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ABC: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Series 3 Premieres Friday 8 May @ 8.30pm

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The highly anticipated third season of ABC’s sumptuous period crime series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries will premiere on Friday 8 May 2015 @ 8.30pm.

When the 8 part series begins it is mid-1929 and our glamorous lady detective, The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher (the fabulous Essie Davis), is in full swing once again – fighting injustice with her pearl- handled pistol and her dagger-sharp wit. Never forgetting her experiences in the War, her upbringing in the back- alleys of Collingwood or the devastating loss of her sister, Phryne launches herself into a new slew of murder cases with relentless enthusiasm.

It now seems there is nothing to stop Phyrne from pursuing a romantic future with Detective Jack Robinson (Nathan Page)… that is until her father arrives from England (much to the annoyance of his sister-in-law Prudence played by Miriam Margolyes) and his wayward mess comes between her and Jack, threatening to push them to opposite ends of the earth. Series 3 is Phryne and Jack’s biggest test yet – just how far are they prepared to go to be together?

This season too Dot Williams (Ashleigh Cummings) is getting ever more involved in Phryne’s investigations, working alongside her as Watson does with Sherlock Holmes. Dot accepted Hugh’s proposal of marriage in Series 2 but on the condition of a ‘long engagement’ while they figure out how to solve a few issues – like the Catholic/Protestant divide and Dot’s desire to keep working.

Meanwhile Phryne’s best friend and confidante Dr Elizabeth MacMillan (affectionately known to Phryne as ‘Mac’) is appointed the Chief Medical Officer at the beginning of Series 3 creating worrying ripples between Phryne and Jack, given her close alliance to Phryne.

Background

The series is based on Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mystery series of books, which are best sellers around the world. While the production has now adapted all of Kerry’s books that were appropriate for television, Story Producer Deborah Cox and her writing team and Producer Fiona Eagger have continued to pluck various story threads and details from the Phryne Fisher books and from Kerry Greenwood’s short story collection, ‘A Question of Death’. In addition to her fiction writing, Kerry is an historian with an immense knowledge of 1920’s Melbourne – and she continues to consult for the show, contributing to plots and providing historical background information.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, produced by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger’s Every Cloud Productions, has become one of Australia’s most successful television brands, both at home in Australia and internationally.

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The world of Miss Fisher

A hallmark of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is that every episode is set in its own unique and well-defined ‘world’. In Series 3, this impressive approach to production continues with forays into the worlds of magic, competitive tennis, the Italian community, the RAAF, early plastic surgery, women’s psychotherapy and astronomy.

As much historical detail as possible is integrated into the scripts.

“Our broad focus, when we’re dreaming up our episodes, is on the ‘world’ we want to create. Even though it’s incredibly ambitious for series television on an Australian budget, we love to stamp every hour with a particular look – whether it’s the slightly bizarre world of a fading magic show, or the wonderfully mannered rituals of a period tennis tournament,” says producer Fiona Eagger.

“Apart from the ‘world’, there are then two major creative considerations – how to make it work production-wise as an historically accurate configuration of real world locations and studio sets, and then how to find the inherent interest in that world in terms of story. Any one of these key elements might provide our starting point. For example, our wonderful costume designer, Marion Boyce, was desperate to create an episode full of period tennis ensembles! But, for us, all these aspects have to work together to culminate in a satisfying episode of the series.”

“Marion loves the 1920s, she’s got her own collection of clothes and fabrics from the period and we were able to entice her to the series because of this. She’s been an incredible asset. She’s a stickler for authenticity. She strives for what’s the best in the show and she keeps us all on our toes.”

Marion laughs about her ‘campaign’ for a tennis ‘world’: “I was very cheeky ,I used to turn up to meetings with tennis rackets, tennis broaches, all sorts of things. And I was lucky enough that the producers took pity on me and actually finally gave me a tennis episode. Tennis was one of those irresistible images; the whites and beautiful green backgrounds against gorgeous, grand homes.”

The Costumes

“For the tennis episode, I knew I had to be very careful with white. You can’t have too high a white; you can’t have strong blue white. You have to play whites and creams and winter whites and slightly pink whites together to create a beautiful palette,” Marion says.

“In the 1920s you had a complete outfit for every single occasion, including tennis. And there’s something really quite beautiful about the silk swishing across the court as one ran around. Especially as the women players didn’t wear runners and actually wore their high–heeled shoes.”

And for the multi-talented Essie Davis, who plays Phryne Fisher with such panache, yet another achievement was added to her resume: “Yes, playing tennis in high-heels is one of my other newly acquired skills,” she grins.

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The Look

Production Designer Robert (Robbie) Perkins, like Marion Boyce and Hair and Makeup Designer Anna Karpinski, has worked on all three series. This time around there were many challenges, both creative and practical, including building the water tank for the Houdini-like magic trick in episode one and dressing Melbourne’s historic Comedy Theatre for an extravagant magic show, complete with a troupe of mermaid dancers.

“The Comedy Theatre was built in 1928 so that fitted the bill pretty well perfectly. Talking to the producers and the director about Episode 1 it became clear that their vision was for a whole stage show, but unlike a typical stage production where you get weeks of construction, we virtually had to pre-construct everything so that it could all be pre-cut, pre-made, pre-painted and delivered on the day of the shoot. We had to set it up on the day of the shoot and we had to shoot it within three days.”

Robbie was particularly concerned that the dancers would arrive without any sense of the space in which they had to perform, so he built a model of his multi-tiered stage for them and took it to the dance rehearsal studio. Then there was the water tank, into which a bound Phryne Fisher is lowered and must escape. “The tank was a big exercise for us because it had to be built to hold nearly a couple of ton of water and be safe,” Robbie says.

“Getting it ready in time was pretty dramatic. With time restrictions and other things that were happening in that [filming] block, the deadline got pushed a little towards the shooting date. And the glues weren’t drying fast enough to hold together all the very heavy Perspex that we were using.”

In desperation, Robbie’s construction team came in at 6am to build a replica tank, so the early part of the scene could be shot without water, while everyone waited for the glue to dry on the real tank before it was needed for the critical scene. Even when the main water tank was finally filled it began to leak and everyone on set held their breath, but fortunately it held together!

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Friday nights @ 8.30pm from 8 May.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife

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McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Tragedy?
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal

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The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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