Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Homicide (1964 - 1976)

Drama series
509 episodes x 60 minutes

Series synopsis:

A drama series about a team of detectives in the Homicide Squad at Melbourne’s Russell Street police headquarters.

Curator’s Notes:

It is hard to overstate the significance of Homicide in Australia’s television history. Crawford Productions’s first police drama series premiered in October 1964 in Melbourne on what was then HSV7 (later to become the Seven Network). Stations in other cities later picked it up also. The series became a huge popular success: its 12-year, 509 episode run was a record for an Australian drama series, only matched decades later by another cop show, Blue Heelers (1994–2006).

Homicide entered Australian television schedules at a time when a local drama series was a rarity. The Vincent Report of 1961 had found that 97 per cent of television drama was imported from the US. Local drama production had been sporadic in Australian television’s first eight years and mostly consisted of one-off television plays, as well as a smattering of series.

One of these series was Consider Your Verdict (1961–64), a studio-based courtroom drama from Crawfords and HSV7. This production in some respects paved the way for Homicide, along with active lobbying from Crawford’s co-founder Hector Crawford, a vocal advocate for an increase in local drama production. Prior to their move into television, Crawfords produced radio dramas, including popular police drama series D24 (1951–60).

Publicity documents from 1964 also point to HSV7’s recent efforts to improve its drama capabilities by importing drama producer Peter Cotes and TV actress Joan Miller from Britain on a six-month contract in 1961, with the brief to produce a series of plays and ‘to train production teams, directors, lighting technicians, camera crews and floor staffs in complex drama work’. Team members from both the ‘Cotes project’ and Consider Your Verdict went on to work on Homicide.

Commentators such as Alan McKee describe Homicide as the series that ‘made possible a tradition of television drama’. Its success demonstrated that there was an audience for local drama. The dominance of imported drama – and a tendency at the time for actors in locally-produced drama to speak in international accents, in part an attempt to appeal to international markets, meant that Australian accents and Australian locations were a rarity on television. That viewers embraced these detectives with Australian accents, McKee suggests, was a move away from cultural cringe.

In production terms, Homicide was more advanced than anything previously produced locally. It combined scenes recorded on video in a studio with location scenes shot on film, an approach common in television in the 1960s and ‘70s. Good quality dialogue recording was possible only in the studio, the location-based sequences instead using narration. At the time this integration of studio and location scenes, film and video, represented an unprecedented level of complexity for its producers and for an Australian drama series. Crawford and HSV7’s previous courtroom drama series, Consider Your Verdict (1961–64), had been restricted to studio scenes, and the production’s video editing technology very limited.

In later years, performers and crew members would point to Homicide and Crawfords in general as an industry training ground, where many significant names got their first experience and exposure.

Homicide had a small budget and a rough and ready approach as members of this fledgling industry explored the possibilities of the medium. Script editor Jim Stapleton pointed out to would-be writers that ‘it is necessary at the outset to understand that Homicide is successful in spite of extraordinary financial limitations. Indeed, one American producer refused to believe that a drama series could be produced on such a budget and timescale until he came and saw for himself.’

The evolution of Homicide’s production values over its 12 years reflects the development of Australian television. It went from black-and-white to colour, and limited sound to full sound. Although, in a move that wasn’t typical of all series at the time, Homicide shifted to an all-film production when it changed to colour, apparently due to a delay in Seven’s colour video facilities being ready.

There is also a stylistic progression away from radio and theatre with more dynamic camera moves and more sophisticated details of set design. Production meeting minutes note the problems of using one style of window frame for every studio set, when exterior locations have many styles of window, and of using the same telephone booth set any time a phone conversation takes place.

The Homicide narrative format remained consistent over the years, with episodes focusing on a single murder and the efforts of detectives to solve it. Early episodes include courtroom scenes, possibly an influence of Consider Your Verdict, but these were dropped fairly early on. The series takes only occasional interest in the personal lives of the detectives but Stapleton’s guidelines nonetheless emphasise the use of the genre to explore character, both of cops and criminals.

The detectives are consistently honest and play by the book, in part a reflection of assistance the Victoria Police provided to the series, including access to up-to-date uniforms, cars and case records. Episodes were also reviewed by police consultants. Stapleton’s recommendations underline the importance its producers placed on accuracy in presenting police procedure and providing a positive portrayal of police characters – with allowances made for the requirements of drama and a 7.30 pm general audience timeslot. An interview with Police PR Officer Inspector FW Woonton suggests the police saw Homicide as an unprecedented public relations opportunity, a chance to communicate not so much the police’s 'goodness’ but their humanity:

Convincing the public that a policeman can be as human and understanding as the next fellow is a hard message to get across. Films casting police as the central figures seem to achieve this result.

Homicide marked the beginning of the dominance of cop shows on Australian TV, many produced by Crawfords which, for a time, had a cop show on every commercial television network with Homicide, Matlock Police (1971–75) and Division 4 (1969–75). In 1975–76 all three of these shows were axed, which some reports suggested was an attempt by networks to undermine the power of Crawfords in the industry and a response to their lobbying for more Australian content.

Titles in this series

Homicide – The Decimal Point 1965

What starts out looking like a straightforward crime committed in self-defence becomes a complicated double murder investigation and prompts homicide detectives to reopen an old file. One of the murder victims, a prison escapee, was a suspect in a robbery ...

Homicide – The Friendly Fellow 1973

When safebreakers botch a robbery and a security guard gets killed, the Homicide squad calls in an 'old friend’ for questioning – former safebreaker Buddy Rand (Fred Cullen). Buddy is going straight these days but recognises the work of his ...

Homicide – The Superintendent 1970

A young girl, Alice (Jessica Ball), is heartbroken when homicide detectives take away ‘Jennifer’, her new favorite toy. Jennifer is a human skull with a bullet rattling around inside. Senior Detective Patterson (Norman Yemm) needs Alice to tell him where ...