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BLUEY

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Copyright 2013 Don Storey.  All rights reserved.


BLUEY
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One of the most popular segments from the ABC comedy series The Late Show was Bargearse. The humorous exploits of an eating, drinking, farting fat slob cop was actually a compilation of voiced-over clips from the 1976 classic police series Bluey from Crawford Productions. As Bargearse developed something of a cult following, it is interesting to note that Bluey did also, particularly in England where the show even had its own fan club.

Bluey was devised by Ian Jones and Jock Blair, and the Executive Producers were Ian Crawford and Ian Jones. Jones was instrumental in the development of many Crawford series, including Homicide, Hunter, Division 4 and Matlock Police. Bluey had six different Directors, and three Producers - Don Battye (6 episodes), Tom Hegarty (20 episodes) and Julian Pringle (13 episodes). Tom Hegarty was credited on the episodes as 'Consultant' rather than 'Producer'. Scripts were written by a number of different writers, all of whom had previously worked on other Crawford drama programmes.

The development of Bluey followed the rapid demise of the three long-running Crawford cop shows - Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock Police. It was seen as an attempt to revive the police show genre in the face of the growing popularity of soap operas. The Seven Network, with Crawfords, felt that any new police series should concentrate on a single character, following an overseas trend established with programmes such as Kojak, Policewoman and Columbo. (Later, Crawfords would combine the soap opera and the police show format with Cop Shop).

It was originally intended to produce Bluey in Sydney, possibly out of a desire by Crawfords to establish a base in that city. At that time Sydney was becoming more important in terms of television drama production, which had up to that point been Melbourne dominated. Grundy's in particular were becoming more prominent as they diversified from quiz and game shows into drama and soap operas. In fact, Grundy's produced their own police series in Sydney, King's Men, at the same time for the Nine Network. It too was devised around a central character, Inspector Harry King of Kings Cross, but an executive decision later modified the concept and added an undercover squad.

Previously, Crawfords had shot some episodes of their various drama series in Sydney, most notably Hunter, and later in 1981 they based a pilot for a new series titled Homicide Squad there. However, no further attempts were made to produce drama in Sydney, and Crawfords remained a Melbourne based company.

Before the first script had been written, Ian Jones and Jock Blair had done some preliminary work on Bluey in Sydney, mainly checking out possible locations and liaising with the New South Wales police. The decision to base the show in Melbourne was made later due to financial constraints.

As early as August 1975, when Seven announced that Homicide was to be cancelled, the press reported the commissioning of a new Crawfords police series to be filmed in Sydney, although no details were available. The General Manager of ATN-7 Sydney, Ted Thomas, said "Homicide will continue to be seen until the middle of next year but will cease production at the end of this contract." He went on to say that Crawfords were the logical choice to make the new show as Homicide always got good ratings; however the format would be changed, updated and broadened in appeal to include a younger audience.1

The series was originally conceived with John Ewart in mind for the title role, and a pilot episode was planned to be filmed later in 1975. "I don't know much about it at the moment," said Ewart. "What I can say is that Crawford's have held me for the month of December when they plan starting the pilot. I am just waiting for the script. From what I hear it is a complete change from their former police shows."2

When Ewart became unavailable for the part, Crawfords, in a move against type, cast stand-up comedian Lucky (real name Leo) Grills in the title role. With the change in locale from Sydney to Melbourne, and Grills in the title role instead of Ewart, the series took on a different flavour to that first envisaged.

Lucky Grills was selected for the role in December 1975. He previously appeared in a Matlock Police episode (No. 214, 'No Problems'), which led to his audition for Bluey. "I didn't think I stood much chance of getting the lead," said Grills. "After the Seven Network had seen the first audition film they thought I looked the part but wondered whether I could handle the rough and tumble stuff. So I did a second audition film with a fair bit of action in it."3

Bluey centres around Detective Sergeant 'Bluey' Hills, a name derived from the long-running ABC radio serial 'Blue Hills'. Bluey is a maverick cop who breaks every stereotype image. He drinks, smokes and eats to excess, and therefore is rather large, but it is his unusual investigative methods that set him apart. He has bent or broken every rule in the book at some stage, to the point where no-one else wants to work with him. But he gets results, and is therefore too valuable to lose, so the powers-that-be banish him to the basement of Russell Street Police Headquarters where he is set up in his own department, a stratagem that keeps him out of the way of other cops.

