Simon Townsend's Wonder World
Simon Townsend's Wonder World
Forty years after Simon Townsend's Wonder World! first went to air on 3 September 1979, we celebrate this landmark children's TV program.
Simon Townsend's Wonder World! (1979–87) was Australia's first current affairs-style TV program for kids on a commercial network. It dominated the after-school timeslot for Network Ten, built a loyal following of viewers and made household names of Simon Townsend and Woodrow the Bloodhound.
After eight years, almost 2,000 episodes, 8,000 stories, 17 intrepid reporters, five Logie Awards, a special award from the prime minister, and many more accolades, Wonder World! leaves behind a remarkable legacy.
We hope you enjoy this online-exclusive collection, which features rare and memorable moments from the show, documents, artefacts, scrapbooks, images and letters.
The NFSA would like to thank Simon Townsend for making this online collection possible. With thanks also to Jonathan Coleman and Harvey Shore.
After two pilots and six years of trying to get a current affairs-style program produced specifically for kids onto the airwaves, Simon Townsend finally hosts the first episode of Simon Townsend's Wonder World!.
In this clip, Simon introduces the show and the very first report – a quirky story about miniature mouse portraits, or 'mousterpieces', by reporter Angela Catterns.
Note that the first episode did not include the now famous 'Wonder World!' theme song, which was not written until later in the first season.
At the start of this show is the 1976 hit from the Starland Vocal Band, 'Afternoon Delight'. The song was replaced after Simon was made aware of the suggestive nature of the song's lyrics.
This is a short compilation of the Simon Townsend's Wonder World! reporters in action.
Over the eight years that the show was on air, they presented an astounding array of weird and wonderful stories that were always educational and informative.
There were a total of 17 reporters during the life of the show and we've managed to include most of them here, along with Simon and Woody of course.
In 1977, Simon Townsend made a new pilot for the current affairs-style children's program that he had been trying to get on the air for a few years.
This segment is a good example of how the show wanted to be fun but also inform at the same time.
It features a story about an unusual new product – the 'Dog Potty' – presented in zany fashion by reporter Greg Bepper.
The music video for 'Wonder World!' by John St Peeters, the theme song for Simon Townsend's Wonder World!.
The theme was written by Australian songwriter Chris Pelcer. Townsend commissioned the song specifically for the show. First recorded by St Peeters, it was released as a single on the RCA label in 1980.
The 1983 season of Simon Townsend's Wonder World! briefly featured a new version of the song, recorded by singer Naomi Warne.
St Peeters re-recorded 'Wonder World!' and the music video for his new version, as featured in this clip, was unveiled on the show's 1000th episode in 1983. This later version of the song was used in the opening credits until the show ended in 1987.
This music video features a sequence of offbeat, bizarre and silly scenarios. It's in keeping with the lyrics of course, 'If you believe anything can happen / If you believe anything is possible', and in keeping with the diversity of content on the show itself.
This short compilation is from the very last episode of Simon Townsend's Wonder World! which was recorded on 22 April 1987. It was the 1,961st episode of the show.
The episode was a nostalgic trip down memory lane for viewers and featured many funny and memorable moments, plus some viewer favourites. It also includes an extended opening credits featuring every reporter who worked on the show.
How do you say goodbye after almost 2,000 episodes of a much-loved television show that ran for the best part of a decade? Simon Townsend's Wonder World! is a part of Australian television culture. Everyone gets a moment in this clip: past and present reporters, Townsend's animal co-hosts and scenes from popular episodes.
'Hello and goodbye', says Townsend paradoxically. His greeting and sign-off do not dwell on the sadness of the occasion but encourages viewers to smile and laugh (particularly at the bloopers). In all, this is a fitting farewell to a milestone in Australian children's television entertainment.
Prime Minister Bob Hawke presents Simon Townsend with an award for the 1000th episode of Simon Townsend's Wonder World!.
With the Australian national anthem playing in the background, the prime minister delivers an off-the-cuff speech congratulating an obviously pleased, if slightly nervous looking, Townsend.
The production values in this clip are straightforward and unpretentious, which is in keeping with the show itself and also Hawke's public persona.
