CLASSIC AUSTRALIAN TELEVISION

RIPTIDE


Copyright 2013 Don Storey.  All rights reserved.


RIPTIDE
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British and/or American producers have come to Australia from time to time to film various television series. Indeed, the first series made in Australia, The Adventures Of Long John Silver, is a case in point. Other examples are Whiplash and, more recently, Mission: Impossible and Time Trax.

One of the most infamous of these 'overseas' productions in Australia is the sea-faring adventure series Riptide, which was made in Sydney in the late 1960's. Produced by Trans Pacific Enterprises and Artransa Park Studios, Riptide was devised by Australian expatriate Michael Noonan from an idea by American producer Guy Thayer Jr. Thayer, President and General Manager of Trans Pacific Enterprises, was also Executive Producer of the show and had previously produced, amongst other things, 78 episodes of a series called Waterfront. "I figured if we could do 78 Waterfronts about a tugboat skipper," said Thayer, "why, we certainly ought to be able to do a good action-adventure series in Australia involving a boat."1

Amalgamated Television Services held Australian rights to the series and, because they had connections with Artransa and ATN-7, it was distributed locally through the Seven Network. International distribution was handled by Associated British Pathe Ltd, London.

Interestingly enough, Artransa was also involved in the production of the earlier 'overseas' production filmed here, Whiplash. Michael Noonan also played a large part in the development of another British series, The Flying Doctor, which was set in Australia and even had some stock footage shot here, but was actually filmed in a London studio.

American actor Ty Hardin was a stockholder in the Riptide venture, and was already selected to play the lead role before pre-production commenced in Australia, it being considered that an American star would significantly enhance the prospect of a sale to the United States. (Ty is short for Typhoon, a nickname - his real name is reportedly Orison Whipple Hungerford). Hardin had been working in films in Europe for four years - prior to that he had major roles in the U.S. westerns Cheyenne and Bronco when he was a contract artist to Warner Bros. (American studios at the time would contract actors and then find shows to suit them, whereas usual Australian practice is to develop the series first, and then cast actors appropriate for the roles).

Apart from Hardin, all other actors in the series were Australian. A contemporary press report with the headline 'You could be 5 from fame' (5 being the price of a phone call at the time) stated that the producers were on the lookout for actors to appear in the series. It was suggested that anyone who was interested should give the casting agent a call. The agent was quoted as saying, "There will be so much work - all of it well paid - that any actor worth his salt in Australia should get a chance to appear in the series." And, somewhat patronisingly, "With the overseas methods which will be employed on the series it will mean that the actors can get invaluable experience without having to leave Australia".2

Actual production commenced on November 27, 1967. Hardin arrived in Sydney a couple of weeks earlier, and was introduced to the media at a reception held at a yacht club.

Riptide's original working title was ‘Charter Boat’, and it was planned to film extensively on location in North Queensland as well as Sydney. As it happened, most of the series was shot in and around the Pittwater area on Sydney's northern beaches (as were later series The Rovers, Spyforce and Chopper Squad). Some filming did take place in Queensland, after fourteen episodes had been completed and most of the crew were given a three-week holiday. During this period Producer Guy Thayer Jr. took a second unit to the Barrier Reef and filmed some establishment shots with Ty Hardin.

Riptide was produced in colour and all on film, and ran for 26 episodes. It was the first one-hour colour series produced in Australia (but not the first colour series - it was preceded by the half-hour series The Adventures Of Long John Silver and Adventures Of The Seaspray). Riptide had a big budget, variously reported from $55,000 an episode to $120,000 an episode, but in fact averaging around $70,000 an episode. By comparison, the Crawford Productions spy series Hunter was costing around $20,000 an episode, and Homicide cost even less. "We can make a Riptide episode here for $70,000," explained Ty Hardin. "In the States it would cost $200,000."3

Producers, directors and scriptwriters for Riptide mainly came from England, and most had previously worked on British series such as Danger Man and The Avengers. Nearly all of the episodes were produced by Ralph Smart, and Robert Banks Stewart was Associate Producer and Story Consultant. Director Peter Maxwell shared duties with Jeremy Summers and later Quentin Lawrence, each directing every second episode. Summers was replaced by Lawrence amid speculation that he did not get along with Ty Hardin, but Summers denied this. "I came out here to direct seven of the first 13 episodes and I've just finished the 13th," he said. "I could have stayed on for the second 13 but personal problems made this difficult."4

