CLASSIC AUSTRALIAN TELEVISION

THE LONG ARM


Copyright © 2013 Don Storey.  All rights reserved.


THE LONG ARM
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Following the phenomenal success of the Crawford police series Homicide (Seven Network) and Division 4 (Nine), in 1969 the 0-Ten Network decided it too should have a locally produced cop show. 0-Ten had been operating for only a few short years (commencing 1964 in Melbourne and 1965 in Sydney), and already seemed destined to a perennial third position in the ratings. Lacking any sort of strong programme to draw audiences at all, let alone win a ratings survey, it seemed logical to have their own version of the other networks best performing shows. As one ATV-0 executive told a television columnist: "We must have a programme which will rate in the 40’s."1

The network approached Crawfords for a police series, but at that stage the company was reluctant to produce another cop show. Consequently, ATV-0 decided to produce a series themselves in-house (under the banner of Ansett Television Films). Filming commenced in November 1969 on a pilot episode for the series, to be titled The Long Arm.

The pilot episode was being filmed in secret for later analysis at a network executive meeting, where it would be decided whether to go ahead and produce a series. Television critic ‘Veritas’, writing for the Melbourne Truth, got wind of the pilot and, when ATV-0 refused to comment, sneaked in with a photographer while they were shooting a scene. Producer Ron Beck responded quite angrily and ordered them off the premises, warning them not to publish the photographs, but Veritas spilled the beans with the headline ‘Sorry, Channel 0, I Know Your Secret.’2

The decision was made to proceed with the series, and filming commenced simultaneously in Melbourne and Sydney on January 19, 1970, as the action of the first episode takes place in both cities. Production was carried out in Melbourne at ATV-0. The Long Arm was very much Ron Beck’s baby - he devised the series (with Graham Ford), and presided over it as Executive Producer. Beck, former producer of the long-running radio series Police File, told The Age that he had been "keeping on the sidelines of TV waiting for the right venture to come along."3

Directors of The Long Arm included David Eastman and Colin Eggleston. The dynamic theme tune was specially written for the series by Richard Bowden.

The series was produced in black and white and totally on film, rather than the more common film / video integration favoured by most other local productions. Two film units were used throughout the series. The first 13 episodes cost $120,000, and 19 episodes were made in all. Coincidentally, TCN-9 Sydney also decided to produce a police series in-house at the same time. The result was The Link Men, which was axed after twelve episodes.

The Long Arm centres on an obscure department of the Victoria Police, headed by Inspector Dallas Buchanan, portrayed by Robert Bruning. Buchanan’s squad is not identified, nor is the location of his office, and his cases involve all manner of crimes - including those which would normally be handled by other specialist units. His off-sider is Detective Constable Kim Riverton, played by Sandy Harbutt. Sergeant Ted Driscoll, a regular support role played by Ken Goodlet, represents the uniform branch.

Another support role was that of Inspector Mike Hammond, played by Tony Ward (who previously had the title role in Hunter). Hammond is the New South Wales police department's counterpart to Buchanan, and appeared whenever the action moved to Sydney. "The part has been written for me," said Tony prior to commencing the role, "and gives me plenty of scope and interest."4 Looking back years later in a TV Eye interview, Tony said, "The Long Arm never got off the ground - I don't know who was writing that but it wasn't good stuff."5

There were two other regulars who received equal billing on the series opening, but whose roles varied in size and importance from episode to episode. They are Barbara Mason as Veleen Towns, a wealthy socialite; and Lyndal Moor as Trish Towns, Veleen's daughter. Lyndal Moor was a model turned actor, and won the New South Wales Model Of The Year Award in 1969. (Coincidentally, The Link Men also featured a model turned actor in one of the lead roles - Tristan Rogers as Det. Ray Gamble).

Other minor support roles were those of the office typist - early episodes had Bethany Lee as Helen, later episodes had Cindy Wright as Barbara. Early press reports stated that Bill Hunter, as Det. Sgt. Les Lee, would also be a regular - however, he only appeared in the first episode.

