|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: November 13, 2002
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
When you got involved in radio and started doing drama, how did you find the acting? What did you learn about acting as a result of doing radio?
Well we were very influenced by the very experienced actors like Queenie Ashton, for instance, who played my mother in 'Always Another Dawn', the movie. She was a radio star. There were wonderful people like Kitty Bluett and I was very impressed by the man who passed my Lux radio audition which was John Saul and we became very close friends afterwards. John and his wife, Georgie, and Audrey and I, and John became, I suppose, my great mentor. And I seemed to work with him a lot as actor and he as the director of programs, particularly for Grace Gibson productions.
And later, you know, when I was asked to direct when Lawrence Cecil was ill for a while, I was directing John in 'The Amazing Mister Malone', I think the show was. And that was extraordinary. But John was a tremendously well-informed student of Stanislavski, the great Russian drama teacher, writer and I have all his books and we used to read 'An Actor Prepares' and then discuss them with John. And, oh John was also one of the most brilliant directors I've ever worked with. In one short sentence he could change the whole tone of a performance. I remember a great note. I was doing a show co-starring with Ethel Lang and it was a script that had been done by James Dean as a television show in New York.
This was long before television had come to Australia but we were doing a radio version of this half hour drama. We used to record the first quarter hour, rehearse and record, and then rehearse and record the second quarter hour. And it was, the young man was being very, very vitriolic about his mother and being very angry and saying dreadful things to her in the first half. And John walked past me without stopping and said, "Play it like you love her". And went on with the rest of the notes. And I thought, "What'd he mean?" Oh, hang on, he says all that but he loves her. What the heck? And the complexity of that thought then rubbed off onto the whole thing and it was an extraordinary thing to be involved in. And that opened my mind to all sorts of things.
If you're playing a baddie, is he all bad or is he nice to his mum or his dog or something like that? So it gave, gave me a tremendous insight into, I suppose greater depths in a character. And from that point on is when, I think, we used to go down to John and Georgie's place every Saturday night, Audrey and I and a couple of our mates like Rod Taylor and Ken Wayne and we'd discuss all the things about drama, probably until dawn. And Rod Taylor talked about John so much in Hollywood that the American producers of the series Rod was doing, tried to get John over there to work as a director in Hollywood and John wouldn't go. Because, he said I only know radio and theatre. But he was a tremendous influence on me obviously from what I'm saying. And not only me but Rod and Dinah Shearing and lots of fine actors who were very, very lucky to be influenced by John.
I read that he was somebody who had almost an over-sensitivity to life and that that made his life sometimes a bit difficult.
I'm sure that's probably true. I saw no evidence of that because all our meetings, particularly away from the, from the studios, in my memory very, very pleasant indeed. Georgie was a lovely cook and, you know, to go down there for a meal on Saturday night and a bottle of Cawarra red, I think it was. It was pretty well, very stimulating for me. That may have just been me being a bit obtuse and not knowing other problems. He was also wonderful in the theatre when I moved in, did the first of the Phillip Street revues. John and Georgie came to see that and a wonderful letter about the work we were all doing and yes, concentrating a bit on my work perhaps. And then when I joined Googie Withers and John McCallum, I remember getting a letter from him saying, this work was so good that it would be the sort of work you'd hope to see if you went to London to see the very best. And I thought, "Oh wow", you know. Very encouraging.
Was there something particular about that radio experience that gave you things that stood you in good stead in other contexts?
Oh yes, I believe all that work was really terrific for film work and not a lot of people saw that. And some great actors like Lyndall Barbour used to be worried about ever [sic] the thought of doing films. And she was a splendid radio actress and was good in the theatre as well. But she said, "Oh films, no, no, no, I don't know about films". A lot of people set up barriers about film and that's one of the things I loved, I suppose, when I was directing a lot of television and a little film in years later, years later, was to try to remove the barriers that I thought existed. And I was very thrilled a couple of times when I gave people their first television shows to do. And one - I hope she doesn't mind me mentioning - Sally McKenzie, whom I'd seen giving a superb performance in a Melbourne Theatre Company play and I cast her in the lead in a telemovie length 'Cop Shop' that was beautifully written by Vince Moran, one of Crawford's writers, that was based on a real case. A very, very ugly case. A rape case.
