MY NAME'S McGOOLEY -
RITA AND WALLY
years, many situation comedies have been produced in Australia, the vast
majority being average or below average shows that have long been
forgotten by the viewing public. Consequently, there is a consensus among
viewers and industry people alike that Australia cannot produce decent
sit-coms. However, there are some notable exceptions, and series such as
The Last Of The Australians and Mother And Son stand out as
examples of excellence in their field. The first truly successful
Australian sit-com was made in the mid-1960’s, with the unwieldy title of
My Name’s McGooley – What’s Yours?
encompassed a social realism that viewers could identify with. The central
characters are working class battler Wally Stiller and his wife Rita, who
live with Rita’s father Dominic McGooley, a crusty old pensioner. Their
house is in Balmain, an inner suburb of Sydney that was then still largely
working class. In classic sit-com tradition, early episodes centred on the
farcical situations that McGooley blundered into, which were exploited for
their comedy potential. As the series progressed, Wally Stiller became the
protagonist, and the emphasis shifted to social issues within the family
structure, with McGooley reacting to Wally’s middle-aged ocker outlook on
McGooley – What’s Yours?
was the brainchild of writer and producer Ralph Peterson. Originally from
Adelaide, Peterson had been working in London for a few years, and
conceived the idea for Britain’s ITV. The title role of McGooley was
offered to Leo McKern, but the show never got off the ground. Peterson
returned to Australia, and came up against a distinct lack of interest by
stations in the McGooley concept.
A number of
circumstances then came together. ATN-7 Sydney was having considerable
success with The Mavis Bramston Show, a satirical sketch comedy
programme, and June Salter was offered a part in the show. June had been
living and working in London with then husband John Meillon, and to
facilitate her move back to Australia, ATN indicated that if a suitable
programme came up to utilise Meillon’s talents, then ATN would back it.
While in England,
Peterson had often talked to Meillon about his idea for a domestic comedy
in Australia. When Meillon said he was looking for any potential projects
that could interest ATN-7, Peterson suggested the part of Wally in My
Name’s McGooley. Meillon liked the concept and tried to interest ATN-7
in it. At this time, Gordon Chater was under contract to ATN-7 and had
been appearing in The Mavis Bramston Show, but had asked to be
released from it. ATN agreed to the request, but they were still keen to
utilise Chater’s talents, and wanted to find a domestic comedy series for
him. To this end, a couple of pilots for situation comedies were made at
considerable expense, which were ultimately deemed unsuitable. It then
became apparent that Chater would be perfect for the role of Dominic
Chater was given
a copy of the script and was immediately impressed. “I couldn’t put it
down,” he said. “I was completely captivated and immersed in it and I
wanted to know what was happening all the time. It was a mixture of
emotions. I laughed and I felt moved. Here were completely universal
characters in an Australian setting, using the Australian idiom. Here was
something with which I was completely identified. Here was the show I
wanted to do.” 1
In April 1966
ATN-7 produced a pilot episode of McGooley, then three weeks later
made another pilot. The second pilot was considered a success, and in May
ATN-7 gave the green light for series production, and filming commenced in
July. The first pilot episode was turfed into oblivion, but the second
pilot was incorporated into the series. Meillon had knocked back a film
role in England to take on the series: “It was a big gamble, but I think
it has paid off,” he said, after twelve episodes had been completed.2
A half-hour sit-com filmed
in black and white, the series premiered around Australia in September 1966, on both city and
In addition to Gordon Chater in
the title role and John Meillon as Wally, Judi Farr was cast as Wally’s
wife Rita, and Stewart Ginn appeared as Nancarrow, a mate of McGooley’s.
Ralph Peterson was Producer of the series, and also wrote all the scripts.
is a character you could find almost anywhere in Balmain, or any similar
suburb in any other Australian city. "He is not any one person," said
creator Ralph Peterson. "He is a combination of people I have known, seen,
met - people who sort of pass in the night. A lot of characteristics of a
lot of people have been welded into one person - McGooley."3 Cranky, whimsical, remote and
resistant to change, McGooley spends a good deal of time fishing off the
Balmain wharf and hanging out with his mate Nancarrow. "Somehow he manages
to muck up everything he does," said Chater. "He is growing old, but
striving for independence, fighting against being on the shelf. But the
wonderful thing about him is that he does want to be independent, he does
go on striving. And there is a dignity about the continual fight this
cranky, rejected old man is waging, although surrounded by cronies who are
perfectly happy to accept their pension and just amble on to the grave."4
McGooley is always
unshaven, and generally looks unkempt: “I stop shaving on Monday and we
tape the show at the end of the week,” explained Chater.5
could sometimes take several hours to turn Chater’s countenance into the
lined and aged features of McGooley.
