Sunday, July 08, 2007

Number 96 and the Demidenko connection

Well, what a surprise! Viewers of tonight's "Where Are They Now" probably guessed that the two (extra) special guests on the "Number 96" reunion special would be iconic members of the cast, but I was anticipating Joe Hasham (as homosexual law student, Don Finlayson) and Abigail (as the vivacious but virginal Bev Houghton).

Now, I did know that the researchers at Network 7 really wanted Abigail on the show, and were having trouble tracking her down last year; she was thought to be in Europe, and even her agent had not heard from her in ages. Joe wasn't a difficulty; he'd already been a surprise guest for John Orcsik in the old Peter Luck version of "Where Are They Now" (1997).

It was a thrill to learn that Chard Hayward (as Don's campy lover, Dudley Butterfield) had agreed to return to Australia for "Where Are They Now", to catch up with his former cast mates after 30 years. About ten years ago, the cast had tried to involve Chard with a literary project they were working on, but he preferred to stay focused on his new life as a director/actor in the USA. (Maybe you noticed his credit on early episodes of "Lost", on which he consulted about the Australian aspects of the scripts?)

Tonight's show can be summarised thusly:
WHERE ARE THEY NOW. (8/7/2007)
Presented by Melissa Doyle and David Koche. Featured Jeff Kevin (Arnold Feather), Sheila Kennelly (Norma Whittaker), Elaine Lee (Vera Collins Sutton), James Elliott (Alf Sutcliffe), Elisabeth Kirkby (Lucy Sutcliffe), Frances Hargreaves (Marilyn MacDonald), Chantal Contouri (as the pantyhose strangler herself: Tracey Wilson), and surprise guests, Joe Hasham (Don Finlayson) and Chard Hayward (Dudley Butterfield).

From the Archives: Ian McLean meets the Pantyhose Strangler!

But for me, the biggest surprise tonight happened after the "Number 96" segment: the appearance of controversial author, Helen Demidenko (aka Helen Darville, now aka Helen Dale), of "The Hand That Signed the Paper" infamy! What an amazing personal coincidence! You don't see a connection? Please allow me to explain:

Way back in 1995, I received the wonderful news that publishing company Allen & Unwin was considering offering me a contract for the book I'd proposed (and had half-finished): my social history on "Number 96". My agent, Selwa Anthony, and I had just had lunch with the Allen & Unwin editor, and it all seemed extremely positive.

Arriving home, I immediately rang four people who'd been of significant assistance in getting my proposal out into the world of publishing: Nancy Cash, widow of Don Cash, from the team who originally produced "Number 96; David Sale, the creator of the show, who'd been so supportive and generous of his time; and Valerie Parv and Natalie Jane Prior, two longtime friends who'd already become successful, published authors.

After his encouraging words of hopeful congratulation for the safe arrival of my first contract, David Sale had made some very witty jokes about Allen & Unwin's then-current debacle to do with Helen Demidenko, and the accusations of misrepresentation and plagiarism that were dogging her. It had been the only news event being talked about that whole week. David suggested I could impress Allen & Unwin by changing my name - to Ian Demidenko, or perhaps Ian Sale - and gain some extra notoriety for my book.

We'd fallen about hysterically but then I attempted to convey these same jokes to my pal Natalie, along with my news. Natalie was naturally thrilled for me having had what seemed to be such a successful meeting with my editor, and that we were about to share publishers, since Allen & Unwin had already published several of Natalie's children's books (including "The Paw"). Strangely, though, Natalie seemed rather cool towards the jokes at Ms Demidenko/Darville's expense. Of course, I had no way of knowing that said Helen D. had been hiding out at Natalie's house all week, in secret, and on the run from the media frenzy Helen had managed to create! (A few days later, a Sydney newspaper's poster outside the newsagents screamed, "Friend tells of Darville's lies!")

Alas, my book on "Number 96" ended up not happening - the Allen & Unwin marketing people were rightly concerned there was no longer a big enough demographic wanting to buy a book about "Number 96"- sigh! - but my big day did end up in a book after all: "The Demidenko Diary" by Natalie Jane Prior, in which Natalie told the world of her bizarre association with the person who perpetrated one of Australia's most famous cases of literary fraud.

A quote from page 139, which takes place after another frantic day of Natalie fielding phone calls and complications about Helen and the employees at Allen & Unwin: "After all this I was a wreck. I had to take a few other calls, including one from a friend to say that his first book looked likely to be published by - you guessed it - Allen & Unwin". (Prior, Reed Books: 1996.)

Sometimes coincidence and serendipity create a synergy that really freaks me out. And here I was yesterday, saying I felt a bit left out of the reunion. (Especially after hearing that my old friend Andrew Mercado had been in the studio for the taping...) Thanks Network 7 for a fun show tonight, and for one more very bizarre coincidence!

By the way, for people searching out Chantal Contouri's Adelaide restaurant, it would seem to be the Original Barbecue Inn.


TelevisionAU said...

unfortunate that network rivalry most likely prevented them from getting Tom Oliver (now in Neighbours) to appear on the reunion.

Therin of Andor said...

Not at all. There's only so many people you can crowd around that couch. In fact, Tom Oliver has discussed "Number 96" in some detail on shows such as "Burke's Backyard". (I even helped them select the footage.) He discussed how he often feels that Lou Carpenter and Jack Sellars are the same character, at different stages of their lives. Same dirty laugh, too.

But a few years ago, Tom Oliver was invited to be a different TV gathering and he surprised the researchers by declining. He felt he was "all talked out" on "Number 96".

Similarly, when the "96" movie was doing midnight screenings in Melbourne about twelve years ago, Tom was invited to launch them, but declined. The previous month he'd happily launched a revival - at the same theatre - of "ABBA: The Movie".