Stories abounded that Ty Hardin was difficult to work with. "Some actors complained that he didn't know his lines," said Noel Ferrier, who had a guest role in two episodes. "In some cases he didn't, but he was always aware of what he was doing in each scene. If you could ad lib along with him a bit, you were all right. I found him excellent to work with."5

As mentioned earlier, Ty Hardin had the lead role. He played Moss Andrews, an American executive who had been married to an Australian girl who was killed in a car crash. Taking some leave, Moss sails to Australia on his own, and turns his back on his executive job to help his father-in-law run a charter boat business named, aptly enough, 'Charter Boat'. The series concerns the various adventures Moss Andrews finds himself in through the business.

Auditions were held for two support roles, and pundits were tipping former Sunnyside Up and IMT singer Tony Jenkins and Tommy Hanlon Show hostess and model Frankie Lightfoot to get the parts. As it happened, two virtual unknowns landed the support roles. Jonathan Sweet played Neil Winton, a medical student who gets into trouble with some criminals. Moss helps him out and gives him a job with Charter Boat. Neil's girlfriend is Judy Plenderleith, the daughter of a wealthy Sydney businessman, played by Sue Costin. Sweet and Costin were selected from hundreds of actors, however they only lasted until episodes 11 and 9 respectively before they were dropped as an economy measure. Neil was written out by having him return to his medical studies, but no explanation was given for the sudden absence of Judy.

Other minor support roles were Carl, a Charter Boat employee played by Slim De Grey, appearing from episode 11 onwards; and in earlier episodes Barney Duncan, Moss's father-in-law, played by Chris Christensen. Unfortunately, Christensen passed away during filming of the series, and Barney's absence was explained by his retiring and leaving the business to Moss.

Many well known Australian actors appeared as guest artists, including Tony Ward, Rowena Wallace, Michael Pate, Bill Hunter, Helen Morse, John Meillon, Chips Rafferty and Jack Thompson. In fact, many episodes boasted a guest cast featuring the leads from various past and future series. For example, the cast of episode 22 'Hagan's Kingdom' included Tony Ward (Hunter), Jack Thompson (Spyforce), John Gregg (Delta) and Lex Mitchell (Homicide). Norman Yemm won critical acclaim for his part in episode 24, 'Black Friday', in which he played an escapee from a mental hospital.

The appearance of guest artists did cause a continuity problem with the show. On one hand viewers were expected to remember a minor character such as Barney Duncan (Chris Christensen), who may only have a few lines and then not reappear for several episodes. On the other hand a well-known actor such as Tony Ward or Chips Rafferty would have a lead role, only to turn up a couple of episodes later in another major role as a completely different character.

The programme's big budget meant that overseas sales were necessary to turn a profit. Thayer stated that to cover costs they would need to sell the series in Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan and Germany, and to make it pay they would need a U.S. sale.6 Hardin put his foot in his mouth regarding the (lack of) quality of Riptide when he was quoted as saying, "We need a couple of really hot episodes quickly if we're to sell it to the States."7 And: "Of the completed episodes I've seen, they are all world-class, with one exception."8

With eight episodes still to be made, Riptide was put on the market for sale to America in late November 1968. Hardin admitted some of the early episodes were not too good, but he believed the show as a whole was good, and better than his previous series Bronco. "Trouble was, we came in cold turkey," he said. "Today there's greater efficiency all round. Now we can do our shows within the budget and that's tremendous." Hardin also said there was a vast improvement in later episodes that was largely due to producer Ralph Smart.9

The hoped-for American sale had still not eventuated by the time production ceased in May 1969. Consequently, Hardin did not receive his ten percent share of the profit - only his pay of $75,000 plus his substantial living expenses. He would receive his percentage of the profit when and if an American sale was made. Thayer said, "We missed the January market - they (the U.S. networks) all bought quiz and panel shows. Maybe they'll buy it as a summer replacement."10

Riptide was due to be screened in England during the 1969 northern autumn, and if good ratings were achieved it was proposed to commence production of a second series in December. This never eventuated, and one can assume the British ratings were less than satisfactory.

