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CATWALK


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CATWALK
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Catwalk had its genesis in an episode of Dynasty, the successful ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) series about the intrigue and power struggles of the Mason family, owners of a media empire responsible for a metropolitan daily newspaper and a television channel. Episode 2 of Dynasty, titled ‘Catwalk’, concerned the staff of a glossy women’s magazine, ‘Lilith’. The success of ‘Lilith’ was threatening the Mason’s own magazine, ‘Homemaker’, and they approached the independent owner with a takeover bid.

During filming of the episode, it became apparent that it would form an excellent basis for a spin-off series. John Wood, who had a guest role in the episode, said, “I was pretty inexperienced and I was only on the periphery of it. People were talking about how great this episode was and how it would make a wonderful spin-off, and most of the time I had no idea what they were talking about.”1

The ABC was very happy with Dynasty, to the point where they would commission a second series, but they did not show much enthusiasm for Catwalk. The Seven Network, however, was interested. Seven was having a change of direction to try and improve on their consistent second place in the ratings. Bruce Gyngell, a former Nine Network executive, was appointed Programme Manager, and he introduced a number of innovations that collectively were dubbed the ‘Seven Revolution’.

Seven already had the highest rating drama series (Homicide), so a logical step was to increase local drama content. Submissions were invited from outside packagers, and five pilots were produced, one of which was Catwalk, filmed in December 1970. The other four were: The Group, a sit-com about a group of young people sharing a flat; Kill And Cure, a suspense anthology; View From Beyond, a comedy about a ‘liaison officer’ for people about to go to heaven; and The Undertakers, a comedy set in a funeral parlour.

The five pilot episodes went to air in January 1971. In an unusual promotional campaign, viewer response direct to the Network was sought to decide which pilots would go into production. The viewers voted for Catwalk and The Group, and this, together with the success of Dynasty on the ABC, convinced the Seven Network to go ahead with the Catwalk series.

Seven episodes of Catwalk were ordered, and filming of the series commenced on July 4, 1971. Like Dynasty, Catwalk was packaged by Davies-Morphett Productions and, as Dynasty used the resources of the ABC studios, Catwalk was filmed using the facilities of ATN-7 in Sydney.

The two principals of the company, Tony Morphett and Glyn Davies, were the creative force behind the series. Tony Morphett was an accomplished novelist and scriptwriter, and his book ‘Dynasty’ became the basis for the television series of the same name. Glyn Davies worked on many British shows as a writer and script editor before coming to Australia and devising The Link Men for TCN-9. He then teamed up with Tony Morphett for Dynasty, and the two formed Davies-Morphett Productions. ATN-7 stalwart David Cahill was both Director and Producer of Catwalk.

Some changes were made from the Dynasty episode to the Catwalk pilot. ‘Lilith’ magazine was renamed ‘Catwalk’, and most of the character names were changed. Publisher Jason Werner became Saxon Wells, photographer Danny Bernac became Ricky Novak, and model Georgina Clausen became Cornelia Heyson. Only secretary Jenkins kept the same name. These changes were retained for the series and consequently Catwalk was a stand-alone entity, and was not part of the continuity of the Dynasty series.

Although in a similar vein to the Dynasty series, Catwalk is not as intense. The setting of a top women's fashion magazine provides plenty of intrigue and tension, but it is a lighter drama with touches of comedy and more of a human-interest approach. Each episode was 30 minutes in length, and filmed in black and white.

The guest cast that took part in the Dynasty episode were retained for the Catwalk pilot and the series. John Forgeham played the lead role of Saxon Wells, owner and publisher of ‘Catwalk’. Wells is flamboyant, eccentric and somewhat arrogant, but can be gentle and understanding whenever necessary. He is also a skilful manipulator, and usually manages to orchestrate people and events to his own ends.

Forgeham, a British actor, came to Australia on tour with a Shakespearian company. Glyn Davies remembered Forgeham as a broke, unemployed and hungry actor from his days in England as Script Editor on No Hiding Place. “We gave this bloke a part because he seemed good and also he seemed to need the money,” said Davies. “Well, there was one scene in which he was having breakfast. But, just before he finished his bacon and eggs, he kept blowing the part. So we had to keep getting him more food from the canteen. That must have happened four times before we realised he was out of work, hungry, and had been deliberately engineering re-takes. He was such a superb actor I never forgot him. And when he turned up here in Australia while we were casting Catwalk, he was the one for the part.”2

John Wood played photographer Ricky Novak in his first regular television role. Novak is good at his job, and is not adverse to standing up in the face of one of Saxon's rages. John Wood has subsequently become a well-known actor and writer, and had major roles in Power Without Glory, Rafferty’s Rules and the long-running part of Tom Croydon in Blue Heelers.

