The Rovers was the second of three half-hour ocean-going adventure series
produced in the late 60s and early 70s (preceded by Adventures Of The
Seaspray and followed by Barrier Reef). Packaged by NLT Productions,1 The Rovers followed the companys
previous success with another adventure series: Woobinda (Animal Doctor),
a series about an outback veterinarian.
In November 1968, NLT announced that they would be
producing a $600,000 action adventure series for the 0-Ten network, with general family
viewing appeal. Filming of the pilot episode commenced early in 1969 with the working
title Sea Rovers. This title was changed to Adventure Ahead and later The
Seekers, before settling on The Rovers. The final title had still not been
decided when the series went into production in May 1969. Even when the
series went to air, Adelaide editions of TV Times listed it as
'Adventures Of The Pacific Lady' in their programme guide.
The Rovers is based on the adventures of the
crew of the Pacific Lady, an island schooner owned by Captain Sam McGill
(known as Cap for short), played by Eddie Hepple. The boat mainly cruises the
east coast of Australia under charter to Bob Wild and Rusty Collins, played by Noel
Trevarthen and Rowena Wallace. Wild is a freelance photographer filming wildlife
for use in documentaries by a television network, and has outfitted some of the below decks section of
the boat as a photographic laboratory. The boat also carries Bob's jeep which comes in
handy for onshore adventures.
Rusty is a journalist for Wildlife
magazine, whose editor has agreed to her accompanying the party on the
boat as long as it doesn’t cost him anything. Captain McGill’s 10-year-old
grandson Mike lives aboard the boat with him, and is played by Grant
It was originally intended that the young boy would be called Jonah
(following in the footsteps of Adventures Of The Seaspray, which
used the Biblical name Noah for their young boy), but this was soon
changed to Mike.
The three adult cast members previously had leading
roles in various series. Rowena Wallace was the centre of much controversy due to her lead
role in You Cant See Round Corners, because of a scene in which co-star Ken
Shorter put his hand up her dress. Eddie Hepple had the title role in the sit-com Barley
Charlie, and Noel Trevarthen, who had been working overseas in Riviera Police
among other things, had his first regular Australian part in the daytime soap Motel.
Trevarthen was selected from a final short list of three actors for the
role, the other two contenders being John Bonney and Mike Dorsey.
Child actor Grant Seiden was an
experienced stage performer, and was well-known from a confectionery
commercial as the 'Milky Bar Kid'. He was provided with an on-set tutor
for lessons in between filming so that his schoolwork would not suffer.
(The teacher was the same girl who provided lessons for Garry Pankhurst on
the set of Skippy). The ABC social documentary series
Chequerboard filmed an episode around Seiden's work on the show, and
looked at the broader issue of how being an actor affected a child's life.
The episode was selected for follow-up treatment 30 years later as part of
the ABC's Chequerboard Revisited series.
The Rovers was devised by Roger Mirams, who
was to childrens television drama what Hector Crawford was to adult
drama. Previously Mirams was Producer of both Seaspray and Woobinda, and was
the driving force behind Pacific Films, makers of The Terrible Ten
and The Magic Boomerang. Mirams' did not have any continuing involvement in The Rovers; he
produced only the pilot episode, the series being produced by Don Cash. Executive Producer of The
Rovers was Bill Harmon.
The Rovers had its origins in an earlier
concept devised by Mirams titled The Adventurers, a pilot episode of which was
produced by Supreme Sound Studios in late 1967. Proposed as a series of 39 half-hour
episodes, The Adventurers featured Rod Mullinar and Allen Bickford as two brothers
who charter a boat to carry out marine biology research. Other lead roles were played by
Chuck Kehoe as the owner of the boat, Gavin Hamilton as his 16-year-old son, and Eddie Hepple as an old sailor. The series was to be set on the Australian coast and filmed
mainly around Sydney, although location filming as far afield as New Guinea and the
Pacific islands was planned.
The obvious similarities of The Adventurers
to The Rovers went beyond just the concept - Eddie Hepple dressed the same as his Rovers
character, and there was even a pet koala on board ship. The Adventurers pilot was
produced by Mirams and directed by Eddie Davis, who had previously directed many of the Seaspray
episodes. In February 1968 it was reported that The Adventurers was
'almost certain' to be sold to the 0-Ten Network.3
What the 0-Ten Network did end up
buying was The Rovers. Set along the whole east coast
of Australia, filming of the
series took place entirely at Brooklyn on the picturesque Hawkesbury River, north of
Sydney, where the production headquarters were set up. This was rather obvious to anyone
who is familiar with the area, as the landmark Hawkesbury River railway bridge could often
be seen in the background. In fact, no matter where in Australia an episode was set, if a
railway line could be seen it always had overhead electric wires, which gave away the
filming location. (At that time country railway electrification from Sydney only extended
up the coast as far as Gosford, and inland across the Blue Mountains to Lithgow.
