Number 96 is an Australian primetime soap opera that aired on 0-10 Network (the forerunner of what is now Network Ten) from 13 March 1972 to 11 August 1977, originally broadcast in the primetime slot of 8:30 pm for 5 x half-hour episodes every weeknight, then later 2 x one hour episodes screened per week.[2]

Number 96
Title card from a 1975 episode of Number 96 while airing on TV1
GenreSoap opera
Created byDavid Sale
Written by
Ending theme"Paper Boy"[1]
ComposerSteve Gray
Country of originAustralia
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons6
No. of episodes1,218
Executive producerDon Cash & Bill Harmon
Production locationsNetwork 0–10 Lane Cove and Woollahra
Running time30 minutes per episode (five nights a week)/2x 1 hour episodes per week[2]
Production companyCash Harmon Television
Original release
NetworkThe 0–10 Network
Release13 March 1972 (1972-03-13) –
11 August 1977 (1977-08-11)

Originally it aired in black and white monochrome until halfway through its run. From March 1975, it was seen in colour as networks switched over to colour television broadcasting in Australia[1]



The series was notable for breaking new ground and introducing controversial subject matter. The premiere of the series was promoted heavily in media with newspaper advertisements that described it as "Tonight, Australian television loses its virginity"[1] and it followed the lives of residents living in a four-storey city apartment block at the fictional 96 Lindsay Street, Paddington.

The show was conceived by British novelist David Sale (who also was a screenwriter who worked on the series) and developed by production firm Cash Harmon Productions[1] The series was originally commissioned by the then flagging 0-10 network to make a soap opera with similar elements to the British series "Coronation Street, but a little racier".

The show was a daring last-bid attempt from a network struggling on the verge of bankruptcy, and its immediate success (and advertising revenue) helped it become more competitive by buying successful new international shows such as The Waltons and M*A*S*H. By 1974, the network was number one in the ratings for the first time in its history.[3]

Number 96 became one of the most popular Australian drama television series of all time, but due to its racy subject matter, it was unable to be picked up by many international markets. It was the first soap opera to screen in prime time five nights a week, and later became the first Australian TV series to inspire a US remake.

Number 96 became infamous for its groundbreaking depictions of taboo subjects of the time, exploring issues such as homosexuality, abortion, rape, interracial romance, drug usage, pregnancy in later life, and transgenderism, but also its array of comedy characters with their own catchphrases, in a nod to vaudeville.[1]

The highest rating episode was when it was revealed that Lucy Sutcliffe's (portrayed by Elisabeth Kirkby) lump in her breast was benign, after which many women went to their doctors to be tested for cancer, an issue that was not discussed much at the time and long before singer Kylie Minogue went public with her diagnosis.[1]

Multicultural milestones


Based during an era of mass (white) emigration to Australia, mostly from the UK, Number 96, as befitting its inner-city location, presented a much more multicultural view of suburbia.

Its British longer-term characters included Lancastrians Lucy Sutcliffe (Elisabeth Kirkby) and her husband Alf (James Elliot), who was depicted as the archetypal whinging pom. While Alf longed to go back to England, Lucy was happy and content to remain in Australia. British barmaid Norma Whitaker was married to Les, an amateur inventor from Scotland. He was played by Gordon McDougall, who would return to the series as the Scottish aristocrat Lord McCraddenow. Don Finlayson's Aunt Amanda von Pappanburg was a British Baroness who lived in Germany and visited Don on several occasions.[1]

Other European characters included Aldo Godolfus from Hungary, the Russian Roma Lubinski-Godulfus and the Italian deli worker Giovanni Lenzi and his aunt Maria Panucci. Fashion designer Vera Collins came from South Africa. Shorter-term characters included Indian Dr Bannerjee, African-Americans Chad Farrell and Hope Jackson, and indigenous Australian Rhonda Jackson.[1]

LGBTQ milestones and TV world firsts


Number 96 was the first television program anywhere in the world to feature a full diverse range of LGBTQ characters as regulars, although many historians and scholars are unaware of this, because the show's controversial content meant it was unable to be screened outside of Australia. Even today, the show could not be screened on American network TV.[1][4]

There had been LGBTQ characters in programs before but these were primarily guest characters or fleeting mentions.

Actor Joe Hasham appeared for the duration of the series, as Lawyer Don Finlayson. Hence, Number 96 was the first series to depict a gay character in a regular role and the first to be portrayed as a sympathetic character and in a positive light.[5] Hasham's Finlayson gained a cult following and been acknowledged as doing much for gay-lib. Don was depicted as being dependable, sincere and kind, yet he was not effeminate and came across as straight acting, though he had no hang-ups about being gay. Don would have several gay relationships in the series (and a few one-night stands), but maintained he was homosexual and never had relationships with woman.[1]

Don's first lover in early episodes would be bisexual photographer Bruce Taylor (Portrayed by Paul Weingott), Taylor would be TV's first bisexual character,[5] whilst with Don he would have an affair with ruthless businesswoman Maggie Cameron, after Bruce fled, Don would form a more long-term and enduring relationship with hilariously camp bisexual chef Dudley "Dud" Butterfield. Don and Dudley would remain live together for 2 years and only separate when Dudley decided to become a ladies man, in sequences made primarily for comedic effect.

