was a critically acclaimed, award-winning series produced by the
Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) in
1970-71. Not to be confused with the 1980’s American soap opera,
Dynasty was developed from a novel of the same name written by Tony
Morphett. The novel was the basis for a television play, which then became
was concerned with the intrigues and conflicts of the Mason family, owners
of a powerful media empire. The Mason Corporation Board controls a daily
newspaper, ‘The Standard’, and a television station, MSN Channel 6. The
head of the family and chairman of the board is Jack Mason, played by John
Tate. A newspaperman like his father before him, Jack is an old-style
autocratic owner-publisher determined to retain control.
Jack has three sons, John,
David and Peter. John Mason, the eldest at 42, is his father’s lieutenant
on the newspaper with ambitions of making it his own, and is played by Ron Graham. David Mason
is a lawyer and the administrator of the whole media complex,
and is played by Kevin Miles.
Peter, the youngest son and manager of the television station, is played
by Nick Tate. All three sons are often professionally hostile to one
another, and each continually tries to manipulate events to achieve their
personal aims and strengthen their own power base.
John Tate and Nick Tate
were father and son in real life. John Tate left Australia for a
successful acting career in England, and was brought back to Australia by
Executive Producer Eric Tayler especially for the role. Nick Tate had
appeared extensively in various Australian and British series, including a
lead role opposite Ed Deveraux in the original mini-series of My
Brother Jack. Ron Graham had also appeared extensively in local
productions, and Kevin Miles had previously appeared in lead roles in both
Delta and The Link Men.
A fifth member of the
board is Jacob Goldberg, a Jewish financier who bought his way into the
company after fleeing Germany, and is played by Owen Weingott. Former
Hunter lead Tony Ward played Nigel Dayton, a trouble-shooter and
hatchet man for Coriolan Motors, a firm in which David Mason has some
financial interest. Ben Gabriel (formerly of Contrabandits) played
‘Unk’ Martel, editor of ‘The Standard’, and an old and trusted friend of
Other regular characters
are John’s wife Kathy, played by Anne Haddy; Peter’s wife Pat, played by
Pat Bishop; Jack’s secretary Maggie Tench, played by Lyn James; and John
and Kathy’s son Christopher, a university student who operates an
underground newspaper, played by Serge Lazareff. (Lazareff later had lead
roles in The Spoiler, Cash & Company, The Rise And Fall
Of Wellington Boots and Young Ramsay). Tom Oliver appeared in
several episodes as police reporter Tom Fenwick.
Tony Morphett commenced
writing the ‘Dynasty’ novel in December 1965, and it was published in
hardback in 1967. (A paperback edition followed in 1970, featuring a photo
of the TV series cast on the cover). The novel became the basis for a
television play, also written by Morphett, and was produced in 1969 by the
ABC at their Melbourne studios. It was
screened in October 1969 by the ABC as one instalment in an anthology
series of six unrelated plays. The play was a completely different story
from the novel, and was written so that it could be a typical episode of a
possible series. “At that time I had discussions with the ABC about the
possibility of a series,” said Morphett, “and as a result I wrote the
script which became the play, but which I always thought of as the pilot
for a series.”1
The original play had some
different cast members. Jack Mason was played by Brian James, and Mark
McManus appeared as Peter Mason. Alan Hopgood played Jacob Goldberg, and
Kathy Mason was portrayed by Patsy King. Because of this, the play was
never incorporated into the series. Tony Morphett won a Penguin Award for
writing the play.
Morphett teamed up with
Glyn Davies, a British scriptwriter who came to Australia in 1967 and
wrote for Crawford Productions and also devised The Link Men for
TCN-9. They formed a company (Glyn Davies Associates, later
Davies-Morphett Productions), and put together ten story ideas for a
Dynasty series. Morphett wrote a script, and the ABC gave the go-ahead
to produce a series.
Production shifted to
Sydney for the series, which was made in-house by the ABC, commencing in
August 1970. It was shot in black and white using the film/video
integration method (film for exterior location work, video for interior
studio scenes). Dynasty premiered in October 1970 across Australia.
Nick Tate was optimistic
about the series, which he considered was the greatest production yet made
in Australia: “It has the technical excellence of a British series like
The Power Game and The Troubleshooters, and the dramatic
filming and the slick script of the best U.S. dramatic series. To me Tony
Morphett’s dialogue is the most believable of any show I have seen except,
perhaps, The Troubleshooters. I am convinced that Dynasty
will be a tremendous hit.”2
Right from the start,
Dynasty established a solid core of viewers, and received much acclaim
from the critics. Dynasty was a quality production - the acting,
direction, editing and writing were of a particularly high standard.
