Australian TV has undergone dramatic changes over the years, but one of its biggest transformations took place throughout the 1970s.
Whether it was a sexy soap airing the first ever topless scenes, famed stars launching their own chat shows or games shows, or some of the country’s most memorable TV series debuting for the very first time, there were endless memorable moments many people will fondly remember growing up with.
And, of course, who could forget the infamous Prince Charles interview on Countdown? Or in fact, Bert Newton’s epic fail at the Logies?
Here’s a look back at some of the top moments from the much-loved decade:
When sexy soap Number 96 premiered in 1972 it sparked a huge reaction – particularly after one newspaper headline promised Aussie viewers their TV had finally “lost its virginity” – and it didn’t disappoint.
With the first gay kiss between two men on primetime TV, the first actress to go topless and even a full frontal scene from Deborah Grey, it left audiences gobsmacked with the amount of boundaries it crossed at the time.
Actress Vivienne Garrett was applauded as the first woman to go topless on screen, while Joe Hasham was filmed kissing another man for the first time and there was even a dramatic bomb explosion in the Godolfus’ deli on the ground floor of Number 96 which became one of the most memorable cliffhangers in Aussie TV history.
Now viewers take high definition colour TV for granted, but you don’t have to look too far back to remember a time it was only broadcast in black and white.
The great switch happened on March 1, 1975, suddenly bringing TV shows, movies and soaps to life in a whole new way with a rainbow of colours on screen.
The main networks celebrated on the day with their own slogans. For ABC TV it was ‘Come to Colour’, while the Seven Network chose ‘Seven Colours Your World’ and the Nine network had ‘Living Colour’. Meanwhile, 0-10 Network – which later became Network 10 – chose ‘0 – First in Colour’.
The start of Countdown was met with mixed reviews in 1974 but it shot to popularity thanks to a very surprising guest just three years later.
Prince Charles himself appeared on the show with Molly Meldrum in 1977, but it couldn’t have gone much worse. The TV show host was slammed at the time for mumbling and appearing lost for words throughout – with one of his first lines being: “Your Royal Highness… oh, oh, I’m sweating like a pig.”
In an incredible dig at Meldrum years later, the prince recorded a video message poking fun at the awkward chat, saying: “There is an old show business saying which warns never to work with animals or children but nobody prepared me for Molly Meldrum.”
Referencing Meldrum’s swearing on air, as he struggled to keep control of his chat, the prince added in his message: “I certainly learned some, um, interesting new Australian words from Mr Meldrum… And if he could have read my mind he could have learned some interesting new English words from me.”
Three of the most popular and memorable TV series in Aussie history are The Sullivans, The Young Doctors and Prisoner – and all three debuted in the magical ’70s.
The Sullivans followed the lives of a family living in Melbourne after World War II. With moving and funny family moments throughout, including the heartbreaking death of one of the lead characters, it quickly soared to success from 1976 onwards.
It was joined the same year by The Young Doctors which followed the lives of the doctors, nurses and patients at Sydney’s Albert Memorial Hospital, with drama from start to finish.
And just three years later, there was more competition in the drama industry as Prisoner burst on to screens, bringing some of the most gripping and confronting scenes yet.
From Maggie Kirkpatrick who played notorious character Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson, to ‘Queen’ Bea Smith actress Val Lehman, Meg Morris actress Elspeth Ballantyne and more, they all shared a close bond on and off screen for years.
While Aussie TV audiences had been treated to variety TV before, no show had arguably gained as much popularity as Hey Hey It’s Saturday – which first aired in October 1971 and continued right through to the late 1990s.
Its host throughout the entire run was Daryl Somers, who later also became executive producer of the program. He and Ernie Carroll’s Ossie Ostrich provided ‘top and tail’ segments between cartoon episodes with endless comedy throughout. In fact, it reached such huge ratings it was even re-made in recent years.
It’s now one of the most watched and loved current affairs shows on TV screens, but Channel 9’s A Current Affair was actually first broadcast in November 1971 – and following a break off air later in the decade, it’s continued to grow in reach ever since.
Mike Willesee was the first host to lead the show in the ’70s, and was even joined for a short time by comedian and actor Paul Hogan, who had a comic social commentary segment. It went off air towards the end of the ’70s due to strong competition, but was revived again in the ’80s with a new line-up.
He was already a hit star in the limelight and Paul Hogan delighted his fans in 1973 when he launched his own comedy show, The Paul Hogan Show.
Hogan would often start each episode by playing another version of himself, named ‘Hoges’, in a stand-up comedy routine. The show then presented a series of comedy sketches, usually with Hogan in the lead role and playing various recurring characters.
It proved such a success – running right through to 1984 – that it eventually launched the actor and comedian’s time on Crocodile Dundee.
When TV show host Ernie Sigley got into a heavy dispute with media tycoon Kerry Packer in 1975, US singer Don Lane came to the rescue and stepped in to host In Melbourne Tonight with Bert Newton – immediately making the show a roaring success.
As ratings soared through the roof, it was renamed The Don Lane Show and gave Australian TV some of it’s most memorable moments.
From 1975 to 1983, Lane was the top dog of Aussie television with his amazing singing starting and ending each program, as well as some memorable guests joining him on the show. They included the late comedian Robin Williams in his first TV talk show interview, as well as a memorable moment when the host lost his cool at magician James Randi.
Some TV mishaps disappear with time, while others remain firmly planted in our memory for life. Unfortunately for Aussie favourite Bert Newton, his major Logies disaster falls into the latter bracket.
Muhammad Ali was invited as a guest of honour to the 1979 Logies and appeared onstage alongside Newton to present the final award.
After exchanging some light-hearted banter, Ali said to his companion: “I was told I was coming here to give out an award, they didn’t tell me I was going to do an interview.”
Apparently unaware of what it could mean, or simply not planning his words in advance, Newton replied: “I like the boy” – a remark that is considered racist by many.
Ali responded: “Did you say Roy or boy?” To which a worried-looking Newton responded: “I said ‘I like the boy’.” He turned to the audience, realising something was wrong, before asking: “Is there anything wrong with saying that?”
As shouts came from the audience, with some spectators shouting, “Roy”, he stepped back and attempted to cover up his mistake by joking: “Hang on, hang on. I’ll change religion for you, I’ll do anything, I don’t care.”
Luckily, Ali took the error good-naturedly.