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SNAKE GULLY WITH DAD 'N' DAVE


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The characters of Dad and Dave are a well-known part of Australia’s cultural history. Created by Steele Rudd for his ‘On Our Selection’ novels, Dad and Dave, and Mum, Mabel, et al, were characters set against the backdrop of land selection in the late 19th century. The humour of the ‘On Our Selection’ novels struck a chord with readers, and the Dad and Dave characters formed the basis for a couple of silent films: On Our Selection (1920) and Rudd’s New Selection (1921). During the 1930’s the characters became the basis of a popular radio series, Dad And Dave, as well as a number of feature films with Bert Bailey as Dad and Fred MacDonald as Dave: On Our Selection (1931), Dad And Dave Come To Town (1938) and Dad Rudd M.P. (1940).

It was perhaps inevitable that the characters should eventually find their way to television. ATN-7 had acquired the first option on television rights, and they commissioned Ralph Peterson to write a script for a pilot episode. Peterson previously was the creator, writer and producer of My Name’s McGooley – What’s Yours?, a successful sit-com packaged in-house by ATN-7.

Peterson based his characters on the popular Dad And Dave radio series, rather than the original ‘On Our Selection’ novels. The radio version updated the format to contemporary 1930’s, breaking away from the late 19th century selector on the land setting. Similarly, the television version was updated to contemporary 1971/72.

Due to copyright restraints, the preferred title Dad ‘N’ Dave could not be used, and the name was altered to Snake Gully With Dad ‘N’ Dave.

The title refers to the fictional country settlement of Snake Gully, where Dad Rudd lives on a farm with his wife Sarah (‘Mum’) and their son Dave. Their neighbour is Bill Smith, who is usually at loggerheads with Dad. Bill Smith’s daughter is Mabel, who is having a clandestine relationship with Dave, as the constant feuding between their fathers negates parental approval. Bill is often seen with a shotgun in his hand when he finds Dave and Mabel together in a romantic situation.

Gordon Chater, who played the title role in the McGooley series, was cast as Dad Rudd, sporting a bushy beard for the role. “I’ve read the script and it’s splendid,” said Chater. “It’s different and it’s very funny. I never used to think the old Dad And Dave radio programme was funny, but this is different. Ralph Peterson is so good.”
1

Garry McDonald was cast as Dave Rudd, in his first regular role. McDonald previously appeared in guest parts in many television series, and would achieve notoriety later in the 1970's with a comic character of his own creation, Norman Gunston. In the 1980's he played a lead role in the successful ABC sit-com Mother And Son.

Other roles in the pilot were Mabel, played by Michelle Fawdon; Bill Smith, played by Robert McDarra; and Mum, played by Marion Edward. Support roles were Uncle Clarence, played by John Armstrong; and Ted Ramsey, played by Buster Fiddess.

The pilot episode was recorded in December 1971. Due to a last-minute hiccup, for a couple of hours it looked as though filming would not proceed. Gordon Chater said he had been told only the night before to turn up at the studio the next day: “We all arrived at 9 AM and then it was discovered the other artists’ contracts hadn’t been delivered for signature.”
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The problem was soon resolved, and the only other setback concerned a scene in a shed where an egg had to be dropped on Dave’s head - it took seven takes before the egg hit its target.

The pilot went to air in Sydney on February 25, 1972. However, a decision had already been made to proceed with a series of Snake Gully, and production commenced on February 21, 1972. Michelle Fawdon was unavailable for the series, having accepted a role in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, and she was replaced in the series by Diane Craig.

Unfortunately, during January Buster Fiddess passed away. With production of the series only a few weeks off, it had not yet been decided who would replace Fiddess in the support role of Ted Ramsey, but eventually Noel Ferrier was given the part.

John Armstrong was replaced in the series by Harry Lawrence in the support role of Uncle Clarence. Another support role was Mayor Ben Puckhard, played by Redmond Philips.

Thirteen episodes were produced in colour on videotape, using ATN-7’s ‘E-Cam’ process. Producer of the series was Ralph Peterson, who also wrote a large percentage of the scripts. Director of the series was Hugh Taylor.

