Carol Raye writes to Kerry Stokes in plea for Mavis Bramston DVD

2014-09-03_2150As political satires go, it was a pioneering Australian show.

When The Mavis Bramston Show aired on Seven from 1964 – 1968 we’d never seen anything like it: a live, weekly show dealing with storiesthe news with a comedic edge.

In one episode alone it tackled a visit by the US Vice President to Australia, the introduction of female roller skating to Australia, homosexuality, censorship, price fixing, child endowment, the White Australia Policy, and how the introduction of computers would impact on office secretaries.

2014 marks 50 years since the show premiered on Australian television. 91 year old Carol Raye (pictured, centre) still remembers the way it upset the clergy and the lengths viewers would go to watch the show.

“Qantas pilots tried to change their schedules and the shopping centre in Canberra asked could we change the night because nobody came?” she recalls.

“Cardinal Gilroy in Sydney told all his parishoners that they had to sell their (sponsor) Ampol shares. We were naughty, we said the odd word like ‘bum’ which I don’t think had been said.”

British-born Raye had only been in Sydney a few months when she suggested the show to Seven, and was quickly appointed as one of Bramston’s founding co-producers.

“I had just arrived in Australia and I joined Channel Seven as a producer and was told to come up with some ideas for a late night show. Seven’s ratings weren’t very good and they wanted to knock off Graham Kennedy. In Melbourne Tonight was a huge success,” she explains.

“I’d just come from England and was very influenced by a show that was a huge success in London, That Was The Week That Was with David Frost. It was really a journalistic satire.

“It wasn’t just lots of funny ha-ha jokes. It was political comedy.”

Coaxed into performing in its first season, she was joined by Gordon Chater (left) and Barry Creighton (right), with music by Tommy Tycho and led by writer Michael Plant.

“Channel Seven’s General Manager said to me, ‘Carol the trouble with you is you’re far too BBC. Australians are not ready to laugh at themselves.’

“And I said ‘I don’t believe that. Everybody laughs at themselves if it’s funny.’

“So I was given 1200 pounds and told to make a pilot.”

The Logie-winning show ran for 4 years with a rotating ensemble cast including Hazel Phillips, John Bluthal, June Salter, Ron Frazer, Barbara Angell, Bryan Davies, Maggie Dence, Noeline Brown and Reg Livermore. Film Director Peter Weir was a production assistant.

Despite its early production, some 90 reels of episodes and segments have been preserved by the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra. Yet no DVD has ever been released, a point which still bothers the still-sprightly Raye.

Never one to take no for an answer, Raye wrote to Seven chairman Kerry Stokes earlier this year, hoping the network boss would give the order to agree to a DVD of the in-house production.

“I wrote to him to say ‘I wanted to remind you it’s 50 years since Bramston show and it was an amazingly brave thing for Channel Seven to do,” she insists.

“You can find bits on YouTube but people always say,’There is no DVD.’

“Many people weren’t even born when we did it, but it was an iconic show.”

After some months, Raye got a phone call out of the blue, albeit not directly from Stokes’ office. But the news wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

“Out of the blue I got a phone call from someone in Children’s Programming,” she recalls.

“The story from Seven was it was too difficult to do a DVD with so many people involved. The legal department don’t like it and get worried. But I pointed out in my letter that Channel TEN had been marvellous and done a very successful DVD with Number 96 and Blankety Blanks. It just seemed ridiculous that a show that had been such an iconic and top of the ratings show was in the archives but there was no DVD.”

Bramston has fallen into the ‘too hard basket’ due to various complications involving clearance issues, the quality of the masters and some hurdles on DVD distribution relating to fully cleared material on an acceptable master.

A Seven spokesperson told TV Tonight, “Carol and the entire team from Bramston is very dear to Seven. They are such an important part of our first days in television, indeed they were pioneers for the industry. Following her inquiry to our Chairman, we have spent some considerable time in here on investigating and chasing how we may or may not be able to release a DVD, given rights issues and tape qualities, and we’ve kept in touch with Carol.

“A DVD release remains a possibility.”

Raye, who has not 1 but 3 iconic shows under her belt including Number 96 and Blankety Blanks, still keeps in touch with her surviving original co-star Barry Creighton.

50 years later they are still drawn to the need for political comedy.

“Barry, who now lives in LA, and I email each other and the politics in both our countries just makes you think ‘Oh my God I wish we were still doing Bramston!’

“I want to do Jacqui Lambie!”


  1. It warms my cockles to read the above and to know that Mavis is remembered with such affection.

    Of the original cast, only Carol and I remain and frankly, we’re both itching to see a DVD or two of the early shows.

    It’s generally recognized that the first 6 shows of 1964 and those of the first months of 1965 were our best and truest to the original directive to satirize politics, religion, bigotry – and our writers’ aim was merciless, always with humor, often with wit.

    Eventually, the show devolved into a gentler, variety format; but for a commercial network to produce a show such as Mavis at all in the 1960s took balls; let’s hope they have the grace, if not the cojones to mark the golden anniversary of the most important TV show of its era.