And I cast Sally and I remember we were shooting the outside stuff and she said - and we were about two days into the shoot and she was being tremendous - and she said, "I think I better warn you this is my first screen work except for one day when I walked on as an extra in something". And she, and she was astonishing and then when we did the studio stuff, she was brilliant. And at the end of that year she won best actress for that role. And I loved trying to prove that you didn't need to have film or TV experience to know how to do film or television. Particularly if you had good theatre and or radio background. And a lot of people didn't seem to understand that. But more and more people seem to be understanding it now.
Was there a difference between the people who worked in commercial radio and the people who worked in the ABC? Or was it all the same pool?
We loved the luxury of working in the ABC because we had more time. I forget what the rate was but a quarter hour in a commercial radio drama thing would be allowed one hour to rehearse, notes and then record and they did break it down to three quarters of an hour but I don't believe the ABC ever did shorten their production time. So you knew if you were going to do a half hour drama, you'd probably have maybe half a day to do half an hour or maybe a whole day depending on the show. And that was considered a luxury but also it was a marvellous way to sort of take advantage of more preparation time and that sort of thing. I can't remember what they did on, was it 'Blue Hills'? When I guested in a couple of episodes of that.
But I just seem to remember it with that lovely unhurried thing and I don't say that speed kills good drama because often the very fast production resulted in some really astonishing stuff as in the first few episodes of 'Hagen's Circus' which we had to do without rehearsal and everything to pile up a stack of episodes because they sold it very quickly and they didn't have the normal number. I think it was eight episodes had to be in reserve before it went to air. And we had to achieve those one Sunday morning, and we did. And it went to air and was very, very successful.
In the non-drama side of your radio experience, you kept that going too didn't you? Doing presentations and things. What were some of the shows you were involved in there?
Well, I, I was asked to join Bob Dyer's 'Pick-A-Box' show in the strangest way. There was a marvellous actor who was mainly a compere - oh my golly, the name will come. But he worked with me in 'Always Another Dawn'. He was one of the ship's officers. Now me, playing a humble sailor, didn't have many scenes with him. But some time later when I was directing those commercials for Charles E. Blanks, I asked him to play a part in one of them. And he wanted, I think he wanted five pounds and we were only allowed to pay two pounds ten or something. And I said, "All I can do is to say, I'll pretend we've got a two day call and call you for the first day but could you pop in at nine o'clock and we'll shoot one shot the next day and I can give you the five pounds". And he did and he was terribly grateful. Not that he needed the money so much, that we'd bent the rules a bit so that he could get his five pounds a day, you see.
Well years went by and I got this charming telegram from Bob Dyer mentioning this man's name, saying, he recommends you to take over from him as assistant compere. And when I rang him to - and I went to see Bob and he hired me straight away to be the assistant compere on, on his recommendation. And I rang him and I said,"That was very good of you". He said, "Oh it was just to say thanks for that day on the commercial". So, isn't that awful, I can't think of the name. I know it's sitting there in a reference book somewhere.
And so you did this with Bob Dyer. What was that like for you?
I loved it because Bob was a wonderful showman and we were live to air so you had to be on the ball a bit. And I used to introduce him and he used to use my name very emphatically when he'd say, "Thank you, Charles Tingwell", and so and so. And that was a national show with a huge audience rating. And I used to do the commercials and this was when we were sponsored by the Atlantic Union Oil Company. And then we eventually went over to Colgate Palmolive and I think before long, I think it was still sponsored by Atlantic we did 'Pick-A-Box' and 'Cop the Lot'. A different show but two nights a week. So I had the double whammy of, "Thank you Charles Tingwell", in two shows.
Then we went over to Colgate Palmolive and that's where I joined Anne Bullen and Margaret Christensen and the three of us used to do the big, posh Colgate Palmolive commercials during the show as well as me being the assistant compere. And the assistant compere meant the introductions of course and then when Bob said, "And who is our next contestant Charles?" "Here is so and so from so and so. So and so, Bob Dyer." And occasionally he'd hand me a gag and, I know when we were sponsored by Atlantic Union Oil he used to pat me on the head sometimes before we went to air and he'd go, "Ooh, I've struck oil", and look at his fingers. And one night when we were now being sponsored by the other company, a chap with very greasy hair came on and I just sort of looked at Bob and touched his head, he said, "What's happened?" I said, "I've struck oil", and he handed me the gag back. We may well have been sponsored by the oil company still, I don't know.
