Productions are best remembered for the unmeritorious Number 96,
the ‘sex-and-sin’ soap opera that caused a stir in the 1970’s.
However, before they inflicted Number 96 upon us, Cash-Harmon
produced a 13 episode situation comedy series - The Group. The
principals of Cash-Harmon Productions were Don Cash and Bill Harmon, who
previously worked as producers on the NLT adventure series The Rovers.
Following the demise of NLT, Cash and Harmon formed their own company.
of The Group lay in a change of direction adopted by the Seven
Network. In spite of having the highest rating drama series (Homicide),
the Seven Network’s overall position in the ratings was usually second
place. To rectify this situation, former Nine Network executive
Bruce Gyngell was appointed Programme Manager, and he introduced a number
of innovations that collectively were dubbed the ‘Seven Revolution’.
Part of this
process called for an increase in local drama content, and in 1970 submissions
were invited from outside packagers - a significant move considering that
ATN-7 stood alone among all commercial stations as a prolific in-house
drama producer. Five pilots were produced: Catwalk, a spin-off from
the ABC series Dynasty concerning a fashion magazine; Kill And
Cure, a suspense anthology; View From Beyond, a comedy about a
‘liaison officer’ for people about to go to heaven; The Undertakers,
a comedy set in a funeral parlour; and The Group. Both View From
Beyond and The Group were produced by Cash-Harmon.
pilot episodes went to air in January 1971 amidst a promotional push in
which the viewers were invited to respond directly to the Network to
decide which would go into production. The viewers voted for Catwalk
and The Group. In fact, so positive was the response to The
Group that the network decided to commence production as soon as
possible, and filming began in March 1971.
is about three blokes and two girls, all aged twenty-something, who, for
reasons of economy, share a basement flat. They can see nothing wrong
with the arrangement, but the landlord is outraged when he finds one of
his flats inhabited by assorted sexes, and he is not convinced that the
association of the tenants is financial rather than physical. The theme
throughout the series is the attempts by the landlord to evict the group,
and the group’s success in outwitting him.
came together when the three blokes sharing the flat reasoned that not
only would it reduce the share of rent with two more people, but also if
they were girls they would probably do most of the cooking and cleaning.
The financial arrangement worked as planned, but their hopes for the
domestic chores came unstuck, and the blokes ended up with just as much
work as before.
relationship between the flatmates is strictly platonic. “The three boys
and two girls in our group have one golden rule that’s never broken,” said
Don Cash. “There’s never to be any hanky-panky. If anyone starts anything,
they have to leave the flat at once. It was a rule they made at the start
and it is the basis of them living in the one place together.”1
tenants are of diverse character and background. Jeremy Windham, played by
Gregory de Polnay, works in an undefined area in television. He is
flamboyant, has a big ego and considers his job as elite, and he is the
self-appointed problem solver for the group.
Mark Sebel is
played by Ken James (formerly of Skippy and Barrier Reef). A
medical student, Mark is often in conflict with Jeremy, and tends to ‘send
up’ the two girls or try to cure their psychological problems.
Bob Jones is
an accountant, a down-to-earth character who looks after the household
money matters. He is portrayed by Gregory Ross,
who commented on the blandness of the character: "I must admit that for a
while I found it hard coming to grips with the character because of his
ordinariness and conventionality. Gregory de Polnay plays an outlandish
character and Ken James plays a man who is sarcastic and witty. But Bob
Jones is the only member of the group who never does anything abnormal -
he's so straight down the line."2
Martin, played by Jenee Welsh, is a university student, intelligent and
(mostly) sensible but prone to astrological star-gazing and flights of
is Tinto, played by Terry O’Neill. Tinto is a conservative, narrow-minded,
middle-aged mother’s boy, who is forever looking for an excuse to evict
the group. His mother appears in the pilot episode, but for the rest of
the series she is not seen, although he talks to her on the phone on a
of Terry O’Neill was pure serendipity. Don Cash explains: “We had no
pre-conceived ideas for Tinto, except that he would probably be from
another country. We had an actor in mind but we couldn’t track him down.
We rang a number where we thought we would get him but Terry O’Neill
answered the phone and explained he wasn’t there. Both Bill and I knew
Terry as a vaudevillian as he had worked with NLT when we were there. I
had a thought. I put my hand over the mouthpiece and looked at Bill and
said ‘Terry O’Neill?’, and we both screwed up our faces. But then we
thought again: ‘Terry O’Neill, he mightn’t be too bad at all.’ So Terry
became Tinto – and we couldn’t have made a better choice.”
As for the
casting of the other actors, Don Cash explained simply, “they just seemed
right for the parts.”
Then there is
Laura Bent, who figures prominently in every episode. Laura is a likable,
naive, mixed-up airhead – attractive, yet unaware of her sex appeal. An
aspiring model who also works as a receptionist, she is bothered by
nothing and frightened of nothing, as she does not have enough brains to
be either bothered or frightened. And no, Laura is not blonde.
Hughson was considered for the role of Laura in the pilot, but the part
went to Wendy Hughes, with Bernadette instead taking a role in the other
Cash-Harmon pilot View From Beyond.
were impressed by the good performance Wendy Hughes gave in the pilot.
