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NICE 'N JUICY


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NICE 'N JUICY
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While Crawford Productions, through their groundbreaking series Homicide, are rightly credited with pioneering Australian drama production, there was another organisation that also had a commitment to local drama - the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). When television began in 1956, the ABC treated the new medium as complementary to radio. Consequently the production of television drama became the responsibility of the Drama and Features Department - the same department that produced drama for radio.

Early ABC drama was limited to one-off plays. In 1960 the historical serial Stormy Petrel was produced, the success of which led to the production of a drama 'mini-series' for the next five years - The Outcasts, The Patriots, The Hungry Ones, The Purple Jacaranda and My Brother Jack. The Children's Department also produced some shows, including Smugglers Beware and The Stranger.

Change was in the air. In November 1964 the General Manager of the ABC since 1935, Charles Moses, retired and was succeeded by Talbot Duckmanton. Shortly afterwards radio was separated from television within the Commission, and programming took on a new direction. A Television Drama department was created, and the existing Drama and Features department was limited to radio. Head of the new department was David Goddard,1 who came to Australia after leaving the British Broadcasting Commission (BBC) in 1965. He had been acting with a growing level of autonomy as Assistant Director for Television in the Drama and Features department for some time.

Many new faces turned up at the ABC during this period. Arriving at the same time as Goddard was Eric Tayler, a former BBC producer who worked with Goddard on the British series Z Cars and Maigret. Colin Free, an Australian writer who had also worked for the BBC, joined the Commission at this time and would work on many projects in the years to come, including the critically-acclaimed Contrabandits and Rush.

The first product of the new department was a 1966 situation comedy - Nice ‘n Juicy, which was the first series (with self-contained episodes, as opposed to a serial with a continuing narrative) that the ABC made. Nice ‘n Juicy was the brainchild of Colin Free, who based the show on a play he wrote titled How Do You Spell Matrimony. Director and Producer of the series was Eric Tayler.

Nice ‘n Juicy is set on a rundown citrus orchard in New South Wales, at a fictitious location called Wyvern Creek. Jack and Mort Hamlin are two brothers who live a lonely and tenuous existence on the decaying 25 acre property willed to them by their father. The elder brother, Jack, is conservative and wishes to develop the old family property. Mort wants to sell up and move to the bright lights of Sydney and live high on the profits. Jack, however, is a depressing realist and knows that any sale is going to be engulfed by a double mortgage.

Willie Fennell played the role of Jack Hamlin, and John Ewart was cast as Mort. Carmen Duncan provided the glamour as Mort’s girlfriend Rosie Withers, and Gwen Plumb had a support role as Ada Withers, Rosie’s battleaxe mother. Rounding out the cast is a hen called Myrtle, who shares the brothers’ squalid broken-down farmhouse. The bustle of a television studio did not faze Myrtle one little bit - she continued to lay eggs throughout production of the first series!

Before landing this role, Willie Fennell, a well-known radio performer, was on the verge of quitting the industry. “I have been in several pilot series which never got off the ground,” said Fennell. “Some of the scripts looked wonderful on paper, but they fell down in production. I was beginning to despair about breaking into television. If Nice ‘n Juicy had flopped, I would have given acting away.” 2 Of course, Fennell went one to become a very familiar face on Australian television, as did fellow cast members Carmen Duncan and John Ewart.

The working title of the series was Pith And Kin, which the cast and crew considered quite a funny name. However, ABC management were concerned about the possible mispronunciation if one became tongue-tied, and insisted that the title be changed to something that could not be potentially offensive. And so, the series was renamed Nice ‘n Juicy.

It was initially intended to produce only six episodes, which were completed in September 1966, but then another seven episodes were commissioned, making a total of 13. The series was produced in black and white on videotape, with most of the action being confined to the one set of the Hamlin’s farmhouse.

Nice ‘n Juicy premiered variously in late September (Sydney), October (Brisbane) and November (Melbourne and Adelaide), 1966, although it could have been shown earlier. The ABC decided to delay screening so it would not clash with My Name’s McGooley – What’s Yours?, launched by the Seven Network in early September. Both being situation comedies at a time when Australian drama production was still quite young, comparisons between the two were inevitably drawn. “It is unfair to compare the two,” said Gwen Plumb, “they should be judged on their individual merits. It is just unfortunate they both had to arrive at the same time.” 3

Carmen Duncan classed Nice ‘n Juicy as the most enjoyable job she had so far: “Willie Fennell, John Ewart and Eric Tayler are the heads of a wonderful team,” she said. 4 The media tried to sensationalise one episode in which Carmen appeared in a ‘daring’ bikini.  “More of me is on show than there ever has been before,” said Carmen, but she added that it would not go any further: “Those who say nudity is all right as long as it is part of the script are talking a lot of baloney in my opinion. I don’t believe in that at all.” 5 Times changed, and when Carmen made bikini appearances over the next couple of years in Hunter and Riptide, everybody noticed but nobody thought it was a big deal.

There was some uncertainty about whether another series would be produced, which infuriated Ewart and Fennell. “They can't expect us to sit around doing nothing, while they make up their minds about the show," said Fennell. 6 The decision not to proceed with a second series came in February 1967. “The ABC thought the characters were just too grotty,” explained Fennell. 7

After Nice ‘n Juicy, the ABC Drama Department became quite prolific under David Goddard’s management, and output was channelled into three main genres: series (self-contained episodes), serials (continuing narrative) and the traditional one-off play. The first fruits of this new policy were the long-running soap opera Bellbird and the critically acclaimed series Contrabandits. Comedy would become the province of the Light Entertainment Department.

The critics generally liked Nice ‘n Juicy, it achieved respectable ratings and, looking back in 1977, Willie Fennell said it was “the best comedy show in which he ever appeared”. 8 However, the show has not aged well, and today it comes across as rather dated, largely due to the tedious stage play atmosphere that the restrictive single set imposes.

 

NICE 'N JUICY EPISODE DETAILS



1. David Goddard is the father of actress Liza Goddard, whose first major role was as Clancy Merrick in Skippy.
2. TV Week, Dec 17, 1966.
3. Ibid.
4. TV Times, Dec 7, 1966.
5. Ibid.
6. TV Week, Feb 11, 1967.
7. TV Times, Dec 17, 1977.
8. Ibiid.



Nice 'n Juicy opening titles.

 

 


The two principal cast members - Willie Fennell as Jack Hamlin and John Ewart as Mort Hamlin.

 

 


Carmen Duncan as Rosie Withers.

 

 


Mort and Jack in the main street of Wyvern Creek, their local town.