Shannons Mob was the final series produced by Fauna
Productions (also known as Norfolk International). The company was formed
in the mid-60s by John McCallum, Lee Robinson and Bob Austin, three of the
principals behind the well-received feature film Theyre
A Weird Mob. Fauna was responsible for the successful television series Skippy, Barrier
Reef and Boney, yet they could not repeat this success with Shannons Mob.
Not only was Shannons Mob Faunas least successful
production, it was one of the least remembered series of Australian televisions first
many reasons for this; however, looking back it may be considered that Shannons Mob
was judged too harshly. It was the second of only a very few espionage series produced in
Australia - Hunter being the first, pioneering the genre way back in 1966. Spy
shows were flavour of the month when Hunter was produced, but were considered old
hat by the time Shannons Mob turned up in the 1970s.
The title refers to a
intelligence agency headed by Dave Shannon in Canberra, who is never seen in the series,
and in fact is hardly ever referred to. The official name of the Mob is FIASCO
- an acronym for Federal Intelligence And Security Control Organisation. Nothing original
here - acronyms such as UNCLE (The Man From Uncle), CONTROL (Get Smart) and
our own COSMIC (Hunter) readily come to mind.
FIASCOs function is to
anticipate and deal with or prevent any crime or situation that could have international repercussions
or prove politically embarrassing for the Australian Government. FIASCO is a top-secret,
autonomous department - its existence is known by only a few and it is answerable only to
the Prime Minister.
Leading agent in the field is Andrew
Blake, played by Robin Ramsay, and his offsider is Michael Jamieson, played by Frank
Gallacher. Like all good spies they are both astute and daring, and they always work
undercover. They operate from a nondescript office in Sydney, never draw attention to
themselves, and never disclose who they are, who they work for or what they do. FIASCO has
far-reaching tentacles - Blake and Jamieson both carry rank in all the armed services, and
are somewhere on the establishment of every government department and statutory authority
- but always under a different name. Publicity for the series described it as
weaving thrilling plots from a web of international intrigue against familiar
backgrounds of the Sydney scene.
The series opening titles commence
with a shot of Parliament House in Canberra, although most of the action takes place in
Sydney. The spectacular scenery, particularly of the Harbour, is fully exploited - perhaps
to be expected from a company that previously filmed on location in the outback (Boney)
and on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland (Barrier Reef).
Pre-production of Shannons Mob
began in July 1973, when auditions were held in most states of Australia,
with actual production commencing in October. 26 colour
episodes were planned, although only 13 were completed. The series was pre-sold
the Nine Network, and it was intended to be a major feature of their 1974 programme line-up.
Many of the crew from the earlier
Fauna Production shows were retained for Shannons Mob. Executive Producers were
John McCallum and Bob Austin; Producer was Lee Robinson; and Joy Cavill was Associate
Producer. Music was by Eric Jupp.
Production of Shannons Mob
was completed in May 1974. The Nine Network then decided to defer screening
of the series for a year until March 1975 in order to have a spectacular local show with
which to introduce colour transmission. However, colour was introduced and the series
remained on the shelf. Finally, a special preview screening of episode 1 was shown by
GTV-9 Melbourne in October 1975, and the remainder of the series commenced in November
1975, the majority of it being shown over the summer non-rating period. TCN-9 Sydney
treated the show similarly, however QTQ-9 Brisbane eventually showed more faith in Shannons
Mob and screened it during prime time in 1976.
Nines change of attitude
towards the series, from big gun of 1974 to silly season throwaway' of
1975-6, came about because they considered the final product would not be able to sustain
a peak ratings audience. The critics agreed, most of them panning the show as out-dated,
and lamenting the let-down from the company that had previously delivered the excellent Boney
Surprisingly, the producers tended
to agree with the criticism! John McCallum, in his book Life With Googie, said that
Shannons Mob was not different. Their previous productions all had a uniquely
Australian ingredient: Skippy featured a kangaroo, Barrier Reef
at one of the great natural wonders of the world, and Boney featured a half-caste
Aboriginal detective; but Shannons Mob was stereotyped.1
McCallum actually did not have a lot
to do with Shannons Mob - he helped set it up with Bob Austin and Lee Robinson, but
then he went to London for a stage production, and was away for most of the production
period. (While in England McCallum's wife, Googie Withers, landed a lead role in the
British prison series Within These Walls). Lee Robinson and Joy Cavill took over
production of Shannons Mob, Robinson being the major creative force behind the
As mentioned earlier, the timing of
the series was wrong - spy shows were considered ten years behind the times when Shannons
Mob finally made it to the screen. The Nine Network did not have faith in the series,
and Fauna Productions lost interest in it. And so the decision was taken to end production
after 13 episodes.