The only other electrified country line was to Traralgon in Victoria.)
An old church hall in Brooklyn was converted to a
studio for interior scenes. The permanent set comprised the below decks section of the
'Pacific Lady', including bunks, galley and darkroom. The set was built in sections
mounted on castors, so the cabins could be locked together for scenes requiring movement
from one area to another. The walls of the cabins were also mounted on castors so that
they could be disconnected and rolled back for easier filming of interior scenes.
The Pacific Lady is actually the 75-foot
schooner Derwent Hunter, leased by NLT for the series from a private Sydney
boating enthusiast. The Derwent Hunter was launched in 1945 as a crayfish
boat, and was later used by the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
Organisation) for marine research, in which capacity she journeyed to many Pacific Islands
and as far afield as the South Pole. The two-masted schooner also had two diesel engines
for auxiliary power.
Weather was a large factor in the shooting schedule,
and production methods varied accordingly for maximum efficiency. If the weather became
inclement a radio message to shore would alert the Production Manager to have the interior
studio ready so that filming could continue on interior scenes; if the weather remained
fine filming would continue on the river. This kept idle time to a bare minimum.
The pilot became episode No. 4, Dangerous
Cargo. The Director, David Baker, had some problems with sixty-three local senior
citizens hired as extras. They had to look frightened for the cameras, but they were
having a good fun time and couldnt help showing it. One scene required guest actor
Gerry Duggan to lose his temper and shout, and the president of the local Senior Citizen's
Club was shocked and proceeded to tell him off. "Where are your manners? Were
all nice people here - why arent you?" When she realised her mistake she
apologised: "Oh dear, Im very sorry, it looked so real".4
Like Roger Mirams, David Baker only worked on the
pilot episode. Due to the tight filming schedule for the series, two regular Directors
were used for most episodes, Max Varnel and Ron Way. Max Varnel had previously worked on Skippy, and
Ron Way on Woobinda (Animal Doctor), Good Morning Mr. Doubleday and My Name's
McGooley - What's Yours? Other Directors were John von Kotze, David Eastman and David Johnstone.
Scriptwriters included Ron McLean, Michael Wright
and Rosamund Waring. One episode was written by Eddie Hepple, and script supervision was
by Ralph Peterson, who previously wrote and produced McGooley.
Theme and incidental music for the series was
composed by Tommy Leonetti and orchestrated by Eric Cook. The lyrics for the opening theme
were written by Barry Crocker and Peter Flanagan,
Crocker performing the vocals.
39 episodes of The Rovers were made. With an
eye on overseas markets, it was produced in colour and entirely on film,
with extensive outdoor filming at scenic locations. A plethora of
native Australian animals were featured, the storylines justifying this by not only having
Bob and Rustys occupations concern native fauna, but also by Mike having on board
the 'Pacific Lady' a pet wombat, koala and cockatoo -
the latter which exasperates Cap no end.
Use of native animals proved
successful in Skippy and Woobinda, so it was perhaps inevitable that The
Rovers should feature a floating menagerie - one critic dubbed the show Skippy
goes to sea.5 Director Max Varnel
said patience was required when working with animals: "You have to be prepared either
to wait for the action you want or alter the script to fit in with the best action you can
get from the animals."6
The series premiered in Melbourne at 7:00 PM on
Thursday August 21, 1969 with the second episode. The first episode was screened as the last episode in the series, and was done so
consistently in repeat screenings. Exactly why remains a mystery.
Noel Trevarthen publicly criticised the 0-Ten Network
for launching the series with the wrong episode, claiming it did not show the series in
"the best light", nor did it feature many of the animals used in the series.
"There was no real explanation of the characters, and a false representation of some
of them if other episodes had not been seen. Still, I just wanted to get in ahead of the
critics, since the way in which the series is presented is out of the hands of the
Reviewers, who previewed the second episode in
colour, gave the series a mixed reaction, from dismissing it as superficial juvenile
rubbish to praising it as good wholesome family viewing. To be fair, The Rovers
could not be considered a ground-breaking pinnacle of artistic achievement, following as
it does the well-trodden path taken by Seaspray, Skippy and Woobinda.
