Forgotten Australian TV Plays: Two from Michael Boddy

October 2, 2021
Stephen Vagg’s series on forgotten Australian TV plays looks at two written by Michael Boddy, All Fall Down (1967) and Intersection (1967).

Michael Boddy (1934–2014) was a man of many talents, best known for acting and writing, but he did a lot of other things, including working as a farmer, columnist, nude model, teacher and director (see his obituary here).

I was mostly familiar with Boddy from co-writing (with Bob Ellis) the stage classic The Legend of King O’Malley (1970), but that was just one chapter in a storied life; another one was his stint as a “flavour of the month” TV scriptwriter in the late 1960s.

Over a short period of time, Boddy earned himself a significant number of credits, including episodes of You Can’t See Round Corners (1967) and Lane End (1972), as well as TV plays like John Forrester Awaits the Light (1967), Breakdown (1967), Curate of Bohemia (1972) and two I’m discussing today, All Fall Down and Intersection.

Both aired within a week of each other on the ABC in October 1967 and both were directed by John Croyston.

All Fall Down (1967)

This was an episode from the second season of Australian Playhouse, an anthology series that specialised in thrillers, comedies and dramas. All Fall Down, however, is basically a musical – despite running only 30 minutes it still packs in three songs and revolves around two musical performers, Katherine and Karen Kessey. The Kesseys were identical twins from West Australia, the daughter of Sheffield Shield cricketer Gwilym Kessey, who had some success in the 1960s and early 1970s, usually (though not always) as a duo – they appeared together on stage in Stop The World I Want to Get Off and on TV in shows like Emergency Ward 10 and The Persuaders. Katherine later married Bill Treacher, best known for his role in EastEnders.

The plot of All Fall Down revolves around a TV variety show hosted by the egotistical Larry (Barry Creyton), along with his long-suffering sidekick Amanda (Karen Kessey). Sarah (Katherine Kessey) wins a competition to appear on the show for a month, and winds up impressing the sponsor (Anthony Bazell) so much that she gets a permanent gig, resulting in Larry quitting.  Michael Boddy was a regular performer on Crackerjack (1966-67), a Friday afternoon children’s variety show with Reg Livermore (a clip of him and Livermore is here), and presumably he drew on that experience for his script here.

The male actors in All Fall Down are all required for some reason to put their hands on the Kessey twins a lot. The considerable talents of Barry Creyton, a big star at the time due to his work on The Mavis Bramston Show, is curiously wasted in his stock villain part. Robert McDarra, an excellent actor best remembered for his role in the feature film 27A (1974), and famed for the real-life alcoholism that led to his early death, seems miscast as Ray, the producer with a crush on Amanda.

I wasn’t quite sure exactly what All Fall Down was meant to be – on one hand, it’s a light musical comedy about the adventures of the two girls, but there’s also all this heavy drama focus on Larry disliking Ray which doesn’t seem to concern the girls at all (is Larry keen on Amanda? Ray?). I wonder if that was the original focus of the piece, only for it to be rewritten to accommodate the Kessey twins. I could be wrong about that.

Still, All Fall Down gets points for novelty – as a thirty-minute backstage musical drama starring twins, Barry Creyton and Robert McDarra as a stage juvenile, with three song and dance numbers, there wasn’t much else like it made at the time.

Intersection (1967)

A few nights after All Fall Down, the ABC broadcast another script by Boddy and directed by John Croyston, Intersection. This was an instalment of Love and War, a series of locally-filmed plays that ran on the ABC in 1967 on the themes of love and war. The running time was one hour.

Helen Morse is excellent as a young girl from a country town who escapes to the city, feeling she is missing out on something. She stays at an inner-city boarding house where she encounters a drunk (Don Crosby, superb), a landlady (Beryl Cheers), an eccentric (Robert McDarra), some boozers at the bar (including Slim de Grey) and a folk singer (John Gregg), then her small-town fiance (Kit Taylor) comes to get her home. The fiance character, played by Kit Taylor, comes across, in performance and script, as an oppressive, jealous, possessive, manipulative man. After sampling this very small cross-section of people who live in Sydney – seriously, she doesn’t even go to the beach or the movies or even a shop around the corner – Morse decides [SPOILERS] to go home with her emotionally-controlling boyfriend. She doesn’t seem too happy about it, but she still goes, in what is an all-too-believable spirit-crushing finale.

Morse sings in one scene and I wonder if this wouldn’t be more successful as a musical – Gregg’s folk singer could have sung for instance, and the flowering dialogue might have been more effective in song form. Boddy has a small role as a drinker at a pub . This would make an interesting double bill with Enough to Make a Pair of Sailor’s Trousers, in which Morse played another country girl struggling in the big city.

Boddy kept busy in television over the next few years, then his attention drifted (or was forced to drift) more towards theatre and journalism. He had a varied, lively career, which included being a nude model for his artist wife’s 1973 Archibald Prize-winning portrait. As mentioned, his TV plays were only one chapter in a storied life, but they are worth remembering.

For more articles like this, read:

60 Australian TV Plays of the 1950s & ‘60s

Annette Andre: My Brilliant Early Australian Career

Barry Creyton Live

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