World TV Day: Olivia Newton-John
Olivia Newton-John and Boomeride
For World Television Day, we're highlighting some recently discovered lost TV performances of Olivia Newton-John from 1965. These clips also showcase an innovative, but now forgotten, music program.
Olivia Newton-John Grows Up
In May 1965, a softly spoken Melbourne teenager found herself opening an episode of Boomeride, a groundbreaking new live music television show on GTV-9. But despite her young age, performing for the cameras was already second nature for this confident 16 year old. In the previous year she had made a number of television performances in Melbourne, won a nationally televised singing competition in Sydney and filmed scenes for a new children's feature film. Things were moving fast for Olivia Newton-John.
Newton-John (1948–2022) burst onto the scene at just 15 years old, winning the Sitmar Talent Quest on ATN-7’s popular Sing Sing Sing in April 1964. Possessing a pure, yet powerful, voice Newton-John was quickly in demand. Television appearances began accumulating with bookings on HSV-7’s Sunnyside Up, ABC TV’s Teen Scene and a return to Sing Sing Sing by year’s end.
Live on Boomeride
After filling in as hostess ‘Lovely Livvy’ on HSV-7’s Happy Show in 1964–65, over the end-of-year non-ratings period, Newton-John left school to concentrate on her burgeoning new career. While leaving school was against the wishes of her Cambridge-educated father, she became a regular on Australia television throughout 1965.
She filmed scenes for the children’s movie Funny Things Happen Down Under, before making the first of many appearances on ATV-0’s swinging pop show GO!! and signing a contract with HSV-7 to appear on the popular daytime variety show Time For Terry.
These three productions would also unite Olivia with her boyfriend of the time, the equally busy singer and actor Ian ‘Turps’ Turpie.
Also in 1965, Newton-John found herself a guest in an entirely original music television concept. Boomeride was filmed in ATV-0's Nunawading Studios. Named after a song by Sydney songwriter Charles Marawood, and produced by Melbourne production company PAKKTEL, Boomeride was an Australian first.
In contrast to the lip-synced pop music shows of the time, all songs in Boomeride were performed live and backed by a four-piece combo. The show featured only songs written by Marawood, whose compositions covered a wide range of lyrical styles, including ballads, cool lounge jazz and the occasional up-tempo mover.
Boomeride's specific aesthetic was further emphasised by the use of camera ‘crash zooms’ and creative lighting in a music-theatre-in-the-round setting.
Boomeride takes a holiday
As a concept, Boomeride was untried, inventive and different, but the problem remained – how do you market a program with songs nobody has ever heard, written by an unknown local songwriter, and performed by a cast of artists with little or no profile?
Series regulars included local folk singer Doug Kennedy, singer Gabrielle Hartley (a former HSV-7 weather presenter), school teacher Tony Cole (a Bandstand discovery) and Second World War veteran Marawood.
When GTV-9 purchased the series of 13 episodes, they quickly identified these promotional barriers and dropped the title Boomeride, renaming it The Kevin Dennis Show, after a Melbourne used-car dealer whose name and sponsorship money adorned several other GTV-9 programs.
The Kevin Dennis Show premiered on 4 April 1965 in an unpopular timeslot – 4.30pm on Sundays. However, initial reviews were strong and after three episodes the show was promoted to the more favourable 5.00pm slot.
Yet for all its originality, GTV-9 axed The Kevin Dennis Show in July 1965 once the series had run its 13-week course. A Television Society of Australia award received in late 1965 only reinforced the producers’ frustration at how poorly they felt the station had treated Boomeride.
Boomeride sells overseas
Completely uncredited in published TV guides from the time, a 16mm black-and-white print acquired by the NSFA in 2018 from a member of the public has revealed Newton-John appearing in Episode 7 of Boomeride. Older sister Rona’s series credit as Production Assistant is perhaps a clue as to how she came to appear.
Broadcast by GTV-9 on 16 May 1965, the three Marawood-composed songs performed by Newton-John are among her earliest-known surviving live musical performances. All songs remain unissued commercially and none were included on the accompanying soundtrack album released later that year.
Confident in the quality of Boomeride, PAKKTEL set about selling the series to other networks, at home and abroad. Over the next three years the show was sold regionally within Australia and to parts of the UK, Europe, and North America – a very rare example of an Australian music television series screened internationally.
For all this activity, Boomeride remained mostly unseen in Australia’s major viewing markets and is largely unknown today.
Life After Boomeride
Songwriter Charles Marawood’s career gained a boost through Boomeride. On her 1965 Australian tour, German chanteuse Marlene Dietrich marvelled at the songwriter’s talents, and incorporated several of his songs into her stage act.
Further soundtrack commissions followed with Marawood penning music for TV series including Skippy, Pastures of the Blue Crane and Elephant Boy, plus two 1978 feature films, Donald Crombie’s The Irishman and Tom Jeffrey’s Weekend of Shadows. Sadly, Charles Marawood’s musical career was cut short when he succumbed to cancer in 1982.
For Olivia Newton-John, her appearance on Boomeride was another stepping stone towards success. In early 1966, accompanied by her mother, the singer used her Sing Sing Sing prize, boarding a Sitmar ship bound for England to begin a remarkable international music career.
The NFSA holds 16mm black-and-white prints of two of the thirteen Boomeride episodes produced. We would be pleased to hear from anybody with information on other episodes.
With thanks to Milton Hammon, Tom Jeffrey, Chris Keating, Network Ten, Rolf Schreuder, Seven Network and Mike Trickett.
See Olivia Newton-John perform 'Crawl Baby Crawl' on Boomeride in 1965.