Prior to Number 96 TV's first gay character had been seen the previous year in the US sitcom All in the Family but he was a one-off. In the storyline a friend of Archie Bunker's, (portrayed by Carroll O'Connor) known only as "Steve" played by Phillip Carey in a guest part came out as gay telling Bunker of his sexuality in an early episode titled "Judging Books By Covers". after which however the character was never seen or mentioned again.[6]

According to the publication The Great Clowns of American Television, comedian Ernie Kovacs was the first person to portray a gay character Percy Dovetonsils in his self-titled The Ernie Kovacs Show, although the term was not officially established at that time.[6]

The first regular gay character in the US occurred several months after Number 96 in 1972. Actor Vincent Schiavelli played Peter Panama in sitcom The Corner Bar, but he was short-lived and however unlike Number 96's Joe Hasham he's portrayal did not prove popular with viewers and he only appeared for the first season, with then-president of the New York-based Gay Activists Alliance calling it "the worst stereotype of a gay person I've ever seen". [7]

Number 96 would also feature numerous firsts, however usually featuring shorter term cast in varying story-arcs, for example notable theatre star Toni Lamond, played Karen Winters, who was TV's first ever lesbian character. She was shown fondling and kissing the virginal Bev (played by series regular Abigail) whilst she was sleeping under the effect of sleeping pills. Karen was later revealed to be a devil worshipper who wanted to sacrifice Bev to the devil during a Black Mass, a story-arc that was heavily censored.[1]

A second lesbian character, Marie Crowther Hazel Phillips, left the series after ogling Vera Collins in the shower and being told her affections would not be returned.

The series also featured TV's first ever transgender character, and remarkably she was played by a transgender actress, cabaret performer Carlotta. Robyn Ross was romanced by Arnold Feather (Jeff Kevin), a comic character whose early romances always ended in disaster. Although the relationship did not last, she was never dehumanised or poked fun at.[4]

Broadcasting and production


Bill Harmon and Don Cash had previously worked in New York at NBC, and became a partnership after arriving in Australia and producing adventure series The Rovers and a couple of unsuccessful films.[1]

Production of Number 96 started in October 1971. It was produced and recorded on videotape in monochrome for the first three years, and switched to colour production in late 1974. Many of the early black-and-white episodes no longer exist, due primarily to network policy of the time of destroying or wiping tape.[citation needed]

Producer Don Cash, used one of the world's first computers to figure out how the series could construct such a large output. The standard invented by him was later used on all Australian soaps created thereafter.[citation needed]

The premise, original story outlines, and original characters were devised by series creator David Sale, who had also written for the TV comedy satire series The Mavis Bramston Show. Sale also wrote the scripts for the first episodes of Number 96 and continued as a script writer and storyliner for much of the show's run.[citation needed]

A building at 83 Moncur Street, Woollahra, was used for exterior establishing shots of the block of flats. The majority of the recording was done on sets at the studios of Channel Ten based then in North Ryde, Sydney.[citation needed]

Directors included Peter Benardos[1] and Brian Phillis.[1] Regular writers included David Sale, Johnny Whyte, who was the series final script editor, Susan Swinford, Dick Barry, Michael Laurence, Lynn Foster,[1] Ken Shadie, and Eleanor Witcombe.[citation needed]

Controversial stories

Early black-and-white episode featuring semiregular Thelma Scott as Claire Houghton and her on-screen daughter Bev Houghton, played by Abigail

Number 96 became infamous for its groundbreaking adult storylines and nudity, its comedy characters, and controversial storylines including teenage drug addiction and a black mass conducted by devil-worshippers. Whodunits included a panty snatcher (dubbed the Knicker Snipper), the Pantyhose Strangler, the Hooded Rapist, and a bomb that exploded killing off four characters.[1]

A story where Rose Godolfus (Vivienne Garrett) took marijuana was the first time the Australian Broadcasting Control Board exercised the 101 censorship code, insisting that Rose must be shown to suffer from its effects.[1] However, a few years later, at the request of NSW Police, a heroin drug storyline was explored with 15-year-old schoolgirl Debbie Chester (Dina Mann). She was seen being taught how to inject heroin with a needle, in a storyline designed to warn parents how easy it was.[1]

