On this day …….. 28th September 1973

The Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, sits on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour. Designed by Danish architect Joern Utzon in 1955, it has become one of the most famous performing arts venues in the world. Utzon arrived in Sydney to oversee the project in 1957 and work commenced on the opera House in 1959. The building was completed in 1973, at a cost of $102 million, and formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 20 October 1973. The opening was celebrated with fireworks and a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Prior to this, however, Sergei Prokofiev’s ‘War and Peace’ was played at the Opera Theatre on 28 September 1973. The following day, the first public performance was held, with a programme performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Mackerras and with accompanying singer Birgit Nilsson.

 

On this day …….. 27th September 1956

Gerry Gee, was a ventriloquist Doll who was brought to life in 1956 by Ron Blaskett, for GTV9’s (channel 9) first live test broadcast from Mt Dandenong, Melbourne Victoria, on the 27th September 1956. Gerry Gee was made by Frank Marshall a wood carver in the basement of his house at 5518 S. Loomis, Chicago, USA. Ron Blaskett become aware of Marshall work though fallow ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s and his doll Charlie McCarthy. Blaskett corresponded with Marshall and he agreed to carve a special figure for £200. Gerry was imported from the US at a cost £200 and was named after the station. Ron, wife Merle Blaskett also a ventriloquist and Gerry are the only survivors of the test broadcast (2016). The comedy duo became household names as Aussie entertainer, on radio and TV, on The Tarax Show, IMT (In Melbourne Tonight) and Young Talent Time. And the act travelled the world, playing to millions at the 1975 Toronto Expo, cyclone victims in Darwin and Diggers in Vietnam. Gerry Gee and Ron Blaskett retired together after career of 56 years, Aussie TV’s first and foremost ventriloquist duo.

 

On this day …….. 27th September 1956

GTV (channel 9) was amongst the first television stations to begin regular transmission in Australia. Test transmissions began on 27 September 1956, introduced by former 3DB radio announcer Geoff Corke, based at the Mt Dandenong transmitter, as the studios in Richmond were not yet ready. The station was officially opened on 19 January 1957. by Victorian Governor Sir Dallas Brooks from the studios in Bendigo Street, Richmond. A clip from the ceremony has featured in a number of GTV retrospectives, in which the Governor advises viewers that if they did not like the programs, they could just turn off.

 

On this day …….. 27th September 1956

Sandra Simpkins is a ventriloquist doll which was used by Merle Blaskett in the test transmission of GTV9 (channel 9) from Mount Dandenong, Melbourne on this day 1956, becoming the first puppet on Australian TV. Today “Sandra Simpkins” is believed to be a very rare Len Insull doll, circa 1948, as female dolls were believed to be undesirable. Merle and her husband Ron Blaskett decided to sell Sandra and subsequently remodelled her into a Male character. As a historical TV artefact the Blaskett’s tried refined the doll to no avail until it was rediscovered in 2013 and restored to the original female character by Gordon Ross in South Australia. Ron Blaskett refers to this doll as the most historical “transgender” ventriloquist doll in Australia.

 

On this day …….. 16th September 1956

Although John Logie Baird first demonstrated the television in 1926, it was not until the 1940s that steps were made to bring the medium to Australia. They began with the initial Broadcasting Act of 1948, which prohibited the granting of commercial television licences. In 1950, Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced a gradual introduction of television in Australia, commencing with a launch of an ABC station. Three years later his government amended the 1948 Broadcasting Act to allow for commercial television licences. Test transmissions commenced in Sydney and Melbourne in July 1956. At 7:00pm on 16 September 1956, Australia’s first TV broadcast was made by TCN Channel 9 in Sydney. Bruce Gyngell introduced the broadcast with the words “Good evening, and welcome to television”. At the time, there were approximately 2,000 television sets in Sydney. The station was owned by Frank Packer, but it was his son Kerry who later saw and developed the potential of television as an informative media source. Packer’s TCN 9 launched approximately two months ahead of its nearest competitor, ABN 2. However, a regular broadcasting service was not provided until January of the following year, by GTV 9. GTV 9 had already been granted permission to use the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne for test transmissions, and officially opened with a regular broadcasting service on 19 January 1957.