However, for all of its predictability and happy
endings, The Rovers is a slick, well-produced and entertaining product,
with a balance between the dramatic and the light-hearted that appealed to
adults and children alike. The
lead cast are very competent - Rowena Wallace and Noel Trevarthen are extremely
professional, child actor Grant Seiden is thoroughly believable, and Eddie Hepple does a
good job of portraying a cliched old salt.
Initially it was intended to produce only 26
episodes, but early overseas sales to Latin America and South-East Asia saw the go-ahead
given for a further 13 episodes. NLT executives were also optimistic about negotiations to sell
the programme to Britain, America and Germany. The increase to 39 episodes carried
production through to March 1970. The extension of the series meant that Noel Trevarthen
had to turn down an offer to appear in another show which was due to go into production
soon. But he was happy to stay with The Rovers because he thought it was a very
good series: "It is such a relief to have a role in which you are outdoors a lot of
the time, and not have to walk into a room and deliver three lines of dialogue and stand
There was no romance in the show, as one might
expect, between Bob Wild and Rusty Collins. The subject was very briefly touched on in
episode 30, A Present For Jenny, which concerned Mikes first childhood
crush. With a parallel romance between the two adult guest characters, it drew passing
attention to Bob and Rustys single status, but that was as far as it got.
In fact there was one scene in another episode that
showed Rusty in a dressing gown after taking a shower, with a bra and stockings drying on
the clothes line. Because this suggested that Rusty actually spent the nights on the same
boat as three males, the scene was later deleted. This led to a running joke on the set:
where did Rusty sleep? The captain had a cabin, Bob had a cabin and Mike had a cabin, even
the animals had somewhere to sleep, but where did Rusty go? "When it came to the
question of bunking down for the night Rusty just sort of disappeared," said Rowena.
"I think the producers were trying to hide the fact that she lived on the same boat
as three males. We invented all sorts of places for her to go, but the general
consensus was she spent her nights in the crows nest!"9
Later episodes did, in fact, clearly show that Rusty had her own cabin.
Cast and crew referred to the two main characters as
Hero Bob and Trusty Rusty. Both Rowena and Trevarthen admitted at
the time that the roles were not particularly challenging, but they were fun to do.
"It isn't a part you can put a label on," said Rowena. "Sometimes I wish
Rusty were a mad, zany person - a part you could get your teeth into. You find it hard to
give her personality, to make her really believable. But I enjoy playing her because the
discipline of the role is good for me. I just wish Rusty would do her nut sometimes. Mind
you, there was one wonderful, tender episode in which I helped an autistic child (No. 9,
'The Strangers'). That was a great little piece of drama and I loved it."10
Dawn Lake, wife of NLT principal
Bobby Limb, had a guest role in that episode which was her first straight
dramatic role (as opposed to comedy roles). "I had done comedy sketches so
I wasn't exactly an amateur, and I put it around that I was interested in
straight work," said Dawn. "I had to be careful to make it clear that it
would have to be because I was right for the part, not because I was the
boss's wife. It was a very heavy role for a beginner, but a beautiful
script. I played it without any make-up at all, and afterwards I had a lot
of phone calls from women who were mothers of autistic children and from
the Autistic Children's Association. It was very gratifying."11
Trevarthen said that although his role did not
stretch his acting talents, it was demanding physically. "I soon found out how fit I
wasn't when this series started," he said.12 Like many other Australian series of the era, the
actors were often required to do their own stunts. In The Rovers this never
amounted to anything dangerous, however during filming of episode 7, 'Wide Angle Shot', a
miscalculation during a fight scene resulted in two broken ribs for Noel Trevarthen, and
caused guest actor Don Reid to be knocked out momentarily. And, working with animals,
there were the inevitable bites and scratches: "You feel like a bit of a clot going
to the doctor," said Eddie Hepple, "and when he asks what's wrong saying, 'I've
been bitten by a koala'."13
Rowena recounted an amusing incident from one
episode in a TV Eye interview: "Hero Bob and Trusty Rusty have to defuse a sea
mine which has become unmoored and is drifting. Hero Bob goes out and he gets caught up in
the chains, so Trusty Rusty has to dive off the rocks, swim out to the mine, dive under
and unhook Hero Bob. The Director, Max Varnel, an Englishman, had a megaphone on the shore
and was calling out, Cut, cut!, but with his accent it sounded like,
Shark, shark!. Well, you have never seen anyone swim so quickly - I
mean, it was across the water literally, I didnt know I could do it. It was
incredible, and everyone was looking at me scrambling onto shore out of breath, thinking
What is wrong with this woman?"14
The three male characters all wore
the same costume most of the time, only rarely being seen in different
clothes. Rusty had the most varied wardrobe, but even hers was limited.