The first shock moment involved heavily pregnant Helen Eastwood (Briony Behets) finding her husband Mark (Martin Harris) in their bed with Rose Godolfus (in what was TV's first topless nude scene until censors ordered it to be cut). Helen ran out, fell down the stairs and miscarried, while Rose was later gang-raped by bikies. Later, doctor Gordon Vansard (Joe James) was struck off the books for providing drugs for an illegal abortion, while his wife Sonia (Lynn Rainbow) suffered from mental delusions, leaving but then returning for the film version of Number 96.[citation needed]

An early interracial kiss occurred between character Chad Farrell, played by Ronne Arnold, and Sonia (Lynn Rainbow), was said to have made the show unable to be sold to the U.S. International networks could cut out the nudity, but the interracial romances and homosexual themes were too frequent to be censored.[citation needed]

A later interracial romance saw Indigenous actress Justine Saunders playing hairdresser Rhonda Jackson. She had an affair with Dudley (Chard Hayward) but was secretly in love with Arnold (Jeff Kevin) and the actress became the first Aboriginal woman to appear on the cover of TV Week while publicising this role.[1]

The final year of Number 96 featured the reintroduction of sexual situations with more extreme nudity, and increasingly violent situations. Carol Raye, who played Amanda and stayed on behind the scenes to do casting, had left and creator David Sale also quit in its final months, concerned about the show's change in direction. Without them, the show spun wildly out of control.[citation needed]

Don and Dudley had split; Don's new boyfriend was schizophrenic Rob Forsyth (John McTernan) and then corrupt cult leader Joshua (Shane Porteous). The show's final months saw Dudley being graphically machine-gunned to death in the Wine Bar (now a disco called Duddles), and a neo-Nazi bikie gang ran amok in a violent storyline that upset some real-life bikers.[citation needed]

The bold move in the show's final months in an attempt to boost ratings, saw Number 96 show a brief full frontal flash nudity in November 1976 when a nurse fled a burning flat, and comedy relief in the arrival of Miss Hemingway (Deborah Gray), a delusional psychiatric patient who didn't like wearing clothes. The latter, however, attracted just three complaints, despite being screened on free to air TV at 8.30 pm.

Other bedroom farce sequences featured male and female nudity. A scene where Jane Chester becomes a prostitute and is asked to whip her male client, new Number 96 resident Toby Buxton (Malcolm Thompson), featured a brief glimpse of his full frontal male nudity.[citation needed]

Another world first in its dying months was the first use of a four letter word in a TV drama, when Grant Chandler asked if anyone found the word 'shit' offensive. There was also the sight of Flo sitting on a toilet when Dorrie accidentally opened the door on her.

These changes were made to combat falling viewing figures, but it didn't work and in April 1977 the series was cancelled due to declining ratings. Joe Hasham, Pat McDonald and Ron Shand were the only original cast members to remain to the final episode.[1]

Left to right: Bunney Brooke, Dina Mann, Sheila Kennelly, Frances Hargreaves, and Pat McDonald, who was immensely popular as malapropping gossip Dorrie Evans

.[citation needed]