Wally Stiller is
an honest but naive factory worker, his occupation being ‘screwing nuts onto bolts’. He is a
bigoted ocker, and loves his beer. He sees his father-in-law as a thorn in
his side, and is always having a go at him. Gordon Chater was full of
praise for Meillon's portrayal of the character: "I doubt if there is any
other actor anywhere in the world who could perform the part of Wally as
completely, hilariously and believably as John Meillon. There are other
actors who could carry McGooley... many others. But I know of no-one else
who could do Wally."6
Towards the end of the series run, Meillon commented on what he thought
was a 'curious thing': “Wally is a reflection
of hundreds of thousands of Australian husbands - everyone says this. But
no Australian husband - to my knowledge - has ever admitted that he
himself is Wally. Wally is never you or me. He is always the bloke who
lives next door, or some bloke you know down at the RSL.”
Rita Stiller is a
hard-working housewife, doing the best she can to run the household on
Wally’s meagre income, and trying to maintain the uneasy truce between
Wally and McGooley. “There’s a bit of Rita in all women,” said Judi Farr.
“I wouldn’t take as much as Rita does. She’s long-suffering and I’m not.
Rita rarely lashes out, she keeps things inside because she feels that’s
her place in life. She has very little ambition, but she doesn’t worry,
she’s resigned to life.” 8
Unlike Chater and Meillon, Judi Farr got the part by routine audition. "I
didn't quite believe it when they told me I had the part," said Judi. "And
when it did sink in, it didn't have much impact. After all, I was signed
only for the pilot. Then I was contracted for 13 episodes and finally for
the series. At first I thought I would get three months' work out of it. I
never imagined it would run into years. I think they picked me because I
could look the part - or at least their conception of it - and I balanced
well with Gordon and John Meillon. If one ad-libbed the other wasn't
Nancarrow is a Balmain pensioner, with a narrow outlook on life. He spends
his time fishing at the wharf, perusing the local garbage cans, and
hanging out with McGooley. His life’s ambition was to become caretaker at
the council tip, but, he freely admits, he never had enough education even
for that. A 45-minute make-up session was required to transform Stewart Ginn into Nancarrow, but Ginn said playing the part came naturally to him.
“Right from the start I liked the part of Nancarrow. He’s a very
believable old bloke who knows exactly what he’s worth. There’s little
pretence about him. There’s no airs and graces. He’s just what he is.”10
have been set in almost any working class suburb, but Balmain was chosen
because Director Ron Way thought the dominance of the Sydney Harbour
Bridge on the eastern skyline would make an excellent backdrop for
exterior scenes. Interior scenes of the Stiller’s house were filmed at the
ATN-7 studios, where designers created a set with great attention to
detail, from the various household odds and ends to the old, antiquated
superficial media style, McGooley was often referred to as ‘Gordon
Chater’s new show’, and Chater was emphatic that such was not the case:
”It is not my show. It is Ralph Peterson’s show. It got to air by virtue
of the writing - nothing else. It was Ralph’s succinct writing, his
humour, his interplay of situations which have happened to all of us, or
we have seen happen, which made it the programme it is. My constant worry
is that my acting may not justify his writing.”
was full of praise for the cast. “They all fit their roles like a glove,”
he said. “They are the greatest team I have worked with.”
The opening title
sequence showed McGooley at the Balmain pier, blatantly fishing under a
‘Fishing Prohibited’ sign, followed by a couple of
still shots of Rita and Wally at the house. It concluded with McGooley
walking with his peculiar limp up the steep Darling Street hill from the
wharf. The closing credits showed McGooley sitting on the wharf, viewed
from a departing ferry, and as the ferry progressed Balmain faded into the
distance, giving the impression that viewers had been ‘visiting’ the
suburb. Each episode featured a closing credit reading ‘Our thanks to the
people of Balmain’.