In Australia, critics had a sneak preview of episode 4, 'Surprise Surprise', which was an entry in the tenth Adelaide film festival in May 1968 (along with 'Flashpoint', the all-film Homicide episode). Riptide premiered in February 1969, with a filmed introduction by Ty Hardin in which, amongst other lofty platitudes, he proclaimed it to be "a completely new and different type of series".

Riptide rated well in Sydney, climbing to the number 2 position with a rating of 36. It also made the top 10 in Brisbane and Adelaide, but in Melbourne the average rating was 21. Hardin totally missed the point about the rating performance in Melbourne: "I don't know what it means. Maybe I should have come down for promotions or something. But anyway it's a colour show. It's meant to be seen in colour - if the public could only watch one episode (in colour), boy, they'd know we had a winner".11 Yeah, right - as if colour magically improves poor scripts! (A comparison between the Melbourne and Sydney ratings at the time illustrates the different viewing patterns of the two cities. The American sit-com Julia was number one in Sydney with a rating of 37, whereas in Melbourne the top two programmes were the locally-produced Homicide and Division 4 with ratings of 50 and 48 respectively).

Obviously Riptide failed to make the impact that its publicity, and its big budget, caused everyone to expect. Critics initial reaction to the series was lukewarm, consensus being that the show was not fantastic but had potential. As the series progressed, critics became increasingly disenchanted. Typical comments were: "In the second episode the plot fell down completely and insanity reigned. We had a medical student risking his career for the sake of a bag which, for all he knew at the time, could have contained someone's leftover sandwiches."12 And: "The Riptide plots are invariably ludicrous, the scripting unbelievably stilted and the acting hammy".13

These comments are quite valid - the plots in Riptide are ludicrous. The first episode was actually not too bad, and, being a scene-setter, held promise of better things to come. However, things only got worse. Episode 3, 'Jump High, Land Easy', concerned the attempt of a French water ski-ing instructor to deceive some youths into helping him rob an oyster farm. It would take an incredibly naive and stupid six-year-old not to suspect his plan, and scenes such as Judy signalling Moss by reflecting Morse code in sunlight from her compact mirror are simply ridiculous. One would be disappointed to find such fare in a ‘Donald Duck’ comic, let alone in an adult drama series.

Episode 5, 'One Way To Nowhere', starts off quite credibly, but soon degenerates when Moss rounds up a gang of drug runners single-handedly. This is the standard theme of Riptide - ‘Super Yank’ sticks his beak in and resolves every situation in which the half-witted locals find themselves.

Episode 7, 'The Boat That Went To Sea', is even more ludicrous, despite an excellent performance from Chips Rafferty. The plot concerns the attempt by Moss to help transport a boat from the Australian outback to the sea, and the attempts by a greedy landowner to stop them. The episode progressively gets sillier and sillier, and reaches the height of stupidity when they finally reach a river only to find it has dried up - so they all spontaneously lie down on the sand and go to sleep! When they wake up, lo and behold, there is water in the river. It is revealed that the river is tidal, a very far-fetched explanation that was made worse because the background rocks were replaced by trees, the scene obviously being filmed at another location.

And this is the standard (or sub-standard) that remains throughout the whole series. Dialogue is another problem - corny lines and cliches prevail, with a lot of colourful 'strine' expressions shoehorned in where they don't belong, possibly to enhance the Australian novelty for overseas viewers. However, normal idioms of Australian speech are generally replaced by foreign terms. Hearing Australians refer to holidays as vacations and cyclones as hurricanes only heightens the lack of credibility of the series.

