Old TV Shows From The Beginning Through 1969


Australian/UK Historical Drama

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Scriptwriters Michael Noonan and Michael Plant came up with the idea of having a western - but set in Australia. Both men had written extensively for Australian radio and were just starting to break into television. Plant had already written a script for mystery anthology One Step Beyond.

In 1957, after a recommendation by English playwright and scriptwriter Ted Hughes, Noonan had was recruited by Elstree Studios in England, as a scriptwriter. He devised and adapted for television the popular Flying Doctor series where location shots were filmed in Australia and studio material at Elstree. When Noonan and Plant came up with the idea of a frontier drama set in Australia they were taken seriously. Both writers had a successful pedigree and the co-production between Australia and England had worked for the Flying Doctor, so why not do it again?

The basis of the story were the experiences of real life Freeman Cobb, a U.S. emigrant to Australia who set up a consortium called Cobb & Co to run stagecoaches from Melbourne across Victoria and beyond.

The show was an English venture, driven by ITC, run by Lew Grade. As with many of Grade's productions, he had an eye on the U.S. tv market and to that end hired American scriptwriters (Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry among them) and production crew as well as using the services of Australians like Michael Noonan and Michael Plant. Artransa Studios (owned by Lew Grade's tv broadcasting company ATV) were the production arm in Australia. This mix of talent from 3 continents was expedient for Grade. He needed U.S. production and writing experience in order give it an American western feel but also needed the Australian scenery. The UK arm carried out post production and was the executive for the project.

The problem was that throwing together people from not only 3 different countries, but 3 different work cultures proved to be a great challenge, solved only after Grade restructured the production team from episode 6 onwards, telling the new team to slash the payroll, which was in danger of spiraling out of control. Ben Fox, producer of Emmy nominated series The Waterfront, was handed the reigns and work resumed.

The Format:
The main character of Whiplash, Chris Cobb, was based on Freeman Cobb, a pioneering U.S. immigrant to Australia who set up a coach line there. Chris Cobb was played by Peter Graves, star of popular western Fury and brother of James Arness who played Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke.

Image: Stagecoach scene from old tv show Whiplash

Each episode involved the adventures of Cobb and his passengers on the road. They would encounter bandits, Aborigines - sometimes bad ones, but usually good ones, tricksters, land-grabbers, kidnappers, rustlers and many other unsavory characters. Cobb would occasionally take on passengers with a dark secret or two and would do the odd favor for a government official. As well as coping with all this, Cobb would take every opportunity to extend his coach line and set up new staging posts.

In every episode, Cobb rights a wrong. Either single-handedly or with the help of a friendly Aborigine he would escape from the many kidnap attempts made on him, defend his life, often by killing his assailant, protect his passengers and even defend people's land rights.