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THE SPOILER


Copyright 2013 Don Storey.  All rights reserved.


THE SPOILER
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The Spoiler had its origins in a proposed series called Vendetta, a pilot episode of which was shot in 1967. Made by NLT Productions, Vendetta was shot on film in colour, and concerned the efforts of an ex-policeman to prove that a respectable businessman is the head of a crime syndicate. Mike Dorsey (Captain Roke in Phoenix Five) was cast in the lead role. TCN-9 Sydney was an investor in the pilot, but they decided against commissioning a series.

Fast forward to 1972, and Robert Bruning's company (Bruning, Bell & Partners, later Gemini Productions) was enjoying considerable success with their first venture into television series production, the half-hour family series The Godfathers. With production of The Godfathers due to finish in July 1972, the Nine Network were keen to get another series from Gemini. Bruning was pushing for a series called Crisis, centred on a social welfare organisation, which was, as he put it, "a cross between the dramas of the Sydney Lifeline organisation and Mod Squad". 1 A pilot episode was made and screened, but the Nine Network was not too keen and nothing eventuated from it.

Clyde Packer, Managing Director of TCN-9, arranged a meeting with Bruning and the Sydney and Melbourne Program Directors. Nine wanted a police show, but Bruning was not too enthused because he thought the market was already saturated with them, and in any case it would only be imitative of the Crawford Productions series (Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock Police). 2 A private eye series was then suggested, and Bruning dismissed that as well, stating that the public would not accept it (prophetic words, considering the fate of the new Crawfords private eye series Ryan the following year). 3

Bruning then told the meeting that what was needed was a series about "a man alone", someone not bound by the rules and regulations of the police force or any other institution, someone who should be "a sort of anti-hero crusader". 4 The meeting gave him the go-ahead to develop the concept.

Gemini had bought the pilot episode of Vendetta and the rights to the format from NLT Productions. Bruning had been toying with the idea of The Spoiler for some time (other titles under consideration were The Loner and Fighting Dirty), but until now he never saw an opportunity to run with it. He went to Melbourne to see writer Luis Bayonas, who wrote the first script. (Bayonas had written for the Crawfords police series, and had a reputation for coming up with some 'out there' scripts). Bruning said the script was superb: "Every character had meaning. There's a feeling of utter maturity and understanding." 5

The Nine Network was impressed, and they immediately commissioned 13 episodes without even making a pilot, and took an option for a further 39 episodes. "It was a tremendous vote of confidence," said Bruning. 6

Bruce Barry plays Jim Carver, the 'spoiler' of the title. Carver is a Sydney detective who discovers that Sir Ian Mason, a leading respectable businessman, is head of a crime syndicate, and is kicked out of the police force because of his investigations that have so far turned up no evidence of complicity. His dismissal makes Carver all the more determined to find the evidence he needs to bring Mason to justice.

Carmen Duncan plays Marie, a barmaid in 'The Ten Commandments', a pub that Carver frequents. "Carver has no proof of Mason's complicity and in each episode he has to chip away at Mason's image to 'spoil' him," said Carmen. "This is where he needs me. I play the part of an experienced woman who is not easily shocked. I run a good class bar and fix Carver his scotches and pull his beer chasers while he unloads his problems." 7

Slim De Grey plays Det. Sgt. Eric Evans, an ex-colleague of Carver's, and his contact in the police force. Although they have been mates for years, Carver often strains the friendship to breaking point in his ruthless quest for information.

Serge Lazareff plays Teddy, a young thug and Carver's underworld contact. "He's a rough nut," said Lazareff. "Teddy has the morals of a Rugby prop forward, who will try and get away with anything as long as the referee isn't watching." 8

A support role was that of Sir Ian Mason, played by Ken Hunter-Kerr. Scriptwriters for the series included Luis Bayonas, Cliff Green (who had worked on many ABC shows), David Boutland and Ted Roberts (both who also worked for Crawfords). Producer was Robert Bruning.

