "Hilton was the absolute dope," said Cullen, "and you have to think like a genius to play a dope."1

Support characters were played by Penny Ramsey as Darby’s girlfriend Fay Smith, and Marion Johns as Amy Frizell, a gossiping, scheming busybody neighbour and good friend to Mrs. Finnegan.

Mrs. Finnegan was devised by Keith Smith, a prolific writer who also appeared on-screen in The Pied Piper, a programme in which he conducted candid interviews with children. Smith co-wrote the scripts for all 13 episodes of Mrs. Finnegan with veteran radio writer George Foster. Producer of the series was John Walters.

The opening titles were a montage of still photos depicting aspects of the inner western suburbs of Sydney, conveying a comprehensive impression of a working-class suburb. The closing credits were shown scrolling up a player-piano roll as the theme tune played. The theme was a simple old-time piano piece by Tommy Tycho, who was responsible for the composition and recording of music for a number of ATN-7 programmes of the era.

The cast enjoyed making the series. “I love every second of it,” said Dolore Whiteman. “I have come to feel very close to Mrs. Finnegan.”2  Reg Gorman said the show was good fun: “They gave me Darby to play. Darby is a character who never has much money because he never has quite the right job and keeps getting a new one.”3

The Seven Network were looking for a show to emulate the success of My Name’s McGooley - What’s Yours?, and were initially optimistic about Mrs. Finnegan. “With this series I am hoping to establish characters with the same national recognition as Wally Stiller had in Rita And Wally,” said Producer John Walters. “We are aiming at overseas sales and we are using the Australian idiom. In the past the Australian television industry has shied from this and always conformed to what overseas audiences would expect. I think the Australian idiom is much more colourful than the American, and it’s about time we made the audiences come to us rather than us going to them.”4

The overseas sales did not eventuate; in fact, the show failed to make any sort of impact anywhere at all. Originally intended to air in early 1970 in a prime time spot, somewhere along the way the Seven Network lost faith in the show and it was shelved. In March, Mrs. Finnegan turned up on screen in Melbourne - thrown away by HSV-7 in a noon timeslot on weekdays. There was speculation that this was a political reaction by HSV, due to the refusal of other Seven Network stations to buy their locally-produced comedy series Joan And Leslie the previous year. However, originating station ATN-7 Sydney still had no plans to screen the series.

Creator and writer Keith Smith was baffled by the situation. He said that technically his interest in the series was finished, as his job was to write it and Seven had discharged its obligation to him fully when they paid him: “I’ve seen a couple of episodes, and they’ve done a good job. I think it should go like mad. Why HSV-7 should have confined the show to a TV graveyard is a mystery to me.”5

Mrs. Finnegan was finally screened in Sydney from November 1970 to February 1971, during the summer ‘silly season’ non-ratings period. Some episodes were repeated once more during the December 1972 non-ratings period.

Why the show was treated so badly by the Seven Network is something of a mystery. Granted, Mrs. Finnegan is not a pinnacle of artistic achievement, and was never going to be a runaway success, but it was of a high enough standard to warrant a fair go. Indeed, there have been many inferior programmes that have received much better treatment. Consequently, Mrs. Finnegan has been relegated to the limbo of obscurity - it is not remembered as a great show, because it is not a great show; nor is it remembered as a bad show, because it is not a bad show either. It is not even remembered as an average show. It is simply not remembered at all.

 

MRS. FINNEGAN
EPISODE DETAILS

 

1. TV Times, Jan 25, 1975.
2. TV Week, May 9, 1970.
3. TV Times, July 29, 1970.
4. TV Week, Nov 8, 1969.
5. TV Times, April 29, 1970.


 



Dolore Whiteman in the title role of Mrs. Finnegan.


Max Cullen (left) as the dim-witted Hilton Harper, best mate of Mrs. Finnegan's son Darby, played by Reg Gorman (right).


Penny Ramsey played Darby's girlfriend Fay Smith.


Mrs. Finnegan opening titles.


Mrs. Finnegan with her gossiping neighbour Amy Frizell, played by Marion Johns.


Hilton and Darby in Mrs. Finnegan's kitchen.


Mrs. Finnegan commercial integration.