Number 96: Episode 1003 and 1004: ‘Bloody rent increases’
In Norma’s wine bar, Norma (Sheila Kennelly) and Weppo (Roger Ward) discuss the new barman. Edie (Wendy Blacklock) comes in with her nephews, Grant (Michael Howard) and Lee (Stephen McDonald), and has trouble understanding their teenage talk.
Summary by Andrew Mercado
The ‘bloody good bartender’ that Norma refers to is Lenny (Terry Fisher), who will soon be revealed to be the dreaded Hooded Rapist.
Edie’s teenage nephews confuse her with their groovy expressions from the era. Edie is not sure what ‘turns you on’ means and is also unfamiliar with the term ‘cool’. These new boys (unemployed university dropouts) and resident schoolgirl and ex-heroin addict Debbie Chester (Dina Mann) were an obvious attempt to drag in younger viewers from watching colourful American programs on the other channels, like Starsky and Hutch (1975–79) and Charlie’s Angels (1976–1981).
During the controversial early days of Number 96, religious leaders and school authorities were alarmed at the popularity of the show with children (one poll named it the favourite show of six-year-old kids!). When ratings dipped in 1975, the producers suddenly felt the need to cater to the youth audience and it ultimately proved disastrous (particularly the makeover of Norma’s Bar into the decidedly uncool Duddles’ Disco). Whilst teenagers were taking over though, the older characters still addressed each other, despite everyone being the best of friends, by the more formal ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’.
These episodes are from the show’s later period when it was trying to woo back viewers with another (politically incorrect) creepy visitor storyline: after the Knicker Snipper and the Pantyhose Strangler, along came the Hooded Rapist. These episodes also boast new technology (the use of a green screen effect to make the outside of sets look more realistic) and, for the first time ever, a sudden focus on teenage characters moving into the building.
The popularity of Number 96 had well and truly peaked by this stage, but it was still enjoying a wave of publicity around this episode thanks to the top-rating TV special Number 96: And They Said It Wouldn’t Last which had celebrated the milestone of 1000 episodes.
Technically, the show was quite different from those first black-and-white years (from 1972) – now filmed in (quite garish) colour and also airing two one-hour episodes per week instead of five half-hour episodes Monday to Friday. Producers were talking up this new format by insisting that longer episodes allowed for more location filming. They were indeed filming outdoors a lot more but this was a response to the much bigger-budget American shows like Starsky and Hutch (1975–79) which were now screening against Number 96 in the 8.30 pm timeslot.
This is also a time of experimentation in how to make the studio-based sets look more realistic. This episode features a moving streetscape outside of Norma’s Bar with actors moving in front of it.
Episodes 1003 and 1004 of Number 96 were first broadcast on the 0 Network (later to become Channel Ten) on 28 June 1976. A late-night repeat aired in Sydney in 1980.
Notes by Andrew Mercado