A publicity still for Simon Townsend's Wonder World! from the show's first season featuring the original four reporters with host Simon Townsend and mascot Woodrow.
Pictured (left to right): Sandy Mauger, Jonathan Coleman, Simon Townsend, Angela Catterns, Adam Bowen. Seated in front: Woodrow the Bloodhound.
In this segment from an early episode of Simon Townsend's Wonder World!, reporter Jonathan 'Jono' Coleman takes on the persona of a TV talk show host to interview Monty Python's Graham Chapman.
Chapman was in Australia to promote his book A Liar's Autobiography, Volume VI (Methuen Publishing, 1980).
The Wonder World! reporters interviewed many international and local stars of the time, including the Village People, Elton John and Spike Milligan.
On 10 April 1986, Simon's beloved pet and the mascot of Simon Townsend's Wonder World! – Woodrow the Bloodhound – passed away.
Woodrow was so popular and loved by viewers and fans that his death was front page news on some of Australia's major newspapers. When the news broke, Simon and the team behind the show were overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy from people across the country.
This episode, which aired on Monday 28 April 1986, was dedicated to Woodrow and re-ran stories featuring the famous dog by reporters Jono Coleman, Angela Catterns and Alita Fahey. This excerpt includes the opening and closing of that episode in which Simon pays tribute to Woodrow, remembering him with a great deal of tenderness.
Simon often expressed interest in tackling more serious topics on the show but didn't always receive support from the network. Woodrow's passing afforded him that opportunity as many children watching the show would at some time have struggled with the loss of a family pet.
Simon shares his feelings directly to camera, bringing a genuine intimacy to these moments. The affecting air of solemnity to the clip and the inclusion of file footage featuring Woodrow makes it hard not to be moved by his tribute.
Simon Townsend's first foray into children's television was a pilot episode for a current affairs-style program for kids called The Ripper Report in 1974.
The show had a similar format to Simon Townsend's Wonder World!, however Townsend only produced the show and did not host. Instead, The Ripper Report featured three hosts who were also the roving reporters: Adam Bowen, who appeared in the early episodes of Wonder World!; Leonora Vawn, a presenter from Denmark; and actor, writer and producer Gordon Steel.
The type of stories covered were also similar to Wonder World! in terms of tone and subject matter. In this pilot Adam Bowen meets a woman who is riding a pet donkey around the country, Leonora visits a dog show and Gordon meets a cat who eats from a spoon. There were also jokes and interesting facts in between segments and ad breaks.
The show featured an advice segment for young viewers called 'Dear Toby', a precursor to 'Dear Danni' from Wonder World!.
One of five scrapbooks donated to the NFSA by Simon Townsend.
This particular scrapbook was compiled to mark the 1000th episode of the show in 1983.
Bert Newton and Dame Edna Everage present the award for Best Children's Television Program at the 1984 TV Week Logie Awards to Simon Townsend's Wonder World! with hilarious results.
Simon Townsend's Wonder World! won a total of five Logie Awards in the eight years that the show aired.
This is the very first letter Simon Townsend received from a viewer of Simon Townsend's Wonder World!. It is dated 3 September 1979, the same day that the first episode of the show went to air.
The letter is from 13-year-old Cheryl who found the show entertaining and wishes Simon good luck.
It has been preserved in the first of five scrapbooks kept by Simon Townsend and donated to the NFSA in 2017.
There is also a copy of Simon's response to Cheryl pasted on the same page of the scrapbook.
In the fifth season of Simon Townsend's Wonder World!, Simon added an advice segment to the show's format featuring a young teenage girl named Samantha Woodhouse, who went by the name 'Dear Danni'.
Dear Danni was a type of 'Agony Aunt' figure for the young viewers. Kids could write to the show about any problem they were going through and Dear Danni would read the letters on air and give her advice on how to solve the issues.
In later seasons Danni left the show, but was replaced with a teenage boy Danny.
Phillip Tanner interviews fellow Wonder World! reporter Brett Clements about training for an Ironman event.
Phillip also talks to Brett's trainer to find out what it takes to compete in the gruelling triathlon series.
While Brett Clements was a serious Ironman competitor, the pair ham it up for the cameras with slow-motion running shots and a lot of clowning around on the beach, to produce a highly entertaining story.
