20 Years of TV - the early days of In Melbourne Tonight

20 Years of TV - the early days of In Melbourne Tonight
Nine Network
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In these clips from Nine’s TV anniversary special, host Bert Newton chats with former Nine Network personality and 'King of Television’ Graham Kennedy about his start in television in 1957. Graham's invitation to host GTV9's five-nights-a-week variety show, In Melbourne Tonight (IMT), came via his appearance with other 3UZ radio personalities on Australia’s first radio and TV simulcast for the Red Cross appeal.

The second clip shows the opening of an early edition of IMT. Graham references, ‘Corkey’ (Geoff Corke), who joined the show not long after its commencement. Corkey also came from a radio background. Graham tells Bert Newtown that IMT initially had no scriptwriters, relying on the talent’s ability to ad lib. While the show maintained the appearance of spontaneity over the years, in reality it was well planned and rehearsed. The freshness of IMT resulted from Graham’s unique delivery and his impeccable timing, plus the occasional diversions from the script. As English comedian and IMT actor Johnny Ladd told writer-actor Graeme Blundell, ‘we had the same script that Graham had but sometimes things varied a bit'.

Note that the clip has been incorrectly identified as 1957 by the creators of the 20 Years of TV special. Elaine McKenna and Evie Hayes, mentioned in the clip, didn't join IMT until 1958 (see The Age, 'Radio TV supplement', 17-23 April 1959, p. 1).

Graham Kennedy was the principal host of IMT across twelve-and-a-half years and 2857 episodes, from the first episode (which aired on GTV9 at 9.45 pm on Monday 6 May 1957) to his last show on 23 December 1969. Bert Newton was perhaps Graham’s most well-known 'straight man' and popular IMT stand-in host. Bert's first hosting role was on 3 August 1959, and he remained associated with IMT until its end in 1970. Other hosts across the show’s 13 years included Noel Ferrier, Bob Horsfall, Geoff Corke, Happy Hammond, Eric Pearce, Jimmy Hannan, Mike Preston, 'Ugly' Dave Gray and Stuart Wagstaff.

Graham states that IMT was initially largely unscripted, though producer Norm Spencer and floor manager Tom Miller created a thorough run-down of the evening’s segments. This changed when comedian Joff Ellen joined IMT, bringing with him years of vaudeville experience and a chest of comedic sketches. Joff began to play the role of scriptwriter before Jack Brown and Hugh Stuckey took over in early 1958. Legendary Roy Rene writer Fred Parsons later joined the writing team, along with Mike McColl Jones and Ernie Carroll. Fred Parsons wrote most of the historical sketches and created the characters of George and Joyce Wilson for Graham Kennedy and Rosie Sturgess's regular 'Wilsons' sketch. McColl Jones specialised in writing the topical jokes, live commercials and intros (see Graeme Blundell, King: The Life and Times of Graham Kennedy, 2003; Mike McColl Jones, Graham Kennedy Treasures: Friends Remember the King, 2008).

Notes by Helen Tully