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BOBBY DAZZLER


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BOBBY DAZZLER
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John Farnham is a prominent figure in the local music industry, with a successful singing career that has spanned several decades. Much less is known of his career as an actor. Having appeared in various pantomimes, Farnham’s acting potential did not go unnoticed by Crawford Productions, and the company spent some time trying to develop a suitable vehicle for him. They eventually came up with Bobby Dazzler.

Farnham was first approached by Crawfords in 1973 to appear in a guest role in episode 32 of Ryan, ‘A Song For Julie’, which was written with him in mind. He was to play the part of Johnny Wyatt, a touring pop singer that private detective Ryan has dealings with, and who becomes romantically involved with Ryan’s secretary Julie King (played by Pamela Stephenson). However, Farnham could not accept the role because of concert commitments in Perth, and after deferring the episode for as long as possible, the part was given to John Diedrich (who later appeared as Det. Dawson in Bluey).

March 1975 saw Farnham’s television acting debut in episode 293 of Division 4, ‘Once Upon A Time’. This was the only episode of Division 4 written purely as a comedy, and Farnham was featured as a young man trying to raise enough money to marry the girl of his dreams, by way of an inept robbery attempt on a local finance company.

Following his Division 4 appearance, Farnham was cast in ‘Ashes To Ashes’, episode 17 of the Crawford comedy series The Last Of The Australians. He played a door to door vacuum cleaner salesman who is one of a number of visitors interrupting Ted Cook’s day off to watch the cricket telecast.

Crawford Productions then devised a comedy series featuring Farnham and Gordon Chater (formerly of My Name's McGooley - What's Yours?), entitled Me & Mr. Thorne. In an update of the classic Sherlock Holmes format, Farnham’s character, Bobby Fletcher, was the sidekick of Mr. Thorne - an antique bookseller and amateur sleuth. An excellent pilot episode was made, written by Terry Stapleton, directed by Paul Eddey and produced by Henry Crawford and Ian Crawford. The regular cast was to feature Beverley Philips along with Farnham and Chater, and the guest cast included Chuck Faulkner, Roger Ward, Katie Shiel, John Clayton and Denise Drysdale.

TV Week reviewer Frank Crook’s reaction was typical of the response to the pilot: "Gordon Chater’s performance as Thorne is a sheer delight... and Johnny Farnham is not far behind him. It is patently obvious from Me & Mr. Thorne that Farnham could very soon become one of Australia’s top acting talents... the sooner it becomes a regular series, the better."1

It was not to be. At this time, Crawford Productions three police series (Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock Police) had all been axed in quick succession, and there was (and still is) strong suspicion within the industry that the axing was a deliberate manoeuvre by the three networks acting in collusion. The aim was to severely limit the viability of Crawford Productions and, by extension, severely inhibit the viability of Australian drama production and therefore weaken the case for Australian content regulations. In this climate, it was hardly surprising that Me & Mr. Thorne never went into series production. Frank Crook’s article was headed ‘When Will They Program It?’  The pilot, produced in late 1975, was considered by ATV-0 and then by the Seven Network, and Crawfords were awaiting a decision for a long time before being finally advised by Seven that they would not proceed with a series. The pilot was eventually screened by Seven later in 1976.

And so to Bobby Dazzler. Crawfords were still keen to find a suitable vehicle for Farnham, and Bobby Dazzler was created by Terry Stapleton with Farnham in mind. The pilot episode set the scene - a young singer, Bobby Farrell, releases a record and seeks a manager to steer him on a successful career. Meanwhile, his father Fred, a former vaudeville performer, re-enters his life after an absence of many years, and proceeds to move into Bobby’s flat, much to his (and his new manager’s) dismay. Cast alongside Farnham (as Bobby Farrell) were Olivia Hamnett as Della McDermott, the new manager, and Maurie Fields as Fred Farrell, the errant father. Terry Norris also appeared in a support role, as Bobby’s Uncle Oz. (Contrary to the entry in Moran’s Guide To Australian TV Series, Maurie Fields did not play the manager.) 2

The pilot was produced in April 1976, and was quite entertaining, with guest roles by Sigrid Thornton and Sheila Helpmann. It ends with the single reaching number one, and Della McDermott ordering Bobby to get rid of his father. Bobby replies that his father will only be staying for another night - or two, and smiles.

In the pilot’s original ending, Farnham’s smile fades to a look of great sadness over which fades in the sound of Farnham and Maurie Fields singing ‘Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey’. In the closing credits for this original ending he is billed as John Farnham for the first time in his career. This ending was subsequently edited out of the episode, and the end credit was modified to read Johnny Farnham.

