The first television series to be produced in
Australia was made before we had television. The Adventures Of Long John Silver
was a 26 episode, half-hour series made for the English and American markets.
Based on the Robert Louis Stevenson pirate character from his novel 'Treasure Island', and
set at Porto Bello on the Spanish Main, the series featured English actor Robert Newton in
the title role. Newton had previously played the same part in the 1950 Disney movie Treasure
Island, which was the first total live-action motion picture made by the company.1
memorable aspect of Treasure Island was Robert Newton's
portrayal of Long John Silver. Newton's tendency to overact was let loose
by Director Byron Haskin with magnificent results.
Newton and Haskin, together with writer Martin Rackin and producer Joseph
Treasure Island Pictures for the purpose of making a follow-up film and
television series. The film, Long John Silver,
was made in Australia during 1954 at the
Pagewood Studios in Sydney.
Naturally, Newton played the title role.
Byron Haskin was again the Director, and Newton
was joined by Kit Taylor as young Jim Hawkins, Connie Gilchrist as Miss Purity Pinker, Grant Taylor
(Kit Taylor's father) as Patch, and Rod Taylor (no relation to Grant or
Kit Taylor) as Israel Hands. The film was the first cinemascope feature made in Australia.
The series was set in the same swashbuckling vein as
the film, although on a less expensive scale. Also produced at Pagewood Studios with overseas finance, the series Director was Lee Sholem
and the Producer was Joseph Kaufman. Executive Producer was Mark Evans,
with Production Design by William Constable. Not all episodes bear an
on-screen credit for director or producer.
Most of the scripts were credited to
Kay Keavney, although in reality Robert Newton assisted Rackin in the
task. The series featured some classic pirate dialogue, with Long John
referring to all and sundry as swabs, slimy squids, mutinous maggots and
other choice insults, and threatening those who wouldn't 'stow their gab'
with walking the plank. No doubt many of these choice lines were the
result of Newton's influence in the writing.
For the Long John Silver film,
the character was toned down considerably from that of the book and
Treasure Island movie, and this was carried through to the television
series. No longer a ruthless schemer and murderer, Long John was now
portrayed as a likable rogue.
In addition to Newton, Connie Gilchrist, Kit Taylor and
Grant Taylor ably portrayed the same roles as they had in the movie. Miss Purity Pinker
is the middle-aged proprietor of the 'Cask & Anchor' tavern where Long John and his
crew hang out while ashore. Miss Purity also has aspirations about becoming Mrs. Silver which Long
John doesnt share! Jim Hawkins is a 12-year-old orphan boy who has been placed in
the joint care of Long John and Miss Purity by the Governor; and Patch is one of Long
Other members of the Faithful
Trip Fenner played by Eric Reiman, Old Stingley played by John Brunskill and Big Eric
played by Harry Hambleton, all of whom played the same roles in the film,
as did Billy Kay as Miss Puritys bartender Ironhand. John Sherwood
played the support role of Sir Henry Strong, the Governor of Porto Bello
(in the film this part was played by Harvey Adams).
Other support roles on a less regular basis were Rev.
Monaster played by Hans Stern, the Governor's wife played by Muriel
Steinbeck (both of whom played the same roles in the film), and the
Governor's daughter Elizabeth played by Jean Whitte.
Production of the series commenced in 1954, and the episodes
were shot entirely on film, and in colour - quite remarkable considering that most U.S.
series of the time were still in black and white. Many Australian actors had guest roles in the
series, including Owen Weingott, Gordon Chater, John Bonney and Leonard Teale.
It is somewhat ironic that this should be
Australia's first television series, as pirate adventure had nothing to do with Australia's
and television had not yet commenced here - the series could have been filmed anywhere. It
was in effect a crossover of the 1950s Australian film industry to
television. (Most Australian films of the 1950's were produced by overseas companies - it
was television, and in particular the series Homicide, which later provided a
foundation for the revival of the Australian feature film industry in the 1970s,
following its virtual standstill in the early 60s).
The quality of
The Adventures Of Long John Silver is not bad, although budget limitations are apparent by action being mostly
confined to studio sets. Still, it stands up well compared to many U.S. shows of the
period. Leonard Teale commented on the series in a TV Eye interview: "The
Australian film industry has always been pretty good. Long John Silver was made in
the early 50s and the quality was terrific. Sure, it had an American
it probably had an American Producer and maybe a writer, but that was it - all the rest
were Australian. In fact with our experience, the Americans were a joke. Most of the time
the people who came out here were second-stringers - they wouldnt leave Hollywood if
The opening titles were simple but
effective. Long John is seen in silhouette with the theme music playing
before being bathed in light and letting out a typical pirate yell. The
series title was then displayed, followed by a map of the Spanish Main.
This was accompanied by a reading of the first portion of 'To The
Hesitating Purchaser', Robert Louis Stevenson's introduction to his 'Treasure
If sailor tales to sailor tunes,
Storm and adventure, heat and cold,
If schooners, islands, and maroons,
And buccaneers, and buried gold,
And all the old romance, retold
Exactly in the ancient way,
Can please, as me they pleased of old,
The wiser youngsters of today:
- So be it and fall on!
Some episodes from the series were edited together
as two feature films for cinema release in the United States in 1955, with the titles Under
The Black Flag and South Sea Pirates. There was even a short-lived series of
comic books released during 1958.
Kit Taylor reflected on the series and it's leading player
in a 1975 interview: "I was a proper little monster. At the age of 10 I
realised the power I had. If I said I felt like an ice-cream, the director
instantly sent someone to get me one. If I didn't get what I wanted I
became unco-operative. Robert Newton would get fed up with my behaviour
and he'd give me a swipe on my backside to keep me in order. At other
times he'd dangle me on his knee and tell me stories, marvellous adventure
tales. As I got older I heard people gossip about him, tearing him down
because of his faults. But nothing is going to destroy my image of him. I
thought he was great."3
The Adventures Of Long John Silver sold well
overseas. It entered syndication in the U.S. in 1956, and was aired in Britain in 1957. In
Australia, the series was first screened in the afternoon as part of the Children's TV
Club on the ABC in 1958. It was repeated later the same year in an
early evening timeslot, running into 1959. The series was repeated
many times both on the ABC and later on various commercial stations until
Robert Newton, whose
portrayal of Long John Silver became ‘the standard by which all future pirate performances would be
unfortunately died shortly afterwards in March 1956. Kit Taylor has played parts in many
Australian films and television series of the last 40 years, and his
father Grant Taylor also appeared in various productions, both in
Australia and in
the UK, before passing away in 1971.
John Silver film plus fourteen episodes of the series have been released on DVD
in various packages in several different countries. All 26 episodes of the
series are extant and held by the National Film & Sound Archive.
OF LONG JOHN SILVER
1. Disneys version of
Island was actually a remake - the original film was made in 1934.
2. TV Eye No. 3, October 1994.
3. TV Week, Dec 20, 1975.
4. Bruce Hamilton, The Worlds Most Famous Search For Pirate Gold,
Disneys Comics And Stories No. 605, October 1996.