|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Television|
Kommotion was a fast-paced, teenage Top 40 pop show hosted by 3UZ Melbourne DJ Ken Sparkes. It was originally shown in daily half-hour episodes, Mon-Fri at 5.30 pm; an additional one-hour special on Sundays was added sometime during the run of the series. It was produced by Willard King Productions and recorded at the ATV-0 Studios in Nunawding (the building which later on doubled as an exterior location in Prisoner). It was relayed to other stations in the newly-formed 0-10 network as they came on line during 1965-66.
Kommotion premiered only a few months after Channel 0's first pop program, The Go!! Show , which had premiered in August 1964. The Go!! Show proved such a ratings success that its original 13-episode contract was extended to 39 episodes after only seven weeks on air. Both programs provided a crucial outlet for 'beat' pop, and an energetic and 'hip' alternative to the comparitively staid variety format of the Nine Network's Bandstand and this quickly gave the nascent 0-10 an unbeatable lead in pop TV programming, with The Go!! Show alone regularly pulling in over 400,000 teen viewers.
Both programs focussed on the current beat-pop style and both were strongly influenced by the examples of the UK and American pop shows created by renowned producer Jack Good. Although they shared many guest acts, there were some stylistic differences between them. The Go!! Show was (as the name suggests) modelled to some extent on the landmark British pop show Ready, Steady, Go! -- it was aimed at a slightly older and more sophisticated audience, featured more local music, and reportedly cost considerably more to produce.
Kommotion was aimed at the younger teen audience and its style was was more like that of the US program Shindig -- a troupe 'go-go' dancers (a Shindig trademark) was an essential part of the Kommotion look. Kommotion also covered more overseas hits than The Go!! Show but did so in a novel way, as is explained below.
Fashion was another vital component of both Kommotion and The Go!! Show and the Mod trend prevalent in Melbourne at the time made its presence very visible in both shows. As Jim Keays notes in his memoir His Masters Voice, Kommotion was a key model for Countdown in the 1970s, with the other major influence being the BBC's perennial Top Of The Pops, and it's no coincidence that one of the regular Kommotion cast members was future Countdown supremo Ian "Molly" Meldrum.
Scores of leading Melbourne and interstate pop acts appeared on the show, including Lynne Randell, Dinah Lee, Bobby & Laurie, Normie Rowe, Tony Worsely, Mike Furber, The Easybeats, MPD Ltd, The Elois, The Masters Apprentices, Steve & The Board and The Purple Hearts, to name only a few. Besides the appearances by pop groups, the producers also came up with a clever and cost-effective way of showcasing current international hits
In those days, purpose-made film clips were only just beginning to be used as a way of promoting new recordings, and in the absence of regular visits by major overseas acts, the stock-in-trade for Kommotion was to use a troupe of young performers who danced and/or mimed to the latest overseas hits. The producers hired a group of about a dozen Melbourne teenagers, chosen for their looks, fashion sense and dancing ability. The regular cast roster included Ian "Molly" Meldrum, Tony Healey, David Bland, Alex Rappel, Lex Kaplan, Jillian Fitzgerald, Alex Silbersher, Chantal Cantouri (later a star of Number 96), Grant Rule (later executive producer of Countdown), Norman Willison, pioneering 'go-go girl' Denise Drysdale and dancer Maggie Stewart (who met pop star Ronnie Burns on the show and later married him).
For the mime segments, the producers matched the performers with a particular style of music. Jillian Fitzgerald, chosen for her dancing ability, was given the soul category (in spite of her fair skin) and covered R&B classics like Ike and Tina's "River Deep Mountain High". Ian Meldrum specialized in the then-popular, high-camp 1930s style numbers such as Peter and Gordon's "Lady Godiva" and the New Vaudeville Band's "Winchester Cathedral". This led to some in the audience believing that Jillian Fitzgerald was the actual singer of Aretha Franklin's "Respect", and that Meldrum sang "Winchester Cathedral".
Several of the cast became virtual pop stars in their own right. Tony Healey was one of the most popular and had his own fan club. Alex Silbersher, another of the Kommotion gang was reportedly chased up three flights of stairs by a horde of girls when a promotion at a Sydney shopping center got out of control.
The addition of the one-hour Sunday Kommotion special evidently caused some controversy. An unattributed press clipping from the time (reproduced on the Laurie Allan tribute site) indicates that the Go!! Show's producers DYT were concerned about the increased competition from their rival (which also cost less to produce), and the article suggested that this move might oversaturate the pop market and lead to a drop in ratings all round, as well as over-exposing the relatively small pool of Australia's top-ranking pop talent.
Ironically, it was the practice of miming to current hits that brought about the demise of Kommotion -- it was cancelled in early 1967 after Actors' Equity imposed a ban on miming on all music TV shows.
An interesting footnote to the Kommotion story is that the floor manager for both Kommotion and The Go!! Show was Ralph Baker, who became locally famous in the late '60s as Melbourne's version of "Deadly Earnest", the late night horror movie presenter. (There was a local 'Earnest' in several capitals, with Sydney's Ian Bannerman being the original). Baker was also the original floor manager on 0-10's later pop show Uptight.
After Kommotion ...
Award-winning radio DJ, TV personality and voice artist Ken Sparkes has enjoyed a long and very successful media career. He was one of Australia's top pop DJs throughout the '60s and '70s and has worked for literally dozens of leading radio stations and TV outlets both in Australia and the USA, including all five Australian TV networks. He has hosted many variety and game shows, MC-ed at Sunbury and even appeared in drama programs including Bellbird and Homicide. He is one of the world's leading motor sport commentators and in the 1980s he formed A-CAM Video & Film Productions to produce motor racing events, documentaries and corporate presentations. His company pioneered new techniques and equipment including the renowned ‘In Car Camera’ which has become a staple of motor sports presentation worldwide. As one of Australia's top voice artists, Ken has voiced innumerable radio and TV broadcasts, documentaries, advertisements and corporate programs and millions of Australians hear him every day, thanks to his long-running role as the voice of the Nine Network, voicing the network's major announcements and promotionals messages.
Many of the cast of Kommotion eventually returned to "civilian" life but Ian Meldrum, Denise Drysdale, Chantel Cantouri and Grant Rule all went on to successful careers in the media. Sadly Norm Willison died in suspicious circumstances of a drug overdose in Sydney in 1978.
References / Links
Moran’s Guide to Australian TV Series (AFTRS, 1993)
The Australian Film and Television Companion (Simon & Schuster, 1994)
Ken Sparkes official website
- includes several rare photos of the Ken and the Kommotion teams
Hideously Yours, Deadly Earnest
Nostalgia Central - Kommotion
Laurie Allen tribute site
- includes many photos of Ken, the Kommotion team and guest stars
Johnny Chester website