Not long after
filming of the series commenced, Judi Farr became pregnant. It was decided
to write her pregnancy into the series, and from ep. 9, ‘It Couldn’t Have
Happened To A Nicer Couple’, Rita and Wally were expecting a child. Judi
Farr continued to work up until a couple of weeks before her baby was
born, and in ep. 17, ‘Yes Sir That’s My Baby’, Rita gave birth to baby
Allison. The new addition to the Stiller household gave much scope for
plotlines, both in the pregnancy beforehand and the new baby afterwards,
and a number of episodes centred on how Rita, Wally and McGooley coped
with the situation.
From episode 29,
‘Rosemary’s For Remembrance’, Noeline Browne joined the cast as Wally’s
sister, Rosemary Urkens, known affectionately as ‘Possum’. Rosemary is
separated, and after the break-up of her marriage moves from the country
to Sydney in search of the sophistication of city life, and comes to stay
with Rita, Wally and McGooley. Noeline was a regular on The Mavis
Bramston Show during 1966, and, still under contract to ATN-7, thought
she would have to do another turn of duty on the Beauty And The Beast
panel show. She was pleased, therefore, to join the McGooley cast,
and filmed her first episode in March 1967.
McGooley - What’s Yours?
pulled top ratings in Sydney right from the start, and also rated quite
well in Adelaide, but its Melbourne ratings were only average. In an
attempt to boost the Melbourne ratings, plans were formulated in March
1967 to film an episode there. Ideas included having McGooley win a trip
to Melbourne on the ‘Southern Aurora’ train, and to base the episode on
Aussie rules football (a football code that has a fanatical following
almost everywhere except Sydney). As it happened, the episode, No. 42 ‘The
Bounty That Follows The Wake’, had McGooley and Wally travelling to
Melbourne to collect an inheritance left by a distant relative of McGooley
- which turned out to be worthless. Judi Farr travelled to Melbourne with
the cast and crew, but a late script change did not require Rita to appear
in the Melbourne scenes. The episode made much use of trams and other
Melbourne landmarks, and the script cleverly captured the Sydney-Melbourne
rivalry that existed then. The closing credit was altered to read ‘Our
thanks to the people of Melbourne’.
became seriously ill in September 1967, and was forced to take leave for
several weeks. To compensate for his absence, writer Ralph Peterson
introduced a new character - Vile, a brother of Nancarrow. Vile was played
by Frank Taylor (who would later be seen as Sgt. Scotty Macleod in
Division 4), and the character proved so successful that Vile stayed
for the remainder of the series.
There was some
speculation in the press about whether John Meillon would renew his
McGooley contract, which expired in December 1967. As the character of
Wally Stiller now dominated every episode, ATN-7 considered that they
would have to end the series if Meillon left. The speculation proved
groundless, and Meillon signed on for another year.
constructed new studios adjoining their existing premises, and early in
1968 the My Name’s McGooley team utilised them for several episodes
on a trial basis. By March they had returned to their old set, to allow
filming of the new mini-series The Battlers to take place in the
A second episode
was set in Melbourne, No. 82 ‘Almost Down The Primrose Path’. Possum
receives a marriage proposal from a Melbourne doctor, who is many years
older than she is, and she decides to accept. Rita and Wally are opposed
to the marriage, but they agree to accompany her to Melbourne where the
wedding is to be held, however Possum has second thoughts and opts out
before the ceremony. The cast and crew arrived in Melbourne on April 26
for a long weekend of filming. One scene called for Wally to narrowly miss
being hit by a car, causing his suitcase to be flung into the air
spreading his clothes over the street. However, during filming a mishap
occurred when Meillon was struck by the car and knocked unconscious.
Medical attention revealed no serious injury and after a few hours rest,
filming was able to continue. Consideration was given to using the
accident footage in the episode, but the seriousness of the incident plus
some continuity problems created doubt over its effectiveness.
