John Farnham is a prominent figure in the local music industry,
with a successful singing career that has spanned several decades. Much less is
known of his career as an actor. Having appeared in various pantomimes, Farnhams
acting potential did not go unnoticed by Crawford Productions, and the company spent some time
trying to develop a suitable vehicle for him. They eventually came up with Bobby Dazzler.
Farnham was first approached by Crawfords in 1973 to
appear in a guest role in episode 32 of Ryan, A Song For Julie,
which was written with him in mind. He was
to play the part of Johnny Wyatt, a touring pop singer that private detective Ryan has
dealings with, and who becomes romantically involved with Ryans secretary Julie King
(played by Pamela Stephenson). However, Farnham could not accept the role because of
concert commitments in Perth, and after deferring the episode for as long
as possible, the part was given to John Diedrich (who later appeared
as Det. Dawson in Bluey).
March 1975 saw Farnhams television acting
debut in episode 293 of Division 4, Once Upon A Time. This was the only
episode of Division 4 written purely as a comedy, and Farnham was featured as a
young man trying to raise enough money to marry the girl of his dreams, by way of an inept
robbery attempt on a local finance company.
Following his Division 4 appearance, Farnham
was cast in Ashes To Ashes, episode 17 of the Crawford comedy series The
Last Of The Australians. He played a door to door vacuum cleaner salesman who is one
of a number of visitors interrupting Ted Cooks day off to watch the cricket
Crawford Productions then devised a comedy series
featuring Farnham and Gordon Chater (formerly of My Name's McGooley -
What's Yours?), entitled Me & Mr. Thorne. In an update of
the classic Sherlock Holmes format, Farnhams character, Bobby Fletcher, was the
sidekick of Mr. Thorne - an antique bookseller and amateur sleuth. An excellent pilot
episode was made, written by Terry Stapleton, directed by Paul Eddey and produced by Henry
Crawford and Ian Crawford. The regular cast was to feature Beverley Philips along with
Farnham and Chater, and the guest cast included Chuck Faulkner, Roger Ward, Katie Shiel,
John Clayton and Denise Drysdale.
TV Week reviewer Frank
Crooks reaction was typical of the response to the pilot: "Gordon Chaters
performance as Thorne is a sheer delight... and Johnny Farnham is not far behind him. It
is patently obvious from Me & Mr. Thorne that Farnham could very soon become one
of Australias top acting talents... the sooner it becomes a regular series, the
It was not to be. At this time, Crawford Productions
three police series (Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock Police) had all
been axed in quick succession, and there was (and still is) strong suspicion within the
industry that the axing was a deliberate manoeuvre by the three networks acting in
collusion. The aim was to severely limit the viability of Crawford Productions and, by
extension, severely inhibit the viability of Australian drama production and therefore
weaken the case for Australian content regulations. In this climate, it
was hardly surprising that Me & Mr. Thorne never went into series
production. Frank Crooks article was headed
When Will They Program It? The pilot, produced in late 1975, was considered
by ATV-0 and then by the Seven Network, and Crawfords were awaiting a decision for a long time before
being finally advised by Seven that they would not proceed with a series. The pilot was
eventually screened by Seven later in 1976.
And so to Bobby Dazzler.
Crawfords were still keen to find a suitable vehicle for Farnham, and Bobby Dazzler
was created by Terry Stapleton with Farnham in mind. The pilot episode set the scene - a
young singer, Bobby Farrell, releases a record and seeks a manager to steer him on a
successful career. Meanwhile, his father Fred, a former vaudeville performer, re-enters
his life after an absence of many years, and proceeds to move into Bobbys flat, much
to his (and his new managers) dismay. Cast alongside Farnham (as Bobby Farrell) were
Olivia Hamnett as Della McDermott, the new manager, and Maurie Fields as Fred Farrell, the
errant father. Terry Norris also appeared in a support role, as Bobbys Uncle Oz.
(Contrary to the entry in Morans Guide To Australian TV Series, Maurie Fields
did not play the manager.) 2
The pilot was produced
in April 1976, and was quite entertaining, with guest roles by
Sigrid Thornton and Sheila Helpmann. It ends with the single reaching number one, and
Della McDermott ordering Bobby to get rid of his father. Bobby replies that his father
will only be staying for another night - or two, and smiles.
