Chapter 10: The Adventures of Gerry Gee
During the life of the Children’s Show, roughly from 1957 to 1964, there was no doubt that, so far as audience appeal was concerned, no-one could match Gerry Gee.
Happy Hammond, Geoff Corke (Corky King of the Kids), Professor Ratbaggy (Ernie Carroll, and on occasions myself), Joff Ellen, Susan-Gaye Anderson, Elaine McKenna, Bernard the Magician, Sloppo the Clown (from the Moscow Circus), Norman Swaine (Uncle Norman) and even Ron Blaskett — all played second fiddle to Gerry Gee.
Not everybody was overly happy about this.
One well known personality was once heard to say, “I’m not complaining mate, but how long do I have to go on being upstaged by a log of wood!”
But such was Ron’s skill as a ventriloquist that everybody recognized, albeit reluctantly in some cases, that Gerry was the star personality in the show.
And those of us on the production team for the Children’s Show (The Happy Show, The Tarax Happy Show, The Tarax Show, The Gerry Gee Tarax Show — call it what you will) did our utmost to promote the image of Gerry (that log of wood).
One of our more successful ventures was a series of adventure stories, called “The Adventures of Gerry Gee”. These were a series of “ripping yarns”, “Boys Own Paper” type stories — full of action and excitement. They were shot on 16mm film.
Now you might wonder how we could produce a series of action adventures with a ventriloquial dummy as the hero.
We devised a technique which I am certain had not been tried anywhere in Australia, and possibly nowhere else in the world.
By using a small boy, about eight years old, dressing him in similar clothes to Gerry Gee and providing him with a latex rubber mask duplicating Gerry’s features, we were able to have Gerry Gee walking and running and doing anything else that an eight year old boy can do.
We would then cut to close-ups of the real Gerry Gee for dialogue shots, very often framing Ron Blaskett out of the shot so that Gerry could apparently be talking to someone else, without Ron being anywhere in the vicinity.
The technique seemed to work well.
We produced a number of these adventure stories — each story of three to four episodes and each episode of about five or six minutes duration.
Again it fell to my lot to write and direct these little epics, and from time to time, in addition to our own personalities, we used some well known performers in key roles — people like Ormond Douglas, Sid Conabere, Earl Francis and English character actor, Philip Stainton, who at the time was playing the lead in “Witness for the Prosecution” at the Princess Theatre.
When I ran out of ideas for original plots, we researched (or stole) plots from other sources.
For instance we produced “Gerry Hood”, in which a glade in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens sufficed for Sherwood Forest, and Ormond Douglas played the wicked Baron who had incarcerated Susan-Gaye in his castle.
Naturally, Gerry Hood won the day — and the girl.
“Ali Gee” was an Arabian Nights theme, with Philip Stainton — fresh from a role in “The Lady Killers” for J. Arthur Rank — as the wicked Caliph who had captured the fair Susan-Gaye.
Poor Susan was always being captured or incarcerated.
The same thing happened to her in “Pimpernel Gee”, where the wicked Citizen Chauvelin (who looked and sounded very much like Frank Rich) had her imprisoned in a cell in Paris. Once again Gerry Gee, alias “Pimpernel Gee”, was able to rescue her and together they sailed back to England in a three masted square-rigged sailing ship on the lake in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. (The square-rigger was all of three feet long. This beautiful model ship partly sank in the Botanic Gardens lake, but fortunately about three seconds after we got our final shot!)
All this activity was going on around about 1961, a mere four years after the introduction of television to Australia — so television was still something of a novelty and people were willing and anxious to be part of it.
For instance, when we produced “Big Circuit” — a motor racing story in the series, Australia’s Champion Racing Driver of the year, Bill Patterson, was happy to play a lead role and provide his Cooper Climax car for the racing sequences, all at no cost.
When we produced “Gerry Flies Through”, Mrs McKenzie of the McKenzie Flying School at Moorabbin Airport supplied us free of charge with an Auster aircraft and a pilot to fly it for a whole day. She was a great Gerry Gee fan.
For the same film, we needed a steam locomotive which had to screech to a halt inches from Ron who was injured and laying helpless on the track.
This time it was the Railway Workshops at Williamstown who came to the party at no cost — and supplied not only a locomotive, but a driver as well to make the thing move and exude clouds of steam.
The great “Schnozzle” Durante once exclaimed in a song the immortal phrase, “Everybody wants to get into the act!”.
The same thing could be said about Melbourne folk when it came to appearing on television with Gerry Gee.
So … what happened to “The Adventures of Gerry Gee”?
Well, after the series was shown on Perth television in 1966–67, they were returned to Channel Nine in Melbourne, and virtually disappeared off the face of the earth. I fear that some space-saving executive — not aware that the series was unique — ordered them to be consigned to the nearest incinerator.
Only a few stray reels remain — most of them without their accompanying sound tracks.
Fortunately the same fate did not befall another unique series — “Around the World With Gerry Gee”. They were a series of short travel films featuring Ron and Gerry, as they toured England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, India and Singapore.
These were filmed in 1962. I was the cameraman. They were shown on a number of television stations here.
The entire operation was a two family safari.
Merle Blaskett accompanied Ron and our family of four went along — myself, Dot, Paul aged eight, and Clare aged six.
From memory, we were away for six weeks.
Air India supplied the air travel and the Ford Motor Company provided us with a car in which to tour Britain and the Continent.
All Air India and Ford got in return were a few “on air” mentions.
It wouldn’t happen today. Contra deals like that disappeared some years ago.
So with the production of “Around the World With Gerry Gee” and our 1963 Pantomime, “Marianne”, my time at GTV Channel Nine drew to a close.
Next stop — AMV Channel 4 at Albury.