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The Mavis Bramston Show (1964 - 1968)

Variety series
Weekly x 60 minutes (1964–67), 30 minutes (1968)

Series synopsis:

A weekly variety show featuring topical satire, sketches and songs. It ran for 40 weeks a year during 1964–68 and was a popular and critical success.

Curator’s Notes:

The Mavis Bramston Show was a popular success. The show includes send-ups of TV shows, mock ads and variety. It broke new ground and captured the public imagination, proving a pioneer for many later comedy series.

The joke of the show is that it’s titular 'star’, Mavis Bramston, is so bad that she is fired before the first show goes to air. She nonetheless pops up from time to time, especially for promotional appearances for the series sponsor. A string of actresses play Mavis Bramston during the show’s run, stepping into her trademark enormous hat, black wig and false eyelashes. Mavis is a washed-up C-grade performer imported from the UK – a dig at the common practice at the time to import stars, rather than cast our own. This is a joke at the expense of Australia’s 1960s cultural cringe and a time when most television programs on air were imported from the US or the UK. However, the series imported a number of British stars of its own and showed ongoing concern with British-Australian relations.

Though The Mavis Bramston Show actually revolves for the most part around a trio of real hosts, press reports of the time show an affectionate tendency to refer to the series as 'she’, treating the show and its namesake as interchangeable. Some even join in on the joke, reporting Mavis’s public appearances through deadpan news reports, as though she were a real visiting superstar.

The Mavis Bramston Show initially aired in Sydney only but soon went national, becoming a runaway success. So much so that ‘Saturday parties refused to start before 9.30 because it glued guests to their seats’, according to a 1968 Age newspaper report by Gerald Mayhead. Noelene Brown, the first 'Mavis’, claims in her autobiography that late-night shopping hours were changed in Canberra because shoppers were all at home watching the show. These anecdotes say something about television’s ability to be an 'event’ in the pre-VCR and DVD era, as well as about Mavis’s success.

Topical satire was alive in print and on stage in Australia, though in 1964 it had not yet made an impact on the small screen. The Mavis Bramston Show was partly inspired by the Phillip Street Theatre revues in Sydney, from which it poached team members like co-star Gordon Chater. It borrowed writers from the infamous satirical publication Oz magazine (1963–69).

Despite poking fun at cultural imports, Mavis was also a response to a British television trend. Co-host and production consultant Carol Raye, herself a recent arrival in Australia from the UK (via 3 years working in television in Kenya), suggested to her new employers ATN 7 that they produce something like the topical satire that had become popular in the UK through shows like That Was The Week That Was (1962–63). The series sometimes made use of material that originally appeared on the UK series.

The Mavis Bramston show quickly gained a reputation for daring satire and ‘naughtiness’ and frequent use of 'vulgar’ double entendres. An anxious Australian Broadcasting Control Board found itself ill-equipped to respond to Mavis because its 1956 Program Standards had not foreseen the arrival of topical satire on TV. The series also raised the ire of church groups and some viewers. All the while it enjoyed huge ratings. The makers seemed to enjoy helping perpetuate the show’s controversial publicity and the series and its cast won multiple Logie awards.

The Mavis Bramston Show had a massive output, appearing weekly for around 40 weeks a year from 1964 to ’68. This placed heavy demands on the script department. As well as staff writers, they used sketches from freelance writers and unsolicited submissions from the public. As the series continued, some critics accused it of slumping. This was variously attributed to the pressure of the high output, changing public tastes meaning viewers were harder to shock, or even unofficial censorship forces emasculating the show.

Titles in this series

The Mavis Bramston Show – Series 1 Episode 1 1964

This is the first episode of The Mavis Bramston Show, a weekly sketch and variety series featuring topical satire, sketches and songs.

The Mavis Bramston Show – Series 2 Episode 1 1965

This is the first episode for 1965 of The Mavis Bramston Show, a weekly sketch and variety series featuring topical satire, sketches and songs.