In March 1968,
Gordon Chater indicated that he would like to leave McGooley when
his contract comes up for renewal. “They have an option, but I’d like to
get out,” he said. “They’ve been wonderful to me, magnificent, and I love
working with both the channel and the team, but I’ve reached a point where
I want to do something else.”
seriously ill in late May, which forced some major changes to My
Name’s McGooley. Faced with at least a two-week absence, scripts were
hastily re-written to send McGooley off to Surfers Paradise in Queensland
with an old girlfriend, Maggie McMurtrie, who was first introduced way
back in episode 4, ‘The Girlfriend’. Maggie had married an American and
moved to a farm in Texas, where they discovered oil on the property, but
later her husband died, leaving her a wealthy widow. Maggie was brought
back into McGooley’s life as a device to cater for any contingencies in
Chater’s availability - the love affair could be broken off and the show
returned to normal, or it could become permanent forcing some drastic
changes to the show.
contract was due for renewal, and ATN-7 was of the opinion that his talent
was not being utilised to its full potential in My Name’s McGooley.
Chater had made no secret of his desire to leave McGooley, and ATN
were keen to utilise him in a new variety show. When it became apparent
that his illness would keep him off work for several weeks, it was almost
a foregone conclusion to write him out of the show permanently. (When
Chater recovered from his illness, ATN-7 created a variety show for him -
The Gordon Chater Show). This left the problem of the McGooley
series being without the title character of McGooley, and it was decided
to make some other changes and retitle the show Rita And Wally.
has been in Surfers Paradise for a few weeks, Rita and Wally receive word
from him that he and Maggie have eloped and will be moving to America.
Meanwhile, Wally has received a promotion to an office job as a ‘junior
salesman’ - in fact, he is the oldest ‘junior’ salesman in the firm - and
he becomes desirous of moving to a more exclusive suburb befitting his new
‘executive’ status. Gordon Chater had not appeared as McGooley since
episode 85, and in the final episode of the series, No. 88 ‘Change Of
Gear’, Wally sells the Balmain house. The new series, Rita And Wally,
follows on directly from My Name’s McGooley, with Rita, Wally and
Possum moving into a new residence on the posh North Shore.
Chater left McGooley, rumours inevitably surfaced that Chater was
upset that John Meillon’s role of Wally was given more emphasis in the
series. Chater always denied this point, praising Meillon’s acting ability
and acknowledging that the role of Wally was by nature more outgoing and
dominant. Chater said he accepted this fact, and was actually in favour of
titles and theme music were changed completely for Rita And Wally.
The new series was sponsored by Berger Paints, and each episode opened
with a voiceover proclaiming ‘Berger Paints, makers of Berger Breeze,
Berger Sheen and Berger Full Gloss, present Rita And Wally’. The
faces of the cast members were then shown on animated cartoon bodies.
Judi Farr and Noeline Brown continued in the new series, and Ralph
Peterson remained Writer and Producer. Tessa Mallos was introduced in a
support role as Margaret Thurston, the Stiller’s new next-door neighbour.
Stewart Ginn also had a support role in the new series, not as Nancarrow
who had been left behind in Balmain, but as Vicar Barrington. This did not
present any continuity problems, as Stewart Ginn without his Nancarrow
make-up was virtually unrecognisable as the same person.
Rita And Wally
did not fare as well as My Name’s McGooley – What’s Yours? Although
Wally had become the focus of the McGooley series, the character of
McGooley was nonetheless an important ingredient. And Wally had changed -
now he was in a white-collar job, and the emphasis had changed from
‘battler’ Wally in working-class Balmain to ‘fish-out-of-water’ Wally in
his new ‘executive’ job and residence on the North Shore. Without McGooley,
and with the other characters in a North Shore setting, Rita And Wally
began to drift into middle-class dullness. The new series was not the same
as My Name’s McGooley, which had built up a substantial following
over two years, and consequently much of that following dropped off. ‘They
should have stayed in Balmain,’ wrote Jerry Fetherston in a TV Week
review. ‘It is painfully obvious now that Wally needs McGooley or, at very
least, the setting in which the programme had its genesis.’
Spike Milligan appeared in one episode of Rita And Wally. While
visiting Australia during 1968, Milligan made a guest appearance as a pest
exterminator in ep. 15, ‘The Family That Sprays Together, Stays Together’.