One wonders when they ever washed their clothes, or perhaps, like Donald
Duck with his closet full of sailor suits, they simply had multiple copies
of the same garments.
Well-known actor and writer Ray Taylor spoke
about his guest appearance on the series: "Life began for me when I
discovered I could write something longer than a two-line joke. And it
very nearly ended when I found myself half-way up some cliff-face filming
The Rovers episode 'Wright's Peak'. Half-way up I lose my nerve (by
this time I wasn't acting, it was the real thing, but don't tell the
director - he thought I was great!) and cause all sorts of perilous
situations. So there I am, perched on this cliff ledge with the foaming
sea dashing against the rocks some 300 feet below and my co-actors, Jack
Thompson and Noel Trevarthen, are having a friendly discussion about the
merits of Dylan. I thought I'd better not show any concern for the
situation we were in, so I tried to join in the conversation, but
discovered they weren't talking about Dylan Thomas but someone called Bob
Dylan! I really enjoyed risking life and limb... it was good fun and I
shall not forget it in a hurry." Asked what would happen if he had fallen
off, Taylor replied: "I would have been replaced. After all - the show
must go on!"15
One of the best dramatic episodes of The Rovers,
No. 29 A Place Of My Own, was filmed with an alternative ending which was used
as a pilot for a proposed outdoor adventure series. The episode featured singer Kamahl in a lead guest role specially written for him, that of a lone
traveller who shuns
friendship, for which he received much praise as a novice actor. Brendon Lunney also
featured as a fellow traveller who wins his confidence and friendship. It was intended
both Lunney and Kamahl would have the lead roles in the spin-off series, which was to
centre on the adventures of the two characters touring Australia. Although NLT executives
were reportedly impressed with the pilot, nothing further came of it.
Another episode was also used as a pilot for a
spin-off series, to be titled Reggies Paradise, and got a lot further in the
planning and pre-production stages before it too was dropped. Episode 16, The Odyssey
Of Reginald Peck, featured guest roles by Dawn Lake and visiting British actor Reg
Varney (perhaps best known for his part in On The Buses), both of whom were to
feature in the spin-off series. Executive Producer Bill Harmon said, "Reg Varney has
been most anxious to make a comedy series in Australia. He is convinced of the great
potential for film and television making here."16
Dawn Lake earlier
had a variety show titled Heres Dawn, also packaged by NLT. To showcase her
talents, NLT devised a situation comedy series for her titled The Private World Of Miss
Prim. It flopped, and NLT had not found another suitable vehicle for her until this
episode of The Rovers. "I have always wanted to be a character actor, but I
have never had the chance until this came up," said Dawn. "When my comedy series The
Private World Of Miss Prim failed, I vowed then I would wait for the right show to
come along - and I know that this is it. Here, I have a chance to be a character actress,
to work in a show which I know is right for me, to work with a great actor like Reg Varney
and to work in a show which will have a big budget. I have waited a long time, but the
wait has been worthwhile."17
In the episode Varney played Reginald Peck, a
battling salesman who has inherited an island and some money. He finds he has also
inherited a dog, three children, and a nanny. The nanny, Dawn Tobin, is played by Dawn
Lake, in a role specially written for her. A condition of the will is that if Reg ever
leaves the island he loses the inheritance. The beginning and ending of the episode were
rewritten and filmed again to form the pilot for the spin-off series.
Bill Harmon explained the logic behind using two Rovers
episodes as possible spin-off series: "Spin-off's are much cheaper to make than
pilots simply because you have your establishment costs outlaid in the series from which
the spin-off comes. Expenses in U.S. television were now so high that it was costing
$80,000 to produce a half-hour show. A show like Reggie's Paradise could probably
be produced for $20,000 an episode. With a price difference like that it is obvious to see
where we come in."18 Overseas sales were
sought for Reggies Paradise, but nothing further eventuated
and the series was not proceeded with.
