CLASSIC AUSTRALIAN TELEVISION

THE ROVERS


Copyright © 2013 Don Storey.  All rights reserved.


THE ROVERS
EPISODE DETAILS

 

HOME

 

INTERVIEWS

 

CHRONOLOGICAL
OVERVIEW

 

F.A.Q.

 

LINKS


The Rovers was the second of three half-hour ocean-going adventure series produced in the late 60’s and early 70’s (preceded by Adventures Of The Seaspray and followed by Barrier Reef). Packaged by NLT Productions,1 The Rovers followed the company’s 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 Seiden.2 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 Can’t 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 children’s 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 couldn’t 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? We’re all nice people here - why aren’t you?" When she realised her mistake she apologised: "Oh dear, I’m 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 Rusty’s 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 producers."7

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 about".8

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 Mike’s first childhood crush. With a parallel romance between the two adult guest characters, it drew passing attention to Bob and Rusty’s 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 didn’t 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 Reggie’s 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 Here’s 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 Reggie’s 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 company’s 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 96.

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.

The Rovers theme song

A young boy and old man in their clipper
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 world’s exciting and it’s fun

They’re 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

 

THE ROVERS EPISODE DETAILS

 


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.
18. Ibid.
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 Cap’s 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.


Rowena Wallace.


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 pets.


Rowena Wallace.