But I loved all that, that generosity. When Audrey was very ill and had to go into hospital I had a chance, we went to air live at eight o'clock and I think at a quarter past seven he said, "Here are the keys of the car. Drive up to Crown Street", I think it was, the hospital, "so you could see her". And I did - back in time for the show. Which was very generous of him and it was a lovely big, posh Riley I think. And it was a bit daunting driving it. But it wasn't far to go from the theatre, but I couldn't have possibly done it without the use of a car. And he kept, he then, when I went away on a film, he would hire a replacement on the understanding that that replacement stayed there only during the run of the film and the moment I wanted to come back, that replacement and that was sometimes John Ewart - a very distinguished, marvellous actor and great colleague - he would happily leave.
So it was an extraordinarily generous period, working with a very, very good professional. He was the last of the hillbillies. He had a strong, strong, very successful career working with his wife, the ovely Dolly. Dolly Dyer. And he used to have a strong relationship with Dolly's mother and her, I think it was her cousin, Stan who used to come on and do the opening gag. People wondered how on earth we got the laugh and I'm not sure whether I'm allowed to say even to this day but it was marvellous.
How did you get the laugh?
Well, I don't suppose Bob would mind but especially for radio it was terrific. I used to introduce Bob Dyer, "And here is Bob Dyer", and there'd be this huge laugh and then he'd come on, "Thank you Charles Tingwell". And all Stan, Stan used to come out wearing a dinner suit with a white jacket, very loose fitting but he was a big man and you didn't notice that, clutching a script in his hand and just before we went to air, when we were getting to the last few seconds of the countdown, Bob would say, "Oh audience, watch Stan, he'll give you the signals to [sic] when to applaud". And so all the audience would be looking at Stan and when I said, "Here is Bob Dyer", Stan would lift up the script but his trousers would hit the floor because he had lead weights in the pockets of these very loose fitting trousers.
And, of course, this huge roar would hit and it was only the privileged people who were out at the front who knew what happened. And Stan used to have to put flat lead, you know, I think it was building industry stuff and you'd wrap it up flat. But his trousers were very heavy which is why he was clutching the top of the trousers. And I think I volunteered to do that on television not all that long ago as a tribute for, to Bob Dyer, but they talked me out of it.
The corny gags are always the ones that get the laughs.
Oh, fabulous. And sure-fire stuff.
Now, switching back to your film career. You were involved in the making of 'The Shiralee', weren't you? How did that come about?
Well, I'd by then had done that tiny part in 'Eureka Stockade' in '48 and then in '49 we did 'Bitter Springs' and [coughing]. Excuse me. I can't remember whether he or Jack Rix, who was the associate producer, contacted me when we heard the rumour that they were going to do D'Arcy Niland's 'The Shiralee'. D'Arcy Niland? Yes, I think it is. Anyway, the wonderful Aussie novel. And Peter Finch was coming back. Now Peter by now is a very big name in the UK and very successful and then we heard that Leslie Norman was going to direct it. Now, Les had been associate producer on the others. Les and I used to have lots of deep and meaningful chats about World War II because he was in the British Army on an amazing job. And somebody got in touch and said, "Look there's a small part at the beginning of the movie, would you like to do it? It would be beaut to work with you again".
And I was very keen to work with Leslie, now a distinguished director, and not the film editor he used to be or associate producer for Michael Balcon. And out came Les and we did 'The Shiralee' and I had a ball. And Jack Rix it was, after we'd finished the location shooting in country New South Wales and they were about to wrap up to go to England, and Jack said, "If you could come to London to do your studio scenes that'll help us a great deal". Because I had one or two scenes to do and had to be studio because they wanted to do a back projection scene of me driving the truck and I think there were a couple of other bits and pieces. And I was about to do another film for Chips Rafferty and, playing the lead in, it was a Jon Cleary novel called 'Justin Bayard' and they'd talked me into playing Justin Bayard which I shouldn't have really done because I wasn't tall enough and all that.
