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Jocelyn Moorhouse
Jocelyn Moorhouse at the premiere of The Dressmaker, at the Toronto Film Festival in 2015.

Photo by GaboT. Used under Creative Commons license, CC BY-SA 2.0
The main attraction on this site is obviously the television series. It's the version of The Bartons most people are familiar with after all. So what's the story behind the series?

Four years in the making

Jocelyn Moorhouse started working on The Bartons shortly after graduating from the Australian Television, Film and Radio School in Sydney in 1984.[05]

She applied for a grant from the
Australian Film Commission in 1985 and with that, a lot of her own money and a lot of hard work, she made her short film The Siege of Barton's Bathroom.

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Type casted
Frankie J. Holden is the only actor who's both in the short film and the series. I guess he really is the perfect Robert Barton!
The film was released in 1986, around which time ABC was looking for new children's drama. Jocelyn decided to send her film in and it landed on the desk of Jenifer Hooks, at the time a producer at Revcom for the ABC.[04][05]

She commissioned Jocelyn to expand her short film into a twelve part series. As Jocelyn had, at the time, not directed a television production or feature film, other, more experienced directers were brought in.[12] Noel Price was executive producer and Jenny produced the series.

Jocelyn was credited for creating the series and wrote five out of the twelve episodes. This included the bookend first and last episodes. The first episode was basically a remake of her short film of the same name, now of course starring the new cast.[12]

The other episodes were written by other authors, including two by her husband PJ Hogan. Noel Robinson, Greg Millin and Shane Brennan wrote the other five episodes. Jocelyn looked after the creation of the other episodes' scripts, like a script producer.

In in my interview with her, Jocelyn says the storylines she and PJ Hogan wrote for the series are based on their own childhood memories. And indeed, when you read Jocelyn's memoirs, Unconditional Love, you do recognise certain similarities between Jocelyn and Elly's lives. I strongly recommend reading Unconditional Love, and not only for Bartons fans; it's a wonderful book.[12][13]

Examples of the inspiration from her own life include naming Elly's brothers after her house mates at the time (as a joke) and Elly constantly starting clubs. Anita, Elly's best friend, was named and modelled after Jocelyn's own best friend. In addition to Jocelyn's inspiration, PJ Hogan based the plots of his two episodes (Half-time and Suspected) on aspects of his youth.[12]


The "right Elly" and exploding switchboards

Filming was to commence in March 1987 for broadcast about a year later. There was only one problem: Hooks and her team couldn't find the right girl for the lead role of Elly Barton.[17]

The character description for Elly said this about her appearance: "Dark-haired, mischievous eyes, devilish grin. Not tall." […] "[her actress] need not be as beautiful as Rebeccah Elmalouglou*, but she should be striking".[15]
[*Rebekah Elmalouglou played Elly in the short film. Her name is misspelt in the character description. -Erwin]

In addition to looking like the picture the producers had in mind, the girl would have to be able to hold her ground amongst three boys as if she'd grown up with them and, this being the lead role, would have to be a very good actress. The team decided against going the usual route through the agency books of child actors, but instead tried to find new talent that would portray the children in a more natural way.[01][03]

Jenny approached a number of schools in the Melbourne region with letters addressed to the drama teachers, asking if they had any Year 6 girls that would be interested in auditioning for the lead character. The response, as the story goes, almost blew up the ABC switchboards.[03][11][17]

A lot of girls auditioned, but none of them were the Elly they were looking for. The combination of matching the character description and having the required talent proved to be rare. This was a problem as the schedule was becoming a tight fit.

One of the letters was sent to Cameron Mattox, drama teacher at Eltham College in Research, greater Melbourne. And eleven year old Year 6 student Olivia Harkin just happened to go to school there.