Sergeant Monica Rourke, an old colleague and about the only person on the force able to put up with him, is attached to the new 'Department B'. So too is young Detective Gary Dawson, a keen and conscientious police officer who doesn't really know what he's letting himself in for. Department B is assigned cases which other squads have been unable to solve, and where Bluey's unorthodox detective methods might bear some fruit. Integral to the success of Department B is Reg Truscott, a detective who operates undercover 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. So deep undercover is Truscott that most police are not aware of his role, which often leaves him treading a very thin line when working with Bluey.

Noeline Brown was first choice for the part of Sgt. Monica Rourke, but at the last minute the role went to former Bellbird regular Gerda Nicolson. Crawfords had previously tried to cast Gerda in regular series roles, but had been unable to do so because of her Bellbird commitments.

John Diedrich, who previously appeared in the soap opera Class Of 74, played Det. Gary Dawson, and Terry Gill was cast as undercover operator Det. Sgt. Reg Truscott.

Model turned actress Victoria Quilter portrayed Dawson's girlfriend Jo Goldman. She won the part because of her leap to prominence as the bikini-clad ‘RC Cola’ girl in a television commercial. Victoria did a screen test in early December for Bluey, and Crawfords were reported to be delighted with the result. Executives from rival station GTV-9 were surprised when TV reporter 'Veritas' spilt the beans about Victoria's Bluey role in Truth. Apparently Victoria had just recorded some station promos for GTV-9 and they were keen for her to become a weather girl.

Ken Goodlet had a semi-regular support role as the Assistant Commissioner, and seasoned actor Peter Aanensen, also well-known from Bellbird, appeared from time to time as Detective Inspector Arthur Ferris from the Homicide squad. Fred Parslow also appeared in a few episodes as the Chief Superintendent.

A contract was signed in December 1975 for 26 episodes of Bluey and production commenced in February 1976. Technically, the series followed on from the excellent standards set by Homicide. It was produced in colour and entirely on film, and scripts, directing and editing were all tight. The theme tune was taken from library music, and was later used by the Nine Network for their Wide World Of Sports programmes.

Critics were treated to a special preview of Bluey (at which function all the serviettes, table cloths, flowers, etc., were blue), and they generally made favourable comments about the programme, many also heaping praise on Lucky Grills' performance. TV Week's Eric Scott, in an article subtitled 'They Can Thank Lucky Their Star' wrote, "Lucky was obviously nervous and his television acting inexperience shows through. (However), Bluey is going to become a great favourite in time, mainly because of the way Lucky delivers those gag lines and is building up the main character."4

Lucky Grills described Bluey as "a very unorthodox cop who is dedicated to the police force. He's a rough, tough, knock-'em-down, pick-'em-up cop who gets results and doesn't care how. And he fancies a can (of beer)."5

The first episode introduced and established the main characters, and ran for 90 minutes. All other episodes were 60 minutes in length. The series settled down after the first couple of episodes, when the relationships between the major characters, particularly Bluey and Det. Dawson, had been defined.

Lucky Grills proved to be a natural for the title role, and his sense of comic timing lent itself perfectly to Bluey's dry humour. He struck up a good rapport with Gerda Nicolson, which added a subtle undercurrent that the relationship between Bluey and Monica was not always just work.

Grills commented on his lack of acting experience: "For a while I was awed by some of the actors we had as guests. Fellows like Fred Cullen and his brother Max, Vincent Gil and others are top pro actors, and here I was trying to match them."6 And on the amount of physical exercise required: "They always had me chasing the thin bloke and John Diedrich chasing the fat bloke. It was a very physical job. I used to train by running around the block every morning. During one scene I remember I hyperventilated and nearly fainted, but that was the only time that any of the action scenes made me crook."7

During filming of episode 6, 'Mack's Back', a fire scene in the studio got a bit out of hand. The scene called for Bluey to burst into a cottage which was on fire, and free two people who were tied to stretcher beds. A wall burst into flames with a greater intensity than had been planned, and suddenly the words being used by the actors (John Diedrich and John Wood) were not very polite as Lucky Grills struggled to untie them. No-one was hurt, the fire was put out, and filming continued.

Victoria Quilter made her final appearance in episode 11, 'End Of The Line'. Her character Jo Goldman was written out after building up tension in her relationship with Dawson over the previous few episodes. Finally she decides she can't handle the policeman's lifestyle and walks out.