Actor Character Year(s) Episodes
Johnny Lockwood Aldo Godolfus 1972–75 1―839
Vivienne Garrett Rose Godolfus Myers 1972, 75 1―146, 841―845
Martin Harris Mark Eastwood 1972 1―55
Briony Behets Helen Eastwood 1972 1―55
Robyn Gurney Janie Somers 1972 1―141
Abigail Bev Houghton 1972–73 1―319
Victoria Raymond 1973 320―445
James Elliott Alf Sutcliffe 1972–75 1―861
Elisabeth Kirkby Lucy Sutcliffe 1972–75 1―861
Elaine Lee Vera Collins Sutton 1972–76 1―1082
Paul Weingott Bruce Taylor 1972–74 1―25, 418―453
Joe Hasham Don Finlayson 1972–77 1―1218
Pat McDonald Dorrie Evans 1972–77 1―1218
Ron Shand Herb Evans 1972–77 1―1218
Bettina Welch Maggie Cameron 1972–76 7―956
Norman Yemm Harry Collins 1972–74 9―39, 288―453
Lynn Rainbow Sonia Freeman 1972–73 12―260
Joe James Gordon Vansard 1972 12―201
Mike Ferguson Gary Whittaker 1972–77 20―534, 842―1122
Ronne Arnold Chad Farrell 1972 23―70
Philippa Baker Roma Lubinski Godolfus 1972–75 30―839
Thelma Scott Claire Houghton 1972–77 35―1185
Tom Oliver Jack Sellars 1972–75 49―845
Gordon McDougall Les Whittaker 1972–75 74―839
Lord Andrew Whittaker 1976–77 1070―1123
Sheila Kennelly Norma Whittaker 1972–77 74―1216
Susannah Piggott Georgina Carter 1972 87―156
Jeff Kevin Arnold Feather 1972–77 98―1218
Charles "Chook" Feather 1976–77 938―1167
Bunney Brooke Flo Patterson 1972–77 152―1218
Candy Raymond Jill Sheridan 1973 274―418
Carmen Duncan Helen Sheridan Sellars 1973 274―406
Jill Forster 1973–74 410―590
Carol Raye Baroness Amanda von Pappenburg 1973–75 385―694
Claudine 1974 619, 624
Chard Hayward Dudley Butterfield 1973–77 401―1182
Mike Dorsey Reg McDonald 1974–77 447―1218
Wendy Blacklock Edie MacDonald 1974–77 447―1218
Frances Hargreaves Marilyn MacDonald 1974–77 447―1218
Pamela Garrick Patti Olsen Feather 1974, 76 481―669, 1014
Jan Adele Trixie O'Toole 1974–76 527―1098
Josephine Knur Lorelei Wilkinson 1974 557―649
Peter Adams Andy Marshall 1974–75 602―753
Chantal Contouri Tracey Wilson 1974–75 632―680
Peter Flett Michael Bartlett 1974–75 641―693
Joe Minerver 1976 1081―1082
Paula Duncan Carol Finlayson 1974–75 656―760
Sheila Bradley Freda Fuller 1974–75 662―689
Natalie Mosco Tanya Schnolskevitska 1975 673―802
Scott Lambert Miles Cooper 1975 753―839
Margaret Laurence Liz Chalmers Feather 1975–76 781―921
Vince Martin David Palmer 1975 800―904
Pamela Gibbons Grace "Prim" Primrose 1975–76 800―917
Kit Taylor Warwick Thompson 1975–76 808―993
Anya Saleky Jaja Gibson 1975–76 830―1029
Mary Ann Severne Laura Trent Whittaker 1974–77 867―1122
Dina Mann Debbie Chester 1975–77 869―1216
Patti Crocker Eileen Chester 1975–76 871―957
Suzanne Church Jane Chester 1975–77 881―1216
Roger Ward Frank "Weppo" Smith 1975–76 883―1039
Curt Jansen Herbert "Junior" Winthrop 1976 912―1018
Peter Whitford Guy Sutton 1976 919―993
Harry Michaels Giovanni Lenzi 1976–77 931―1218
Joseph Furst Carlo Lenzi 1976 934―1029
Lynne Murphy Faye Chandler 1976–77 990―1195
Michael Howard Grant Chandler 1976–77 999―1213
Stephen McDonald Lee Chandler 1976–77 999―1216
Arianthe Galani Maria Panucci 1976–77 1083―1210
John McTernan Rob Forsyth 1977 1101―1161
Les Foxcroft Sir William Mainwaring 1976–77 1008―1130
Dave Allenby Dr. Harold Wilkinson 1977 1131―1204
Chelsea Brown Hope Jackson 1977 1134―1175
Nat Nixon Opal Wilkinson 1977 1137―1218
Deborah Gray Miss Hemingway 1977 1148―1200
Kay Powell Vicki Dawson 1977 1179―1218
Shane Porteous Joshua 1977 1198-1213

Short-term and Guest Cast


The series featured over 100 performers, including screenwriter and technicians. Many upcoming performers where given the opportunity in the industry to develop their performances, whilst an alumnus of the showbiz world made guest appearances

Name Character Notability
Ian Russell, 13th Duke of Bedford and Nicole Russell, Duchess of Bedford As themselves (special guests)[1] Member's of the British Royal Family
John Laws As Himself[1] CBE Famous broadcaster
Mike Walsh Walsh appears as Himself[1] OBE, AM, famous Australian TV host[1]
Lorrae Desmond Marion Carlton MBE, AM Gold Logie-winning singer and entertainer[1]
Toni Lamond Karen Winters (featuring in the controversial black mass story-arc)[1] AM, variety entertainer, the first woman in the world to host a Tonight show
Ray Meagher Fred Shrimpton AM, winner of the Gold Logie
Carlotta Robyn Ross (billed as "Carole Lea")[1] AM, cabaret performer and activist
Noeline Brown Trixie OAM Actress, entertainer
Henri Szeps Mr. Mayhew / Phillip Chambers
Hazel Phillips Marie Crowther OAM, winner of Gold Logie
Roger Climpson As Himself, This is Your Life host OAM, Australian radio and TV personality
Rowena Wallace Muriel Thompson Later won Gold Logie for her role as Pat the Rat in Sons and Daughters
Anne Charleston Madame Jacqueline / Mad Stella[1]
Tristan Rogers Cain Carmichael
Judy Lynne Gloria Gould
Julieanne Newbould School girl who gets Debbie Chester hooked on drugs[1]
Johnny Ladd Jimmy Jock
Alastair Duncan Vernon Saville
Pat Bishop Melissa Hobson
Joyce Jacobs as Mrs. Daisy Carson (regular deli customer/one line extra)[1]

Numerous stars wanted to appear in roles, even racing identity Gai Waterhouse, who unsuccessfully auditioned after completing a drama course in England. Also suggested was a young Bryan Brown (although having been in England he had acquired a British accent, and was considered unsuitable by producer Bill Harmon, even though he hailed from Parramatta).[1]