The Seven Network gave the go-ahead for a 13 episode series, which entered production in November 1976.  Together with the pilot, this made a total of 14 half-hour episodes. Produced on video in colour, all episodes were written by Terry Stapleton, and executive producers were Ian Crawford and Ian Jones. Production Manager was David Lee. The series was produced by Marie Trevor, the pilot being produced by Henry Crawford, and Directors of the series were Marie Trevor and John Jacob, the pilot being directed by Marie Trevor and Ian Crawford.

Maurie Fields had to give up his long-running role of John Quinney in the ABC serial Bellbird to take the part in Bobby Dazzler.  "I am very sad to leave Bellbird as nine years is a lot to be grateful for," said Maurie. "Now I want to concentrate on Dazzler exclusively. This new role gives me the opportunity to combine my variety and vaudeville experience with serious acting."3

Farnham gave a promising performance in the lead role, displaying a deft comedic touch and handling the occasional serious scenes thoughtfully and sensitively. "The series is not based on my life and career as a singer," said Farnham, "but obviously there'll be material based on the sort of experiences I've had, and the sort of things that have happened to most pop singers in Australia."4

Casting Maurie Fields was an inspired choice. His musical ability, comedy timing and background as an all-round entertainer made him a natural as Fred Farrell. The interplay between Farnham and Fields received much praise, the chemistry between the two performers making all their scenes together immensely enjoyable, particularly those where they perform a song as a duet. Inevitably, all episodes featured at least one song by Farnham or Farnham and Fields together (with Fields playing ukelele), which was usually repeated over the end credits.

"Although I have never worked with John Farnham before, we are both very comfortable in our roles," said Maurie Fields. "Everyone, including us, was surprised at the natural blending of our two voices."5

Carla Hoogeveen featured in a storyline that spanned three episodes as Bobby’s girlfriend Allison. "I didn't even have to audition for it," said Carla, "the lady who was casting said 'We just knew you could do it'. There was quite a nice balance of people in Bobby Dazzler. I enjoyed doing that."6  Carla also had praise for Farnham's ability: "John is a charming, straightforward person. He is quite understated and humble, and of course he is tremendously talented. At the time there was a lot of backbiting about him because of the 'Sadie' image,7 and people were ready to write him off, and the same people are now falling over themselves praising him. At the time of Bobby Dazzler I was standing up for him, and I used to get really angry when people wouldn't let him out of his young 'Sadie' pop star image. Obviously he has a wonderful voice, and I think he has a natural comedy talent. I'm very happy he has done well, he deserves it."8

Lucky Grills and Garry Meadows made appearances as themselves in an episode, taking part in a channel 7 telethon - it included some references to Grills’ role in the Crawford police series Bluey, which was in production for the Seven network at the same time.

HSV-7 in Melbourne, unfortunately, did not give Bobby Dazzler much of a chance - after sitting on the programme for the best part of a year, the first episode finally went to air on November 20, 1977. The bulk of the series was shown during the 1977-78 summer non-ratings ‘silly season’, and went through a timeslot change which did nothing to encourage regular viewers. On the few weeks that ratings surveys were taken it only reached 14. Needless to say, a second series was not forthcoming.

However, the programme was given some recognition: Terry Stapleton won a 1977 Sammy award for Best Writer For TV Comedy.

After Bobby Dazzler, Farnham concentrated on his music career and did little acting work. In 1986 he returned to the charts in a big way with a number one single, ‘You’re The Voice’, followed by a number one album, ‘Whispering Jack’.

 

BOBBY DAZZLER EPISODE DETAILS



The three principal cast members of Bobby Dazzler: On the right is Johnny Farnham as up and coming pop star Bobby Farrell; with him is Olivia Hamnett as Bobby’s manager Della McDermott, and Maurie Fields as Bobby’s errant father Fred Farrell.

 

 


Bobby Dazzler opening titles.

 

 


Johnny Farnham as Bobby Farrell and Maurie Fields as Bobby's father Fred.

 

 


Olivia Hamnett as Della McDermott, Bobby's manager, in a scene with Johnny Farnham as Bobby Farrell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Frank Crook, TV Week, March 6, 1976.
2. Albert Moran, Moran’s Guide To Australian TV Series, (Australian Film Television & Radio School 1993), p. 85. The errors in this work are numerous.
3. TV Week, July 24, 1976.
4. South Australia TV Guide, Aug 14, 1976.
5. TV Week, July 24, 1976.
6. TV Eye No. 8, May 1996.
7. One of Farnham's earliest recordings was the successful pop single 'Sadie The Cleaning Lady'. Although it brought him to national prominence, it unfortunately caused some to dismiss him as a superficial commercial act.
8. TV Eye No. 8, May 1996.