celebrating 50 years of Melbourne’s ATV Channel 0
BY HELEN TULLY
This is it
50 years ago today Melbourne’s fourth television channel, ATV Channel 0 (now Channel 10), broadcast its opening night gala variety show THIS IS IT and thanks to preservation by the NFSA you can watch some of it here.
At 7.56 pm on 1 August 1964 actor and co-host Brian James declared that ATV0 is now ‘part of the life of Melbourne’. This was part of the hour-long variety special THIS IS IT (John Heyer, 1964) produced for the opening night of Melbourne’s fourth television channel, ATV Channel 0.
The Age, 31 July 1964 made much of the impending opening of the Fourth Channel the next day, including a full-page advertisement for the ‘spectacular opening’ at ATV Channel 0’s Nunawading Studios.
The promotion featured photos of THIS IS IT talent, popular singers Diana Trask, Vikki Hammond, internationally renowned soprano Elsie Morison and tenor Harold Blair, with conductor and composer Lou Toppano. The show was to be produced by award-winning Shell Unit filmmaker John Heyer.
The other Melbourne stations were slightly nervous, selecting major programs to compete with ATV0’s opening night. HSV7 broadcast Around The Beatles, a variety program featuring The Beatles, and a first screening of the 1955 movie Guys and Dolls in their Hollywood Parade 8.30 pm timeslot.
On 1 August 1964 at 6.30 pm ATV0’s key talent, Nancy Cato (host of ATV0‘s children’s show) and Barry McQueen (ATV0’s first newsreader), officiated the Nundawading Studios red carpet for guest dignitaries and VIPs. The moment had arrived, and after speeches by station owner Sir Reginald Ansett and words from sponsor Shell Australia the formal launch of the channel was completed and the audience and viewers settled down to watch the live variety show THIS IS IT.
THIS IS IT was hosted by British born, Sydney talent Ray Taylor, who had a penchant for cheekiness. Ray was to be the host of ATV0’s Saturday night variety show The Ray Taylor Show. THIS IS IT opened with visiting international soprano Elsie Morison’s tribute to Dame Nellie Melba, singing ’The Last Rose of Summer’. The show continued with a homage to Australia’s war effort across the two world wars and a send up of Melburnians’ love of sport and Australian Rules Football, the latter to the refrain of Harold Blair singing ’Brotherhood of Man’.
Lou Toppano and the orchestra premiered his composition ’Rhapsody in Bourke Street’ and leading Australian ballet dancer Kathleen Gorham performed a Lola Montez-inspired routine. Songs from popular Australian singers Lionel Long, Vikki Hammond and Diana Trask were interspersed with the wit of Ray Taylor.
THIS IS IT did not live up to all viewers’ expectations. Page three of The Age TV-Radio Guide on 7-13 August 1964 pronounced it as a ‘bold beginning in what will be a pursued new path in television. It topped riches known to be there for TV exploitation but it did this rather greedily and clumsily’. It went on to say that despite the shortcomings it hoped ATV0 would not retreat into ‘the safe areas of television’.
Accolades were given to technical achievements and integration of the images of Nellie Melba in Elsie Morison’s Melba tribute, but there were timing errors. Criticism was levelled at the accompanying sound, in particular when the audio cut from pre-recorded music to the studio orchestra. It was observed that the orchestra seemed smaller in size than was required for this type of production, the suggestion being that other channels had refused to release any of their musicians for the night. 1
A skit from Shakespearean actor Keith Michell as a psychiatrist consulting with Ned Kelly was also thought to be less than successful, and not the best use of Keith Michell’s talent. Ray Taylor’s humour was also not unilaterally commended.
Nevertheless, it was undeniable, as the lyrics sung by Diana Trask at the end of the show declared, that ATV0 was now well and truly part of the Melbourne scene.
Clips in this collection highlight have come from the 2-inch video tape version of this production which at 29 minutes 16 seconds was less than half of the publicised duration of the program. This 2-inch edited version of the show was produced from the 16mm [g[kinescope]] by the television station, no doubt to facilitate its ongoing use. To date, the edited video version has been the only source for NFSA viewing copies. Missing from the video edit are the official opening speech by Sir Reginald Ansett, Kathleen Gorham’s dance performance, vision of Indigenous tenor Harold Blair and songs from Vikki Hammond and Lionel Long.
The NFSA’s installation of 16mm scanning equipment now gives us the opportunity to digitally preserve the 16mm kinescope recording, which at 66 minutes 16 seconds is believed to be the most complete surviving version. THIS IS IT will soon be available for researchers to preview at the NFSA’s access centres across Australia.
You can preview missing frames from the edited version of THIS IS IT by flicking through images taken from the 16mm kinescope recording in the gallery below.