1 9 7 5 – 1 9 7 6 (Australia/UK/USA)
13 x 60 minute episodes
The storyline of this Australian series began with the bushranger, Frank Gardiner (John Castle), and two others who murder a trooper and escape from custody. They head for Wheogo, near Forbes (NSW), the home of Gardiner’s ‘woman’, Kate Walsh. The trio take horses from another settler, Ben Hall.
Hall pursues them but when troopers follow, Hall helps Gardiner escape.
Hall then marries Biddy (Evin Crowley), but a drought forces them off their property. He is then wrongfully identified as a perpetrator of a hold-up and murder, but a last-minute confession saves him from the gallows.
Hall moves to the goldfields and helps Gardiner in a stagecoach hold-up. He also helps organise the gold diggers in a strike for land rights, however, a price is put on his head, and he is finally killed by the troopers.
This was the largest Australian co-production to date, undertaken with two giant partners – the BBC and 20th Century Fox. The series cost $2 million and was produced by the ABC at its film studios in Sydney’s Frenchs Forest (where the township of Wheogo was built) as a mixture of cowboy adventure and Australian nationalism.
Location shooting took place in the Megalong Valley in the Blue Mountains.
The series took many poetic liberties, which were challenged by several critics at the time. Most contentious at the time was the casting of British actor Jon Finch in the central role – a necessary step as the show was made to be shown in England and the US as well as Australia.
Whether the real Ben Hall was a hero, forced into bushranging by the persecution of the police, or a real villain has never been proved by historians.
It is known that he took to bushranging openly, robbing banks, stealing horses from magistrates and police and, in October 1863, holding up the entire township of Canowindra for three days.
If Ben Hall does have a fault, it is its length. At thirteen hours, the series was too long to maintain complete interest in the central thread.
Sir Frederick Pottinger
Sandra Lee Patterson