Number 96, Neighbours and the era of Aussie soaps: Scott Goodings

Number 96, Neighbours and the era of Aussie soaps: Scott Goodings

Scott Goodings talks about how TV soap Number 96 became a phenomenon in the early 1970s, coinciding with a freeing up of the arts in Australia.

'Catch up with everybody who's catching up with everybody else at Number 96' (Number 96 advertising slogan).

On Monday 13 March 1972, Sydney's TEN 10 screened the first episode of a new soap opera that changed the face of Australian television. On that night, Australian television lost its virginity.

Australia's first prime-time soap opera – Number 96 – commanded the attention of viewers with a blend of sex, suspense, and situation comedy.

Set in a fictional apartment block in Sydney, it traced 'the lives, loves and emotions of ordinary people'. The series brought taboo subjects like sex, rape, infidelity, drugs, racism and homosexuality into many homes for the first time. It was a form of education for families, dressed up as popular entertainment.

When Lucy had her breast cancer scare, Australian women rushed to their GPs and had their first-ever screening for breast cancer. Don Finlayson, a lawyer who happened to be openly gay, developed as the sanest resident in the block of flats.

Number 96 broke new ground for commercial television. The attraction was not just the show's raunchiness; its mix of drama and comedy made it widely appealing.

Number 96 exploited the cliffhanger as a dramatic device like no other show, with subplots involving the 'knicker snatcher', the 'pantyhose strangler' and the 'hooded rapist'.

Despite the largely adult content of Number 96, at one point the series was the No.1 rated show with children aged 5 to 12! While viewers loved the show, media commentators and 'the Establishment' criticised it, and censors scrutinised its every moment.

Number 96 screened on weeknights for five-and-a-half years and a staggering 1218 episodes.

Scott Goodings is a self-confessed TV Freak and freelance television reviewer.