When shooting for the series was about to begin, she received an offer to
appear in the lead role of the stage play Butterflies Are Free. Not
wanting to deny Wendy such an opportunity, Cash and Harmon agreed to let
her go. Then the search began for a replacement.
we had the cast finalised, but back to the auditions we went and out came
a replacement for Wendy,” said Don Cash. “We were happy with her and
everything was set. Then we got a phone call from Roslyn Wilson who said
she had heard we were after someone and, although she worked in an
advertising agency and had never acted before, she would like to try out.
Bill and I had decided that we would use the original girl we had chosen.
But Roslyn was so good we baulked. She read lines and surprised us so much
with her ability. We were both stopped in our tracks and asked her to come
back the next day wearing a mini-skirt and a bikini. Although Laura was
not quite a sexpot, she needed to be beautiful and to have a good figure.
And we wanted to see what Roslyn looked like. As soon as we saw her in a
bikini our minds were made up. ‘Let’s take a chance’ we said.”
explained how she got the part: “I didn’t even know what the show was all
about, but I plucked up enough courage and went in blind and read a few
things and did my own thing. They took a look at me and went ‘Mmmm!’ I
thought it was a case of ‘don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you’. But the next day
they asked me if I could come back wearing a dress and a bikini. It just
so happens, I told them, that I have a dress and a bikini with me. And at
5:30 that night the part was mine.”
described as the most undressed virgin in the world. “She’s sexy but she’s
so dumb she doesn’t realise it,” said Roslyn Wilson. “The other day
Gregory De Polnay became so frustrated with Laura that he said that if he
had been living with her in actual fact it wouldn’t have lasted a week.”
There is no nudity in the series, apart from an occasional bareback shot.
Laura is often seen in skimpy clothing, and this is all that is required
to suggest her sexiness – actual nudity was unnecessary, and would have
had a detrimental effect on the format. In any case, the early evening
timeslot would not allow anything more daring.
Laura was the
major character around whom most of the plots revolved. Sometimes this was
due to situations that she was directly involved in, at other times it was
by her response to whatever events arose. The episode titles reflect this,
each one starting with ‘This Week She...’ - for example ‘This Week She
Travels’ or ‘This Week She Has A Visitor'.
was devised by Anne Hall. Don Cash was Producer, and Hugh Taylor directed
all the episodes. Theme music was composed and performed by Rory
O’Donoghue (who was also responsible for the Aunty Jack theme with
Graeme Bond). The theme tune of the series was played over the closing
credits, which were superimposed over the final scene. The series
was produced on videotape and in black and white.
There was no
opening title sequence as such. The series title and some crew credits
were superimposed over the opening scene. Upon the first appearance of
each cast member, the action would freeze with a caption stating the
character’s name with a brief description. For example, when Ken James
first appears the action freezes and the caption reads ‘MARK the medical
student’; for Gregory Ross the caption reads ‘BOB the accountant’; and so
on. The order of appearance is random according to the storyline, as is
the timing - sometimes a character did not make their first appearance
until well after the first commercial break. The caption for Roslyn Wilson
includes the episode title, for example ‘LAURA this week she’s in
relies, in classic sit-com tradition, on misunderstandings and
misinterpretations of events to generate comedy, which are usually the result of
the scatter-brained antics of Laura. There is no underlying social comment,
other than the overall theme of not judging by appearances as Tinto does. The
sole purpose of The Group is to entertain, and this it does.
By June 1971
filming of the thirteenth and final episode of the series was completed. A decision on
whether to proceed with a second series was postponed until after public
reaction to the show could be assessed. Meanwhile, Don Cash went overseas to try
and sell the series to Canada, Britain and the United States, and if he was
successful it would have resulted in the second series being filmed in colour.
It was not to be.
The overseas sales did not eventuate, and the series did not go to air locally
until August 1971. The Group was well-received by the viewing public and
achieved quite decent ratings, and it won a TV Week Logie Award in 1971
for Best Comedy. However, by the time a second series was being considered in
late 1971, Bruce Gyngell had left the Seven Network and Cash-Harmon were busy
working on Number 96 for the 0-Ten Network. Ideas for a second series of
The Group fell by the wayside.
was also set in a block of flats. A soap opera, it was intended to shock and
sensationalise, and in this, it succeeded. It not only pushed the moral
boundaries, it also made popular the ‘dumbing-down’ of television, demonstrating
that cheap productions could be a viable alternative to quality drama. The
networks could get high ratings and fill local content quotas for less outlay, and
this led to the dominance in the 1980’s of the soap opera genre.
Don Cash died in
1973, but Cash-Harmon Productions carried on, proposing many series and/or
spin-offs during the tenure of Number 96. None made it beyond the pilot
stage except The Unisexers, a soap that was cancelled after three weeks
in 1976. Cash-Harmon Productions effectively ceased operation upon the demise of
Number 96, and Bill Harmon passed away in 1980 after producing the
ill-fated Arcade serial for the Ten Network.
around about in bright lights
Share a joke and laugh on warm nights
Life could be a fairytale or three
And in the
Pack your bags, cook up some tea
And then we’ll fly
Oh, how we’ll fly, just you and me
They’ll never miss us
Hope they don’t, soon we will see
Catch us in another scene
1. TV Week, May 1, 1971.
2. TV Times, Oct 9, 1971.
TV Week, May 1, 1971.
6. TV Week, Sept 4, 1971.