Anyway, Ken Wayne was available and he hadn't had a decent role in a film since 'Sons of Matthew' so he was happy to take over the lead in 'Justin Bayard'. Then I think it was eventually called 'Dust in the Sun'. And he, he took over and that allowed me freedom to go to the UK. We took our ticket through Los Angeles so I could show Audrey where I'd worked on 'Desert Rats' and Rod Taylor had the lead in a telemovie waiting for me if I could get permission from Ealing to do it and if I could get a work permit. And they reluctantly gave me a work permit because I was only a visitors visa and I did, had the lead in a telly, short telemovie with Phyllis Thaxter and so by the time we arrived in London - Ealing were great. They said, "No you can have another fortnight if you wish". And by the time we arrived in London I was arriving having just worked in Hollywood and all that. And so it was, it was a terrific thing actually.
Did that up your stocks a lot... ?
Well, Audrey and I were on the front page of the Evening News arriving. Me looking rather big because we were on I'd, we were on a - we bought our own tickets and Ealing were reimbursing us so as I had to buy two tickets which wasn't really covered by the deal, we'd decided to go economy and it was 44 pounds of luggage as I remember in those days. And I'd worked out a way of wearing two suits and not having to pack one. A loose fitting tweed suit, we'd all bought at one of the shops in Sydney. All the actors had the same suit. It was a bargain. I wore that suit and an overcoat and this largish version of me, probably looking about how I do now, got off the plane. But there we were on, I think it was on the front page of one of the afternoon papers - arriving to finish his role in 'The Shiralee', you know, which was rather nice of them.
Most actors in Australia planned and wanted to go to England, like Peter Finch and so on, wanted to go. Had you had that ambition?
Not really no. But when Jack asked me about it and I thought well, it would be a good opportunity to at least look around and study television. Because it was 1956 and telly was about to start in Australia and I'd been on a few committees about it and discussions about, you know, could we do it, etcetera, etcetera. And I asked Peter and he said, "Well look", he said, "It's better to say you are going to work in London rather than to say you are going to look for work in London". So that decided me and when I found that Ken was available for the other film and - as much as I would have liked to work with Chips again - that was OK. And we hadn't intended to stay. In fact we tried to keep our flat on in the Cross which we'd been able to do when I was on tour with a play around Australia but the rather wise owner of the flat said, "Yeah, but, you're going overseas and anything can happen". I said, "No, we're coming back in six weeks, eight weeks", whatever it was. And he said, "No, look, no". He said, "But don't worry", he said. "I'll make sure you get a flat when you get back." OK. So we put all our stuff in store at Grace Brothers, packed very quickly, and off we went.
And I accidentally got trapped in London for sixteen years. Because all sorts of amazing things happened. Les Norman said, at the end of 'The Shiralee', he said, "Listen, if you're still here, I'll give you a part in my next one". I said, "What's that?" He said, "Dunkirk, a big war movie". I said, "Gee, that's very good of you Les". He said, "No, that's alright mate. Don't worry". He was a lovely Cockney, Les. He said, "There are a thousand speaking parts and", he said, "you can have one of them". And I played the part of a, an English sergeant in the cook house in the, in the scene with John Mills.
But what was marvellous about that, was that I'd got that part in 'Emergency Ward 10', which was only to be a fill-in program and it took off like a rocket and we were all suddenly, you know, the number one show and things and, but when they asked me to sign on for a bit longer - I did six years in that show on three month contracts. And then Tony Keary, our producer, said - I said, "Look I have promised to do this part in a film for Les Norman". And he said, "That's alright". He said, "Give us about three or four weeks notice when you want to do the shoot and we'll write you out and write you back in". And I did several movies like that. All thanks to Les Norman saying, "Ah, you can have one of the parts in the film". It was great. [INTERRUPTION]
Bud, the role you mention that you got in 'Emergency Ward 10' that ran and ran. Could you tell me about that? About how you got that role and what it was and what happened with it?