The Long Arm emphasised the private lives of the characters - and there was plenty of scope for developing the human interest. Veleen Towns is the widow of a policeman murdered over five years earlier, the person responsible never being caught. Her late husband was a colleague and good friend of Inspector Buchanan, and the relationship between Buchanan and Veleen develops into more than ‘just good friends’.

Trish Towns is Veleen Towns' 18-year-old swinging ‘spoilt brat’ daughter, who bears a grudge against the police force for what happened to her father. She matures somewhat as the series develops. And Det. Riverton joined the police force after abandoning his medical studies, in order to avenge his mother who was forced into prostitution. To round out the love interests and generation gaps, Riverton becomes romantically involved with Trish.

Although it sounds more in keeping with a soap opera than a crime series, The Long Arm is primarily a police show, and the human interest only forms a sub-plot in the series. The private lives of the characters are handled in a subtle and believable manner.

The four leads were selected by a system called ‘cross-pattern casting’, in which each applicant was auditioned with others, and, by a process of elimination, were assessed how they would perform together. Robert Bruning was enthusiastic about the show: "I am pleased with the concept of this one, and I believe it will offer us plenty of scope."6

Cases in The Long Arm were drawn from authentic police files. The series dabbled in all sorts of crimes - robbery, murder, fraud, etc. - and was not limited to one particular line of investigation, or even one geographic location. Buchanan’s cases were predominantly in Melbourne, but he would often venture to Sydney, hence the regular appearances of Tony Ward as NSW Inspector Hammond. Scripts from the radio show Police File were used as a basis for many episodes.

Veritas, again writing in Truth, tried to make a big deal about an attempted rape scene in the first episode, suggesting the series may be unsuitable for its proposed 7:30 PM timeslot.7 Photographs were published showing a sex maniac who knocks Veleen Towns unconscious, partly strips her and is then disturbed by the arrival home of her daughter Trish. Barbara Mason (who had only just returned to acting) said the scenes were not as daring as the photos made them look: "I wasn’t stripped half-naked, I was quite well-dressed, I just had my shirt ripped off." She added that her husband was taking it quite well, after his golf partner mentioned to him quite casually, "Oh, I saw photos of your wife being raped!"8

The Long Arm premiered in Melbourne and Brisbane on Monday, April 13, 1970; Sydney saw the show two weeks later, but in Adelaide it was held over for another year. Critics were impressed and generally agreed that, although there were faults, the series had strong potential.

The first episode, 'The Lion Was First To Know', moves along quite well, with an intricate plot that spans two states: A Sydney sex offender travels to Melbourne and attempts to rape Veleen Towns - which leads Buchanan’s investigation back to Sydney, where Trish Towns is found at a Kings Cross party by a police drug raid. The episode slows a little in establishing the characters, which was perhaps unavoidable given their complexity.

The General Manager of ATV-0, Max Ryan, got his picture in the act - his photograph was used to represent the late husband of Mrs. Towns in the first episode. However, in ep. 4 a flashback scene has Det. Sgt. Gerry Towns played by Mark Albiston - obviously looking very different!

The second episode, ‘I’d Trust Him With My Life’, unfortunately abounds in coincidences. Trish Towns happens to meet a man at the races who happens to be an embezzler and happens to work with a firm handling some of her mother’s finances. And, as in the first episode, Buchanan ends up investigating a crime that happens to involve his close friends. The episode was not helped by some of the race scenes filmed at Flemington, which were too long and boring - no doubt attributable to ATV-0's then extensive commitment to racing coverage.

The long arm of coincidence continued throughout episodes 3 to 7, all of which concerned crimes involving Veleen Towns or her daughter Trish in one way or another (ep 3 Veleen Towns becomes potential victim of a confidence trickster; ep. 4 a psycho killer haunts Veleen Towns with voices of her dead husband; ep. 5 Trish Towns comes under the attention of a crime syndicate boss; ep 6 Trish Towns is taken hostage by a criminal at Sydney airport; ep 7 the groom is murdered at a wedding that Veleen and Trish are attending). From episode 8 Buchanan finally started the investigation of ‘typical’ crimes that did not involve his friends. Consequently the roles played by Barbara Mason and Lyndal Moor became less prominent, and in some episodes they did not feature at all.

