You may recall that last year I reported that Nigel Giles was running a Pozible fundraising campaign to get his book about the legendary Australian ‘soap opera’ Number 96 into print.

Well the campaign was a huge success with a number of ATV Today readers coming to the party with donations.

Pictured Inset: Now in print, Number 96 – Australian TV’s Most Notorious Address. It’s an explosive read. Copyright Nigel Giles/Melbourne Books.
Main Photo: Nigel Giles (centre) at his book launch in Sydney with Karen Petersen who played Christina Vettare in Number 96, and Ian McLean (right) who runs a fact filled website about the series.

The book, Number 96 – Australian TV’s Most Notorious Address, is now in print and is an absolute triumph. After decades of work, Nigel has given us the definitive uncensored story of this ground-breaking show. In this no holds barred account we discover that what went on behind the scenes, was almost as dramatic as the onscreen action.

We are very fortunate that Nigel had broadminded parents; they allowed their 8 year old son to stay up late to watch this adult’s only drama. His lifelong passion for the serial shines through the pages, as he tells of the magic and mania of Number 96, through the words of more than sixty members of the cast and crew. This is a thrilling account of a thrilling show, and is lavishly illustrated with hundreds of photographs. It is topped off by a foreword by the series creator David Sale, who was born here in the UK. Nigel has done the programme, its cast and crew, and its fans proud.

When Number 96 blasted off in 1972 it went down in history as the night that television lost its virginity. The exploits of those who resided in this infamous apartment block were soon topping the ratings, and the programme would reverse the fortunes of the struggling 0-10 Network which had previously been in financial dire straits.

At the Number 96 book launch in Sydney. From left are television and film historian Andrew Mercado who also runs the South West Roxy Cinema in NSW, Karen Petersen who played Christina Vettare, and Roger Ward (right) who played garbage collector Frank ‘Weppo’ Smith who had a penchant for quoting Shakespeare whilst on his bin round.

There had never been a ‘soap opera’ quite like this before and most likely never will be again. Running until 1977 it broke every taboo known to man during its astonishing 1218 episode run. The programme had wowsers across the country in a frenzy by featuring lashings of sex, full frontal nudity, interracial relationships, crazed bikies, pack rape, sadomasochism and drug addicts. It tackled issues such as racism, rape in marriage, abortion, breast cancer, and featured bisexual and transgender characters.

Number 96 prominently featured homosexual characters at a time when such relationships were still illegal in many parts of Australia; the programme presented these characters as real people living real lives. Yes the series dealt with controversial subjects which highlighted genuine issues and hang-ups of the time, but it cleverly balanced these topics with beautifully written comic moments.

Viewers kept tuning in with the promise of hippies stripping off in the launderette, alcoholics getting sozzled, whinging Poms, devil worshippers, and a schoolgirl became hooked on heroin. Then the issue of premature ejaculation raised its ugly head, characters were mauled to death in a shark attack, others perished when a bomb ripped through Number 96, some met their fate at the hands of the vile pantyhose strangler, others fell foul of a hooded rapist, and who could forget the perverted knicker snipper.

Veteran radio and movie star Thelma Scott (left) joined Number 96 as the Point Piper socialite Claire Houghton; she loved her time on the show. Her daughter Bev was played by Abigail (right) who soon became the biggest sex symbol in Australia. Copyright Cash Harmon Productions.

Then there were the guest artists, including the real life Duke and Duchess of Bedford who appeared in the series whilst visiting Australia from England.

The programme spawned many spin-offs including tie-in novels, a cookbook, vinyl LP’s long before anyone had heard of Kylie Minogue or Neighbours, and viewers could book overseas holidays escorted by members of the cast. Perhaps the most adventurous spin-off was the Number 96 movie which allowed viewers to see their favourite stars in full living colour on the big screen, at a time when Australian television was still in black and white.

Number 96 was a financial and a ratings success, it also carried off countless awards with frequent Logies for Best Series, and much deserved gongs for cast members including Pat McDonald and Bunney Brooke. Talking of the Logies, what do you get when you cross the cast of a popular ‘soap opera,’ with showbusiness reporters and lashings of grog on an overnight train journey from Sydney to Melbourne? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Actors Joe Hasham OAM (left) and Logie winner Paul Karo (right) have become gay icons after playing top of the bill homosexual characters on television. Joe starred as lawyer Don Finlayson in Number 96, and Paul starred as television producer Lee Whiteman in The Box. Copyright TV Times.