Well, Googie Withers and John McCallum and I think maybe the Ealing people, introduced me to MCA, the big agent, London agent and also with, you know, very big America as well. And David Twohigg was my man, my man looking after me and he said, "Now, you're going back to Australia, but before you go", he said, "there are a couple of offers come in". And David Nettheim, the Australian writer was already with Peter Sellers and Michael Bentine, on a possible new comedy series. And David had said - David and I had worked together at the Phillip Street Theatre, and were old radio mates anyway. David said, "Look before you go back, there's a part you can play, one of the comedy parts, in the new Peter Sellers series". The MCA boy said, "Look, there's a part in a projected new, experimental series about medicine which is live to air and only designed to run for about five or six weeks, and there's the lead in a BBC television play, playing an Australian". He said, "What do you want to do?"
And I said, "Well, there's the Peter Sellers thing". Sellers was getting to be pretty important by then. He had a lot of success. And I suddenly thought it would be interesting to play an Australian surgeon working in a London hospital and what would it like to be an Aussie surgeon? You know, very respectable job in a big London hospital. That, or a big hospital in the UK, I think they set it somewhere between Oxford and Cambridge in a place called Oxbridge. But, I thought that was the most interesting to do. And as they all clashed, I made that decision. And I was cast in episode one, two and four. There were two half hours a week, live to air. No recording of any kind. And that was the norm then and it was to fill in the toddlers' truce which nobody's heard about, even in England, these days. All screens went blank in the UK for one hour between six and seven every night, blank and silent. Nothing on it, not even a test pattern. So that Mum could get the kids to bed.
At about the end of - towards the end of 1956, they said, ooh aren't we quaint and old fashioned, we must stop this. And they did and suddenly found they had seven hours of television to fill on the commercial channel and the BBC. And we were one of the fill-in programs. That was the reason they were coming up with the idea. ATV in London raced around, apparently, and Tessa Diamond, who was working at ATV as a continuity writer, said "Well, my dad was a doctor in World War II and I've got this idea about a medical thing", and she put the idea forward and they said, "Yep, fine, that'll do".
And originally it was going to be called 'Calling Nurse Roberts'. Nurse Roberts was played by Rosemary Miller, very distinguished Sydney actress, born in New Zealand and she was having a very good career in England at the time and then they said, "Ooh, what if it takes off and Rosemary gets married and has a baby or something and leaves the show? So we'll call it something more general". And they called it 'Emergency Ward 10' and we never knew whether it meant emergency, exclamation mark, in ward 10 or was it emergency ward number ten. And we said, well it doesn't matter. We'll let people argue about it. And it was only going to run for a few weeks anyway. Well, we went to air on February the 19th 1957. David Nettheim rang Rosemary and I at the television studio to say it was brilliant.
The next day the newspapers agreed with him and we, within a week or two we became number one show and one of the publicity people worked out, in very primitive terms, methods they had. They worked out that the possible viewing audience per episode was 27 million. And we begged him never to use those words again in front of us. Because we were live to air and the thought of half the population of the United Kingdom watching us was too alarming and we never talked about it. And so now I can safely talk about it. And somewhere I found a, a handout from the company talking about that 27 million figure and, of course, as more stations came in, BBC2 and I think there are more, many more stations now over there, that number reduces of course.
But it was, I loved the fact that it had very humble ambitions. It was really just a fill-in show. But we had a wonderful director, producer/director called Anthony Keary, lovely guy. And Tessa Diamond wrote wonderful scripts with great love for the medical professional because her father actually died tending a patient during the blitz on Liverpool in an air raid. He was killed by bomb splinters or something. And so it was a tribute to her father's, late father's profession. And the background for me as an Aussie, was that I had a sick wife and I was going to be concerned about her and at an appropriate time that would be the reason I went home to Australia and all that, took home to Australia. But they hadn't revealed any of that in episode one so Tony said, "We're going to change that. She'll be a sick fiancée". OK, fine. So, just in case the show, when we got that great reaction the next morning, just in case. So finished up, I had a sick sister in the Isle of Wight who we never saw and never met and I think she was - finished up months later saying, "How's your sister?" "Oh, she's fine, yes. She's gone back home." Or something like that.
I loved doing live telly and so did, so did we all. Very little went wrong. We rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed meticulously. We worked with the same crew for six weeks, the first six weeks. We felt sad when they had to move off onto other shows and a new crew came in. The next crew were just as good. We built up this extraordinary, like a wonderful family and we could almost read each other's minds, you know, and I loved all that and eventually we did go on to videotape, two or three years down the track and we weren't all that happy about that because it changed the way we had to do the show a bit.
