Life with Dexter, from Grace Gibson Radio Productions, is on sale now.

Willie Fennell will probably be best remembered by British television viewers as Arthur Simmonds in The Young Doctors, as Arthur ‘Spider’ Webb in Sons and Daughters, and as Skeeter Martin in A Country Practice, but he enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a character actor, comedian and writer.

His other screen credits included Skippy, Homicide, Caddie, Luke’s Kingdom, Boney, Chopper Squad, The Flying Doctors, Elly and Jools, and The River Kings, but long before television launched in Australia he had been a radio star. Willie got his big break in radio with a weekly spot on the variety show Calling the Stars, he wrote his own scripts and got the listeners laughing like drains playing born losers.

Then he came up with the idea for his own situation comedy called Life with Dexter which he wrote, produced and starred in playing true blue family man Dexter Dutton. The show was a hit running on relay through the Australia-wide Macquarie Network for more than 500 episodes from 1955 until 1964. Willie wisely retained the rights to the show, it was subsequently sold to New Zealand and South Africa, and he penned several spin-off books based on the scripts from the show.

Left: Two volumes of Life with Dexter are now available. Right: Television favourite Willie Fennell starred as Dexter Dutton.

Dexter’s long-suffering wife Jessie was played by a number of actresses over the years, Margaret Christensen (who played Sally Morrison in the ATV serial Crossroads) was the first to take on the role and she was followed by Moya O’Sullivan (from Neighbours and Cop Shop), Margo Lee (from The Young Doctors), and Diana Perryman (from Autumn Affair and The Story of Peter Grey). Ray Hartley played Dexter’s son Ashley, and his daughter Janine was played by both Amber Mae Cecil and Beryl Marshall.

Gwen Plumb gave some fine comic performances as Maud Gallagher, and would work with Willie Fennell again when she played his wife Ada Simmonds in the television serial The Young Doctors. Other members of the Life with Dexter cast included Neva Carr-Glyn, Kevin Brennan (who played both Percy Judd and Tom Logan in Crossroads), Tom Farley, Moray Powell, John Meillon, Pat Martin, and Fifi Banvard.

The great news is that Grace Gibson Productions have now digitally restored a selection of episodes and two initial volumes of the show, each containing fifteen classic self-contained episodes, are now available to enjoy for the first time in decades. You’ll be in stitches as Dexter battles chronic hiccups, and as he threatens to go without a shower or bath for a month unless his family do the right thing and leave him some hot water in the morning. Maud Gallagher comes to the rescue when Dexter finds himself trying to sell prune juice, and Dexter has to deal with a pushy vacuum cleaner salesman.

Left: Crossroads actress Margaret Christensen plays long suffering Jessie Dutton. Right: Young Doctors star Gwen Plumb plays Maud Gallagher in Life with Dexter.

The family car is an ancient old banger, known affectionately as Hector, and when it goes missing there is a major search on the horizon. Meanwhile an army reunion causes strife on the home front, and things become rather difficult when the family decide what Dexter’s New Year’s resolutions will be. There is plenty of upset when council clean-up day comes around and nobody wants to let their old tat go, and when Dexter tries to push the middle aged Maud in to taking swimming lessons she decides to play him at his own game.

Maud then threatens to leave her husband Steve (played by Gordon Glenwright from Carson’s Law and Class of 74) when he tells her that she has a face like a plate of curried prawns, and of course Dexter gets the wrong end of the stick thinking that Steve has done her in. There is more strife for Maud who becomes increasingly worried about her ocker Australian accent, and there is an unfortunate run-in with some supposedly non-alcoholic fruit punch when Dexter decides to bring a teetotal client home for some tucker.

Life with Dexter will have you in stitches as will two other recent Grace Gibson releases. A brand new box set of the long-running political satire How Green Was My Cactus is now available featuring episodes originally broadcast in July this year, and in Keith Scott Sings 21st Century Blues, the master impressionist brings us a selection of semi-topical comic songs in the key of despair about political correctness, Donald Trump and the Australian political scene.

Future Crossroads actor Kevin Brennan can be heard in Life with Dexter.

If quirky crime drama is more your bag then The Amazing Mr Malone, unheard since 1952, will hit the spot. This serial was adapted from the original American scripts, and follows the exploits of New York criminal lawyer John J Malone (John Saul) who is a casual, breezy sort of fellow who avoids fights and guns because they remind him of weddings!

Malone employs a masseur to soothe his cares away in between tackling the cases which his old friend Lieutenant Brooks (Harp McGuire) of the Homicide Squad seems unable to get a handle on. The impressive guest cast includes Margo Lee, John Meillon, John Ewart, Margaret Christensen, Georgie Sterling, Rod Taylor, Rupert Chance, Sheila Sewell, June Salter, Gordon Glenwright, Gloria Payten, Charles Tingwell, John Tate, Dinah Shearing, Walter Sullivan, and Alan Herbert.

All of these classic radio serials, and a wealth of others are now available to order by listeners worldwide on CD or as digital downloads. You can place your orders on the Grace Gibson Productions website.

Left: Keith Scott sings in the key of despair for 21st Century Blues. Right: Quirky crime drama abounds in The Amazing Mr Malone.

Selected photographs copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions.
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