Episodes covered a wide range of issues, and the setting allowed many
newsworthy subjects to be dealt with, such as drugs, politics, industrial
espionage, sport, fashion, business, pop culture and music. The private
lives, intrigues and power struggles of the characters were also explored,
as were the moral aspects of journalism and professional and personal
Laurie Lewis was
responsible for the excellent theme music for the series, which was let
down by a rather ordinary visual opening sequence. The title ‘Tony Morphett’s
Dynasty’ was preceded by a scene of an empty boardroom chair with the actors
credits on the table placeholders.
Tony Morphett described some of
the characters he created: “David is interesting because he’s the universal
administrator who happens to be running a newspaper. But he doesn’t need to be.
He could be equally happy running an auto plant or government department. He’s
not like me, and he interests me because his obsession is ill defined. All three
of them have obsessions, and each of them has fascinated me in turn.
“Peter’s obsession with
television is consequent upon it being the ‘now’ medium. It’s what’s happening.
He thinks of himself as being younger, perhaps, than he is, say, forever 25.
He’s actually in his early 30’s.
“When I was writing the book I
had just lost another novel through the threat of a defamation action. This was
a loss of 18 months work, so I was writing ‘Dynasty’ out of every thread of
discipline I possessed. Out of my obsession came John, to whom nothing else
matters except getting the next day’s newspaper out – right, beautiful and dead
accurate. In fact John has changed, because Ron Graham has given him more
humanity and warmth. I’ve had to write around this. It has meant making his wife
Kathy more sympathetic. She is really a neglected woman who, because she is
neglected, looks at other men occasionally. She’s a lonely woman with her own
needs who’s been widowed by a newspaper. The other two brothers have to be
slightly different to compensate and keep the audience’s sympathies in the right
“Goldberg is a Jew who was a
German nationalist and had to get out of Germany. He represents the various
external forces that operated on Australia. I wanted a bloke who had come to the
country poor, had become rich, and had brought a different view of the world to
this very tight knit family.”3
Tony Morphett wrote seven of the
ten episodes. Peter Schreck, John Dingwall and Glyn Davies each
contributed one script. Tony Morphett was joint winner of an Awgie Award for
Best Script For A TV Drama Series (1971) for episode 5, ‘Cry Me A River’ (shared
with John Dingwall for Division 4 episode 54, 'Johnny Reb'), and the
series won a TV Week Logie Award for Best New Drama Series. The script for
episode 6, ‘Paper Of The People’, was included in Close-Up, a text book
for media students.4
Executive Producer of the series
was Eric Tayler (previously Producer of the ABC series Contrabandits), however, as he was shortly afterwards required to work on the
new ABC mini-series Dead Men Running, Alan Burke took over the
responsibilities of Executive Producer.
Episode 2, ‘Catwalk’, was the
basis for a spin-off series. The episode concerned the staff of a glossy women’s
magazine, and featured John Wood, John Forgeham, Cecily Polson and Cornelia
Frances in the lead guest roles. The spin-off, Catwalk, was a half-hour
series of 13 episodes made by Davies-Morphett Productions for the Seven Network.
It retained the same cast, but a number of changes were made, including the
names of the magazine and the lead characters. Although it was a spin-off,
Catwalk was a separate entity and did not fit in with the continuity of the
Dynasty series. (See Catwalk
section elsewhere on this site).
Tony Morphett was very pleased
with the way his novel came to life on television: “The directors are
marvellous, the cast is brilliant and I’m in love with the whole series. It’s
not good Australian television, it’s good television. If I were to
sit down now and read ‘Dynasty’, I would be seeing John Tate and company. I
couldn’t recapture my visual impressions, though they are described differently.
Unk, the editor, from his description would be a person like Leo McKern, but now
I can’t see him as anyone but Ben Gabriel. Eric Tayler brought John Tate out
from London, not because he was Nick’s father but because John and Nick happened
to be the best actors for the roles. Anne Haddy was born to play Kathy, and
Peter’s wife is called Pat because I knew I would be writing for Pat Bishop.”5
“As soon as I read it, I knew it
had to be successful,” said Glyn Davies. “It had that excellence of writing and
scope that makes a television series. I think the secret of success is the
support of the ABC and the excellent team spirit in the whole unit. With writers
of the calibre of Tony Morphett we were able to take the characters from the
book and build round them new and dramatic situations which suited television
production. The result in my opinion was the first Australian TV series based on
character and dialogue more than on violent action.”6
Notwithstanding, there was still plenty of action in the
series, and resident stuntman Bob Woodham was kept busy being flung through
windscreens, driving cars into rivers and jumping off cliffs.