But it was a fabulous experience and I finished up doing six years in it with Australia House saying, please, stay in as long as you can because the show rated extraordinarily highly all the time and more and more people are knowing about, that there are other things from Australia other than stockwhips and Drizabones and horses and it's sort of generally good for Australia's image. So that was nice. And I became a bit of a one man information bureau for people who were thinking of migrating to Australia which I had to treat very carefully but I used to aim them strictly to Australia House and get all the information and, you know, all that. It was a wonderful period.
You were also not just an Australian surgeon but a bit of a sort of dreamboat Australian surgeon weren't you?
You were very much the love interest.
The lovely thing about live, you couldn't see yourself, you see, so that was, that was great. It was a bit like working in the theatre. Well, yeah, I mean we had some wonderful directors and generally excellent scripts all the time and we did arrive at the fact that if you, you know, if you were fair dinkum and played it for real, and all that, it generally worked very well and they were medically very accurate. We had the University College Hospital guiding us and we had Meryck Roberts, I remember was one of the senior doctors and he was our technical adviser and we had others including Phyllis Gibbon who was a, a very distinguished doctor.
So we had to get all that right. But then we could be a bit naughty. I remember they wrote in some wonderfully controversial medical stuff. Very fine actress called Jane Downs was cast as Audrey Blake, which was slightly complicated for me as my wife was called, her name's Audrey. But Jane - fine actress - and she was a physician and came to the hospital and I was the Aussie surgeon and he was a bit brusque and forthright sometimes. And I know they wrote a marvellous sequence where she thought the patient should be operated on immediately and I, the surgeon, said, "No, no, no. Must be conservative treatment for at least six months".
And they built this up and we used to have some wonderful fiery scenes together about this patient. And I remember saying to her one day, I said, "You know, we ought to play this for sex". She said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, I can imagine he would fancy you and, you know, and perhaps he..." She said, "Oh that's a good idea". So, we started to play these strict medical things but with the thought process saying, "Yeah, gee what a beautiful gal", and this and that. And Jane, being such a fine actress, there were [sic] quite an interesting thing. And we had a lot of fun with it. And I remember years later I remember Rex Firkin who was the producer at that time - he later became famous for producing 'Upstairs, Downstairs', a very fine producer. But he was being interviewed by one of the papers and he said, I thought naively, "Of course as a producer of a show like Emergency Ward 10, you had to be on the look out for things that the actors themselves weren't, weren't aware of".
"Such as the interesting spark between Jane Downs and Charles Tingwell in their early meetings in the show". He said, "And, you know, they weren't aware of it, but this interesting thing was going on". Well, we [were] naughty actors. We were being very naughty and playing different thought processes to what was intended by the script. Now, that, I don't recommend that for young actors but we had a lot of fun. And, but eventually we were hoist by our own petard, we were - they married us off. And then that was complicating for my real wife. I remember once we were at a - Audrey, my wife, and I - were at a film premiere going up the red carpet as guests and a woman said, "Ah, where's your wife tonight?" I said, "Right here". And she said, "No, I mean your, your other wife, Audrey". I said, "This is Audrey". "No, no, no, your real wife."
So by the time we'd got this strange conversation going up the red carpet there seemed to be thousands of eyes looking at this strange person, me, with this strange woman who happened to be my real wife. And I don't think Audrey, my wife, liked that a lot.
How did Audrey feel generally about your screen romances?
She said something very wise to a dear friend of ours once and I was doing a stage play, either on leave from 'Ward 10' or, I think it was probably during a dispute, we went out on tour with a play. And I had to kiss the leading lady about four or five times during the play and we took this, Audrey took this elderly friend of ours, lovely woman. And she's sitting in my dressing room later and she said to Audrey, "Aren't you worried that, you know, Bud having to kiss this very beautiful girl. Aren't you worried that he might be enjoying it?" She said, Audrey said, "I'd be much more worried if he wasn't". And so I didn't take that as a, you know, "have fun darling" but I thought it was a rather wise thought.
You said that things hardly ever went wrong. In live to air television, what did go wrong?
