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Billy and Percy (1974)


This dramatised documentary is based on the diaries of Percy Deane, who became the private secretary of Prime Minister WM Hughes during one of the most controversial and exciting periods of Australian history. It was during the First World War and the issue was conscription. The war in Europe was going badly for the Allies and Billy Hughes was convinced that only by conscripting the nation’s young men could the war be won. Hughes was bitterly opposed by the newly appointed Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix, as well as most of his own Labor Party. Hughes lost two referendums over the issue and leadership of the Labor Party.

Curator’s notes

This program features a fantastic performance by Martin Vaughan as Billy Hughes. He even looks uncannily like Hughes. Harold Hopkins is terrific too as the long-suffering private secretary. This dramatised documentary was written and directed by John Power, one of the great pioneer directors of ABC television, while the program was edited by Stewart Young, who has since gone on to become one of Australia’s best documentary editors.

There’s high drama as Billy Hughes fights his own party and Archbishop Mannix for the right to conscript Australia’s young men to fight in the First World War. As it turned out the war was won without Australia resorting to conscription.

At the 1974–75 Australian Film Awards presented by the AFI, Billy and Percy won the top prize in the General category as well as awards for Best Direction (John Power), Actor (Martin Vaughan who shared the prize with Jack Thompson in Sunday Too Far Away and Petersen) and Photography (Bronze Medallion for Geoff Burton).