Hi ho, Hi ho
It’s far away we go
To a land that’s far across the sea

Hey hey, Hey hey
For a little while we’ll stay
And be home in time for tea

Set sail, set sail
In sunshine or in gale
The fun we’ll have will be really grand

Hurrah, hurrah
Follow the shining star
And come with us to Adventure Island!

Adventure Island was a popular Australian television series for children which screened on the ABC from September 11, 1967 to December 22, 1972 (repeats of the 1969-1972 episodes ran from 1973-1976). The show typically aired from Monday to Friday and each story would stretch across a full week, reaching a resolution on Friday.

Adventure Island was a joint production of Godfrey Productions and the Australian Broadcasting Commission, pre-recorded on videotape at the ABC’s studios in Ripponlea, Melbourne. Production was usually five weeks ahead of broadcast. It was a pantomime-style series set in the kingdom of Diddley-Dum-Diddley. Hostesses were Nancy Cato (not the noted author) from 1967 to 1968 (her final pre-recorded episodes aired at the beginning of 1969) and Sue Donovan from 1969 to 1972.

Regular characters included:

Liza (Liz Harris)
Clown (John-Michael Howson),
Mrs Flower Potts (Brian Crossley),
Percy Panda (Jack Manuel),
Dodo Panda (1967-1969) (Marion Edward),
Betty Bruin (Carole Walker),
Jim (James Smilie).
Baddies including Fester Fumble (Ernie Bourne), Miser Meanie (Colin McEwan (1967-1968), Robert Essex (1969-1972), Captain Crook (Ernie Bourne), Giggles Goblin (Peter Homewood) and Squire Squeezum (Burt Cooper).
Other characters were played by guest artists such as Vivean Gray (playing Mother Sparkle, who became Mother Tinkle – more famously Mrs Jessup in The Sullivans and Mrs Mangle in Neighbours), Patsy King, Brian Hannan, Frank Rich, Mary Hardy, Angela O’Toole and Lindsay Edwards.

Executive producer Godfrey Philipp had studied television abroad and his main influence in the format of Adventure Island had been The Mickey Mouse Club, with its part-ad lib, part-scripted presentation. Godfrey, together with Nancy Cato, John-Michael Howson and Liz Harris were involved in a similar fantasy-drama program called The Magic Circle Club which screened on ATV0 from 1965 to 1967. When the channel axed the show after 555 episodes for cost reasons in July 1967, the ABC expressed interest in continuing production of the show, however this was nixed by Austarama Television’s refusal to relinquish the rights, so a lookalike programme was devised. Creation of Adventure Island was credited to Howson and Philipp, although it is believed Howson invented the entire setting and characters during a short aeroplane trip in mid-1967. He certainly wrote most of the scripts, with others contributed by Peter Homewood. Howson also wrote four storybooks based on the show.

During the Nancy Cato era, Nancy would open the show from an enchanted wood where she would first banter with puppets Gussie Galah (Colin McEwan), Crispian Cockatoo (Ernie Bourne) and Matilda Mouse (Marion Edward). Nancy would then start reading from the Adventure Island book – the story then being played out for viewers by the actual characters. At the conclusion of the chapter, Nancy would talk to a cat puppet (Ernie Bourne) which was named Samson in a viewer competition early in the show’s run. All the show’s puppets were superbly constructed by Axel Axelrad.

When Sue Donovan took over the hosting role, the structure remained the same but each episode began with a conversation with a house (Mister House, later named Serendipity House in a viewer competition – voiced by Jack Manuel and sometimes Ernie Bourne). Sue would walk into the house where she would ad lib with Crispian Cockatoo (Ernie Bourne) and Gracie Galah (Brian Crossley) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and with Maxie Mouse (Ernie Bourne) and a vertical waveform called Chi on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each show would close with Sue talking to Samson the cat, but on Fridays she would click her fingers and magically transport herself to Diddley-Dum-Diddley for a sitdown chat and a cup of tea with all the characters.

The scripted part of the show – the serialised story – usually involved the inhabitants of Diddley-Dum-Diddley being set upon or tricked in some way by one or more of the “baddies”. On many occasions the dimwitted Clown (with sawdust for a brain and an appalling memory) would save the day with his uncanny ability to see through disguises. The show was highly moralistic with a strong “good over evil” motif in every story.

A notable feature of the show was the music. Nearly every moment of the show was accompanied by instrumental improvisation. Each episode also contained two original songs (generally prerecorded and mimed by the actors), written by musical director Bruce Rowland with lyrics usually by Howson. Rowland later found great fame and respect in the field of movie soundtracks. When he left the show in 1971 many of his songs were reused in later episodes.

As colour television was not introduced in Australia until 1975 no episodes of Adventure Island were made in colour. Many viewers believe they saw the show in colour, but this was mainly due to Paul Cleveland’s brilliantly designed sets and the fact that colour photographs of the show have been published since. In 1971 an American network expressed strong interest in the show, so Howson engineered a method by which the show could be simultaneously videotaped in black-and-white and filmed in colour. However his proposal was met with total disinterest by the ABC and never went ahead.

The show’s axing, announced in mid-1972, was highly controversial and an unprecedented flood of public protest ensued. A group of MPs headed by David Kennedy formed a “Save Adventure Island” campaign during which questions were asked in Parliament. However the campaign was unsuccessful and the final episode, number 1175aired on December 22, 1972. Godfrey Philipp had been the mastermind behind the Australian Labor Party’s successful “It’s Time” campaign, which in 1972 brought about a change in government in Australia for the first time in 22 years, so the decision to cancel Adventure Island may have been politically rather than economically motivated.

One Response to “”

  1. james says:

    As a child I was a huge fan of Adventure Island. I sent in drawings and received back a pack of autographed photographs. Fantastic. Imagine my surprise a few years later when the man who made the show, Godfrey Phillip turned up as a “student teacher” at my school in Lismore. I’m sure he must have had a big smile when the young student – obviously a big poof in waiting – brought the photographs for “show and tell”.

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