The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is celebrating 80 years of service. The Powerhouse Museum’s collection includes some great objects relating to the history of Australia’s national broadcaster.
One of my favourites is this old-fashioned style hard cover book, with a crimson leather cover. The narrator of the much-loved children’s TV program Adventure Island introduced each episode by opening this very special book. For a mere television prop, it is a potent symbol of a world of fairy tales and fantasy.
The ABC has produced some long-running programs for the very young, such as Play School and Mr Squiggle. Many would regard these as national treasures. But perhaps fewer people remember Adventure Island, as it only ran for six years and you would need to be of a certain age to have experienced it.
When the Melbourne commercial station Channel 0 axed The Magic Circle Club in 1967, the producer, Godfrey Phillip, took the concept to the ABC and transformed it into Adventure Island. It was aimed at children aged three to nine years and broadcast on weekday afternoons. 1140 episodes were made between late 1967 and 1973.
The program followed the adventures of a group of characters who lived in the village of Diddle Dum in the kingdom of Diddley-Dum-Diddley. The show was created and written by John Michael Howson, who also played the role of Clown. Howson’s enchanting scripts drew on the pantomime tradition, with animal characters and men dressed as dames. Jack Manuel played Percy Panda. Liz Harris appeared as Lisa. The narrator’s role was originally taken by Nancy Cato, then, from 1968, by Sue McIntosh (later known as Sue Donovan, wife of Terence and mother of Jason).
Nancy Cato was a cousin of the Australian novelist with the same name.
She explained the importance of the book to Mark Trevorrow on his 2004 ABC program The Way We Were: ‘That was the book of life … the book of magic … the book of secrets. It was the book of all the stories that have always been told and all the stories that were about to be told.’
The cancellation of Adventure Island sparked audience complaints, heightened by suspicions that it was being replaced by children’s programs from overseas. Godfrey Phillip later produced the classic Grundy soap Prisoner.