Number 96: Episode 35: ‘My good woman’
Dorrie (Pat McDonald) and Herb Evans (Ron Shand) receive a visit from the snobbish Claire Houghton (Thelma Scott) who unwittingly gives Dorrie a brand new title.
Summary by Andrew Mercado
Episode 35 opens just after Don Finlayson (Joe Hasham) has told Bev Houghton (Abigail) that he is gay. This unintentionally hilarious moment (thanks to Don’s pronunciation of the word 'homosexual’) has been widely seen in TV history retrospectives ever since and was one of the first clips to be uploaded by fans onto YouTube after the first DVD release of the series.
Bev’s mother Claire Houghton (Thelma Scott), a snooty society lady from the more upmarket Sydney suburb of Point Piper, is introduced in this episode when she deigns to travel ‘down’ to the inner-city suburb of Paddington. Invited into Dorrie and Herb’s flat, she talks down to them but the hapless Dorrie is so thrilled at her social standing she doesn’t notice the insults.
A long-running joke is set up as Dorrie mispronounces herself as the building’s ‘consurge’ after Claire has enquired if she is the ‘concierge’. Dorrie’s malapropisms became legendary as she talked about being ‘beresk’ instead of berserk, suffering ‘migrant’ headaches instead of migraines, and her most infamous saying ‘Why wasn’t I told?’. Decades later, another set of suburban malapropisms would enter the Australian vernacular courtesy of Kath and Kim (2002–07).
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.
Notes by Andrew Mercado