Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online



The Damnation of Harvey McHugh – From Here to Maternity (1994)

Synopsis

All clerk Harvey McHugh (Aaron Blabey) wants is a permanent job in the public service but his persistent naivety and honesty keep getting him in trouble. Shuffled from department to department, he accidentally stumbles upon fraud and corruption at every turn.

Deep within the service’s labyrinthine bureaucracy, concealed by red tape, there are sinister, mysterious forces at work. They involve a scheming government minister (Philip Quast) and the service’s new Gatherer of Data (GOD) computer system. In this episode, Harvey is moved to Proofing and Printing, an apparently dreary department that nonetheless offers its own web of intrigue.

Curator’s notes

Amid TV’s throng of lawyers, doctors and cops, clerk Harvey McHugh stands out as an unlikely small screen hero. The public service is an uncommon choice of environment for a drama and this adventurous, unusual series has great fun with its setting. It portrays a Kafka-esque world of impenetrable protocols, red tape, conspiracies and power plays, populated by a staff who range from inept to corrupt.

The absurdities of office politics tend to be the domain of sitcom and social satire – for example, in The Librarians – Series 1 Episode 1 (2007) or the UK series Yes Minister (1980-84) and The Office (UK: 2001-03; US: 2005-2013). Bob and Robin Connolly’s observational documentary Rats in the Ranks (1996) also springs to mind. The Damnation of Harvey McHugh is something else: a curious comic-dramatic hybrid, part fable, part farce.

Writer John Misto once worked in the public service and delivers a gleefully bizarre and satirical take on its bureaucracy and politics, with larger-than-life characters and wildly inventive storylines that gallop from computer fraud to organ-swapping to horse kidnapping. It is hardly realist in style, yet in a 1994 interview with the Herald Sun’s Lesley Hetherington, Misto says much of the series has at least some basis in truth, gleaned from stories gathered from his public servant friends.

The Minister and his unwitting nemesis Harvey are polar opposites – the Minister is a slick, scheming villain while Harvey is extreme in his innocence. Misto uses Harvey’s Catholic upbringing to give context to this character’s persistent belief in the basic goodness of those around him, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Via flashbacks to Harvey’s childhood listening to his grandfather’s stories about angels, Misto creates parallels between codes of behaviour in different belief systems, be they politics, the public service, the Catholic Church or a family unit.

The Damnation of Harvey McHugh is a 12-part series, including a feature-length first episode. 'From Here to Maternity’ is episode 11 in the series. Aaron Blabey received the 1994 AFI Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Television Drama (for the episode 'Spay Misty for Me’), his first major television role. The episode 'Hey St Jude’ received AFI awards for Best Episode in a Television Drama Series (producer Sue Masters) and Best Screenplay (John Misto), while Monica Maughan won Best Actress for the episode 'My Brilliant Chorea’.