One of Australia’s first soapies, Number 96 was one of the most popular and successful. Five nights a week for five years (1972-77) it brought the usual lurid range of soapie lives into the loungerooms of Australia – rape, abortion, witchcraft, Nazis, bombs.
In the midst of all this the lawyer Don Findlayson (played by Joe Hasham) was a remarkably conventional character – except for his homosexuality. The first gay character to appear regularly, his sexuality was – unlike many who have followed him on the screen – never ignored. He experienced all the trials of the soap opera character: ‘He fell in and out of love, he had relationships, long relationships, he even went off the rails and had a series of one night stands when he was really very low, he was blackmailed, he had his job threatened’.
But Don’s real impact came from the fact that the writers steered clear of the screaming queen stereotype, presenting him as a nice ordinary bloke who just happened to be homosexual. The program’s effect on public attitudes is widely acknowledged, with Dennis Altman suggesting that it was ‘just as important as all of us activists’. If this seems overstated, it is worth remembering that Number 96 was one of the most watched programs of its time, with a high awareness among even those who did not watch it. By stretching the boundaries of what could be portrayed on television, it allowed other programs to follow suit.
Brought to you by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives