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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.

Curator’s notes

‘Are the kiddies in bed? Good …’

So purrs Gordon Chater at the outset of The Mavis Bramston Show, declaring the adult intent of this late-night fare. When it appeared in 1964, Mavis was cutting edge and risqué. Though the double entendres and ‘blue’ humour that outraged some viewers look decidedly tame now, a surprising amount of the material still entertains. The satire hasn’t lost its bite and it retains an irreverent, playful energy. On the other hand, some parts look old-fashioned and twee and verge on the cringe-worthy. That these extremes exist in the same show reflects the cultural flux of 1960s Australia.

This episode inflates – then bursts – the balloon that is Mavis Bramston, supposed British performer and ‘star’ of the show. Bramston, it turns out, is a C-grade hack, her audition (see clip two) so bad that negotiations were called off – too late, though, to stop the show getting her name. Mavis’s comically awful audition tape lampoons the importing of washed-up international performers to headline local productions, a not uncommon practice at the time that was the target of considerable griping.

This is a direct dig at the ‘cultural cringe’, Australia’s anxiety over its cultural identity and inferiority complex about its cultural production. The joke is curiously undermined, though, by some other parts of the show, particularly Carol Raye and June Salter’s song contrasting the experiences of being ‘Aussie’ and ‘Pommy’ (see clip three).

Satire and sketch comedy of a style that wouldn’t be out of place in a contemporary show sit side by side with vaudeville-style performance and variety. Sketches that make playful use of the studio audience or invite the viewer to participate combine with segments that seem straight from the stage.

The 'Mavis Bramston Viewpoint’, which commonly contained serious sketches, in this episode features footage of Aboriginal reservations and the three co-hosts reading poems by Aboriginal poet Kath Walker (who later changed her name to Oodgeroo Noonuccal).

The contrast in tone from other segments is surprising. As Alan McKee suggests in his book Australian Television: A Genealogy of Great Moments (2001, Oxford University Press), from a contemporary viewpoint it is somewhat disconcerting seeing the white hosts solemnly reciting Walker’s poems in the first person ('I am black of skin among whites …’) and their view of Aborigines as 'more primitive’ than settlers is dated. However, McKee also emphasises the poems’s unusual context among comedy sketches on 'the most sensationally popular Australian program of 1965’. The sketch is openly critical of Australia’s treatment of Indigenous people, two years prior to the 1967 referendum that saw them included in the Australian census for the first time.

The Mavis Bramston Show screened on ATN Seven from 1964 to 1968. During this time, it featured in Saturday and Wednesday night timeslots, usually at 8.30 or 9 pm.