1 9 7 2 – 1 9 7 7 (Australia)
1218 x episodes
First aired on Monday 13 March 1972, Number 96 became the most popular programme on Australian TV within one year, screening every weeknight in all capital cities and on almost every regional station.
The series created a sensation because it dealt graphically with homosexuality, drug and alcohol addictions, promiscuous people, insanity, rape, and lots and lots and LOTS of sex – hence why it was shown in an “adult” time-slot (five nights a week at 8:30 pm).
The series told the story of a group of neighbours living in a block of apartments in Paddington, in the inner city of Sydney, with two shops downstairs – a delicatessen and a wine bar (formerly a chemist shop).
All actual external shots were filmed outside an apartment block at 83 Moncur Street, in the Sydney suburb of Woollahra. All internal scenes were filmed in a studio.
Best of all were the storylines relating to the “Knicker-Snipper” and the “Pantyhose Strangler”. Both scenarios kept viewers tuned in for months – as did the “Hooded Rapist” storyline.
Abigail (pictured at right with Joe Hasham) became a household name overnight and became renowned for uncovering her breasts. One of the most memorable scenes from the series showed Abigail slipping her panties off onto the floor of her bedroom and a hand slipping out from under the bed and taking them. . .
Meanwhile, Elaine Lee as Vera Collins was destined to be unlucky with a long string of sexual partners.
The series also served to introduce the first images of gay males on Australian screens – at a time when homosexuality was illegal across the country – via the relationship between young solicitor Don Finlayson (Joe Hasham) and Dudley “Duddles” Butterfield (Chard Hayward).
The show was careful to paint Don in a positive light and by depicting a likeable, relatable gay man (often dating and in love) at a time when the media demonised them as perverts, Number 96 helped change opinions and fuel conversations throughout Australia’s living rooms.
But there was much more to the series than just sex. In particular, there was a great deal of comedy, mostly centred around scatty concierge and “Why wasn’t I told?” queen of the malapropism, Dorrie Evans (Pat McDonald).
Other memorable characters at No. 96 were: shopkeepers Aldo and Roma Godolfus (Johnny Lockwood and Phillippa Baker), dorky Arnold Feather (Jeff Kevin), Dorrie’s lodger and best friend Flo Patterson (Bunney Brooke) and her budgie, Mr Perky, whingeing Lancashire migrant Alf Sutcliffe (James Elliott), wine bar proprietors Les and Norma Whittaker (Gordon McDougall and Sheila Kennelly) and The MacDonald family (Mike Dorsey, Wendy Blacklock and Frances Hargreaves).
Number 96 became the #1 show on Australian TV but by 1975 the show had slipped to sixth position and the producers pulled out all stops to lure the viewers back. Having already exhausted most storylines (bigamy, rape, Nazi war criminals etc) it was decided to “get rid of them”.
The writers decided to kill off six of the regular characters by having a bomb go off in the block of flats.
The multi-viewpoint split-screen effects they used for the final moments before the explosion as Les Whittaker ran through the block vainly attempting to warn everyone were ground-breaking at the time although seem extremely crude in retrospect.
As the season cliffhanger, it was left open-ended who had actually died and who survived, relying on viewers letters to decide the fate of the characters.
The identities of the dead remained a mystery for weeks.
Eventually, shopkeepers Roma and Aldo Godolfus and inventor Les Whittaker were found to have moved on to more heavenly accommodation.
These were some of the favourite and longest-running characters (which was a brave move) and more deaths came later in the “Wine Bar Siege”
Killing off Les Whittaker proved to be a mistake, so producers brought Gordon McDougall back from the dead as his own long-lost brother, Frank, and devised a romance between him and Les’ widow, Norma.
The melodrama continued until Number 96 finally shut the door on its groundbreaking run, with the final episode airing on 22 December 1977.
The series was devised by Don Cash and Bill Harmon. Cash died in 1973 and Harmon in 1981.
A 1974 feature film of Number 96 was memorable for (amongst other things) the rape of Vera Collins (again). This time by a bikie gang.
In 1980 an American version of Number 96 was made. It bore absolutely no resemblance to the original and was exceptionally weak.
Amanda Von Pappenburg
Vicki Raymond (2)
Henri P Cobb
Carmen Duncan (1)
Jill Forster (2)