Number 96: Episode 35: ‘I’m a practising Catholic’
Sonia (Lynn Rainbow) discovers why she will always be ‘the other woman’ to Gordon (Joe James), a married man; his wife (Shirley Cameron) won’t divorce him because of her Catholicism.
Summary by Andrew Mercado
Before being transformed into the much more plot-friendly location of Norma’s Bar, next door to the ground floor delicatessen was a chemist. Sonia pretends to be the sister of married pharmacist Gordon Vansard so that the series could flirt with an (innocent) incest plot. But in actual fact Sonia is his young lover who gets a visit from Gordon’s condescending wife Sylvia. Sonia discovers the real reason why Gordon will not cut ties with his wife: Sylvia is claiming her Catholicism prevents them from divorcing. There is also discussion of Gordon’s chequered past as he has been convicted of performing illegal abortions.
Sonia flirts with (and kisses) African-American Chad Farrell (Ronne Arnold), who encounters racial discrimination before being accepted. This scene, more so than any nudity, was said to have ruined any chance of the show being screened in the US after Time magazine ran a one-page article about its success. Gordon dies in a car crash during the 1972 Christmas cliffhanger and Sonia leaves after a mental breakdown. She does, however, return for more madness in the 1974 movie version.
The snobbish Claire (Thelma Scott) drops in on her daughter Bev (Abigail) at her flat in Number 96. Dorrie (Pat McDonald) is thrilled by the visit but Bev is not. Sonia (Lynn Rainbow) finds out why her lover (Joe James) can’t get a divorce.
No other TV show captured the imagination of 1970s Australia more than Number 96. Its mix of sex and soap opera was a winning and groundbreaking combination. Viewed today, it is a unique hybrid of vaudeville, comedy and drama. It is also the most remarkable social document of that era because it was made before political correctness and youth-obsessed demographics sanitised and marginalised television. Most of the characters are aged over 40, include English migrants, Hungarian Jews and South Africans, and are basically good people with bad cigarette smoking habits. Compared to today’s whitebread soaps, this series is unusually multicultural and always wildly entertaining.
This is an early black-and-white episode that revolves around Bev (Abigail) and her snooty mother. Bev is upset because she has fallen in love with Don (Joe Hasham), so she screams the news into the building stairwell. Dorrie Evans (Pat McDonald) overhears but not to worry: she thinks 'queer’ means Don must be feeling unwell and, for the rest of the series, she remains the only resident unaware of his sexual preference. The next day, Bev apologises to Don for not being sophisticated enough to understand his lifestyle choice.
The scene between Bev and her mother discussing perverts, escorts, deviants, drag queens, lesbians and more 'socially acceptable’ choices for young Beverley is quite astounding for today’s politically correct world. When Claire realises she might be losing the argument, she shows she has her own low moral standards. She fakes a heart attack and then blackmails the attending doctor so she can stay on in Bev’s apartment.
Number 96 was written by former vaudeville and sketch comedy writers (particularly from The Mavis Bramston Show 1964–68), who insisted on having recurring idiosyncrasies and familiar sayings for most of the characters. Hence, when the movie version hit cinemas in 1974, audiences actually cheered whenever a catchphrase was uttered. A new one is added when Claire barks ‘Allow me to be the best judge of that’. The saucy material on display here gives way to more comic situations and characters in later episodes.
Number 96 – Episode 35 was first broadcast on the 0 Network (later to become Channel Ten) on 27 April 1972, with a daytime repeat the following year.