In the pilots original ending, Farnhams
smile fades to a look of great sadness over which fades in the sound of Farnham and Maurie
Fields singing Wont You Come Home Bill Bailey. In the closing credits
for this original ending he is billed as John Farnham for the first time in his career.
This ending was subsequently edited out of the episode, and the end credit was modified to
read Johnny Farnham.
The Seven Network gave the go-ahead for a 13 episode
series, which entered production in November 1976. Together with the pilot, this
made a total of 14 half-hour episodes. Produced on video in colour, all episodes were
written by Terry Stapleton, and executive producers were Ian Crawford and Ian Jones.
Production Manager was David Lee. The series was produced by Marie Trevor, the pilot being
produced by Henry Crawford, and Directors of the series were Marie Trevor and John Jacob,
the pilot being directed by Marie Trevor and Ian Crawford.
Maurie Fields had to give up his
long-running role of John Quinney in the ABC serial Bellbird to take the
part in Bobby Dazzler. "I am very sad to leave Bellbird
as nine years is a lot to be grateful for," said Maurie. "Now I want to
concentrate on Dazzler exclusively. This new role gives me the
opportunity to combine my variety and vaudeville experience with serious acting."3
Farnham gave a promising performance in the lead
role, displaying a deft comedic touch and handling the occasional serious scenes
thoughtfully and sensitively. "The series is not based on my life and
career as a singer," said Farnham, "but obviously there'll be material
based on the sort of experiences I've had, and the sort of things that
have happened to most pop singers in Australia."4
Casting Maurie Fields was an inspired choice. His musical
ability, comedy timing and background as an all-round entertainer made him a natural as
Fred Farrell. The interplay between Farnham and Fields received much praise, the chemistry
between the two performers making all their scenes together immensely enjoyable,
particularly those where they perform a song as a duet. Inevitably, all episodes featured
at least one song by Farnham or Farnham and Fields together (with Fields playing ukelele),
which was usually repeated over the end credits.
"Although I have never worked with John Farnham
before, we are both very comfortable in our roles," said Maurie Fields.
"Everyone, including us, was surprised at the natural blending of our two
Carla Hoogeveen featured in a storyline that spanned
three episodes as Bobbys girlfriend Allison.
"I didn't even have to
audition for it," said Carla, "the lady who was casting said 'We just knew
you could do it'. There was quite a nice balance of people in Bobby Dazzler. I enjoyed
Carla also had praise for Farnham's ability:
"John is a charming, straightforward person. He is quite understated and humble, and of course
he is tremendously talented. At the time there was a lot of backbiting about him because
of the 'Sadie' image,7 and people were ready to write him off, and the same people are now
falling over themselves praising him. At the time of Bobby Dazzler I was standing up for him,
and I used to get really angry when people wouldn't let him out of his young 'Sadie' pop
star image. Obviously he has a wonderful voice, and I think he has a natural comedy
talent. I'm very happy he has done well, he deserves it."8
Lucky Grills and Garry Meadows made
appearances as themselves in an episode, taking part in a channel 7 telethon - it included
some references to Grills role in the Crawford police series Bluey, which was
in production for the Seven network at the same time.
HSV-7 in Melbourne, unfortunately, did not give Bobby
Dazzler much of a chance - after sitting on the programme for the best part of a year,
the first episode finally went to air on November 20, 1977. The bulk of the series was
shown during the 1977-78 summer non-ratings silly season, and went through a
timeslot change which did nothing to encourage regular viewers. On the few weeks that
ratings surveys were taken it only reached 14. Needless to say, a second series was not
However, the programme was given some recognition:
Terry Stapleton won a 1977 Sammy award for Best Writer For TV Comedy.
After Bobby Dazzler,
Farnham concentrated on his music career and did little acting work. In 1986 he returned to the charts
in a big way with a number one
single, Youre The Voice, followed by a number one album, Whispering
BOBBY DAZZLER EPISODE DETAILS