In Ask the Leyland Brothers, adventurers Mike and Mal Leyland travelled to different parts of Australia to make short documentary segments. Every story was a response to letters from viewers asking the Leyland Brothers to cover a particular person, place or subject.
After early success with documentaries covering their travels along the Darling River (in Down the Darling, 1963) and across Australia (in Wheels Across the Wilderness, 1967), the brothers transformed themselves into a brand, complete with T-shirts, a catchy theme song and eventually, in the early 90s, a Sunshine Coast theme park called ‘Leyland Brothers World’.
The theme park turned out to be an unhappy swan song, sending the pair bankrupt. At their peak, however, Ask the Leyland Brothers was watched by around 2.5 million viewers a week.
Mike and Mal and their wives Pat and Laraine jointly fill the roles of presenters, camera and sound crew. There are never more than two of these four on screen at one time – one presumes that the others must be running the equipment.
The remaining team members were in post-production: video editor Mike Newling and soundtrack artist Horrie Dargie. The feel was of a particularly well-executed home movie.
While Ask the Leyland Brothers appears entertainingly dated several decades later, its lo-fi qualities were not typical of television shows of its time, either. Channel 9 had specifically asked the brothers not to make the series too slick and liked its amateur ‘home movie’ quality.
The Leyland Brothers were followed by an ever-burgeoning number of intrepid explorers, like Alby Mangels and Steve Irwin, and the show’s format has something in common with later magazine-style travel shows, whose episodes consist of several short segments on different subjects.