Many guest actors of note made appearances in the series, including Gary Day, Gus Mercurio, Redmond Philips, Maurie Fields and Serge Lazareff. Ron Randell, who recently moved to America, was brought back to Australia by ATV-0 especially for a guest role in episode 3, ‘The Harder They Fall’. (While here, Randell also appeared in an episode of The Rovers, another locally-produced show for the 0-10 Network). Contemporary pop group ‘Nova Express’ made a brief appearance in episode 4, ‘Whispers In The Mike’.

Episode 13, ‘The Christmas Break’, was loosely based on the controversial Ryan-Walker case, which Homicide had already adapted over a year earlier (episode 211, 'I, Mick O'Byrne'). (Ryan and Walker escaped from Melbourne's Pentridge prison in December 1965, allegedly killed a prison warder, stole a car, robbed a bank and escaped to Sydney. They were recaptured in Sydney in January 1966 following an extensive manhunt through two states. Ryan became the last person to receive capital punishment in Australia).

Censorship came to The Long Arm in what should have been episode 8, ‘The Line Between Is So Thin’. The plot involves an ex-soldier mentally disturbed by the Vietnam War, who runs amok in a park and shoots dead several people. One scene showed actor Ollie Ven Skevics being shot through the eye in close-up, and there was much gruesome make-up amongst the other ‘corpses’. The episode carried a strong anti-war message, and included actual footage of the Vietnam War.

Intended to air on June 1, 1970, ATV-0 voluntarily withdrew the episode at the last minute, following a censored photo being published in a newspaper highlighting the gory make-up. A station spokesman variously described the episode as "dwelling far too long on the violent scenes,"9 "showed too much blood,"10 "too morbid,"11 "too sick,"12 and "too gruesome and had political connotations which were thought to be too strong."13 The violent scenes were re-written and re-filmed, and the episode, much toned-down, was re-scheduled as number 17.

There was much speculation that ATV-0 actually withdrew the episode for political reasons, and not due to the excessive violence. There was an obvious and strong anti-war message throughout the episode, which was contrary to the then federal Liberal Government policy of support for the Vietnam War. Actor Ollie Ven Skevics spoke out on the issue: "Frankly I think the episode was considered too strong because it showed the effects the Vietnam war can have on a sensitive young man. I thought this one would have been the best Long Arm episode yet. It was realistic, well filmed and pulled no punches. The network says it will be screened with all the violence edited out, but when the controversy dies down, I think ‘The Line Between Is So Thin’ will be allowed to die with it."14 As it happened the reworked episode was not shown until the series entered repeat runs.

One of the guest actors in the episode was Michael Pate, who had recently returned to Australia after spending many years as an actor in Hollywood. While filming the episode, Pate (who had been appointed to the position of Executive Producer of Drama at ATN-7 Sydney) accepted an offer by Ron Beck to act as Producer for The Long Arm. Beck explained that although their Directors David Eastman and Colin Eggleston were very good, they needed the assistance of an experienced Producer, particularly as The Long Arm was made entirely on film: "Michael will take over the work of translating the script into film. A lot of people have criticised our scripts but I am not sure that they have been to blame. The Director who photographs movie scenes needs all the time and assistance he can get to make the most of even the best script."15

However, after only three weeks in the job Pate resigned. He left because he wished to return to Sydney for personal reasons, and Beck emphasised that there had been no quarrel or disagreement.

In early July 1970, ATV-0 announced that it was cancelling production of The Long Arm. Filming ceased at the end of July, with the final episode going to air in August. The network initially approved 13 episodes, and subsequently gave the go-ahead for a further 13, however the decision to cancel saw production truncated after 19 episodes had been completed.