Visit by royalty


The Duke and Duchess of Bedford visited the set and appeared in a cameo in the series, in a storyline in which they come to visit Baroness Amanda Ashton / von Pappenburg (played by Carol Raye).[1]

Series background

Gordon McDougall as Les Whittaker

The series became famous for every episode ending in a cliffhanger and they were the first to do a summer cliffhanger, where the cliffhangers would be ramped up with every character in peril over the six week break the show took for the summer hiatis. In 1972, it was the car crash of Gordon (Joe James) and in 1973, Bev (Victoria Raymond) was shot. In 1974, Patti (Pamela Garrick) was the shock second victim of the Pantyhose Strangler, but in 1975, instead of a death, it was the mysterious resurrection of Jaja (Anya Saleky) who was thought to be dead. For its last summer cliffhanger, a drunk Herb (Ron Shand) was seen leaving Sydney on a train with a mystery blonde out to rob him.

During 1974, the series shifted its emphasis from sexual situations and drama to focus more on comedy. After the introduction of colour TV in 1975, ratings went into decline as its audience began switching over to bigger budget American shows (that year the show was only the third highest-rated show of the year, behind The Six Million Dollar Man and repeats of Bewitched. A bold new storyline was devised to revitalise the series and in an unprecedented move, 40 complete scripts were discarded and rewritten. The Number 96 set was sealed off to non-essential personnel with a new storyline involving a mysterious figure planting bombs, with several false alarms. The dramatic storyline was intended to draw back viewers and to provide a mechanism to quickly write out several existing characters in a bid to freshen up the cast of characters and revamp the storylines.

On Friday 5 September 1975, a planted bomb exploded in the delicatessen, destroying it and the adjacent wine bar, which was crowded with customers. The sequence was filmed on a Saturday because the studio was empty, and real gelignite was used, resulting in the studio doors being blown off their hinges.

The makers of the show made a bold move, killing off several long-running cast favourite's which were revealed on the front page of newspapers on Monday 8 September 1975. They included Les (Gordon McDougall), Aldo and Roma Godolfus (Johnny Lockwood and Philippa Baker), and then revealing scheming Maggie Cameron (Bettina Welch) as the bomber and sending her off to prison. Maggie wanted to scare residents into moving so she could sell the building. Despite massive publicity, the bomb-blast storyline resulted in only a temporary boost to the program's ratings, but it did provide material for future storyline's, particularly with the trial of Maggie Cameron.

Mike Dorsey and Wendy Blacklock as Reg "Daddy" MacDonald and Edie "Mummy" MacDonald

In October, Lucy and Alf Sutcliffe (played by original cast members Elisabeth Kirkby and James Elliott) were also written out of the series. New younger characters were added to the show, most of whom didn't last out the series. Two that did were teenage sisters Debbie and Jane Chester (Dina Mann and Suzanne Church). They became orphans when their parents were taken by a shark in an obvious nod to shark film Jaws. Other enduring characters among the high cast turnover of the later period were new blonde sex-symbol Jaja Gibson (Anya Saleky), and Giovanni Lenzi (Harry Michaels), an exuberant Italian who worked in the deli.

1976 saw another whodunnit storyline with the Hooded Rapist, and there was now an increase in location shooting, including Moncur Street, Woollahra (outside the building used in the credits), local parks, Chinatown, and Luna Park.[8]

Series format


The first episode began with an exterior shot of the building with moving vans being unloaded while Herb and Dorrie are heard having an argument. Each subsequent episode began with an exterior shot of the building while audio from the previous episode's final scene could be heard. The shot would zoom in on the apartment in which that scene occurred, or remain unchanged, as the show's title was displayed. The vision would then switch to the scene in question as a recap of the previous episode's cliffhanger.

The series was broadcast as five half-hour episodes each week for its first four years. From the beginning of 1976 episodes were broadcast as two one-hour episodes each week in most areas. However, from an internal perspective episodes continued to be written and compiled in half-hour instalments.

Film adaptation


Number 96 was adapted into a feature film in 1974 and titled Number 96. The feature film opened with Vera being gang-raped by bikies just before the opening titles. When asked why he chose to start the movie like this, (David Sale) quipped "I wanted people to know they were in the right cinema."

One of its major drawcards was it being a full-colour production, unlike the series which was still broadcasting in monochrome. It had the same creative team and mostly the same cast as the series. Although it received mostly negative reviews, audiences lined up George Street to gain a seat on opening day. It earned nearly A$2.8 million on a A$100,000 budget, and was the most profitable Australian movie ever made at that time. It became the 5th highest grossing Australian movie of the 1970s. Film critics, unfamiliar with the TV series, were amazed that each character received a round of applause from the audience when they made their first appearance.[1]

Final night


The final episode ended with a reunion curtain call of popular cast members past and present. A week after the airing of the final episode in Sydney, a televised public auction of props and costumes from the series was held in the grounds of Channel Ten.

