Fremantle Australia, the company formerly known as the Reg Grundy Organisation, are celebrating sixty years in the television production business.

Fremantle Australia, formerly the Reg Grundy Organisation, are celebrating 60 years in television production.

Reg Grundy began his career in radio as a sports commentator and was soon producing and presenting hit shows such as Go Fishing With Grundy, the panel programme The Sorbent Show, and he hit the jackpot when he came up with the format for a game show which he called Wheel of Fortune. Realising that the future was in television, Reg left radio behind and took the Wheel of Fortune to TCN9 where he produced and presented the very first episode live to air at 2pm on Tuesday 1st September 1959.

Other hit game and panel shows would follow including the Ampol Stamp Quiz, Concentration, Blind Date, Blankety Blanks, Perfect Match, Family Feud, I’ve Got A Secret, The Price Is Right, Personality Squares, and Sale of the Century. In fact by 1972 Reg was responsible for 75% of the quiz and panel programmes on Australian television, and he would go on to head the largest independent production company anywhere in the world.

Reg Grundy found early success with radio shows such as Go Fishing With Grundy.

Reg Grundy Productions would diversify into many areas of television with a revived version of the pop music series Bandstand hosted by Daryl Somers, the country music show Travlin’ Out West, explosive documentaries such as The Confessions of Ronald Biggs, the reality crime series Australia’s Most Wanted, and telemovies like The Newman Shame. The company even ventured into the feature film business with Barry McKenzie Holds His Own and ABBA: The Movie.

Roger Mirams set up major international co-productions with children’s drama series such as Secret Valley, Professor Poopsnaggle’s Steam Zeppelin and Mission: Top Secret. Grundy’s established their own record label, a travel company called Go Grundy Travel, a theme park on the Gold Coast, a merchandising division, and they bought into the fast food business with the Charlie Cheese Pizza Playhouse.

Television pioneer Reg Grundy (centre) on the set of The Young Doctors with cast members John Dommett, Peta Toppano, John Walton and Delvene Delaney.

Here in the UK the Grundy Organisation would become best known for their success in the field of serialised drama. In 1974 Reg Grundy had headhunted Reg Watson and Alan Coleman from ATV’s hit serial Crossroads to establish his drama department in Australia and their initial venture, Class of 74, was to be the world’s first daily serial aimed at a teenage audience. More firsts would follow with Until Tomorrow which was the first daily serial to be produced in Queensland, and the legal drama Case for the Defence which was Australia’s first ninety-minute drama series.

Grundy’s first major hit in the field of serialised drama was The Young Doctors in 1976 which followed the lives and loves of the staff and patients at the Albert Memorial Hospital. The Young Doctors went on to become the longest running commercial serial in Australian television history and was the first Grundy serial to sell internationally, it became a ratings smash in Great Britain, New Zealand and many other countries.

Reg Watson, pictured here with actress Noele Gordon on the set of Crossroads, created countless Grundy hits.

The hit serials would continue with The Restless Years which followed young people as they left school and began their lives in the big wide world, the programme was later remade in Holland and Germany. Prisoner: Cell Block H was another success, the antics of the female inmates of the Wentworth Detention Centre were soon being enjoyed in the UK and the USA, and all 692 episodes have been released on DVD. A male prison saga called Punishment soon followed featuring a young actor called Mel Gibson as one of the inmates.

Sons and Daughters broke new ground by featuring characters in both Sydney and Melbourne, thus appealing to audiences in both of these major viewing markets. Forbidden love was on the cards between a brother and sister separated at birth, and the feuding Palmer and Hamilton families soon caught the imaginations of audiences as far afield as the UK and Belgium. Once again a German version of the show would prove just as popular.

Alan Coleman, pictured here with actress Gwen Plumb on the set of The Young Doctors, was a founding father of the Grundy Drama Department.

When Reg Watson devised Neighbours he was convinced that the youngsters of Ramsay Street would appeal to international audiences and he was right. At its peak the show was drawing in 21 million viewers in the UK alone and was to be at the centre of a bidding war between the BBC and Channel 5 who both wanted the rights to screen it. Neighbours is now Australia’s longest running drama serial and looks like continuing for many years to come.

Other Grundy productions that we’ve enjoyed in England have included the rural drama Richmond Hill, Chopper Squad which followed a helicopter surf rescue team, and the American series Dangerous Women about a group of female convicts rebuilding their lives after being released from prison.

Neighbours has been on television screens since 1985.

Reg Grundy took Australian television to the world, selling his shows to broadcasters everywhere, and producing and co-producing new and original content such as Shortland Street in New Zealand and Unter Uns in Germany. In 1995 he sold his company to Pearson Television in the UK which eventually merged with the RTL Group. In 2006 the Grundy name disappeared from Australian television screens following the groups rebranding as FremantleMedia, it is now known as Fremantle Australia.

Today Fremantle is a huge global organisation, producing more than 12,000 hours of programming annually in more than thirty countries. As well as Grundy Television the group owns several other legendary production houses including Goodson-Todman in the USA, UFA in Germany, and Thames Television in the UK.

A scene from series six of Wentworth, the hit reboot of Prisoner (Cell Block H).

Fremantle Australia continue to go from strength to strength. They have produced reality and documentary style shows such as The Great Australian Bake Off, Grand Designs Australia, Australia’s Got Talent, The X Factor, MasterChef, The Farmer Wants A Wife, and quiz programmes including Family Feud.

The company continue to produce Neighbours and other recent drama successes have included the reworking of Picnic At Hanging Rock, Hoges: The Paul Hogan Story, Mary: The Making of a Princess, Olivia Newton-John: Hopelessly Devoted to You, Wonderland, The King- The Graham Kennedy Story, and Wentworth which is a reimagining of the Reg Watson classic Prisoner. Wentworth has found a home on Channel 5 in the UK and has been remade in several different territories including Germany and The Netherlands.

And to think that it all began with a single game show, Reg Grundy’s Wheel of Fortune.

Grundy’s, a much-loved brand, conquered Australia and then the rest of the world with outstanding television hits.

Images: Grundy Television/Fremantle Media Australia. Reg Watson: ATV Archive. Wentworth: PicSelect/Channel 5.
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