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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
TV Times, July 29, 1970.
4. TV Week, Nov 8, 1969.
5. TV Times, April 29, 1970.