Carver was a rough, tough character. When he needs information he often extracts it by force. He drinks hard. He's a womaniser, and he treats his women rough. Robert Bruning described the character as a "tough bastard", 9 and said that Bruce Barry was a "natural" for the role because he "has a lean-bodied animal vitality and radiates a predatory look". 10 Bruce Barry said the hard-drinking, fist-swinging womaniser was only a surface view: "Beneath the granite facade beats a heart that cares about social ills," he said, adding that the caring and reformative qualities of Carver were instrumental in his decision to take the part. 11

Bruning was convinced the series would be successful because of its "wonderful cast who complement each other completely", because he has "the best writers in the country", and because "the story is so gripping and believable". The notion that the public might not warm to an anti-hero was dismissed. "Look at Ned Kelly. He's about our greatest legend and you can't get a bigger anti-hero than Ned. Our reputation, resources and personnel are swinging on this one. I am prepared to take the risk. If it doesn't succeed, then it is only one person's fault - mine." 12

Unlike the Vendetta pilot, The Spoiler was shot in black and white using the film/video integration method (film for exterior location work, videotape for interior studio scenes). The budget was around $16,000 per episode, making it a very cost-effective project for the Nine Network. By comparison, the Crawford police dramas cost between $19,000 - $24,000 per episode, which in itself was only a fraction of the budget of an overseas show.

Bruning said he was able to keep his costs down because he used freelance writers, had low overheads, and had a small number of staff, albeit very well paid. "Yes, I pay well," said Bruning, "but they must be prepared to work hard and long. My price for big money is you must be dedicated. If you're stupid enough to work in this business, then you've got to be dedicated. If you're not, I don't want to know you." 13

Bruce Barry admitted that there were some flat moments in writing, acting and production in the early episodes, which he attributed to the show's $16,000 an episode budget, but considering those restrictions he thought each episode was "just bloody marvellous". 14  Critics generally agreed that the standard of later episodes was better than the earlier ones.

Michael Laurence, one of the Directors of Gemini Productions, was a prolific writer who scripted every episode of The Godfathers and its spin-off The People Next Door. He also had a lead role in the first 26 episodes of The Godfathers, and made regular guest appearances thereafter in both series. He did not, as one might expect, contribute any scripts for The Spoiler, mainly due to his other writing commitments. However, he was chosen for a guest role in ep. 8, 'Bye Bye Baby', playing a maniacal killer. "It's a challenge," he said. "The character is a suave playboy type who is hired by businessmen to seduce their wives, then murder them." 15

A Sunday newspaper ran a report alleging that the New South Wales Police Force were dissatisfied with The Spoiler and felt badly treated by the production company. It was a good story, but there was one problem - it was not true. "We have had nothing but the fullest co-operation from the NSW Police Force throughout our entire production," said Associate Producer David Hannay. "In fact, a member of the force's public relations department contacted me this morning to try to sort out the rumours. He agreed there was no truth in the stories. We had an agreement with the force that they would not require a credit on The Spoiler. They have been of great assistance to us during production of the program. They have lent us some of their men, and vehicles, to aid the authenticity of the show." 16

The Spoiler gained some notoriety for gratuitous nudity. A number of girls come into contact with Carver who end up in various states of undress, usually for no reasons of any pertinence to the story. Judy Morris plays a girlfriend of a criminal in ep. 12, 'Catch As Catch Can'. "I'm very careful about what I do," said Judy. "The Spoiler doesn't require me to do frontal nudity but I have done some naked back film in it. It seems to be a drawcard these days." 17

Carla Hoogeveen (who later appeared in Class Of 74, the Homicide movie 'Stopover' and Bobby Dazzler) played a high class call girl in ep. 2, 'The Price'. A nude scene required her to pose for Carver before removing her garment and embracing him. Carla was nervous about the scene and asked for the studio to be cleared, and managed to do the scene satisfactorily in one take. Director Alister Smart was happy with her performance: "The scene was very tasteful, with just a glimpse of Carla as she embraces Bruce Barry," he said. 18  Which of course raises the question: if there was only a glimpse then the nudity could not have been essential, so why was it included? Carla later spoke of the part in a TV Eye interview: "That was a bit on the tacky side. As a young actress you really had to be careful, and you needed a good agent who watched what jobs you did. Being new, you're such a total innocent and have no idea of the perils in the industry. You want to do the job professionally, and so you do whatever is asked. At that point you don't know how to distinguish between something that is relevant and something that isn't. And they persuade you to do it, and their reasons seem all very logical, and you trust them, and you assume they've risen above thinking in a tacky way." 19