The scripts were a bone of contention for the Australian Writers' Guild - they wanted their standard requirement of a 60 percent locally-written script content to apply, but none of the Riptide scripts were written by Australian resident writers. Thayer tried to justify the situation by citing that expatriate Australian Ralph Smart wrote some of the scripts. "There's a tremendous shortage of trained screen writers here," he claimed.14

"They had no intention of using local scripting," countered a Writers' Guild spokesman. "In the beginning they flatly said no local writers would be used. Finally, after a lot of argument, they agreed to look at some and went through the motions, but that's where it ended. We can't believe that at least a few of those contributed locally were not better than some of the primary-school overseas scripts that were used. Australians wrote quality productions like Contrabandits and others which are infinitely superior to Riptide."15

Local writer Ron McLean, who has worked on many and varied Australian series (including Spyforce and Silent Number with Roger Mirams), claims Riptide is where he got his start. In an interview for Making A TV Series: The Bellamy Project16, McLean states that he got the idea of becoming a writer after reading an article in the Sydney Sun saying the Riptide producers were looking for scripts. He submitted three stories, and they then asked him to write a script which they bought, making him the only Australian writer who sold a script to Riptide. However, his script was not used.

The Riptide opening titles are insipid and unimaginative, although the theme tune by Tommy Tycho is quite impressive. Tycho composed all the original music for the series.

Technically, the series looks good, except for the obviously phoney studio scenes. Outback scenes were filmed on sand dunes south of Sydney or in a not very convincing studio, reminiscent of contemporary overseas shows such as The Champions which featured conspicuously fake exotic locales. Camerawork, editing and lighting are of a high standard, and the actors appear to be doing the best they can with what they've got. However, there is frequent use of old Hollywood tricks, such as filming car stunts at slow speeds and then speeding the film up.

There are plenty of expensive props - boats, hydrofoils, amphibious vehicles, cars and helicopters - all testifying to the show's large budget. (Props were not limited to modern accoutrements - Australia's oldest operating tugboat, the steamship 'Waratah', was also featured). The coast and bush location work also looks superb in colour, but often little details are overlooked, such as a road sign indicating the Pacific Highway (which is in New South Wales) in an episode set near Mackay in Queensland.

It seems the producers thought that an essential ingredient for a drama series was plenty of glamour - or perhaps they thought that glamour, like expensive props, would help viewers overlook the abysmal plots. In any case Riptide would feature girls in bikinis at the slightest provocation, and magazines such as TV Week would happily exploit that angle with pictorials.

Riptide had its fair share of mishaps during production. During filming of episode 15, 'Daybreak Island', a special effect went wrong. An explosion was larger - and louder - than intended, and guest actor Colin Croft bore the brunt of it, resulting in substantial hearing loss. However, reports that he died in the explosion were a touch exaggerated!

"In one episode, we had to blow a boat up," said Thayer. "We wanted a really good explosion, and flames, and lots of smoke. So we bought an old hulk, painted it up a bit, filled it with drums of oil and towed it out into Pittwater on about 100 yards of cable. On the tug towing it, we had an explosives expert. I told him we'd want it to go up just as it came around a corner where we had the cameras set up and I'd let him know on the walkie-talkie. So what happened? Just before he reached the corner, an assistant cameraman picked up the radio and said, 'Are you ready?' The expert heard the word 'ready' and let go with the first charge that ignited the oil. Panic, mad panic. From where we were we couldn't see a thing. Then, just as it rounded the point, we rolled the cameras and yelled 'OK - let it go!' There was a hell of an explosion, and little boats came racing out of bays all over Pittwater, looking for bodies, with homes everywhere calling the police."17

Another episode called for an underwater scene of a sunken ship with gold bars visible through a hole in the side. So it was decided to buy an old ferry and sink it. "We towed it to where we wanted it," said Thayer, "sank it, and sent a cameraman down. The following day the Maritime Services people were on to us saying we'd have to raise the wreck and get it out of there. Raise it? We couldn't even find it! Apparently the current had taken it away. We never did find it."18

For a scene of an ocean liner turning in Sydney Harbour, a ship had to be hired for a day, costing $2,500. "And we never used an inch of that footage," said Thayer. "The ship, we found afterwards, didn't match up with shots we'd taken of a similar liner at sea. They were both supposed to be the same one."

