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Division 4 (1969 - 1975)

Drama series
300 episodes x 60 minutes

Series synopsis:

A police drama set in the fictional Yarra Central police station, in a tough Melbourne suburb known for its crime and vice.

Curator’s Notes:

With Homicide (1964–76) already a huge hit on the Seven Network, Division 4 was Crawford Productions’s second foray into television police drama, produced for the Nine Network. Nine had been screening Crawford’s spy series Hunter (1967–69) but the departure of Tony Ward, who played the title role, made its future uncertain. Another star of the series, Gerard Kennedy, had made a huge impression as Kragg, a villain so popular with the audience that he ended up leaving the enemy ranks to become one of the ‘good guys’. Division 4 was in part a replacement for Hunter and a new vehicle for Kennedy.

Unlike Homicide which was set at the actual Melbourne police headquarters in Russell Street, Division 4’s Yarra Central is a fictional setting in a rough inner suburb where the crimes investigated include murder, assault, theft, prostitution and pornography. Originally, the series was to be titled Saints and Sinners and was set in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, an area with a reputation for crime and prostitution. In a 1995 interview for TV Eye magazine, Ian Jones describes how protests from St Kilda Council, who were trying to change the area’s image, forced the series to change tack, thus becoming Division 4.

Despite its origins as a star vehicle for Kennedy, the series is an ensemble piece and the interplay between Kennedy’s Banner and other detectives like Vickers (Chuck Faulkner) and Peters (Terence Donovan) is important. Their hardened, ‘seen-it-all-before’ attitudes and occasional wry humour highlight the character of the neighbourhood they work in.

There is some emphasis on the team’s ‘local knowledge’ and their tough-but-friendly rapport with the neighborhood’s shady types. As in Homicide, the Division 4 police do things by the book but occasionally the series’s writers create less upstanding guest detectives to highlight the advantages of the Yarra Central policing approach.

As well as detectives there are uniformed police among the core roles, a common fixture on later cop shows. Patricia Smith, as WPC Margaret Stewart, may have been Australia’s first regular on-screen policewoman, later replaced by Rowena Wallace as WPC Jane Bell. There is some attention paid to characters’ personal lives but not on the level of Crawford’s later cop-soap Cop Shop (1977–84).

Like Homicide, Division 4 was produced at a rate of one episode a week and combined location scenes shot on film with studio scenes shot on video. It changed from black-and-white to colour in its 232nd episode but, unlike Homicide, didn’t shift to an all-film production.

The show was launched in an 8.30 pm Tuesday timeslot, following Homicide on Seven at 7.30 pm and probably capturing some of the earlier show’s audience. In 1971, Nine moved Division 4 to a Wednesday 7.30 pm timeslot. It was a popular and critical success, earning very high ratings and picking up multiple awards during its years on air. These included 1969 and 1971 Logie Awards for Best Drama Series and a swag of acting awards for Gerard Kennedy.

Division 4 was axed not long after Kennedy left the show, although respected actor and Crawford’s regular John Stanton had replaced him. By 1976, Homicide and Crawford’s other cop show, Matlock Police (1971–75), had also been axed. TV Eye interviews with Crawford’s alumni later speculated that the multiple axing may have been an attempt to undermine Crawford’s industry dominance and a response to the involvement of many of its employees, including Kennedy, Donovan and Homicide’s Charles Tingwell, in a campaign for more local content on Australian television.

Titles in this series

Division 4 – The Return of John Kelso 1971

When former standover man John Kelso (John Fegan) returns home on parole after 20 years in prison, the neighbours in his small suburban street are terrified. Two decades ago they were in his thrall: now they fear his reign of ...