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MY NAME'S McGOOLEY - WHAT'S YOURS?
RITA AND WALLY


Copyright © 2013 Don Storey.  All rights reserved.


MY NAME'S McGOOLEY - WHAT'S YOURS?
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RITA AND WALLY
EPISODE DETAILS

 

 

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Over the 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?

McGooley 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 life.

My Name’s 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 McGooley.

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 country stations.

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.

Dominic McGooley 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 Make-up sessions 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.” 7

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 thrown." 9
  
Peregrine 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

My Name’s McGooley could 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 refrigerator.

In typical 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.” 11 Peterson, however, 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.” 12

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.

My Name’s 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’.

Stewart Ginn 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.

ATN-7 had 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 new studios.

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.”13

Chater became 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.

Gordon Chater’s 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.

After McGooley 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.

When Gordon 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 it.14

The opening 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.

John Meillon, 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.’ 15

British comedian 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.” 16 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.” 17

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?
EPISODE DETAILS

RITA AND WALLY
EPISODE DETAILS

 

1. TV Week, Sept 3, 1966.
2. Ibid.
3. TV Times, Aug 31, 1966.
4. Ibid.
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.
12. Ibid.
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.
17. Ibid
.



Gordon Chater as Dominic McGooley.


Judi Farr as Rita Stiller and John Meillon as Wally Stiller.


Gordon Chater as crusty old Balmain pensioner Dominic McGooley.


Wally having a go at McGooley.


McGooley fossicking about at the local tip.


John Meillon as Wally Stiller, in a typical pose with a beer can in hand.


Judi farr as Rita Stiller.


Stewart Ginn as Peregrine Nancarrow, McGooley's best mate.


Gordon Chater as McGooley.


My Name's McGooley opening titles.


Noeline Brown joined the cast from ep. 29 as Rosemary 'Possum' Urkens, Wally's sister. She is seen here with John Meillon.


Wally and McGooley at a tram stop, in a scene from an episode filmed in Melbourne.


Nancarrow with his brother Vile, played by Frank Taylor.


McGooley fishing at the Balmain wharf.


McGooley with some other Balmain pensioners down at the local mission.


McGooley and Nancarrow.


Rita And Wally opening titles.


Tessa Mallos in a support role as next-door neighbour Margaret Thurston, with Judi Farr as Rita.


Filming of Rita And Wally at the ATN-7 studios.


John Meillon as Wally with Judi Farr as Rita.


Rita and Wally, with Wally looking the worse for wear.