In this segment, 'Today's Artist', Simon Townsend showcases the work of a viewer who has produced an illustrated children's book about rabbits.
Simon Townsend's Wonder World! received mail from hundreds of fans every week who sent in photos, drawings, paintings, poems and even inventions.
Simon used to occasionally highlight some of these items on air and award them prizes during the show. In this case, the child's prize appropriately included art supplies.
This clip is a good example of how Simon speaking directly to camera creates closeness with his audience. The low-key production values effectively capture Simon's genuine delight in Jane's children's book.
Wonder World!'s self-described 'zany' reporter, Jonathan 'Jono' Coleman visits a hobbies exhibition at Neutral Bay in Sydney – and manages to wreak havoc in the process.
Adam Bowen, one of the first reporters on Simon Townsend's Wonder World!, finds out all you need to know about the new Apple II Computer, which has just been released in Australia.
Wonder World! often covered stories about technology, bringing the latest developments in machines, computers and gadgets to viewers.
These were fascinating stories at the time as home computers were not as widely available as they would become. Now these stories have a different appeal, offering a snapshot of what cutting-edge consumer technology looked like in the late 1970s and early '80s.
This clip includes a Simon Townsend's Wonder World! music video for Australian pro surfer Pam Burridge, who recorded a single to raise funds to compete at major tournaments. This was during a time when the women's professional surfing league was in its infancy and competitors struggled for a piece of the sponsorship pie.
Aside from its progressive current affairs story format for kids, Simon Townsend's Wonder World! was also known for music videos. Wonder World! was often the first show to play new release pop clips and even filmed a music video for INXS's first single, 'Simple Simon'.
While production values for these in-house music clips were low, they were consistent with the program's homespun and unpretentious tone. This segment is a good example of their do-it-yourself approach to music videos and the end result looks like a lot of fun.
Simon Townsend's Wonder World! was well known for presenting new music on the show via the latest video clips or through interviews with local and visiting performers.
This clip begins with Simon Townsend introducing the latest video from Australian band Mental As Anything, for their single 'Spirit Got Lost'. Then Maurice Parker catches up with the band after the release of their 1983 album, Creatures of Leisure.
As this clip demonstrates, Simon Townsend's Wonder World! and Mental As Anything make for a perfect combination, with the band's wacky sense of humour in sync with that of the show's reporters. This seemingly make-it-up-as-you-go-along segment is thoroughly engaging and a joy to watch.
Band member Reg Mombassa even treats us to a quick history of the lawn mower and Hills hoist!
This is one of the first iterations of the Simon Townsend's Wonder World! magazine insert from The Australian Women's Weekly 'For the Children' section.
This page is from 23 August 1978 and has been kept in one of five scrapbooks compiled by Simon Townsend. It has the familiar Wonder World! logo at the top and features an interesting array of amazing facts and stories that have been cleverly illustrated.
Helen Mirren played Sara Winchester, mentioned in one of the stories here, in the 2018 film Winchester, directed by Australian brothers Michael and Peter Spierig.
Various press clippings from the scrapbooks donated to the NFSA by Simon Townsend.
Many of these clippings are about Woodrow the Bloodhound who was a popular member of the Wonder World! team.
This is just a tiny sample of viewer submissions, fan letters and fan art sent to Simon Townsend over the years.
The show received hundreds of letters a week from kids and adults all over the country, and the Wonder World! team did their best to respond to as many as possible.
Viewers sent photographs of themselves and their siblings and friends, drawings and paintings of Simon and Woodrow, ideas and inventions, trinkets, gifts and more.
These fan mail items were kept in a series of scrapbooks compiled by Simon and the Wonder World! team and later donated to the NFSA.
An early poster promoting Simon Townsend's Wonder World! featuring a large head shot of the program's popular canine mascot, and Simon's family pet, Woodrow the Bloodhound.
In this excerpt from an exclusive NFSA oral history interview with Jonathan Coleman, he explains how his gig as a Wonder World! reporter came about.
Debbie Kruger interviewed Jonathan Coleman for the NFSA Oral History program in 2010.
Jonathan Coleman talks about Simon Townsend as a visionary and someone who was prepared to let his reporters take risks and push boundaries.