Cultural impact and reception


Number 96 was rated number 9 in the 2005 television special 50 Years 50 Shows, which counted down Australia's greatest television programs.

McKenzie Wark wrote in Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace (published by Pluto Press, 1999): "Once, when I was a kid, I was walking down a suburban street at night, when I noticed a rhythmic flickering of light from inside the houses. Though screened from view by the drawn curtains, the lights from a row of separate houses were all pulsing in time, and then I heard the music and I knew everyone was watching the same show ... Number 96."[1]

John Singleton wrote: "When Shakespeare was writing his plays, people queued up for Shakespeare. Today, they're queuing up for Number 96, so in my opinion Number 96 is today's Shakespeare."[1]

Phillip Adams, from newspaper The Age, wrote: "I believe that television serials provide a surrogate sense of community and that many viewers are more involved in Number 96 than they are in their own community."[1]

The series was featured in cinema documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2008). Interviewees included Number 96 actors Rebecca Gilling, Wendy Hughes, Lynette Curran, Briony Behets, Candy Raymond, Deborah Gray, Roger Ward, and Norman Yemm, and an associate producer of Number 96 and The Unisexers, David Hannay.

Cult status


Number 96 was the first Australian soap opera/serial to gain a significant cult following, prior to the network's internationally successful series Prisoner.[1] It led to huge merchandise such as tie-in novels and magazines, singles and LP records from cast members, a disco soundtrack album, a Family Circle cookbook with an iron-on T-shirt transfer, the 1974 feature film Number 96, and a 1980 American remake.

When the series started. its cast was one of the largest ever assembled for a local production. When it ended after 1218 episodes, it was the longest-running soap opera produced in Australia, having surpassed the ABC series Bellbird. Number 96 was surpassed by The Young Doctors in 1982.

At the series' height, The New York Times stated it was the highest-rated program of its kind in the world.[1]

When the stars travelled from Sydney to Melbourne via train overnight to attend the Logie Awards ceremony, they were mobbed at country stations along the way during wild whistle stops. The crowds waiting in Melbourne was bigger than those that met The Beatles during their only Australian tour in 1964.[1]

Whilst the program was extremely popular in Australia, its risqué subject matter and storylines meant it could not sell into any overseas markets. The show was written up in Time magazine, but it could never have screened in the United States, because of its nudity, homosexuality, and interracial romances.[1]

It included veteran actors from Australia, mainly from the early days of radio and stage. As theatre had been their preferred form of entertainment, many stars, such as Wendy Blacklock, were reluctant to go into a TV serial, but once she got there, she remained until the final episode.[1]

The series, although originally based on elements of Coronation Street, which screened twice a week, was later likened more to US serial Peyton Place, which at its peak had three half-hour episodes a week. Neither show could match the Australian's prestigious output of five half-hour episodes a week, and screening all year except for a six-week break over summer.[1]



The show attracted many complaints. The Australian Broadcasting Control Board repeatedly sanctioned the network. To keep the series on air, each episode was previewed to ensure it complied with control board guidelines. Sometimes, offending scenes were cut from the episode after its Sydney airing and were not seen when episode screened elsewhere. Consequently, the first episodes feature cuts and screen blackouts. Paperwork about the offensive material, which includes most of the Black Mass, survives with the National Film and Sound Archive, but the actual reel of footage has never been found. Eventually, due to the show's popularity, the control board relaxed its restrictions and stopped previewing episodes. By the time the show was winding up in 1977, nobody seemed to be checking its output, which was far racier than anything that had been dared in its early years when it was under constant surveillance.



In addition to the four Logies won by cast member Pat McDonald during her run with the show, Number 96 won both the "Raw Prawn" award in 1976 for Worst Drama, and "Best Drama" Logies in 1974, 1975, and 1976. Actor Bunney Brooke won the "Best Actress" Logie Award for her work as Flo in 1975.[9]

The series cast became stars in Australia and had their own Number 96 passenger train, specially designed for cast and crew travel, which for the show's first few years they would take the train from Sydney to Melbourne for the annual TV Week Logie Awards in a silver multicarriaged train with the commissioner's carriage hooked up at the rear for VIPs. This train was specially organised by publicity director Tom Greer. The 16-hour overnight journey left from the centre of Sydney at 4:30 pm with a farewell party, complete with red carpet and jazz band in attendance; it featured whistle stops at country sidings and saw thousands of people turn out to see their favourite stars, before it arrived at Spencer Street station. These whistle stops were all beamed back by television stations and went live to air. The rail service of the time was keen to promote its overnight tourism packages, and for the journey, the train was christened as the Spirit of 96.[1]

A humorous story, as told by Greer, was the engagement of a piano player (the outrageous John McDonald) to entertain the cast on the train on the way to Melbourne. John could only play upright pianos. The railways rang and said they could not get the upright around the passageway corners of the train so it would be impossible to get it on board. Greer demanded it be put on the train somehow even if it meant dismantling the piano and putting it back together – "key by key". In desperation, engineers arrived and took off the side of the carriage, loaded the piano on with a forklift, before replacing the carriage wall. The train used green steam locomotive number 3801, which frequently operated the Spirit of Progress train service between Sydney and Melbourne.