By October 1968
John Meillon indicated that he would be quitting the part of Wally
Stiller. “I hate Wally,” said Meillon. “But in a back-handed, nostalgic
way, I’ll be sorry to lose him. I work at being Wally all the week. You
get so that you think, eat, drink, sleep and breathe Wally. He moves in on
you and takes over. So I think that my time as Wally is running out. I
don’t see a rosy future for Wally.”
Meillon was also full
of praise for the cast and crew: “My hat comes off to scriptwriter Ralph
Peterson and the others. It’s only because of them that we’ve managed to
keep our sanity and get through more than 100 episodes without any real
dramas or fights. It was a shame when Gordon Chater left, because he was
one of the mainstays of the show.”
Towards the end
of the McGooley series the ratings were starting to slip in some
states, although it was still considered a success. Unlike its
predecessor, however, Rita And Wally attracted only mediocre
ratings. The writing was on the wall. It was obvious that Rita And
Wally would never achieve the same popularity as My Name’s McGooley
and, coupled with John Meillon’s desire not to continue in the part of
Wally Stiller, the decision was taken to halt production after 23
episodes. Together with the 88 episodes of McGooley, this made a
total run of 111 episodes - a significant achievement for any Australian
situation comedy series. My Name’s McGooley - What’s Yours? won a
Logie award in 1967 for ‘Best Comedy Series’, and Stewart Ginn won a
Penguin award in 1968 for Best Supporting Talent for his role of Nancarrow.
The final episode
of Rita And Wally featured the return of Stewart Ginn, Frank Taylor
and Gordon Chater reprising their roles of Nancarrow, Vile and McGooley.
Wally had just given himself the sack from his job, and the outlook for
the future was looking bleak for the Stiller household. Then McGooley and
his mates turn up on their doorstep. McGooley announces that his marriage
to Maggie McMurtrie is over - they found they were not compatible and too
much water had flown under the bridge - and they got a divorce. Part of
the divorce settlement resulted in McGooley retaining one of Maggie’s five
oil wells, and with the proceeds, he has bought another house in Balmain.
Rita and Wally - and McGooley - were going home. The closing titles were
not the standard Rita And Wally credits, but the old McGooley
closing, complete with the original McGooley theme music. The
closing title caption read ‘Rita And Wally Nee My Name’s McGooley -
What’s Yours?’ over the view from the ferry leaving Balmain.
McGooley and Rita And Wally were repeated several times, but
since the advent of colour television only a few clips, and occasionally a
complete episode, have been shown as part of some nostalgia offerings.
MY NAME'S McGOOLEY
- WHAT'S YOURS?
RITA AND WALLY
1. TV Week,
Sept 3, 1966.
3. TV Times, Aug 31, 1966.
5. TV Week,
Sept 3, 1966.
6. TV Times, Aug 31, 1966.
7. TV Times, Oct 16, 1968.
8. TV Times, Nov 23, 1966.
9. TV Times, Aug 20, 1968.
10. TV Week, Aug 26, 1967.
11. TV Week, Sept 3, 1966.
13. TV Times, March 13, 1968.
14. TV Week, June 29, 1968; TV Week, July 6, 1968.
15. TV Week, Aug 17, 1968.
16. TV Times, Oct 16, 1968.
Gordon Chater as Dominic McGooley.
Judi Farr as Rita Stiller and John
Meillon as Wally Stiller.
Chater as crusty old Balmain pensioner Dominic McGooley.
having a go at McGooley.
fossicking about at the local tip.
John Meillon as Wally Stiller, in a
typical pose with a beer can in hand.
farr as Rita Stiller.
Ginn as Peregrine Nancarrow, McGooley's best mate.
Chater as McGooley.
My Name's McGooley
Brown joined the cast from ep. 29 as Rosemary 'Possum' Urkens, Wally's
sister. She is seen here with John Meillon.
McGooley at a tram stop, in a scene from an episode filmed in Melbourne.
with his brother Vile, played by Frank Taylor.
fishing at the Balmain wharf.
with some other Balmain pensioners down at the local mission.
Rita And Wally opening
Tessa Mallos in a
support role as next-door neighbour Margaret Thurston, with Judi Farr as Rita.
Rita And Wally at the ATN-7
John Meillon as Wally
with Judi Farr as Rita.
Rita and Wally, with
Wally looking the worse for wear.