Rowena Wallace said The Rovers was a great
series to work on: "I had a lot of fun doing it. Noel had a little apartment because
he was the star, and they gave me a room at the back of the office because I wasn't
a star, but it was easy to have me there to keep an eye on me. I got fired once, because they thought my
conduct was unbecoming for their leading actress, so I said, 'All right, I'll go'. I told
Noel Trevarthen about it, and he marched into the office and said, 'If she goes, I go'. And
they thought, 'Now, we don't have Trusty Rusty, we don't have Hero Bob, all we've got is
the Captain, a couple of animals and a young boy - we'd better rethink this one.' So I was
reinstated and back in the crows nest again!"19
The Rovers was the last television series
produced by NLT. Two feature films (Squeeze A Flower and Wake In Fright)
were made before the companys demise, which followed the resignation of some key
personnel together with some financial problems. Some of the creative talent would work
together again: Ron McLean and Roger Mirams teamed up to make Spyforce and later Silent
Number, while Don Cash and Bill Harmon went on to form Cash-Harmon Productions,
packagers of the situation comedy The Group and the over-rated soap opera Number
Rowena Wallace went straight from one boat to
another in Barrier Reef, and subsequently appeared in many and varied television
series, including regular roles in Division 4, Cop Shop and Sons And
Daughters (as 'Pat the Rat'). Noel Trevarthen also appeared in many series too
numerous to mention both in Australia and Great Britain; and Eddie Hepple turned to
scriptwriting (including a number of episodes of Crawford Productions' series) in addition
to guest acting roles. Grant Seiden abandoned his acting career and never looked back.
A young boy and old man in their
Sailed off to see what they could see
Along with the two there came
A man who was seeking fame
The search for adventure is their story
The Rovers, The Rovers
Follow the wandering sun
The Rovers, The Rovers
Their worlds exciting and its fun
Theyre off now to find their next adventure
Winds of freedom blowing in their sails
They help everyone they can
The Rovers have done it again
In the wake of the never ending trail
The Rovers, The Rovers
Follow the wandering sun
The Rovers, The Rovers
Wherever the four winds run
1. The initials NLT
represent the three principals of the company: Jack Neary, Bobby Limb and Les Tinker.
2. On some prints, the opening titles spell Grant's surname as Seidon.
3. TV Times, Feb 7, 1968.
4. TV Times, Feb 5, 1969.
5. Paul Edwards, TV Week, Sept 6, 1969.
6. TV Times, Sept 10, 1969.
7. TV Week, Sept 6, 1969.
8. TV Week, March 14, 1970.
9. TV Eye No. 3, Oct 1994.
10. TV Week, Sept 27, 1969.
11. TV Times, Dec 11, 1971.
12. TV Week, March 14, 1970.
13. TV Week, Sept 6, 1969.
14. TV Eye No. 3, Oct 1994.
15. South Australia TV Guide, May 17, 1970
16. TV Week, Sept 13, 1969.
17. TV Week, Oct 4, 1969.
19. TV Eye No. 3, Oct 1994.
The cast of The Rovers: Noel Trevarthen as
wildlife photographer Bob Wild, Rowena Wallace as journalist Rusty Collins, Eddie Hepple
as Captain Sam McGill and Grant Seiden as Caps grandson Mike McGill.
Allen Bickford and Rod Mullinar in a scene from the
pilot episode for the proposed series The Adventurers.
Noel Trevarthen as 'Hero Bob'.
Eddie Hepple as Captain Sam McGill with Grant Seiden as
his grandson Mike.
The Rovers opening titles. The first dozen or so episodes incorrectly spelled Grant Seiden's surname as Seidon.
Trusty Rusty poses for a photo (top) and falls in
the drink. She is helped by Cap and Hero Bob (centre) before drying out on deck (below).
From episode 19, 'Sittin' Pretty'.
Grant Seiden as Mike McGill with Charlie the wombat.
Rowena Wallace as Rusty Collins.
The cast on board the 'Pacific Lady' - Rowena Wallace,
Noel Trevarthen, Grant Seiden and Eddie Hepple.
Rowena Wallace and Eddie Hepple during a promotional
visit to Hobart, Tasmania, during which a replica of the 'Pacific Lady' was featured in the annual
Blue Gum Festival parade.
Mark McManus, Janet Kingsbury and Noel Trevarthen in a
scene from episode 15, 'U.F.O. Pacific'.
Noel Trevarthen and Grant Seiden.
Eddie Hepple and Noel Trevarthen.
Eddie Hepple and Rowena Wallace.
Kamahl and Rowena Wallace during
filming of episode 29, 'A Place Of My Own'.
Brendon Lunney and Kamahl in a scene from
episode 29, 'A Place Of My Own'.
Noel Trevarthen as 'Hero Bob'.
Rowena Wallace as Rusty and Grant Seiden as Mike.
Eddie Hepple as Cap with one of Mike's more unorthodox