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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Mayor of Snake Gully.
The dopey Snake
Gully opening titles.
Marion Edward and Gordon Chater during
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.