Cornelia Frances played model Cornelia Heyson, a sophisticated, determined lady who is a bit of a loner. “She is so similar to me in so many ways that I have had no trouble playing her,” said Cornelia, who credits Tony Morphett for her ability to portray the character. “He has modelled her character on my own - as he seems to have done with the others - so that a lot of me comes out.”3  Glyn Davies considered Cornelia a natural for the role: “She appeared in the Dynasty episode from which the series stemmed and there was no doubt in my mind that she was perfect for the role.”4

Cornelia nearly missed out on the role, as she was three months pregnant when the pilot was made. “I was trembling because I didn’t think I would be able to take the part. There was talk of Cornelia being introduced into the series being pregnant, but it wasn’t necessary. The series started three weeks after our son was born.”5 Cornelia later became well-known for a bitchy role in the soap opera The Young Doctors, and as host of a quiz show (“You are the weakest link - goodbye”).

‘Catwalk’s’ long-suffering secretary is known only as Jenkins. Easy to get along with, reliable and efficient, she is usually referred to in affectionate terms such as ‘good old Jenkins’. Well-known New Zealand actor Cecily Polson played Jenkins, in her first regular role since arriving in Australia two years previously.

The Dynasty episode was enlarged upon for the series of Catwalk, and another character was introduced - Paula Healy, the talented editor of ‘Catwalk’, played by June Salter. Paula has been in the business for a long time, and has become adept at cooling the intense atmosphere that Saxon generates around him. Tony Morphett was pleased to have June join the cast. “In the Dynasty episode the cast was sufficient,” he said. “They were a small group in an overall thing, but for series production the characterisation had to be expanded.”6

When Network officials viewed the first two completed Catwalk episodes, they were so impressed that they commissioned another six, making a total of 13 episodes. Filming of the first seven episodes had been completed by September, and after a short break production resumed in October.

John Wood did not appear in the ‘new’ episodes, resigning after his initial contract for seven episodes was fulfilled. “I just wasn't enjoying it,” said Wood. “I didn't like the process of working on television constantly, I didn't really get on with the director, and I found John Forgeham a pain at times - he had amazing arrogance.”7  Wood’s character of Ricky Novak was not written out - he was simply no longer seen. Occasionally his character was referred to, sometimes accompanied by older footage of a fashion shoot.

American actor Christopher Cary, who had a lead role in the U.S. series Garrison's Guerillas, was visiting Australia in 1971 and appeared in two Catwalk episodes. Glyn Davies and Tony Morphett were sufficiently impressed with his first performance in ep. 8, 'There Is No Business Like No Business', that they wrote his part into a second episode, No. 12, 'The Bramblebush Technique'.

Catwalk premiered in February 1972, a year after the pilot had gone to air. The last episode was shown first, probably because it included scenes which gave a concise description of the characters and the ‘Catwalk’ magazine setting. As there was little or no ‘soap’ content, and the established characters did not develop over such a short run, the episodes were screened mostly in random order with no detrimental effect - this in spite of the fact that John Wood appears in only seven episodes. In fact, there was only one episode, No. 12 'The Bramblebush Technique', that had any continuity from previous episodes, and it was shown as the final episode.

Catwalk was an entertaining series with clever writing, and it attracted moderate ratings. However, no attempt was made to continue production beyond the completed 13 episodes. Following Catwalk, and after a projected third series of Dynasty failed to eventuate, Tony Morphett and Glyn Davies returned to the ABC, where their next project was the mini-series Certain Women, which in turn spawned a long-running serial of the same name.

 

CATWALK EPISODE DETAILS

 

1.  TV Eye No. 6, Sept 1995.
2.  TV Times, March 11, 1972.
3.  TV Week, March 11, 1972.
4.  Ibid.
5.  Ibid.
6.  TV Week, Jan 2, 1971.
7.  TV Eye No. 6, Sept 1995.


 
John Forgeham and June Salter in a scene from the pilot episode. Forgeham was sporting a different hairstyle than he wore during the series.


A scene with all the cast members inside the 'Catwalk' office. Photos of models adorn the walls in the background - one of which is actor Delvene Delaney.


John Forgeham as Saxon Wells and June Salter as Paula Healy.


Saxon Wells and Jenkins in the 'Catwalk' office.


John Wood as photographer Ricky Novak.


Cecily Polson as the 'Catwalk' secretary, known only as Jenkins.


Cornelia Frances as model Cornelia Heyson.


John Forgeham as Saxon Wells and John Wood as Ricky Novak during a fashion shoot for 'Catwalk'.


John Wood as Ricky Novak and Cornelia Frances as Cornelia Heyson in the 'Catwalk' office.


Catwalk opening titles. When John Wood left the series, his credit was simply omitted from the sequence. For those interested in such minutia, some episodes had the Catwalk title in inverted commas.


Cecily Polson as Jenkins.