Skippy - Long Way Home: Dr Stark the animal collector

Skippy - Long Way Home: Dr Stark the animal collector
Nine Network Australia and Fauna Productions.
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Cigar smoking Dr Stark (Frank Thring) wanders around his private zoo.

Skippy is refusing food but the good doctor feels confident that his understanding of animal psychology in ordering a meal ‘fit for a king’ from his personal chef will break down the resolve of Skippy, who he believes is ‘no ordinary kangaroo’.

Skippy proves this by jumping straight at Dr Stark to escape from her cage – even managing to lock the door on her way out! This leaves Dr Stark furious as his henchmen unsuccessfully try to recapture her, much to the amusement of the birds and other captive animals. Finally Skippy makes her escape from the zoo by jumping over the fence.

Summary Tammy Burnstock

Frank Thring, featured in this episode in his role as arch villain Dr Alexander Stark, already had extensive film and television credits both in Australia and the United States. In an interview in TV Week in response to the reporter’s question, 'Why is the elegant Mr Thring appearing regularly in what is basically a children’s TV show?’, Thring replied, ‘Ah, yes, but after all, Skippy is a world-class show … and, you see, dear old John McCallum rang me and said, “You simply must come up to Sydney. There’s this part of a lunatic millionaire doctor simply made for you.”’

It’s amazing what Skippy is able to do. Scotty Denham, the animal handler on the series and formerly a NSW police-dog trainer, points out that kangaroos are impossible to train (Skippy: Australia’s First Superstar, 2009). In theory there was only one Skippy, but in reality there were many. Denham confesses that the various Skippys were kept in a hessian sack between takes. The fact they were a bit dazed when let loose made them less likely to run away.

Tony Bonner, who played heartthrob pilot James King, agreed that working with Skippy took patience in that often they just had to wait for the roo to look somewhere or to react so that this shot could be edited with whatever he was supposed to be reacting to. So skillful editing and clever camerawork (in this episode from Don Saunders and Peter Menzies respectively) accounted for much of Skippy’s unusual dexterity. In addition commercially-made kangaroo-paw bottle-openers were used for close-ups, and there was even a stuffed roo from a taxidermist used as a body double when required.

In addition to the many Skippys, a menagerie of animals and birds also appeared in the show including dingoes, possums, emus, galahs, koalas and an emu, reportedly calmed into compliance with whisky. This particular episode prompted the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to investigate allegations of cruelty. At the time, the allegations proved groundless, although by today’s standards the treatment of animals during the filming of this episode and of the series in general would be at times questionable.

Skippy - Long Way Home: Dr Stark the Animal Collector Synopsis

When head ranger Matt Hammond (Ed Devereaux) refuses to make a deal with Dr Alexander Stark (Frank Thring) – who is determined to have Skippy caged in his private zoo far away from the freedom of Waratah National Park – Skippy is kidnapped. Sonny (Garry Pankhurst) pines while Skippy manages to escape captivity, overcoming many dangerous obstacles on the way as she tries valiantly to find her way home.

Curator's Notes

A classic episode of Skippy, often broadcast as the premiere of the series. It features Sonny (Garry Pankhurst) and an anthropomorphised Skippy at the centre of a story which presents Australia to the world as a place where kangaroos run through the town centre and are capable of almost anything. This episode also introduces archenemy Dr Alexander Stark (played with relish by Frank Thring) and his ongoing quest to make Skippy part of his private zoo. Dr Stark believes that money can buy anything and if it doesn’t, there are always other ways to get what you want.

Skippy – Long Way Home is episode four of series one. It was broadcast around Australia during February 1968 in a 7pm timeslot on the Nine Network

Notes by Tammy Burnstock

Production company:
Fauna Productions
Dennis Hill
Executive Producers:
Bob Austin, John McCallum
Series Producer:
Lee Robinson
Max Varnel
Eric Jupp
Tony Bonner, Don Crosby, Ed Devereaux, Ken James, Red Moore, Garry Pankhurst, Frank Thring
Produced with the guidance and cooperation of the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Ku-ring-gai Chase Trust.