Kathryn Dagher appeared topless in ep. 3, 'The Leader', playing a girl that Carver picks up and takes back to his flat. The scene required her to walk across the room wearing only panties before putting on a bathrobe. A Channel Nine spokesman said the scene was handled tastefully and should not offend or cause many viewer complaints. Kathryn said she had no problem with the scene: "I suppose for television it will be quite spectacular, but there was really very little to worry about. I think the scene was probably necessary for the effect and for that reason I wasn't concerned. If a girl is walking around an apartment like this one was it's quite probable she wouldn't be worrying about clothes. I don't like screen nudity for the sake of it, but if it's used in context with the story there is nothing wrong." 20 Because of the scene Kathryn was asked by Channel Nine to pose topless for some publicity photographs. "I didn't mind posing for the photographs, because I understood it was to help promote The Spoiler," said Kathryn. And so it was - a photograph appeared on an invitation for journalists to a reception to meet the cast of The Spoiler. However, Kathryn was annoyed: "I don't mind the pictures because they show me as I appeared in the episode," she said, "but they have been taken out of context and used for an invitation. I resent the photographs being used like this without my permission. I am very worried about getting bad publicity because of this." 21 It is ironic that the pictures had only limited distribution to a handful of people, and the only publicity was a result of her objection being reported.

A strip scene in ep. 6, 'Deadline Sunday', was voluntarily censored by the Nine Network. The scene showed a drunk undressing a stripper in a Sydney club and, unbeknownst to him, an undercover operative was filming the whole sequence. Nine Network executives considered the scene too hot for television (although it would be tame by today's standards), and decided to cut the scene for fear of offending viewers and causing the Broadcasting Control Board to intervene. The scene was replaced by a glimpse of a photograph of the man in the incriminating situation with the stripper.

Production of the first 13 episodes was almost complete when The Spoiler premiered in Sydney on September 18, 1972, with the first two episodes shown together as one feature-length instalment. Gemini Productions were hoping the option for another 39 episodes would be taken up shortly afterwards, but it was not to be. The show achieved low ratings from the outset, and the Nine Network cancelled the series after the initial 13 episodes.

GTV-9 in Melbourne and QTQ-9 in Brisbane decided that the Sydney response was so bad that they would not even bother showing it in a prime time slot, and they held it over for screening during the summer non-ratings period. Brisbane started playing the series in November 1972 (slotted against the Best Of Homicide, guaranteeing that almost nobody would watch it), and in Melbourne it languished for another year before finally commencing in November 1973. Melbourne, as in Sydney, coupled the first two episodes together, whereas Brisbane showed them in their original form as two separate episodes. GTV-9 also screened the series in a different sequence to that shown in Sydney.

TV critic 'Veritas', writing in the Melbourne Truth, said the formula for The Spoiler was a good one and criticised the Nine Network bosses for their heavy-handed attitude. "It's a damned outrage that the Nine Network should put the kibosh on the series without giving it a proper airing around the country." 22

"It's a great pity, but I think The Spoiler was ahead of its time," said Carmen Duncan. "I really don't think Australian audiences were ready for an anti-hero like Jim Carver. His character was often unpleasant and abrasive and the more pleasant sides to his nature just didn't come across. I also believe that the show didn't appeal to women. I learnt very early in my career that women have a great say in what shows the family watches on television." 23  

TV Week critic Jerry Fetherston analysed the failure of the show, suggesting that The Spoiler was an ambitious program that broke new ground, but the departure was too radical. The anti-hero was an aggressive, boozing chauvinist who belted the crooks and treated women like dirt, and was a sort of warring psychopath tolerated by the police and not understood by anyone. The show downgraded women, upgraded the law of the boot and took a dog-eat-dog view of society. There was very little for men to identify with, and certainly nothing to appeal to women. 24

