1 9 8 0 (Australia)
38 x 30 minute episodes (Only 10 went to air)
Arcade was Bill Harmon’s swansong in Australian television. Harmon, who had worked in American TV in the 1950s, came to Australia in 1964 to work for NLT Productions and had been the driving force behind the highly successful Number 96, which he and partner Don Cash produced for the 0-10 Network in 1972.
After the death of Cash and the demise of Number 96, Channel 10 Sydney asked Harmon to develop a serial for the weeknight 7:00 pm timeslot, always a difficult slot to fill given its mixed audience demographic of children and adults.
Created on a paper napkin in a Sydney restaurant, the result was a familiar communal workplace – in this case, a shopping arcade – as a recurring location where the serial’s different characters and narratives mingled.
Former Number 96 scriptwriter Johnny Whyte was briefed to put some froth into the lives of customers and staff.
The series began production in late 1979 with a lavish budget of $3 million.
This was to be the first of many expensive vehicles in such areas as news, variety, chat shows, drama and current affairs, which Rupert Murdoch’s new management used to bring better ratings to a network traditionally lagging behind the other two commercial Australian networks.
Most of the cast in this ill-fated venture is best forgotten. However, the serial did feature former cabaret and variety singer Lorrae Desmond and was responsible for her being offered her role as Shirley in A Country Practice.
Desmond played Molly Sparks, who ran The Bookworm – the arcade’s bookshop – with her sister Miriam (Peggy Toppano). Greg Bepper played Molly’s son, Joey Fellows.
Anne Semler also stood out as Magda Yokochek, a zany, busty blonde Hungarian Zsa Zsa Gabor-like figure who ran a gift shop called Portique.
Mike Dorsey (the officious, asinine Daddy of Number 96) was resurrected in Arcade as Vic Marshall, a rough, bearded, knockabout, former Merchant Navy man who ran a pinball parlour called Flashback with his wheelchair-bound daughter, Tina (played by Adelaide discovery Christine Harris).
Garth Meade (ex-husband of Number 96 veteran Elaine Lee) played Norman Pendleton, the chap who owned Pendleton’s Health Studio/Gym where Consulea McPhee (Coral Kellie) worked as the receptionist and Len Crosby (Bill Charlton) was an instructor, while beautiful Olga Tamara, a fledgeling singer/actress who trained as a ballet dancer, was the show’s sex symbol who ran the Surf ‘n’ Ski shop.
Joy Miller played Kitty Adams, who ran the record bar called – naturally enough – Kitty’s Record Bar with her husband Duncan (Danny Adcock).
Other shops in the arcade included Toby’s Delicatessen and a Dry Cleaners called Aristocratic, run by Walter (Syd Heylen) and Joyce Blair (Aileen Britton).
The arcade was owned by Mr Henderson (Allan Penney).
Although Arcade was set in an unnamed fictitious town, the credits for the programme included images of the Strata Arcade – an actual shopping arcade in the Sydney North Shore suburb of Cremorne.
The interior shooting took place on one of the biggest sets ever constructed for an Australian TV series – virtually a complete shopping arcade built inside Studio A (the biggest in the southern hemisphere) at Channel 10.
The serial launched on 20 January 1980 but rated very poorly and received a hammering from newspaper TV critics. Instead of letting the show build a following, Channel 10 halted production and cancelled the programme in March.
Bill Harmon died of cancer a year later.
Peggy Toppano (Mortimer)