 

Blue Heelers is an Australian police drama series that ran for 12 years, from 1994 to 2006, and depicts the lives of police officers in Mount Thomas, a fictional small town in Victoria. Blue Heelers was first aired on 10 September 1993, with the episode “A Woman’s Place”. The last episode, aired on 4 June 2006, was the 510th episode, “One Day More”. It was produced by Southern Star for the Seven Network. During its 13-season run it won a total of 32 awards and was nominated for a further 50. This included 25 Logie Awards, five of which were the Gold Logie, the most coveted television award in Australia. As well as everyday policing matters, the series deals with many controversial and “touchy” subjects. The series was the first to examine the stressful world of young police officers who are “thrown into the deep end where they are left to sink or swim”. Police procedurals were enormously popular in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s, but by the 1980s they had been replaced by home-grown soap operas and mini-series. Blue Heelers, however, was Australia’s most popular television drama while it lasted. The series drew more than 2.5 million viewers every week at its peak. Along with Homicide, Blue Heelers holds the Australian record for most episodes produced of a weekly prime-time drama. It was also nearly the longest-running series, but Homicide lasted one calendar month longer and, due to five feature-length episodes, had more time on air. Blue Heelers has also gained recognition in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and other countries. It has been sold to 108 territories. Blue Heelers launched the careers of many Australian actors, such as Lisa McCune, Grant Bowler, Ditch Davey, Rachel Gordon, Tasma Walton, Charlie Clausen and Jane Allsop. While many of these actors are still best known for their work on Blue Heelers, some have gone on to bigger roles. Many other actors of today also appeared in guest roles, including Hugh Jackman, Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell, Peter O’Brien and John Howard. John Wood and Julie Nihill remained with Blue Heelers during its entire 12-year run, portraying Senior Sergeant Tom Croydon and the publican Chris Riley respectively.

On this day …….. 4th September 2006

Stephen Robert “Steve” Irwin was born on 22 February 1962 in Essendon, Melbourne, Victoria. He moved to Queensland when he was still a child, where his parents developed and ran the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park. For his sixth birthday, young Steve received his greatest wish – his very own 3.6m long scrub python for a pet. Steve grew up learning how to catch and care for crocodiles. He used his skills to assist the Queensland Government’s East Coast Crocodile Management program, which involved, among other ventures, catching North Queensland crocodiles. In 1991, Irwin took over the running of the reptile park, which was later renamed “Australia Zoo”. As a passionate environmentalist, Irwin became known for the television program “The Crocodile Hunter”, an unconventional wildlife documentary series which he hosted with his wife Terri Irwin. Irwin’s outgoing personality, energetic vitality and outrageous antics in the series made him an international celebrity. He also starred in Animal Planet documentaries, including The Croc Files, The Crocodile Hunter Diaries, and New Breed Vets. Australia lost one of its most popular icons and ambassadors in the early afternoon of 4 September 2006. Steve Irwin was filming an underwater documentary off the Great Barrier Reef, when he was fatally pierced in the heart by a stingray barb. He is survived by his wife Terri, daughter Bindi, born in 1998 and son Robert (Bob), born in 2004. The family intends to continue Steve’s remarkable legacy of caring for a variety of wildlife, and raising environmental awareness across the world.

 

On this day …….. 1st September 1936

Claimed to be the world’s largest performing elephant, Cissie, owned by Ashton Brothers travelling circus, nearly ended her career at Buninyong on the morning of the 1st of September 1936. The elephant was entering the circus allotment behind a line of 45 horses, when she fell through a shell of earth covering what appeared to be the subsidence of an old mining shaft, nearly 10 feet deep. The elephant gave a wild bound upward, and scrambled, out of what appeared to be an Impossible predicament. In the sudden fall, the elephant’s rider was tossed 20 feet away, but escaped with abrasions and bruises. Cissie’s tusks were broken in two pieces.

 

Ossie Ostrich is an Australian television character, firstly on the Tarax Show, and then on the long-running program Hey Hey It’s Saturday which started as a Saturday morning cartoon show for children in 1971. In 1984, he also hosted an after-school children’s show called The Ossie Ostrich Video Show, with co-host Jacki MacDonald. In October 2009, Ossie appeared on the second Hey Hey It’s Saturday reunion special and made regular appearances during the show’s 2010 revival series.