Eight paperback novelisations (1972–74) were sold under the Arkon [10] imprint by Angus & Robertson. Some of these were credited to "Marina Campbell", a pseudonym of Anne Harrax.[11] An original novel, 96 (Cover title: Number 96), was published by Stag in 1976.[12]

In 1975, the Number 96 Cookbook was released in Australia by publisher Pacific Magazines (Family Circle)]; it featured photographs and recipes from eight members of the cast.[13]

The series celebrated 1,000 episodes in 1976 with a compilation special, Number 96: And They Said It Wouldn't Last, which reviewed the show's most famous story lines and recounted the exploits of its departed main characters. And They Said It Wouldn't Last was repeated at the start of 1977 with a new ending presented by Dina Mann. It is featured on the first DVD release, along with a new documentary that covered the show's final 200 episodes.

International screenings


Cast members were amazed to learn the show briefly screened overseas. Cast member Bettina Welch reported seeing it dubbed in Italy, but this was never confirmed. Despite a short late-night run in Toronto, Canada, on edgy network Citytv, the content was too explicit for any US and UK television network. An attempt to sell the show at Cannes TV Festival in 1975 by using a topless model backfired when British newspaper Daily Mirror reported it got "a swift 'No Entry' sign" from their broadcasters the BBC and ATV."[14]

Maggie Cameron portrayed by Bettina Welch

American version


In 1980, a short-lived US remake of the same name on NBC retained the comedy, but toned down the sexual elements of the series. The series was launched over three consecutive nights, from 10 to 12 December. US television and TV Guide promotions for the series used advertising hyperbole, suggesting that the series had been "banned in Australia". The nudity and racy content of the original series were not present in the remake; it probably would not have been allowed in the US due to censorship standards there, so the US version only hinted at the sexual content that had been on display in the original. The US version of Number 96 was quickly cancelled due to low ratings. The US show was finally aired in parts of Australia in 1986.


SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
19721–20113 March 1972 (1972-03-13)15 December 1972 (1972-12-15)
1973202–4458 January 1973 (1973-01-08)14 December 1973 (1973-12-14)
1974446–66928 January 1974 (1974-01-28)15 December 1974 (1974-12-15)
Film5 May 1974 (1974-05-05)
1975670–91013 January 1975 (1975-01-13)12 December 1975 (1975-12-12)
1976911–109819 January 1976 (1976-01-19)7 December 1976 (1976-12-07)
19771099–121818 January 1977 (1977-01-18)11 August 1977 (1977-08-11)



From 4 February 1980, TEN-10 in Sydney commenced repeating the series at midnight Mondays through Thursdays, starting from episode 585, the first episode fully produced in colour.[15] In 1994, Network Ten repeated the 1976 special And They Said It Wouldn't Last with a new introduction by Abigail.

In November 1996, Network Ten screened a re-run of Number 96: The Movie.

Though the complete run of colour episodes (585–1218) survive, the National Film and Sound Archive retains only 19 of the first 584 black-and-white episodes. The rest were lost when the show switched to colour, with the master tapes wiped by the network for re-use, or made into a "foyer display". The first three weeks (episodes 1–15), episodes 31–35 and two episodes from the 1974 black and white series (episodes 450 and 534) survive. With the exception of episodes 11, 12, 14, 15 and 534, all available black-and-white episodes have been released on DVD, along with Number 96: The Movie and the 1974 and 1975 episodes 649–712, 832–847. As of March 2022, 96 of 1218 episodes have been released in some form, with 560 episodes presumed lost.

Home media


Number 96: The Movie was released in a 2-disc collectors edition on Region 4 on DVD by Umbrella Entertainment, who subsequently released three volumes of episodes across 4 discs each. Number 96: The Movie was also included the compilation Ozploitation: Volume 4 with five other Australian exploitation films.