The show was dropped largely due to financial reasons. TEN-10 Sydney was alarmed by the cost of the series, which averaged over $20,000 per episode, and were unable - or unwilling - to pay for their share of the production costs. An ATV-0 spokesman said the channel was satisfied with the quality of the programme, and the decision to cancel was made reluctantly.16 ATV-0 General Manager Max Ryan issued an official statement full of gobbledegook about "entering a new financial year with a new programme policy and a new network philosophy," and therefore "it had been considered imprudent to continue with an expensive production such as The Long Arm".17

Another factor that caused the cancellation was difficulties with scripts, there being some dissent between the writers and 0-Ten executives. In fact Tony Morphett disowned an episode he wrote - No. 19, 'The Enforcer'. "I did write a script with that title," said Morphett. "It was for an episode that was set in Sydney and was very different from the one that was screened. When I saw the changes that had been made to what I had written, I told the producers that I considered it wasn't mine, and I didn't want my name on it."18

Also, the ratings were considered unsatisfactory, particularly interstate. Ron Beck said that under the circumstances he thought dropping the show was for the best: "Channel 0 just wasn’t able to cope with a production such as this. It’s a big disappointment to me because the show was getting better all the time, but I believe it’s been dropped on orders from high up."19

Ratings for the series were not great, especially when compared to the Crawford police shows Homicide and Division 4, and the cancellation of the series really came as no surprise. Director David Eastman was very outspoken about the show’s demise, laying the blame squarely at the feet of ATV-0: "If there was one single fault that contributed to the failure of The Long Arm, it was the lack of planning.

"Within a week of arriving at ATV-0 we had to start shooting. There was no time for production conferences. We didn’t get draft scripts or outlines – we got full shooting scripts. When they had to be modified, the writers needed six weeks to do the re-writes; we needed them in six hours. They had no hope of catching up. At times we were filming only a week ahead of what was going to air."

Eastman went on to criticise the production facilities: "There was nowhere at ATV-0 where we could build a permanent set of the detectives’ office. ‘A’ stage was in use for Showcase, that left only ‘B’ stage which wasn’t soundproof. After a lot of arguing we were allowed to put up scaffolding and makeshift fibreglass sound insulation. But we still had to share the place with the accounting department. We were allowed to film only when they didn’t want to use their adding machines. The only way we could get quiet was to start shooting in the afternoon and go on until three in the morning.

"But I think the worst feature of the series, and probably the one that eventually killed it, was the sound. All our exterior sound went to air just as it was recorded. If an express train went by while we were shooting, you heard it on the programme."20

An ATV-0 spokesman responded to Eastman: "We did jump in fast, but that shouldn’t have been a handicap to someone of David Eastman’s experience. It’s true studio ‘A’ is a production studio, but we were able to allot two days to The Long Arm by working weekends. We have just spent a lot of money on studio ‘B’ and it is now soundproof. It is also true that the noise from the computer caused a problem. But we didn’t want to waste valuable daylight hours in the studio so we filmed outside scenes during the day and used the studio at night when the computer wasn’t working. It was only a problem during wet weather."21

The Long Arm certainly has faults. Often it has a 'stagey' atmosphere; occasionally the dialogue is a bit stiff; the sound quality varies considerably and is often woeful; and sometimes the directing and/or editing leave a lot to be desired, particularly when the number of tight shots make it difficult to follow the action. At other times the atmosphere of a police station, indeed of the whole police infrastructure, is notably absent.

Some episodes appear to have been rushed to completion. No. 8, ‘The Big Circle’, which had its airdate advanced to replace the censored ‘Vietnam’ episode, has a very clever script, but the final product is extremely difficult to follow, leaving viewers wondering just what exactly is going on. Careful analysis of the episode reveals that every scene is important, yet the final product lacks cohesion, pace, drama and direction.

Later episodes had improved vastly, but there were still problems with sound quality, and occasionally other technical glitches, such as one scene in the detective's office where shots of Inspector Buchanan are very much out of focus. And sometimes there were dialogue problems, one instance being a scene from episode 18, ‘Only A Wave Away’, when Buchanan apprehends a criminal:

Buchanan: "Alright, what’s your story?"
Criminal: "Nothing – I had nothing to do with it!"
Buchanan: "Well, that’s your story."

Put simply, The Long Arm lacks the same polish and finesse that Homicide and Division 4 excel in. The series had strong potential and was improving all the time, but the audience had not stuck around to see it.