There were attempts to sell Number 96 overseas and although it aired in Canada and was dubbed for viewers in Italy, broadcasters in other parts of the world including here in the UK felt that it was too hot to handle. The American network NBC did attempt to make their own sanitised version in 1980 but this cleaned up reworking of the format didn’t last for long.

You would imagine that given the ground-breaking nature of Number 96, and the fact that it saved the 0-10 Network from financial extinction, that the programme would have been carefully preserved for posterity as a shining jewel in the broadcaster’s crown.

Shockingly this is not the case; in a moment of sheer lunacy virtually all of the black and white episodes, many hundreds of them, were simply thrown out by Channel 10 who wrongly felt that there would be no interest from viewers after the transition to colour. Here in the UK we have the ongoing and highly successful Missing Believed Wiped campaign which has recovered lost British television programmes from overseas broadcasters, from former cast and crew members, private collectors, and domestic home recordings. A public campaign such as this is desperately needed in Australia given that so many television gems are at present missing.

Pat McDonald won numerous Logie Awards for her portrayal of Dorrie Evans in Number 96, and released a vinyl LP called Old Fashioned Way with Ron Shand who played her screen husband Herb. Pat later starred as Fiona Thompson in Sons & Daughters. Copyright Cash Harmon Productions.

Fortunately all of the colour episodes of Number 96 survive, and these along with the handful of black and white survivors are now safely held by the magnificent National Film & Sound Archive of Australia. The NFSA are in a race against time to digitise their priceless television collection, any of the old magnetic tape stock not digitised before 2025 will be lost forever.

In the case of Number 96, 280 of the surviving episodes have already been digitised but there are still hundreds of classic instalments which remain on the ‘at risk’ register. The NFSA do a tremendous job, we would be lost without them, but they do not have the funding they need to save their entire collection, and it must be saved. They are the custodians of Australia’s televisual heritage; it would be a national disgrace, an act of cultural vandalism if the collection was allowed to perish due to a lack of funding. You can make a donation to their Deadline 2025 campaign to help preserve these treasures via their website, and if you think you have any missing Australian television shows please do drop them a line, again via their website.

Bunney Brooke received a Logie Award for her portrayal of Flo Patterson; poor Flo was jilted at the church on her wedding day. Copyright TV Week.

Number 96 was such a success that the 0-10 Network wanted something just as juicy to follow it in the schedules, this new bed mate came in the form of The Box from Crawford Productions. The Box followed the raunchy goings on behind the scenes of a television station and the two hit shows cemented the dominance of Channel 10 in the ratings.

Fortunately for fans and television historians Crawford Productions were more forward thinking, they carefully preserved their output and virtually all of The Box survives. In fact Crawfords continue to celebrate and cherish the programmes which helped to make the company the success that it became and are releasing the entire series on DVD in chronological order. To date the first 205 thrilling episodes of The Box have been made available across four beautifully presented box sets. Crawford DVD are to be applauded for the wonderful work they are doing, those of us that care about these classic shows owe them a debt of gratitude and I look forward to the rest of the series being released in due course. Those of you who are based in the UK can order your DVD’s of The Box and many other Crawford classics exclusively from Eaton Films. If you are based in Australasia you can get your copies from Crawford DVD.

Nigel Giles (second left) at his book launch in Croydon, Victoria with childhood friend Marc Coates (far left), his mum Carol Giles, and Tom Oliver who played Jack Sellars in Number 96. In the series Jack owned a wine bar called Jack’s Cellar, in real life Tom set-up a wine bar with the same name and exactly the same décor which was frequented by Number 96 fans. More recently he has been playing Lou Carpenter in Neighbours. Photo by Jo Rafferty.

In stark contrast only a handful of random Number 96 episodes have been made available on DVD. Those that now control the rights to the serial could perhaps take a leaf out of Crawfords book by making all of the surviving episodes available either on DVD or on an online streaming platform. Like The Box, this series deserves to be seen, enjoyed and celebrated.

Despite the lack of DVD releases and the missing episodes we can now celebrate the success of Number 96 and learn about the legend behind the myth thanks to Nigel Giles. Number 96 – Australian TV’s Most Notorious Address is a masterpiece, and an absolute joy to read. You can order your copy from the Melbourne Books website.

The Box proved a worthy bed mate for Number 96 in the 0-10 schedules, the complete series is gradually being released on DVD. Copyright Eaton Films/Crawford Productions/WIN Corporation.
Number 96 is long overdue a complete DVD release and many missing episodes are yet to be found. Copyright Cash Harmon Productions.

Photograph additional information: First main image and second photo by Jeff Petersen, courtesy of Karen Petersen.
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