Release No. of
Region 4 (Australia) Includes
Number 96: Collectors Edition 10 July 2006
  • Number 96: The Movie (1974)[16]
  • audio commentary by Elaine Lee (Vera), creator David Sale and TV commentator Andrew Mercado
  • original draft screenplay (DVD-ROM)
  • And They Said It Wouldn't Last, a 1976 documentary special celebrating the show's 1000th episode, with an introduction by Abigail from 1994
  • The Final Years, a 2006 documentary covering the last 218 episodes, with interviews with Elaine Lee (Vera), Sheila Kennelly (Norma), Wendy Blacklock (Edie), Deborah Gray (Miss Hemingway), David Sale and Andrew Mercado
  • archive footage of the cast's Spirit of 96 train journey to attended the 1975 Logies in Melbourne
Number 96: The Pantyhose Strangler 32 August 30, 2008
  • episodes 649–680 (which originally aired from Nov 8, 1974 to Jan 27, 1975)[17]
  • audio commentary by Chantal Contouri (Tracey) and Andrew Mercado
  • archive footage of the announcement of the 2006 DVD release aired on Network Ten News
  • stills gallery
Number 96: Aftermath of Murder 32 March 13, 2010
  • episodes 681–712 (which originally aired from Jan 28 to March 12, 1975)[18]
  • audio commentary by Elisabeth Kirkby (Lucy), Carol Raye (Amanda) and Andrew Mercado
  • The Australian Way: A Salute to Aussie Sex Appeal, a 1982 television special hosted by Good Morning Australia's host Gordon Elliott and Joanna Lockwood in a clip segment that features Abigail as a special guest.
  • 1976 "Adults Only" television promo for And They Said It Wouldn't Last
  • archival Christmas cast messages from 1975
  • archive footage of the announcement of the 2008 DVD release aired on Network Ten News, includes reunion between Chantal Contouri (Tracey) and Pamela Garrick (Patti)
Number 96: The Beginning and the Bomb 32 March 13, 2012
  • episodes 1–10, 13, 31, 33–35 (which originally aired between March 13 to April 27, 1972)
  • episode 450 (Feb 1, 1974)
  • episodes 832–847 (Aug 27 to Sep 16, 1975)[19]
  • audio interviews by author Nigel Giles with James Elliott (Alf) and director Peter Benardos
  • audio commentary by The Honourable Michael Kirby and Andrew Mercado
  • 2009 interview by Andrew Mercado with Elaine Lee (Vera) and David Sale
  • 2009 interview by Angela Bishop with Elisabeth Kirkby (Lucy)
  • downloadable PDFs of original press clippings and advertisements

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq Giles, Nigel "NUMBER 96: Australian TV's Most Notorious Address", published by Melbourne Books, 2007 ISBN 978-1-925556-00-1
  2. ^ a b Andrew Mercado. "NUMBER 96:EPISODES 1003 AND 1004:'IT'S A RATHER DELICATE MATTER'". National Film and Sound Archive.
  3. ^ "When TV lost its innocence". 10 March 2012.
  4. ^ a b "With Number 96, Australia brought queer people to TV decades before anyone else". 15 July 2019.
  5. ^ a b Monaghan, Whitney (February 2020). "Lesbian, gay and bisexual representation on Australian entertainment television: 1970–2000". Media International Australia. 174 (1): 49–58. doi:10.1177/1329878X19876330. ISSN 1329-878X.
  6. ^ a b Adir, Karen (2001). The Great Clowns of American Television. McFarland. p. 260. ISBN 9780786413034.
  7. ^ Sparta, Christie. "Emergence from the Closet". USA Today.
  8. ^ McLean, Ian (4 August 2008). "Luna Park: Just for fun, just for the record – Have Phaser, Will Travel". Retrieved 4 August 2008.
  9. ^ Clarske, David and Steve Samuelson. 50 Years: Celebrating a Half-Century of Australian Television, Random House: Milsons Point, NSW, 2006. ISBN 1-74166-024-6 pp. 151–60
  10. ^ Arkon Paperbacks (Angus & Robertson) - Book Series List, Retrieved 30 October 2022.
  11. ^ Arnold, John; Hay, John (1980). The Bibliography of Australian Literature, Volume 3. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. ISBN 9780702235009.
  12. ^ 96. Hong Kong: Stag Publications. 1976. ISBN 0725205628.
  13. ^ Hayes, Joy (1975). The Bibliography of Australian Literature, Volume 3. North Sydney, N.S.W.: Family Circle Publications. ISBN 978-0702235009.
  14. ^ Daily Mirror, 26 April 1975.
  15. ^ Groves, Don and Jacqueline Lee Lewes. Overflow of TV soapies. The Sun Herald: Sunday 20 January 1980, p.42.
  16. ^ McLean, Ian. "Number 96 episode guide: 1977 (cont.)... And in later years..." Retrieved 10 July 2006.
  17. ^ McLean, Ian (17 May 2008). "Beware The Pantyhose Strangler! – Have Phaser, Will Travel". Retrieved 17 May 2008.
  18. ^ McLean, Ian (11 November 2009). "Number 96 DVD update! – Have Phaser, Will Travel". Retrieved 11 November 2009.
  19. ^ McLean, Ian (26 September 2011). "Finally, more Number 96 DVDs are coming! – Have Phaser, Will Travel". Retrieved 28 September 2011.