When The Mavis Bramston Show aired on Seven from 1964 – 1968 we’d never seen anything like it: a live, weekly show dealing with storiesthe news with a comedic edge.
In one episode alone it tackled a visit by the US Vice President to Australia, the introduction of female roller skating to Australia, homosexuality, censorship, price fixing, child endowment, the White Australia Policy, and how the introduction of computers would impact on office secretaries.
2014 marks 50 years since the show premiered on Australian television. 91 year old Carol Raye (pictured, centre) still remembers the way it upset the clergy and the lengths viewers would go to watch the show.
“Qantas pilots tried to change their schedules and the shopping centre in Canberra asked could we change the night because nobody came?” she recalls.
“Cardinal Gilroy in Sydney told all his parishoners that they had to sell their (sponsor) Ampol shares. We were naughty, we said the odd word like ‘bum’ which I don’t think had been said.”
British-born Raye had only been in Sydney a few months when she suggested the show to Seven, and was quickly appointed as one of Bramston’s founding co-producers.
“I had just arrived in Australia and I joined Channel Seven as a producer and was told to come up with some ideas for a late night show. Seven’s ratings weren’t very good and they wanted to knock off Graham Kennedy. In Melbourne Tonight was a huge success,” she explains.
“I’d just come from England and was very influenced by a show that was a huge success in London, That Was The Week That Was with David Frost. It was really a journalistic satire.
“It wasn’t just lots of funny ha-ha jokes. It was political comedy.”
Coaxed into performing in its first season, she was joined by Gordon Chater (left) and Barry Creighton (right), with music by Tommy Tycho and led by writer Michael Plant.
“Channel Seven’s General Manager said to me, ‘Carol the trouble with you is you’re far too BBC. Australians are not ready to laugh at themselves.’
“And I said ‘I don’t believe that. Everybody laughs at themselves if it’s funny.’
“So I was given 1200 pounds and told to make a pilot.”
The Logie-winning show ran for 4 years with a rotating ensemble cast including Hazel Phillips, John Bluthal, June Salter, Ron Frazer, Barbara Angell, Bryan Davies, Maggie Dence, Noeline Brown and Reg Livermore. Film Director Peter Weir was a production assistant.
Despite its early production, some 90 reels of episodes and segments have been preserved by the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra. Yet no DVD has ever been released, a point which still bothers the still-sprightly Raye.
Never one to take no for an answer, Raye wrote to Seven chairman Kerry Stokes earlier this year, hoping the network boss would give the order to agree to a DVD of the in-house production.
“I wrote to him to say ‘I wanted to remind you it’s 50 years since Bramston show and it was an amazingly brave thing for Channel Seven to do,” she insists.
“You can find bits on YouTube but people always say,’There is no DVD.’
“Many people weren’t even born when we did it, but it was an iconic show.”
After some months, Raye got a phone call out of the blue, albeit not directly from Stokes’ office. But the news wasn’t what she wanted to hear.
“Out of the blue I got a phone call from someone in Children’s Programming,” she recalls.
“The story from Seven was it was too difficult to do a DVD with so many people involved. The legal department don’t like it and get worried. But I pointed out in my letter that Channel TEN had been marvellous and done a very successful DVD with Number 96 and Blankety Blanks. It just seemed ridiculous that a show that had been such an iconic and top of the ratings show was in the archives but there was no DVD.”
Bramston has fallen into the ‘too hard basket’ due to various complications involving clearance issues, the quality of the masters and some hurdles on DVD distribution relating to fully cleared material on an acceptable master.
A Seven spokesperson told TV Tonight, “Carol and the entire team from Bramston is very dear to Seven. They are such an important part of our first days in television, indeed they were pioneers for the industry. Following her inquiry to our Chairman, we have spent some considerable time in here on investigating and chasing how we may or may not be able to release a DVD, given rights issues and tape qualities, and we’ve kept in touch with Carol.
“A DVD release remains a possibility.”
Raye, who has not 1 but 3 iconic shows under her belt including Number 96 and Blankety Blanks, still keeps in touch with her surviving original co-star Barry Creighton.
50 years later they are still drawn to the need for political comedy.
“Barry, who now lives in LA, and I email each other and the politics in both our countries just makes you think ‘Oh my God I wish we were still doing Bramston!’
“I want to do Jacqui Lambie!”