The success of the first series
inevitably led to ideas for a second series. “I’d love to go into a second
series,” said Tony Morphett. “I’ve picked up the characters again and I’ve
developed them into new situations but I’m only starting to scratch the surface.
I’m fascinated by it.”7
A second series was produced in
1971, with a few changes. John Tate was not available to appear in the series
due to previous work commitments in England. Consequently, the character of Jack
Mason was written out by being killed in a plane crash. Of course, this led to a
shifting of the balance of power within the Mason empire, with concomitant
intrigue. Anne Haddy also had theatre commitments, and so the role of Kathy
Mason was not as prominent. Greater emphasis was placed on activities outside
the boardroom with more location filming, and the opening titles were greatly
improved with various scenes of the different actors. Thirteen episodes were
made of the second series, bringing the total number of episodes to 23. Tony
Morphett again wrote about half of the episodes, with scripts for the other half
coming from a number of writers including Peter Schreck and Glyn Davies. The
second series went to air in August 1971.
Tony Morphett won a Penguin
Award for the script of episode 12, ‘The Killing Ground’. The lead guest role
was that of a female journalist who was captured by the Viet Cong, and returned
to Australia pregnant by her captor. Morphett was convinced that the role was
‘unplayable’, but Director Eric Tayler suggested that Kerry Maguire would be a
good choice; Morphett remembered seeing her earlier in an episode of Riptide,
and she got the part. Because of her good performance, Kerry was subsequently
cast as the female lead in Devlin, a pilot for a proposed series produced
by Davies-Morphett for the ABC.8
Coincidentally, while ‘The Killing Ground’ was in production, in real-life
Australian journalist Catherine Webb was captured and held in Cambodia, and was
believed dead until she was dramatically released.
Morphett also picked up a Logie
Award for Best Scriptwriter for the second series, and Penguin Commendations
were given to Kevin Miles for acting and Alan Burke for production.
The abilities of stuntman Bob Woodham inspired Tony
Morphett to write episode 14, 'Corrida For A Stuntman', which concerned the
difficulties faced by a television stuntman making a comeback following an
accident. Woodham had his work cut
out for him in the episode, which required a number of stunts to be performed.
Episode 18, ‘Whatever Happened
To Jamie Brooks?’, was a sequel to events from episode 7, ‘Second Pressure’,
from the first series. Gerard Maguire played the lead guest role in both
episodes. “Tony Morphett, who wrote Dynasty, got me to play a character
named Jamie Brooks, who tries to assassinate a visiting dictator,” said Maguire.
“It sounds like a pretty run-of-the-mill story idea, but the difference was that
the story investigated sanity in a fairly in-depth way. It looked at the fine
line between sanity and insanity.”9
In June 1971 there was talk of a
third series of Dynasty, with the possibility of a shift into colour
production. It was proposed that the last episode of the current series be
filmed in colour to interest overseas buyers. By September, it had become
apparent that the ABC was not in a position to finance a third series in the
first half of 1972. As there was strong interest from commercial networks, as
well as a likely sale to England, the ABC had agreed to relinquish its rights to
the series if another buyer could be found. Although it would prefer to retain
the series, the ABC did not wish their financial constraints to deny continuity
of employment to the cast and crew who had established the series. “The ABC has
not dropped Dynasty,” said John Cameron, head of the ABC Drama
Department. “If the commercial negotiations prove fruitless we shall certainly
consider a third series for the next financial year.”10
The Seven Network in particular
was very keen to screen Dynasty and offered a substantial amount for the
planned third series, and there was strong interest from British television.
Negotiations had progressed to a point where it was thought that production of a
third series in colour could commence as early as November 1971. As it happened,
the planning came to nothing and a third series of Dynasty did not
eventuate. The total number of episodes stood at 23 (24 including the play).
Tony Morphett’s next project was
devising and writing the successful serial Certain Women for the ABC.
Morphett has continued to be involved in television production, his credits
including the long-running series Blue Heelers. Dynasty has not
been screened since the advent of colour television in 1975 - a regrettable fate
for a series of this
1. TV Times, Nov 4, 1970.
2. TV Week, Sept 19, 1970.
3. TV Times, Nov 4, 1970.
4. Don Reid, Frank Bladwell, Close-Up - Scripts From National Television's
Second Decade, (Macmillan Australia 1971)
5. TV Times, Nov 4, 1970.
6. TV Week, April 3, 1971.
7. TV Times, Nov 4, 1970.
8. Devlin did not go into series production.
9. TV Times, May 15, 1976.
10. TV Times, Sept 18, 1971.