Robert Bruning: "The Long Arm was unfortunate in a whole lot of respects. It was hastily assembled and hastily thrown into production. Whilst on one hand you have to applaud the enormous investment that Channel 0 had in it - and I am the first to praise this - as an actor I feel we were never able to justify this considerable investment by 0 and the high hopes the channel held for its success."22

The Long Arm was repeated several times in late night time slots, which ceased with the advent of colour transmission. Robert Bruning moved on to the role of Producer, forming the company Gemini Productions, which was responsible for the series The Godfathers (in which he also played one of the lead roles) and The Spoiler; later Bruning produced a host of telemovies including the critically-acclaimed The Alternative. Sandy Harbutt wrote, produced and directed the cult biker movie Stone, which he initially wrote as a potential Long Arm script. The 0-Ten network decided they still wanted their own cop series, and they commissioned Crawford Productions to make Matlock Police - which became their first big ratings-grabber, and coincidentally featured short-lived Long Arm producer Michael Pate in a lead role.

 

THE LONG ARM EPISODE DETAILS

 

1. Veritas, Melbourne Truth, Nov 15, 1969.
2. Ibid.
3. Melbourne Age, April 9, 1970.
4. TV Week, June 1970.
5. TV Eye No. 2, May 1994.
6. Melbourne Listener In-TV, Jan 31, 1970.
7. Veritas, Melbourne Truth, March 28, 1970.
8. TV Week, June 6, 1970.
9. Melbourne Age, May 29, 1970.
10. Melbourne Listener In-TV, May 30, 1970.
11. Melbourne Truth, June 6, 1970.
12. TV Times, June 3, 1970.
13. TV Week, June 20, 1970.
14. Melbourne Listener In-TV, May 30, 1970.
15. TV Times, April 8, 1970.
16. Melbourne Listener In-TV, July 11, 1970.
17. TV Week, July 1970.
18. TV Times, Sept 2, 1970.
19. TV Week, July 1970.
20. TV Times, Sept 2, 1970.
21. Ibid.
22. TV Week, Oct 17, 1970.



The two detectives - the main characters of The Long Arm: Sandy Harbutt as Det. Riverton (left) and Robert Bruning as Insp. Buchanan.

 
Robert Bruning as Insp. Dallas Buchanan and Sandy Harbutt as Det. Kim Riverton.

 
Ken Goodlet in a support role as Sgt. Ted Driscoll, representing the uniform branch.

 
The Long Arm opening titles. The first four episodes varied with the dot pattern on the faces being replaced with white. The first face does not belong to a cast member.

 
Model turned actor Lyndal Moor had her first major role in The Long Arm as Trish Towns.

 
Lyndal Moor as Trish Towns and Barbara Mason as Veleen Towns, two characters heavily involved in the detective's private lives.

 
Tony Ward as NSW Insp. Mike Hammond.


The scene from the first episode which one Melbourne newspaper created a fuss over. Barbara Mason as Veleen Towns falls victim to a sex offender played by Tim Eliott.

 
The long arm of coincidence - a scene from episode 7, 'Love, Honour And Obey'. Insp. Buchanan, Trish and Veleen just happen to be attending a wedding where the groom is murdered.

 
Ron Randell and Barbara Mason in a scene from episode 3, 'The Harder They Fall'. ATV-0 brought Randell back from the U.S.A. for the part.

 
A scene from the censored episode, 'The Line Between Is So Thin'. Insp. Buchanan and Det. Riverton examine a corpse played by Ollie Ven Skevics, complete with gory eye make-up.


Robert Bruning as Insp. Buchanan.


Lyndal Moor and Robert Bruning.

 
Barbara Mason and Lyndal Moor.

 
Buchanan apprehends a criminal played by John Ewart in a scene from episode 2, 'I'd Trust him With My Life'.

 
Sandy Harbutt and Robert Bruning.

 
Robert Bruning and Tony Ward.

 
Lyndal Moor.

 
Barbara Mason.


Lyndal Moor, Sandy Harbutt and Robert Bruning in the detective's office.