Number 96: Episode 35: ‘Oh, the pain!’
Bev (Abigail) is none too happy to discover her mother Claire Houghton (Thelma Scott) waiting inside her apartment. Claire is demanding some answers about her daughter’s present lifestyle.
Summary by Andrew Mercado
Bev has already been posing for nude photos and fighting off the violent advances of a sleazy theatre producer. But whilst she appears to be a sexually permissive wild child of the ‘70s, she is in fact a virgin who was rather hoping Don (Joe Hasham) would deflower her. She does not like her dominating mother and has clearly moved to the apartment block to escape her. On arrival, her mother Claire seems to half expect that Beverley (as she calls her) is pregnant (‘got yourself into trouble?’), but upon learning that her daughter has fallen in love with Don, a homosexual, she sniggers (‘you mean one of those creatures who wear false eyelashes and douse themselves in Chanel No. 5?’).
Whilst this is Claire’s first appearance in the series it certainly isn’t her last. Though daughter Bev would die in a 1973 Christmas cliffhanger, Claire remained a recurring character right up to the end of the series in 1977. It’s easy to see why Abigail would become Australia’s first fair dinkum sex symbol. Although she was later sensationally sacked and replaced in the role by Vicki Raymond, today everybody thinks they saw her totally nude throughout the show. The truth is she only ever did brief and partial nudity. Her legend (and bosoms), however, loom much larger in people’s recollections.
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.