Producer Ernie Carroll, an experienced comedy writer who had worked for Graham Kennedy’s In Melbourne Tonight, resurrected a puppet used for an earlier GTV-9 children’s program “packed away in a dusty suitcase in the GTV props bay.”

Typically, Ossie would provide the comic foil to Somers’ straight man. Daryl Somers sometimes retaliated by calling Ossie names like ‘Fiberglass Head’, but he also had more affectionate names, like his ‘pink, feathered beakie’. The comic skill of Somers and Carroll was instrumental in leading to the wider appeal of the show and its move to a prime time spot on Saturday evening.

Ossie wasn’t a part of Hey Hey It’s Saturday for the entirety of its 28-year run – he replaced footballer Peter McKenna as co-host after the show’s first eight weeks, and his retirement in 1994 was arguably a key factor in the demise of the show – but he was one of the most recognisable puppets in Australia for more than two decades.

Over time, Ossie’s head had to be replaced due to mishaps. Lipstick marks from over-amorous admirers were very difficult to remove. Other members of Ossie’s family were represented using the same puppet with different accessories. The Ossie Ostrich puppet is now on display at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra.

On the Tarax Show, Ossie’s theme song was “Here comes Ossie Ostrich”. This was also occasionally heard on Hey Hey.

 

Plucka Duck is a character on the popular Australian television program Hey Hey It’s Saturday. The character “presented” a segment on the show, along with Daryl Somers, which was a self-titled segment of Plucka Duck. Plucka was on the show until the show ended in 1999. In 2009, Plucka returned to the show when it returned to the screens as “Reunion Specials”. In 2010, the show returned as a series, with Plucka appearing in every episode. According to an interview given by John Blackman in 2009, Plucka was originally played by Mark McGahan, but was replaced by “Sim” for the reunion specials. “Sim” appears to refer to Simon Lefebvre. Also, Plucka Duck had its own show, Plucka’s Place. This show aired in 1997, with Livinia Nixon and Daniel Kowalski as co-hosts. The show lasted one season. In 2005, Plucka appeared with Daryl Somers at Carols by Candlelight. In 2008, Plucka made a long awaited return to television. Plucka (along with Dickie Knee and Daryl Somers) did a skit at the Logies. In early 2016, Plucka Duck appeared in an ad campaign for KFC riding a skateboard down a mountainous road in New Zealand.

 

Happy 50th Birthday Play School

In 1973 Little Ted from Play School disappeared from set and was last seen on his way to Hong Kong in the arms of an ex-production assistant. Sad to say for Big Ted, Humpty and Jemima he has never been found. For Little Ted a new stand in was found and made to look old.

 

The Adventures of Gerry Gee was the idea by director Denzil Howson to give the children’s audience a more realistic feel of Gerry being a living moving boy. In these story lines Gerry was seen driving Puffing Billy Steam Train, flying a real aeroplane and other clever story line.

This was accomplished by using a boy, John Field a 9 year old boy wearing a face mask of Gerry and dressed the same as Gerry in all the long shots, cutting these with close-ups of the real Gerry Gee puppet.

One of the most popular story lines was “Pimpernel Gee”, in which Gerry played the part of the French Scarlet Pimpernel, based on the book by Baroness Orczy. Gerry wore a coiffured wig and velvet frock clothes of the period and had available a coach and horse which we used to simulate the saving of the French aristocrats from the guillotine.

Fans of Baroness Orczy’s series will recall the English lord, Sir Percy Blakeney (who was made out to be a thick, foppish English aristocrat, but was in reality the Scarlet Pimpernel), whisking away people to the sanctuary of England from the French Revolution. The story was originally made on film with Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon and Raymond Massey as the villain, “Citizen Chauvelin”, a part played by Frank Rich in our version. Gerry, acting as the English lord Sir Percy, was a riot. Raising the monocle to the eye and reciting the famous lines:

They seek him here
They seek him there
Those Frenchmen seek him everywhere
Is he in heaven?
Or is he in hell?
That damned elusive Pimpernel!

Denzil Howson wrote, directed and produced all of these films and they were a success due to his effort and talent.

In October 1991, Denzil Howson and Ron Blaskett were called into channel 9, because lost film archives of The Adventures of Gerry Gee was found. The footage had been missing for 25 years.