Producer Tom Hegarty said that her character was not working out: "Vicki didn't 'click' in the series. We decided we wanted some sort of light relief from the heavy crime investigations. We found she was giving us the heavy side but she was not so capable of giving us the light side. She tried very hard. We might have asked too much of her."8 Victoria concurred: "They thought I was a pretty face with some potential. I know I've improved with experience since we began work on Bluey. I've learned a lot. I've had acting lessons on the set from Bud Tingwell."9

Det. Dawson was given another romantic interest later from episode 18 - reporter Debbie Morley, played by Mercia Dean-Johns. Unlike Victoria Quilter, who was written into every episode, Mercia appeared only as required in a support role for the rest of the series.

The Seven Network ordered an additional 13 episodes of Bluey in September 1976, but also indicated that they would be the last, bringing the total number to 39. Although the show was holding ratings well enough, the network had decided it was never going to be the big success that it had hoped.

The final episode, 'Son Of Bluey', brought Det. Dawson's character full circle. Not satisfied with the progress of an investigation into the attempted murder of Sgt. Hills, Gary goes it alone, 'Bluey-style' - a complete transformation from episode one when he was a new detective wondering what he was getting into. The Assistant Commissioner, who was often out-manoeuvred by Bluey, was left lamenting that he could have 'another Bluey Hills on the force', hence the title of the episode.

This episode was also significant in that it featured Don Barker in a reprise of his Homicide role of Det. Sgt. Harry White, who was in charge of the attempted murder case. This sort of crossover is rare in Australian television, the most notable previous example being when the Ryan cast made a guest appearance in a Homicide episode.

Lucky Grills made a guest appearance as himself in an episode of the Crawfords produced comedy series Bobby Dazzler. Reference was made to his role in Bluey, which was in production at the same time.

After Bluey ceased production in December 1976, the Seven Network asked Crawfords to prepare new concepts for a drama series to be produced in 1977, and they came up with what would become the long-running soap opera Cop Shop.

Bluey achieved good overseas sales and gained cult followings in England, Europe and Japan. "When I went to England in the late 1970's," said Lucky Grills, "I was mobbed on the street. I had to have two heavies with me. There was even a Bluey Appreciation Society."10

Bluey was a refreshingly different series, and is significant in the annals of Australian cop shows for featuring characters and plot-lines that avoided stereotype images. An excellent series by any standard, it has been repeated several times and, as mentioned earlier, inspired The Late Show send-up Bargearse.11

 

BLUEY EPISODE DETAILS

 

1. Sydney Sun-Herald, Aug 10, 1975.
2. TV Times, Oct 25, 1975.
3. TV Week, Jan 3, 1976.
4. TV Week, July 24, 1976.
5. Melbourne Listener In-TV, July 17, 1976; South Australia TV Guide, Aug 14, 1976.
6. TV Times, Aug 28, 1976.
7. Melbourne Herald-Sun, Sept 30, 1993.
8. Melbourne Listener In-TV, Aug 21, 1976.
9. Melbourne Listener In-TV, July 17, 1976.
10. Melbourne Herald-Sun, Sept 30, 1993.
11. Bargearse has been released on DVD by the ABC (R-107463-9).


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Lucky Grills as Det. Sgt. Bluey Hills.

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The original cast of Bluey: (l to r) John Diedrich, Victoria Quilter, Lucky Grills and Gerda Nicolson.

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Lucky Grills with John Diedrich as Det. Gary Dawson.


The original Bluey opening titles as featured in episodes 1 - 11.

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Two scenes featuring Victoria Quilter and Lucky Grills.
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Gerda Nicolson as Sgt. Monica Rourke.

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Victoria Quilter as the 'RC Cola girl' in the commercial that brought her fame.

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Terry Gill had a regular role as undercover detective Reg Truscott.

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Other support roles were the Assistant Commissioner played by Ken Goodlet (second from left), and Det. Arthur Ferris of Homicide, played by Peter Aanensen, pictured here with Lucky Grills.

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Peter Aanensen, Ken Goodlet, Gerda Nicolson, John Diedrich and Lucky Grills in a scene from episode 32 ‘The Wrong Coffin’.


The opening titles from ep. 12 onwards after Victoria Quilter left.

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Mercia Dean-Johns replaced Victoria Quilter in a support role as newspaper reporter Debbie Morley.

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Bluey and Dawson in a scene from episode 9 'The Wild Goose Chase'.

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Lucky Grills as Bluey and John Diedrich as Det. Dawson on a stakeout.