Jun 16, 2013

Hey, Dad: Australia's Growing Pains

The U.S. was not alone in its 1980s obsession with TGIF sitcoms, the warm, fuzzy, "families stick together" reaction to the acerbic workplace comedies of the 1970s.  Hey, Dad...! (1987-94) was the the most popular example in Australia.

It was a sort of an English version of Papa Soltero, starring Sydney architect Martin Kelly (Robert Hughes. right), a single dad with three rowdy kids: teen operator Simon (Paul Smith, top photo), fashion-obsessed Debbie (Simone Buchanan), and preteen Jennifer (Sarah Monahan).

After 39 episodes, Paul Smith left the series abruptly, under mysterious circumstances that are still causing fan speculation, and Christopher Mayer took over as Simon.

Rounding out the cast were Martin's secretary Betty; Simon's buddy, the  dimwitted, gay-vague Nudge (Christopher Truswell, left); and later, his friendly enemy Ben  (Ben Oxenbould, below). Plus any number of famous Australian actors in guest roles.

Simon was not as girl-crazy as the teenage boys on American TGIF sitcoms like Growing Pains, Family Ties, and Step by Step.  He liked girls on occasion, and even got engaged in a 1988 episode, but he was more interested in cars, surfing, football, and his gay-vague buddy Nudge. The two were inseparable for 14 years.  Eventually they got jobs together and moved into an apartment together.

And apparently the male cast members consented to a substantial number of shirtless, underwear, and swimsuit shots.

In a bizarre black-humor twist, the series ended with everyone getting blown up by a bomb stashed in their television set.

It aired in 20 countries.  There were tie-in novels, parodies, references, fan clubs. "Betty" even wrote a tongue-in-cheek secretarial guide. Nudge appeared as "himself" in the 2003 comedy Ned.

It's out on DVD in Germany, and there are episodes on youtube.

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