Number 96: Episodes 1003 and 1004: ‘It’s a rather delicate matter’
Arnold (Jeff Kevin) has a heart-to-heart chat with Norma (Sheila Kennelly) about Rhonda.
Summary by Andrew Mercado
In this scene you can hear Norma Whittaker’s infamous expression ‘duckie’ and Arnold’s catchphrase ‘in point of actual fact’.
This clip shows the use of a green screen backdrop in the window of Norma’s Bar, which allows for real moving footage outside rather than keeping the curtains drawn or showing a painted backdrop. The new footage of moving cars and pedestrians was actually filmed outside the real building at 83 Moncur Street, Woollahra. It was part of an effort to keep Number 96 looking fresh and more modern. This upgrade had begun in episode 709 when color TV transmission revealed how fake the painted backdrops looked.
The use of green screen is similar to Crawford Production’s 1979 airport soap Skyways. In that show, the actors complained because hairstyles had to be sprayed down like helmets in case a stray hair ruined the effect. Other problems with the technology also caused delays in filming. Perhaps Number 96 had similar issues because after just a few episodes, green screen was dropped from Norma’s Bar window and rarely used again.
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