F.C. Kennedy, the TV Times resident critic, found a different fault: he lamented the lack of sleuthing in the show, stating that when Carver needs information he simply asks his friends Sgt. Evans or Teddy and they fill him in, which alienates all fans of the detective genre. 25

Robert Bruning accepted full responsibility for the failure of the show. He said it was acceptable for the central character to drink and swear if it was tempered with the character's vulnerability, but this had not emerged particularly in the early episodes. "In those early episodes Bruce Barry was made to drink and swear like nobody else has ever done on television here. The way he emerged in the series was best summed up by a writer who said to me: 'He never suffered, did he?' That statement put the finger on much of what went wrong. There was no humanity... nothing that women in particular could identify with." 26

Bruning also said the writers were not at fault - they had written with great enthusiasm, but he had not given each story greater supervision and had allowed too much 'looseness' between the writers and himself, resulting in too many situations being crammed into each episode. Nor were the actors to blame: "I have no complaints about the actors - they were all good," he said. "It was an enormous undertaking, as I soon found out, to produce The Spoiler. The show's failure affected me terribly." 27

The Spoiler was certainly an ambitious project, and an imaginative departure from the stereotypical crime show format. Criticisms about the central character's lack of humanity and the show's attitude to women are legitimate, but the suggestion that the series was ahead of its time and audiences were simply not ready for it is just as valid. Unfortunately there is no opportunity to reassess the show today, as the original two-inch master tapes were wiped and no copies of any episodes are known to exist.

 

THE SPOILER EPISODE DETAILS

 

1. TV Week, Oct 2, 1971.
2. TV Week, Oct 2, 1971 & Sept 9,  1972.
3. TV Week, Sept 9, 1972.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Melbourne Listener In-TV, Sept 2, 1972.
8. TV Week, Oct 28, 1972.
9. Melbourne Listener In-TV, Sept 2, 1972.
10. TV Week, Sept 9, 1972.
11. TV Week, Nov 18, 1972.
12. TV Week, Sept 9, 1972.
13. Ibid.
14. TV Week, Nov 18, 1972.
15. TV Week, Sept 16, 1972.
16. TV Week, Nov 4, 1972.
17. Melbourne Listener In-TV, Sept 16, 1972.
18. TV Week, Oct 14, 1972.
19.
TV Eye No. 8, May 1996.
20. TV Week, Sept 2, 1972.

21. TV Week, Sept 23, 1972.
22. Veritas, Melbourne Truth, Jan 6, 1973.
23. TV Week, Dec 30, 1972.
24.
TV Week, Jan 13, 1973.
25. TV Times, Oct 21, 1972.
26. TV Week, Jan 20, 1973.
27. Ibid.



The cast of The Spoiler: Slim De Grey, Carmen Duncan, Serge Lazareff and Bruce Barry.


Bruce Barry as the 'Spoiler', ex-cop Jim Carver.


Carver's confidante and sometime girlfriend is Marie, a barmaid played by Carmen Duncan.


Slim De Grey as Det. Sgt. Evans, Carver's ex-colleague and contact in the police force.


Serge Lazareff as Teddy, Carver's contact in the underworld.


Carmen Duncan as Marie and Bruce Barry as Carver.


Bruce Barry as Carver and Slim De Grey as Det. Sgt. Evans.


Carla Hoogeveen as she appeared in ep. 2, 'The Price'.


The media invitation that featured Kathryn Dagher topless, as she appeared in ep. 3, 'The Leader'. The invitation resembled a jigsaw puzzle with the captions 'I'm all broken up over Carver' and 'Meet Carver he's The Spoiler.'


Carmen Duncan (front) with some of 'Carver's girls' who appeared in various episodes: Noelene Brown (ep. 6, 'Deadline Sunday'), Judy Morris (ep. 12, 'Catch As Catch Can') and Kathryn Dagher (ep.3, 'The Leader').


Serge Lazareff, Bruce Barry and Slim De Grey.


An advertisement for The Spoiler that appeared in television magazines.