Debbie Kruger interviewed Jonathan Coleman for the NFSA Oral History program in 2010.
Intrepid Wonder World! reporter Jonathan 'Jono' Coleman, is pictured here with singer Elton John on 20 November 1980 at a press event to announce a tour of Australia.
The event was held at the Sydney Cricket Ground and Jono was there for a Simon Townsend's Wonder World! exclusive interview dressed in a bumble bee costume in the colours of Elton's football team, Watford FC, known as 'the hornets'.
Elton, who happened to have seen Jono on Wonder World! earlier that day, loved the costume. That interview was the first of many chats Jono had with Elton, including several for UK radio and television.
Also pictured in this photograph is entertainer Jeanne Little, famous for her regular segments on daytime television program The Mike Walsh Show. The photo ran in TV Times and TV Week magazines.
Notes by Mel Bondfield
Wonder World! reporter Jonathan Coleman and Simon Townsend pictured on one of the rides at Luna Park in Sydney, circa 1981.
Publicity image of Simon Townsend with his team of Wonder World! reporters, circa 1982.
Pictured top (left to right): Jonathan Coleman, Simon Townsend, Maurice Parker. Bottom (left to right): Sandy Mauger, Woodrow the Bloodhound and Alita Fahey.
The Simon Townsend's Wonder World! team, circa 1983.
Pictured clockwise from top left: Maurice Parker, Simon Townsend, Sheridan Jobbins, Jonathan Coleman and Alita Fahey.
This image of Simon Townsend and his Wonder World! team of reporters appears to have been taken somewhere on Sydney Harbour, with the city skyline in the background, circa 1985.
Pictured top row (left to right): Phillip Tanner, Malinda Rutter, Simon Townsend, Edith Bliss and Brett Clements. Bottom row: Woodrow the Bloodhound and Samantha Woodhouse ('Dear Danni').
A publicity photo of Simon Townsend and his Wonder World! reporters, circa 1986.
Pictured left to right: Wednesday Kennedy, Hugh Munro, Simon Townsend, Winston the Cockatoo, Carolyn Mee and Brett Clements.
Children's television host Simon Townsend, dressed as Sherlock Holmes, poses with his trusty companion Woodrow for a publicity shoot for Simon's Townsend's Wonder World!
The Wonder World! team always appear to have a lot of fun in their publicity photos and this shot is no exception. Simon and Woody look to be on the scent of a fascinating new Wonder World! story.
Simon Townsend's Wonder World! reporter Edith Bliss poses for a publicity shot with 'Dexter' the robot from Network Ten's TV dating show, Perfect Match (1984–89).
Reporters Brett Clements and Edith Bliss from Simon Townsend's Wonder World!, along with Woodrow the Bloodhound, dress up for Christmas.
This undated photograph is possibly a promotional shot for the show's Christmas Day special in 1984.
When Simon Townsend got a new Labrador puppy in late 1986, the show held a competition to give the puppy a name.
The winning entry was 'Logie', which was fitting as Simon had recently won his fifth TV Week Logie Award for Best Children's Television Program that year.
In this photograph, Logie the puppy is pictured watching over Simon's five Logie awards.
Simon Townsend is pictured accepting the 1983 Logie Award for Best Children's Television Program from none other than Sesame Street's Big Bird.
In the 1980s, Simon Townsend's Wonder World! dominated children's television in the weekday afternoon timeslot, winning a total of five TV Week Logie Awards.
The 1980s was also the decade in which the Logie Awards show was particularly known for its international guest star appearances, and so it was not that unusual to have a Sesame Street character present an award.
This K-Tel album release featured a song performed by Simon Townsend called 'Simon Says', along with a number of well-known novelty songs like 'Rubber Duckie' and 'Mah-Na-Mah-Na' by various artists.
These press clippings from Simon Townsend's scrapbooks cover the 1986 release of his board game, 'Simon Says'.
At the time of its release, Simon told the Gold Coast Bulletin, 'This is my new game, and it's silly. It's all about getting the players to do something silly, tell funny jokes and try to outdo each other for grins and groans.'
The board game was a big success, selling out the initial run of 20,000 within a week.