If You Believe, Anything Can Happen

BY MEL BONDFIELD

This week marks 40 years since Simon Townsend's Wonder World! first went to air, on 3 September 1979. We are celebrating this groundbreaking show with a new online-exclusive curated collection.

The Origins of Wonder World!

Simon Townsend is a name synonymous with children's entertainment in Australia.

Simon Townsend and his dog Woodrow facing camera and smiling

Simon Townsend with Woodrow, c1982. NFSA Title: 789867. Courtesy Simon Townsend

Having begun his career as a journalist in the 1960s, across print, television and radio, Simon became editor of the children's section of The Weekend Australian where he developed an interest in creating new content for kids that would both entertain and inform.

For a while he edited his own newspaper for kids titled Zoot and later contributed to the 'For Children' section of The Australian Women's Weekly.

In the mid-1970s, Simon had the idea to combine two of his passions – journalism and kids entertainment – to create Simon Townsend's Wonder World! (1979–87), Australia's first current affairs-style TV show aimed squarely at kids on commercial TV.

Two pilot episodes were pitched to networks, The Ripper Report in 1974 and Simon Townsend's Wonder World! in 1977. Then in 1979, Wonder World! was picked up by Network Ten following the introduction of the 'C' Classification that same year. 

In the following clip you can see the opening sequence and the first report by Angela Catterns from the very first episode of Simon Townsend's Wonder World!, which went to air on 3 September 1979:

Weird and Wonderful

The show become a ratings powerhouse, dominating the 4pm weekday timeslot and inspiring an overwhelming amount of fan mail for both Simon and his 'co-host', Woodrow the Bloodhound.

A letter written to Simon Townsend by a young fan after the first episode of Simon Townsend's Wonder World. The sentiment of the letter is complimentary and encouraging.

The first Wonder World! fan letter, written the day the first episode aired. NFSA Title: 1481209. Courtesy Simon Townsend

While Simon Townsend's Wonder World! was on air, the show won five Logie Awards, a special commendation from the prime minister for its 1000th episode in 1983, and many other accolades.

Wonder World! was unique in its format, tone and content offering. The first rule of the program was to never talk down or condescend to viewers.

The series presented stories that were eclectic, often funny, a little zany, but always educational on a weird and wonderful array of subjects. Wonder World! was also not afraid to tackle difficult topics that affected kids' lives, including terminal illness, animal cruelty and homelessness.

The following clip is a compilation featuring almost all of the Simon Townsend's Wonder World! reporters in action:

After eight years on the air, with almost 2,000 episodes and 8,000 stories by 17 different reporters, Simon Townsend's Wonder World! came to an end in 1987. But it paved the way for other Australian children's programs, including Wombat (1979–90) and Totally Wild (1992–current).

It was also a launching pad for many stellar careers, both in front of and behind the camera, including those of Jonathan Coleman, Angela Catterns, Amanda Keller, Anita Jacoby and Andrew Lesnie.

For a truly wonderful trip down memory lane, visit our Simon Townsend's Wonder World! online curated collection. You'll find rare and memorable moments from the show, documents, artefacts, scrapbooks, images, letters and more. 

The NFSA would like to thank Simon Townsend for making the online collection possible. With thanks also to Jonathan Coleman and Harvey Shore.