Number 96 - Episode 910 'Hang by the neck'

Title:
Number 96 - Episode 910 'Hang by the neck'
NFSA ID:
38476
Year:
1975
Category:
Access fees

The villainous Liz (Margaret Laurence) visits the incarcerated Gary (Mike Ferguson) to taunt him about the murder for which she has set him up to take the blame.

Summary by Andrew Mercado

 

The second last segment of the 1975 finale sees the series’ current villainess in her element as she schemes to kill off her husband and destroy another enemy in the process.

After becoming Arnold Feather’s (Jeff Kevin) second wife, Liz slowly reveals herself to be a poisonous psycho out to murder her husband and seize control of (the apparently rather profitable) delicatessen. In hothead Gary Whittaker, she finds herself a perfect fall man – he has been blamed for attempting to poison Arnold. Lawyer Don Finlayson (Joe Hasham) is the only person to believe Gary might be innocent but even he can’t believe that sweet Liz would be implicated. He arranges for Liz to visit Gary in jail in the hope that she can persuade him to ‘tell the truth’.

Although Gary is handcuffed for the interview, it is ludicrous that police would leave Liz alone in a room with him. And given Gary’s claim that Liz is the guilty party, surely the room would be bugged with police wanting to listen to every word of their conversation? Police procedurals in Number 96 were never the show’s specialty, but why quibble when Liz is in full flight wishing for Gary to be hanged? His future looks very bleak by this scene’s end.

Liz’s true nature is finally revealed the following year and she is sent to jail, leaving Arnold free to take a third wife in the show’s final episode in 1977. Gary continues to be a quick-tempered Aussie bloke who tries to shoot mad bomber Maggie Cameron (Bettina Welch) when she is put on trial for murdering his father Les.

Episode Synopsis

In this episode Herb Evans (Ron Shand) is keeping a whopping secret from Dorrie (Pat McDonald), Gary Whittaker (Mike Ferguson) has been stitched up by Liz Feather (Margaret Laurence) and Dudley Butterfield’s (Chard Hayward) dead cousin might not be so dead after all.

Curator's Notes

For four years Number 96 was one of Australia’s most popular TV shows, but during the 1975 season its ratings began to slide. On 5 September, an infamous (and hastily written) bomb blast destroyed the delicatessen and resulted in the loss of five major characters from the show (with scriptwriters quickly regretting killing off too many fan favourites). The explosion generated numerous newspaper front-page headlines, but the jump in ratings was only temporary. By the end of the year, the show was once again desperate to regain its former audience.

This is the last half-hour episode of the series. When the show returned in 1976, it began airing as two one-hour instalments per week, instead of a half-hour episode every weeknight. Producers hoped a lesser commitment might stop the audience freefall. It was also hoped that this year’s cliffhangers, involving every resident in a major catastrophe, would get people talking over the summer Christmas break.

In the episode that immediately preceded this one, Edie (Wendy Blacklock) became a surprise winner in a council election, heroin user Debbie (Dina Mann) was sent to a juvenile detention institution and Vera (Elaine Lee) learned that her love rival (Rowena Wallace) had been paralysed in a surfing accident. Now it was time to give the rest of the characters a similar shock.

Number 96 appears to have unwittingly pioneered the summer cliffhanger which is now a staple of American TV. At the end of its first season in 1972, Number 96 ended with a shock car crash. Every year thereafter, the writers tried upping the ante with crazier cliffhangers (Arnold’s leg getting blown off from a letter bomb, Arnold’s wife being killed by the Pantyhose Strangler). The trend caught on overseas in 1978 thanks to another prime-time soap Dallas (1978–1991) which eventually culminated in their infamous ‘Who Shot JR?’ mystery in 1980.

Number 96 – Episode 910 was first broadcast on the 0 Network (later to become Channel Ten) on 13 December 1976. A late-night repeat aired in Sydney in 1981.

Notes by Andrew Mercado

Production company:
Cash-Harmon Productions
Director:
Peter Vemardos
Writer:
Johnny Whyte
Cast:
Bunney Brooke, Mike Ferguson, Pamela Gibbons, Gordon Glenwright, Chard Hayward, Curt Jansen, Sheila Kennelly, Jeff Kevin, Margaret Laurence, Pat McDonald, Anya Saleky, Ron Shand