1 9 7 4 – 1 9 7 7 (Australia)
335 x 50 minute episodes
A controversial new night-time drama debuted in Australia on the 0-10 network on 11 February 1974.
Hungry for a series even more outrageous and salacious than the runaway ratings success Number 96, Crawford Productions unleashed The Box in February 1974.
As its name implies, The Box was set at a television station (the fictional Channel 12) and followed the lives of various station personnel, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.
It was a bare excuse to parade an endless array of naked breasts and bums, but – although picketed by the Festival of Light and slammed by some TV critics as “garbage” and “pornography” – the viewing public loved it.
Program Executive Paul Donovan (George Mallaby) had recently been hired to brighten up Channel 12 and arrived with lots of new ideas that upset many people at the station.
Paul had problems with his wife, Judy (Briony Behets) because he spent most of his time at work.
Tony Wild (Ken James) was an egocentric actor who played a TV policeman called Sergeant Blake in his Channel 12 police series, Manhunt, and had difficulty remembering where fiction ended and reality began.
Tony incurred the wrath of the company chairman Sir Henry Usher (Fred Betts) when he appeared nude in a magazine centrefold.
Station Manager Max Knight (Barry Barkla) was married to Sir Henry’s daughter, Marion (Margaret Cruickshank).
Gary Burke (Peter Regan) hosted a ‘live to air’ Channel 12 show called Big Night Out. A typical episode had Burke missing his cue after an ad break as he was in his dressing room with a woman. It later eventuated that the woman he slept with was a schoolgirl, and thus, under the age of consent.
Sex was a principal emphasis in the early episodes and we were treated to bisexuality, promiscuity and adultery.
Producer Lee Whiteman (Paul Karo, pictured above) was the station’s resident “poof” who had been brought in by Paul Donovan to help lift the ratings of Gary Burke’s show, while Vicki Stafford (Judy Nunn) was a bed-hopping bitch reporter who – as a bisexual – was able to entrap both men and women.
Nunn was the first actress to kiss another woman on Australian TV – that’s right, she kissed a woman on The Box!
As an adolescent at the time, I relished any chance to see The Box and lusted after the bevy of sexy women on the show including Belinda Giblin (pictured at left as secretary Kay Webster), Vanessa Leigh as ultra-hip groover Fanny Adams, and Helen Hemingway as attractive teenager Felicity who didn’t work at the station but was infatuated with the glamour world of television and spent most of her time chasing the station’s stars.
The series calmed over time and the comical nature of the characters and situations moved to the fore, often featuring the all-knowing tea lady, Mrs H (Lois Ramsay).
The Box was the first successful venture by Crawford Productions into soap opera, and showed in an adult time slot, five nights a week, for three and a half years.
The series ended three months before Number 96, and Australian TV has probably never since achieved the levels of raunchiness and vulgarity again.
Sir Henry Usher