Eight different sets were constructed for the series at the ATN-7 studios. Outside location filming took place
at Windsor and Riverstone in Sydney’s north-west.

The opening titles showed the actors credits superimposed over farm animals – Dad as a horse, Mum as a cow, with Dave as a rooster chasing Mabel as a hen. The radio version opened with the theme tune of ‘On The Road To Gundagai’; similarly, the television series had an instrumental version of the same song as its theme.

When seven episodes had been completed, Chater commented on the possibility of a further series: “There are 13 episodes in the series and the station is optimistic there will be a further series which will run until the end of 1973. It would be marvellous to have the security of a long-running series, but I prefer to wait for public reaction and the ratings before I’d count on it.”
3

ATN-7 held high hopes for the series. The same combination of Ralph Peterson and Gordon Chater that worked on the McGooley series, coupled with well-known and liked traditional Australian characters should have guaranteed success. “It was wonderful to come into the studio and find myself working again with all the old team that made McGooley and Rita And Wally,” said Chater, “and to play such a gentle, warm, credible Australian character.”
4

The Seven Network was reportedly so ecstatic about Chater's performance in Snake Gully that they considered advancing the screening of the show by several months to early June. This did not eventuate, and Snake Gully premiered in Sydney on August 16, 1972. Some regional stations also premiered the show in August, but in Melbourne a screening date had not yet been decided on.

Within a few weeks, ATN-7 Sydney moved Snake Gully from its prime time Wednesday 8:00 PM timeslot to Mondays at 9:00 PM. Poor ratings influenced the move, but the early change of timeslot did nothing to encourage regular viewers, and the ratings dropped even further. HSV-7 Melbourne held the programme over until the summer non-rating period, commencing screening in November 1972.

Snake Gully was not well-received by the viewers or by the critics. Garry McDonald baulked at the criticism: "Some of the criticism I just couldn't understand," he said. "For instance, most of the critics seem to feel it should have been set back near the turn of the century and Dave should have been playing the country bumpkin. But such a series would have cost a fortune to mount and we had only a limited budget. Perhaps the ABC could have afforded to do it that way, but a commercial station has to watch costs."
5

Budget limitations notwithstanding, the fact remains that a major shortcoming of the series was that the characters did not work well in a modern setting. It can be argued that if the traditional setting could not have been maintained, then the series should not have been made at all.

Gordon Chater portrayed his character of Dad admirably, and the other actors seem to be doing the best they can with what they have. The bucolic setting populated by thick-headed locals is well drawn, but the comedy does not raise many laughs. It certainly has some clever moments, but these are the exception - for the most part the show is tedious and simply not funny. The irritating canned laughter and the ridiculous opening title sequence only add to this impression.

In spite of its limitations, Snake Gully did win one award - Ralph Peterson picked up a 1972 Awgie (Australian Writers Guild) for Best Situation Comedy for episode 3, 'Husbandry Is Not Just A Golden Ring'.

ATN-7 had a long history of producing in-house drama dating back to 1958, however Snake Gully was the last series produced by the channel in the 1970’s. Seven would again venture into in-house production from the 1980’s, some notable examples including the soap opera Home And Away and the medical series All Saints.

 

SNAKE GULLY EPISODE DETAILS

 

1. TV Week, Oct 30, 1971.
2. TV Week, Jan 8, 1972.
3. TV Week, April 15, 1972
4. TV Times, Aug 26, 1972.
5. TV Week, Oct 7, 1972.



Gordon Chater and Marion Edward as Dad and Mum Rudd.


Gordon Chater as Dad in his volunteer fire brigade chief uniform.


Marion Edward as Sarah 'Mum' Rudd.


Garry McDonald as Dave.


Diane Craig as Mabel.


Robert McDarra as Bill Smith.


Harry Lawrence in a support role as Uncle Clarence.


Redmond Philips in a support role as Ben Puckhard, Mayor of Snake Gully.


The dopey Snake Gully opening titles.


Marion Edward and Gordon Chater during rehearsals.


Dad (Gordon Chater) and Mum (Marion Edward) discussing matters of great insignificance in the kitchen.


Dave and Mabel caught in another romantic interlude by Bill Smith.