Unlike all the previous Fauna
series, there were only minor overseas sales of Shannons Mob. In addition to the
programmes other shortcomings, a series of only 13 episodes made overseas sales difficult.
Television critic Veritas, writing
in the Melbourne Truth, was merciless in his panning of the series, saying it went
"close to being one of Australia's worst TV dramas in recent years".2
He even took Nine to task for chasing ratings by including a "dreaded" nude
scene in episode 10, The Playpen. He stated the scene "evidently gave
producers the chance for a hefty slice of titillation", and then incorrectly credited
the actress involved as Arna-Maria Winchester.3 He seems to have a valid point
- the scene in question, and a similar topless scene with Joanne Samuel in episode 3,
'Trip To Nowhere', were hardly essential to the plot. However, Veritas was
not in a
position to take the moral high ground, as the tabloid that he was writing
pictured a topless girl on page three.
Jerry Fetherston, writing in TV Week,
also dished out scathing criticism of the series, stating "without
question, it is possibly the worst locally made series in the past 10
F.C. Kennedy, the resident critic writing for TV Times, also wrote
the series off, but that was hardly surprising for it was rare that
Kennedy ever praised any local drama series.
It would be easy to suspect that the
treatment by Nine of Shannons Mob, coinciding as it did with the cancellation of the three
Crawford cop shows (Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock Police), was
part of the plot to sabotage Australian production. However, there is no evidence or even
speculation to suggest that anything was deliberately done against the series - although
it would be safe to assume that in the prevailing climate nothing
positive would have been done to help the series either.
Shannons Mob was to be
Fauna Productions' last project. "Series, for the time being, are just not
on, for both financial and programming reasons," said McCallum, "and it's
nobody's fault. We've never done studio work. All our series have been on
film in colour, which is much more expensive than tape production, but
it's the only way to export. This means we need investment capital and we
need world markets, and neither is available to us now. The world has
become a shrinking market, where other countries are becoming more
nationalistic, wanting to make their own shows and introducing quotas just
as we are. America is getting more and more difficult. They won't even buy
Boney because it has too much thinking and not enough guns. I've no complaint about
local networks. They pay a premium price for local production which
compares favourably with anywhere in the world, but it's still only half
our production cost. Without both markets we could never get our money
Even though Fauna was no more, John
McCallum and Lee Robinson continued to work together, and in 1979 created
a half-hour adventure series set in South-East Asia, Baileys Bird,
under the banner of John McCallum Productions.
Shannons Mob had some
excellent production values - technically it was as good as any other production of the
time, the camera work was superb, and there were good performances from the actors. There
was some clever writing, although some episodes were let down by too many 'walking and
talking' scenes to bridge plot developments. Frank Gallacher said the
series was a disappointment to him: "I think the main fault was in the
scripts. Robin and I wanted to develop our characters but they kept
writing at us rather than in tune with us."6
However, the basic fault of Shannons Mob was the bad timing.
Looking back at it now, the timing is irrelevant. Now it is simply another old
spy show and
can be enjoyed for what it is, on its own artistic merit, in the same way that any
other show from the era can.
1. John McCallum, Life With Googie, (Heinemann, London, 1979) p
2. Veritas, Melbourne Truth, Dec 13, 1975.
3. Veritas, Melbourne Truth, Dec 20, 1975.
4. TV Week, Nov 29, 1975.
5. TV Times, Aug 24, 1974.
6. TV Times, Dec 23, 1978.