    Barry Creyton
    Los Angeles

  2. David and Andrew Mercado,

    I guess that the NFSA is for the most part subject to poor funding from governments who are unwilling to prioritise the preservation of Australia’s cultural heritage. And I understand that the NFSA can’t purchase, store or digitise everything that it would like to.

    Is there such a thing as a not-for-profit association that seeks to support, fundraise and advocate for the NFSA? Or more generally, for the preservation and return of Australian film and television archival material?

  3. Hope is not lost. In 2014, three “holy grail” TV programs will get a DVD release. They are Batman (the 1960’s TV series), The Wonder Years and WKRP.

    I have pre-ordered Batman ’66. It will be out on 11/11/2014. The Wonder Years and WKRP will be released in October 2014.

    So if they can resolve all the issues for Batman (ie the cameos, title music , use of the Batmobile, Warner vs Marvel vs Fox, etc) than it can be done dor the Mavis Bramston Show as well.

  4. My point is to put it out on DVD, you have to digitise it first thereby preserving it. The NFSA is holding the videotapes of Mavis but they are now 50 years old – they don’t have the funds to digitise everything in their library unless there is a good reason so the sad truth is it is all slowly rotting away until someone thinks of a commercial reason to show it again – in which cases, the NFSA is very helpful and meets the commercial operator halfway with such costs

  5. @Evan – As WIN used to do (overnight) with their old Crawford shows (Division 4 etc.), until someone thought of releasing them on DVD at exhorbitant prices.

  6. The NFSA collection database shows there are multiple film and/or video copies for most if not all of the series, it seems. Andrew Mercado claiming the NFSA is letting it rot away is an over reaction. And putting something on DVD does not preserve it. Digitising it does preserve it if there are not already copies, but not a DVD.

  7. Rather than a DVD release (which may or may not be commercially successful), they could very easily just replay the surviving episodes… perhaps on a multi-channel &/or overnight.

    Most of us have PVRs, so the time it airs isn’t an issue (as long as the time is accurate).

    Would give Skippy a run for its money at 2am!

  8. I think their reasons are rubbish … really they don’t think it will make enough money!
    There are so many classic shows that we remember from our childhood but can’t get to watch again including Adventure Island (starring John Michael Howson as Clown! … I saw a couple of episodes years ago at the Aust Film and Television Archive in Canberra) and these would sell well outside of the favourite 18 to whatever demographic.
    I would also love to get the variety show that Marcia Hines did years ago, was it called “Music Is My Life”?

  9. There is so much in-house produced content locked away in ABC Archives that is currently marked as ‘not for transmission’ owing to rights clearance issues. Meaning the ABC can not telecast repeats, let alone release onto DVD. Mostly to do with Actors Equity rules relating to payment of royalties, including to estates of long deceased talent and not being able to track them down or the estate beneficiaries asking too much in payment or not allowing re-screening. That is why the ABC schedules so many repeats of overseas content, as those same Actors Equity rules do not apply for foreign content.

  10. Ten have released Number 96. Nine have released The Don Lane Show, Graham Kennedy’s Coast to Coast and Bandstand. Fremantle have released The Young Doctors and Sons and Daughters. Southern Star have released Chances and E Street. Skippy has been out for years and now so is Spyforce. All released on DVD without incident. So whatever Seven is scared of, they need to get over it. They made Mavis Bramston in-house, it is their show and one of the most important shows in the history of Australian TV. 90 episodes are rotting away in the National Film and Sound Archive and releasing it onto DVD preserves those episodes on digital forever. And wouldn’t it be nice to do it now, on its milestone 50th anniversary, while its participants are still alive and can contribute audio commentaries? If Seven can figure out the paperwork to endlessly replay Sons and Daughters across 3 multi channels,…

  11. I have the channel 7 special from many years ago, but just last week I was given a copy of a tape from 1987 – which coincidentally contained over 20 minutes of a full MBS episode. Not only was I in stitches, I was in awe about “how did they get away with that?”

  12. “too difficult to do a DVD with so many people involved”. Ridiculous Seven. WIN/Crawford has released Division 4, Homicide, Carson’s Law, The Sullivans, etc., etc., on DVD.
    Unfortunately, no one does anything of the quality of Mavis anymore. The Catholic church was their best promoter. Advertising & promotion that money couldn’t buy. If it’s too hard for Seven to handle, give it to WIN/Crawfords.

  13. Twenty years ago 7 (and Prime) screened a 30th Anniversary Special of Mavis and I still have a copy of it – what a show Mavis was.

    It was the days before the autocue but Gordon, Carol and Barry managed to get away with reading the opening gags (for ‘Togetherness’) from their clipboards. So up-to-date I’m sure the writers were still writing material 5 mins before the start of each ep.

    This 90 min special (60 mins without the ads) is also noteworthy as it was hosted by a very young (and very well spoken) Amanda Keller with comments from Carol, Andrew Denton, Garry McDonald, Barry and many other Oz notables.

    Would love to get a DVD compilation of the show.

    Do it please 7.

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