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Up From Down Under: Not Chips Rafferty



When Tom Stoppard’s play The Real Thing opened in 1982 one of the characters said, “Debbie’s into Australian films. Australian. Not Chips Rafferty — actual films.” When the play was revived recently the reference had disappeared, presumably because it was considered no longer relevant. That’s because in the past 30 or so years, Australian cinema — and to a lesser extent New Zealand — has become recognised around the world as a distinct feature on the cinematic landscape.

Mainstream movies such as the Mad Max movies, Crocodile Dundee and Strictly Ballroom all became international hits — although they’ve invariably played on Antipodean stereotypes — while smaller movies such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, My Brilliant Career, The Piano, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert and Muriel’s Wedding have acquired cult status following critical acclaim and strong word of mouth.

Where once the aforementioned 50s star Chips Rafferty seemingly appeared in every Australian movie made, there’s now a remarkable array of acting talent from Down Under including the likes of Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman, Mel Gibson, Rachel Griffiths, Nicole Kidman, Toni Collette, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving, Geoffrey Rush and Guy Pearce to name just a very few.

Picnic At Hanging Rock

Picnic At Hanging Rock

Hollywood Or Bust

An indication of Australia’s late-development as a filmmaking nation is that it didn’t actually have a national film school until 1975. Graduates of the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) have subsequently included Gillian Armstrong, the director of Dead Calm Phillip Noyce, Jocelyn Moorhouse the filmmaker behind Proof and Paul J Hogan who brought to life the delightfully quirky Muriel’s Wedding.

While this list of names is impressive, it also highlights one of Antipodean cinema’s biggest problems: the haemorrhaging of talent to Hollywood. So, for example, the aforementioned list could also have read as Armstrong: Little Women, Noyce: The Saint, Moorhouse: How to Make an American Quilt and Hogan: My Best Friend’s Wedding.

When you add high-calibre directors such as Peter Weir with Picnic at Hanging Rock and in the US The Truman Show, Bruce Beresford who first made Breaker Morant and then went American with Driving Miss Daisy, and Fred Schepisi who brought us The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith before heading State-side with Six Degrees of Separation to the list, you begin to appreciate that Australian cinema is about far more than its indigenous output.

One of the biggest problems with the Australian film industry will come as no surprise to British filmmakers: big-budget movies are being enticed over to utilise Australia’s superb studio facilities and vast technical know-how at a fraction of the Hollywood (or UK) cost. That’s why so many Hollywood blockbusters are filmed there – the weather also seldom gets in the way.

While this is good news for the industry, it shouldn’t obscure an even bigger problem for Antipodean filmmakers: actually getting their films seen in their home countries.



Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess




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




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.

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




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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