Oh, one night I dried, stone cold. That is forgot my lines. An absolute blank and I was given a fabulous prompt by our stage manager, Brian Smith. And he - at exactly the right timing, and I picked it up and went on. The following week I put in a very good, you know, method type pause while we were on the air, and Brian gave me another prompt that I didn't need and when he realised he'd prompted me unnecessarily, now the audience couldn't hear this. The good floor managers used to go round to the dead side of the microphone. For a while we had what was called a 'cut key'. They'd press the cut key and everything would go blank and you could say, so and so, so and so. But the audience could hear that sudden dead sound so they found that by going on the dead side of the mic.
Now, Brian this night gave me an unnecessary prompt and he was, when we came off air, he said, "Look, I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have done that. It's awful". And I said, "Brian, after giving me the brilliant prompt the week before, never apologise again". That was, you know, that was fabulous. And I don't think I ever lost, forgot a line after that. It was just the confidence that knowing we had those skills round behind the camera that were terrific. It's like in the theatre, you know.
Yes, you said you loved the live television. What was it that you loved about it?
Oh, I - it's the immediacy. Like David Nettheim's phone call after we came off air after that first episode. In a recorded show, you have to wait a long time, sometimes many weeks or months or a year before you get a feedback. We got instant feedback. Fine, fine director, Christopher Morahan and I had a - worked a great rapport. Used to give him a lot of John Saul's ideas and he often quoted them back to me years and years later. And this was an extraordinarily well-written episode and it was very under-written so there was a lot of thought processes and things. And after the dress rehearsal when I thought I'd really whipped up all the correct emotions and things, Christopher came out and said, "Uh-uh. I can see you doing it", and went off and gave some more notes. And I thought, "What does he mean? Oh, hang on, oh". And I hadn't worked out a few details in exactly what the man was thinking.
So I worked out a little thought script of exactly what he was thinking and on the air I remember walking down the corridor after this tremendous moment. A very quiet and silent moment and suddenly my legs went funny and the set seemed twice as long and I had to play a short scene with a wonderful actor called Peter Howell who played the orthopaedic surgeon. And Peter came up to me and I had to give him some very bad news that concerned him and I, I found it hard to say the words. I sort of got them out and then, and this was about three quarters of the way through the show, and Peter went on and then he had a wonderful final scene with an actor called Dudley Jones, a Welsh actor. Marvellous scene. And the studio was as quiet, so quiet. And, when, when the final credits rolled up, suddenly all the crew, "Hey, wow, what a beauty", and so and so and so and so.
And I told that story to Rod Taylor and he said, "Yeah, but what did the audience think?" I said, "The phones went hot all over the country immediately". Not just, not me and my clever acting or anything. It was just that atmosphere that was created by that extraordinary reality that Christopher, the director, had generated by that fabulous note saying, "I can see you doing it". Meaning he could see me doing it falsely as a clever actor, you know, trying to be impressive. And when it became dead real, that audience reaction all over the country was extraordinary. And Rod said, "Oh, well, alright". He accepted that.
After you finished 'Emergency Ward 10' - what brought it to an end?
The show itself went through various stages. I actually resigned eventually because J.C. Williamson's, the old J.C. Williamson's, had asked me if I would consider going out to Australia to do a stage play and I knew - they told me the play, I met the London manager and I was already on leave doing a movie. And - because Tony Keary used to give me time off to do any films that came up from the time we did 'Dunkirk' in that first year of the show. So, you know, I'd do sometimes two a year and be away for six weeks or four weeks, whatever the production time of the film might be. And I was already on leave when the offer from Williamson's came in. So I rang John Cooper, the then producer, and said, "Don't write me back in, I think I've got a job in Australia". So they immediately said, "Oh, OK", so they wrote into the, the, the story that I had gone to Australia to do some medical work out there.
And then J.C. Williamson's lost the rights of the play. So they couldn't really write me back in quickly because I'm, you know, a long way away. And my agent, Tim Wilson at that time, said, still with MCA, said, "Don't go back in, freelance for a while. You haven't really freelanced here". And I had a ball. I went to all sorts of things. Telly shows and guest roles and a bit of theatre and even formed a theatre company with some mates. And even wrote a play and took it out on tour and things. So it was, it was a lucky sort of fluke in a way otherwise I'd have stayed with it for fifty years if the show had run that long.
[end of tape]