An over-eager stuntman also caused the production to receive a large repair bill: "Here was this fast little power boat," said Thayer, "and the script called for it to be driven hell-for-leather straight at a big freighter. So we told Ty's stand-in to head full bore straight at the cargo ship - which is exactly what he did. But no-one thought to tell him he wasn't supposed to crash right into it - which is exactly what he did."19

Riptide certainly confirms the theory that a big budget and plenty of action doesn't necessarily equate to a good programme. By contrast, Crawford Productions made better quality programmes in less time at a fraction of the cost.

Although filmed in Australia with Australian guest artists, Riptide bears more resemblance to an American production than anything local. It is hard to believe that the series was intended as serious adult drama, and Riptide remains a prime example of how not to make a television series. It is also an excellent case in point of why programmes filmed in Australia should not necessarily be regarded as Australian content for quota purposes.

When production of Riptide ceased in May 1969 the crew was disbanded, the fleet of cars and boats used in the series were sold, and Ty Hardin cleared off overseas to make movies. The company's option on Hardin expired that month, but Thayer said, "He has a financial interest in the series and certainly would be interested in making another one".20

And to clear up any doubts, one final point needs to be mentioned. There was a later American series called Riptide produced during the 1980's - it was filmed in the U.S.A. and has absolutely no connection with this series.

Perhaps the last word on Riptide should go to a TV Week critic who summed up the programme thus: "On the credit side, Riptide has excellent supporting artists, good camerawork and overall production ...and Ty Hardin. On the debit side it has loose scripting, an unflattering and untrue portrayal of the population of Australia ...and Ty Hardin."21
 

 

RIPTIDE EPISODE DETAILS

 

1. TV Times, Aug 27, 1969.
2. Listener In-TV, Sept 30, 1967.
3. TV Times, Nov 27, 1968.
4. TV Times, Aug 14, 1968.
5. TV Times, Aug 27, 1969.
6. TV Week, Dec 23, 1967.
7. Ibid.
8. TV Week, March 9, 1968.
9. TV Times, Nov 27, 1968.
10. TV Times, May 7, 1969.
11. Melbourne Listener In-TV, April 19, 1969.
12. TV Times, May 7, 1969.
13. Paul Edwards, TV Week, March 1, 1969.
14. TV Times, Aug 27, 1969.
15. Ibid.
16. Albert Moran, Making A TV Series: The Bellamy Project, (Currency Press, Sydney, 1982), p.43.
17. TV Times, Aug 27, 1969.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. Paul Edwards, TV Week, March 1, 1969.
21. Jerry Fetherston, TV Week, July 19, 1969.



Ty Hardin with support cast members Sue Costin and Jonathan Sweet.


Ty Hardin as Moss Andrews.


Singer Pat Sullivan made her acting debut in Riptide, and got the part on condition that she lost some weight. Guy Thayer Jnr. was so impressed by her performance that he signed her to a three-year contract with his company.


Jonathan Sweet as Neil Winton and Sue Costin as his girlfriend Judy Plenderleith, two short-lived support roles.

  
Roger Ward and Ty Hardin in a scene from episode 5, 'One Way To Nowhere'.


Ty Hardin surrounded by actors and extras playing entrants in a beauty contest during filming of episode 6, 'Chance Of A Lifetime'. The two actors are at the front: Cheryl Morgan, left, and Penny Sugg. The others are extras including Jenny Lee (second from left) and Valli Kemp (far right).


Cheryl Morgan in another scene from episode 6, 'Chance Of A Lifetime'.


Pat Sullivan appeared in three early episodes of Riptide.


Filming of episode 7, ‘The Boat That Went To Sea’, on location in the Pittwater area north of Sydney.


Michael Pate with Ty Hardin in a scene from episode 13, ‘Sharky’.


Ty Hardin as Moss Andrews with guest actors Helen Morse and Jacki Weaver in a scene from episode 17, 'Brethren Island'.


Rowena Wallace and Ty Hardin in episode 21, 'Good Friday Island'.


Riptide opening titles.


Ty Hardin with Tony Ward in episode 22, 'Hagan's Kingdom'.


Ty Hardin and John Gregg, also in episode 22 'Hagan's Kingdom'.


Ty Hardin and Suzy Kendall in a scene from episode 23, 'Game For Three Hands'.