The recent discovery of a battered videotape that followed its owner across the world reveals a significant but forgotten moment in Australian music television history.
It was the end of an era on Australian television. As the curtain closed on 1972, teenagers around the country were rocked by the cancellation of the 3 key weekly national pop music television shows.
Of these, the 0-10 Network’s landmark Logie-winning Saturday morning program Happening was the most pivotal. When the only music TV show of its time capable of breaking a new artist was switched off, somewhat appropriately for its last episode on Remembrance Day 1972, the black-and-white television era of Australian pop music was effectively over.
With little surviving footage of Happening in existence today, a further 50 years would elapse before a tape with its own miraculous journey landed at the NFSA to reveal these last forgotten moments:
The era-defining 4-hour Saturday morning pop music TV experiment had commenced 5 years earlier in October 1967 as Uptight, hosted by Brisbane singer Ross D Wyllie.
Taped live at the Nunawading studios of ATV-0 in Melbourne’s outer east, each episode featured a mixture of guest artists, mimed performances, interviews and panel discussions, available film clips, live advertisements, and music reviews with Go-Set writer Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum.
Believed to be the longest format music television show of its time anywhere, Uptight ran successfully nationally on the 0-10 Network until the end of the decade, bringing artists such as Russell Morris, Zoot, Allison Durbin, and The Master's Apprentices into the living rooms of viewers around the nation.
A change of production company saw singer-songwriter Johnny Young and his new business partner, former Festival Records executive Kevin Lewis, continue the marathon 8am Saturday morning slot with a new name and slightly altered format into the 1970s. Happening 70 retained Wyllie as host, and Lewis-Young Productions received a Logie award for ‘Their contribution to the Australian teenager on TV’ in March 1971.
Looking for a program refresh, Lewis and Young dropped Wyllie from Happening hosting duties, installing Perth singer Jeff Phillips as the new face of the show in April 1971.
Previously the host for 3 series of ABC TV’s big-budget musical variety show Sounds Like Us (1969-70), Phillips had gained a strong following, winning a Logie for Best New Talent along the way.
Possessing a relaxed on-camera warmth with the good looks of a David Cassidy-era pop idol, the popular 23-year-old host found himself fronting Australia’s number one pop music show for the next 18 months, now pre-recorded on Monday nights.
If you wanted to see and hear what Daddy Cool, Yvonne Barrett, Sherbet or Johnny Farnham were up to, Happening was your first destination. As Phillips recalls today, ‘it was a real privilege to be hosting Happening … it was musical history’.
By the end of 1972, the local music industry was facing major challenges. Many popular acts of the previous decade had left for overseas, disbanded or headed into heavier territory as maturing audiences sought out new sounds in the era of the Sunbury Rock Festival.
In October 1972, King of Pop Johnny Farnham was re-crowned for a fourth successive year, reflecting a fragmented scene in stagnation. More significantly, the Musicians’ Union and Actors’ Equity joined forces to apply pressure for a ban on performers miming on TV shows, a practice they stated deprived musicians of paid work.
With these combining factors, the Nine Network ceased production of their outdated flagship Bandstand (1958–1972) from August, while the ABC’s half-hour national weekly pop round-up Hit Scene (1969–72) failed to be granted a fifth year.
But the non-renewal of Happening 72 was the hammer blow. Viewers vented their anger in TV Week, one complaining ‘what’s left for us teenagers?’. Lamenting the significance of its passing in his first Go-Set column for 1973, Ian Meldrum noted it was ‘the only pop show that had the influence and power to make Australian hits’.
In July 1972, Phillips relinquished his Happening hosting duties to Johnny Young for a month, heading to Europe to compete with his own composition ‘Gloria’ in front of 12,000 people at the Fifth Olympiad of Song Festival held in Athens.
His victory in 3 categories (best composer, lyricist and singer) had the budding songwriter quickly assessing opportunities in London. Flying back to England in November, once his Happening duties ceased, Phillips carried a cumbersome two-inch videotape showreel requested by his London-based agent, Eddie Jarrett.
The contents of the 18-minute tape were never publicly re-screened, but it followed its owner around the world as Phillips pursued his musical dreams in the UK (between 1972 and 1978), the USA (1978 to 1982) and back in Australia (1983 onwards).
In November 2021, Phillips brought the much-travelled tape into the NFSA’s Melbourne office. While the case housing the videotape clearly indicated ABC Sounds Like Us segments, inside was an ATV-0 cue sheet indicating material potentially from a Happening program. Having never had the tape copied, Phillips was himself unsure and contacted the NFSA as one of the few organisations in Australia still with the technical capabilities to replay the long obsolete two-inch videotape format.
The mould-affected tape was treated by the NFSA’s videotape specialist. Upon digitisation, Phillips’ brief showreel remarkably revealed selected performances derived from the last 2 episodes of Happening 72, including the closing 6 minutes of the series finale. A symbolic moment in the history of Australian television had just been recovered, unseen since its 1972 broadcast.
These final moments, telecast in Melbourne on 11 November 1972, feature many of the pop scene’s most popular acts together on the show for one final time.
Reigning King of Pop Johnny Farnham appropriately performs the final number, loosely miming to his cover of the Motown hit ‘For Once in My Life’, the opening number on his fifth studio album Johnny (1971). Cast and crew are clearly aware of the show’s impending demise; two members of the ATV-0 production crew memorably carry a coffin in the background marked ‘Happened 72’:
Immediately following, the final minutes feature host Phillips, Farnham, Meldrum, Issi Dye, Allison Durbin, reigning Queen of Pop Colleen Hewett, Debbie Byrne, Hans Poulsen, Ronnie Burns and members of the crew acknowledging the significant contribution of producer Lesley Shaw.
Presented with flowers, Shaw is then whisked into an impromptu dance with Phillips, while Ronnie Burns similarly grabs former housemate Meldrum for a spin. The future Australian music icon is then comically placed in the coffin as Jeff Phillips’ recording of ‘What A Wonderful World’ plays over the credits.
Now digitally preserved from Phillips’ video showreel, these sequences from the final Happening episode – as well as excerpts from the second last episode (from 4 November 1972), featuring 2 songs from the host – add a precious 18 minutes to the program’s archive. In total, only an estimated 12 hours (1%) is known to survive of the more than 1,000 hours of Uptight and Happening episodes produced across 5 years.
For the next 2 years, Australian television had no flagship music television program. Neither Happening, Bandstand or Hit Scene were replaced by their networks, leaving only the 10-minute GTK magazine program for national music coverage.
Ian Meldrum emerged from his Happening 72 coffin 2 years later, with the first episode of ABC TV’s Countdown airing in November 1974. The arrival of colour television in March 1975, the rise of Mushroom Records and the Vanda-Young hit factory coalesced to make Countdown the most important local pop music television program of the following decade.
But watching the last rites of the black-and-white era of pop music on Australian television reminds us of an earlier program that helped to shape and influence the local music industry over the previous 5 years.
Do you hold footage of Uptight, Happening or any other pop music TV show from this era? If yes, we’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With thanks to Jeff Phillips, ABC TV Archives, Graeme Dickenson, Brett Leslie, Milton Hammon and Johnny Young. All Happening footage copyright and courtesy of Johnny Young Music.
Main image: John Farnham in the recording studio with Jeff Phillips, c1970. Courtesy: Jeff Phillips. NFSA title: 1658423-34