Today I celebrate an exciting eBay auction win! I've been searching for my own copy of Call Me Abigail (above) since at least 1978. Distributed by Gordon & Gotch, I'm sure I recall seeing copies of the book in local newsagents and bookstores in the early 70s, just as I'd seen many a copy of the infamous Number 96 Cookbook at supermarket cash register stands. But I didn't start collecting "Number 96" material until I heard a radio advertisement for a huge Angus & Robertson book sale, not long after the TV series was axed and off the air, which included the exclamation, "Number 96 paperbacks: only 10 cents each!" (Not a bad price, considering that several of those fictional, Mills & Boon-style paperbacks were originally carrying a recommended retail cover price of just "96 cents"! Tee hee! Cute marketing.)
After quite a bit of detective work, I had almost-pristine copies of seven of the (eight) remaindered Arkon novelizations of early "Number 96" episodes. (I shall list them all here and review them some day; I've never really had the room to include much about these books on my "Number 96" home page.) I found one more elusive title, years later, in a second hand bookshop, even though I'd tried to confirm with the original publishers that only seven titles had ever been published.
My first trip to the wonderful Berkelouw's Book Barn at Berrima, in the early 80s, landed me my own copy of the Number 96 Cookbook (with intact iron-on transfer of the show's logo!) for a very reasonable price. Over the years, several people finding my website have offered me their copies of the cookbook, but there was a great thrill when finding that first one.
In more recent years, I've added numerous other "Number 96" literary treasures to my collection, including an original "Number 96" novel from 1976 (set not long after the bomb episode): a book which I'd never even heard about until my appearance on "Tonight Live with Steve Vizard" in the 90s. In fact, the day Ron Shand (Herb Evans) passed away, I was in a second hand bookshop in Leichhardt searching for that darn novel. Mysteriously, I found it in the same shop just a few weeks later. (Thanks for looking out for me, Herbie-Berb! It was much appreciated.)
There are also: several non-96 thrillers by writer David Sale; a non-96 romance novel by Nancy Cash; wacky little witchcraft books by Deborah Gray (Miss Hemingway); and a TV script book called Zoom In (1977), which contains the teleplay for Episode #1000; and numerous reference books that mention the show. I also treasure my copy of Patti Crocker's Radio Days (1989), with its brief chapter about her stint as Eileen Chester in "Number 96".
But Call Me Abigail had eluded me! (Until now!) Month after month, year after year... every time I visit a second hand bookstore, especially tiny, forgotten country stores (where rare books are sometimes way underpriced), I headed straight for the Biography and Showbiz sections. But think about it: if the store alphabetises by author, then any book by someone called Abigail (no regular surname) is going to be the very first item on the shelf. Call Me Abigail no doubt catches the attention of the first casual browser to happen in after the book has been placed on the shelf. Sigh. Well, that's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.
In any case, I made what I thought was a reasonable bid on this book that had become such a coveted Holy Grail over the last 28 years of searching, only to see the price creep up past my original online reserve. Drat! At the last minute, I recalculated whether or not I really needed this item and boldly outbid the rest. Declared triumphant, I requested the eBay seller to quote me the extra amount required to ensure registered postal rates for my purchase. Happily, the seller agreed, making the price an extravagant - yet highly appropriate - and coincidental $96!!!! How bizarre is that? And a not-too-shabby investment on a book that had a 1973 shelf price of $1.85, and marked down to some lucky person for 95 cents.
When I was researching my social history on "Number 96", I discovered a humorous old article about two potential rivals for Call Me Abigail that never happened. Candida Raymond played Jill Sheridan in the series - and was, coincidentally, the real-life sister of Victoria Raymond, the actress who took over the part of Bev Houghton when Abigail was fired. Candy used to fib to the TV magazines that she was only in "Number 96" to research a university thesis! That was her story, anyway. In another article, she told TV Week of her plans to top Abigail's literary efforts, and to write her own racy autobiography, Call Me Candy. But my favourite story came from Pat McDonald and Bunney Brooke, who played pensioners Dorrie Evans and Flo Patterson. In the same article, they told the reporter that they were planning their own tell-all book, entitled: Call Us, Please.