While previously mostly acting in plays, Olivia was no stranger to television. Only a year prior, her school produced the Kaboodle (series 1) episode "Snow White and the Dreadful Dwarves", which her drama teacher Jan Sardi wrote and directed, and Olivia appeared in the lead role as a punky haired Snow White, in this version the leader of a biker gang called "The Dreadful Dwarves", complete with spray painted love hearts on her cheeks. The rest of the cast consisted of children from her school and Kym Cyngell (better known for his comedic character Col'n Carpenter) as the Magic Mirror.[08]

Elly is a bit like me - a bit of a tomboy - although I don't have any brothers as she does.
Olivia Harkin (1988, Parents & Children, April/May issue p.28)

Olivia auditioned on March 23rd; according to the (amended) taping schedule, that was just two weeks before filming was to commence.[16] Jenny would later say, in an interview with Gold Guide in 1988, that she tested "40 million children" before she saw Olivia audition. "When we saw her, that was it. We had found our Elly."[01]

Equally impossible to find, was a girl who could play Anita; Elly's best friend. Her physical appearance was important (she needed to have red hair) and again, the role required a good actress. In the same way Olivia was found, actress Rosemary Smith responded to Jenny's letter sent to her school, the Presbytarian Ladies College in Burwood, Victoria.[03]


Brothers, parents, neighbours and friends

The other kids were easier to cast. Most kids were cast through auditions and workshop sessions. Matt Day (Paul Barton) auditioned through an agent. He happened to know a boy that would fit the part of Skinner, and so Frank Webb was cast.[01]

Nine year old Ben Toovey went in to audition for the role of seven year old Douglas Barton. He was noticed in the foyer by Hooks before it was even his turn to audition and got the part.

The duration of filming meant that the children would miss a large part of their school year. To prevent them falling behind on their curriculum, the production enlisted the help of Rachel Evans as a tutor. She not only was the children's teacher, but also their mentor and surrogate mum.

The adults are all professional actors, with Frankie J. Holden the only one to reprise his role as 'dad' Robert from the short film (which he did as a favour to Jocelyn). Jennifer Jarman-Walker portrayed 'mum' Clare.

Robert Essex, known mostly from his roles as villain or tough detective in other television shows, enraged kids all over the world as Mr Jensen. Finishing up the roster of adult regulars are Alan Lovett and Maureen Edwards, who portrayed the Snollers. Both of them had to put up a British accent for their roles.


On the air and off again, foreign success

The series premiered on 29 February 1988 as part of ABC's The Afternoon Show. Being "strip programmed", which means one episode a day instead of one episode weekly, the series was cycled through rather rapidly. One episode every Monday through to Thursday meant the entire twelve part series was done and gone in just three weeks.[01]

The ABC never repeated the series, and never commissioned additional seasons. This makes the series relatively unknown in Australia, but its twelve episodes nevertheless made a big impact on the European market, where it was repeated into the 2000s and is known and fondly remembered by many to this day.

The series has aired in the UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Spain and Canada. Please see Broadcast History for more details. I've reason to believe it was aired in Belgium and Israel too, but so far have not found any evidence of that. If you can help me out on those two, or can tell me if it was broadcast in other countries (verifiably), please let me know.
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Rerun record
Hands down, Germany is the country that's most nuts about the Bartons. Atleast if the number of runs the show had there is anything to go by. No less than seven runs, over a period of ten years, not counting next day repeats. Six of those runs were on national television, spread across several networks both commercial and publicly funded.



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Legally correct
In the episode "Beautiful Beetroot", after finding the cigarettes, Elly lists which Guide Laws Vivienne must have broken ("1, 2, 4, 5… and most likely No. 8 as well", says Elly. "Definitely 5, that poor frog" Anita adds).

Well, I
checked, and Elly's right. According to the Australian Guide Laws that were in use in 1987 (they were rewritten in 2012), those are the exact ones that Vivienne broke.

Series Synopsis

You can find episode synopses in the Episode Guide section, but let's start off with a series synopsis and in depth look into the characters, shall we? We'll go in a little deeper into the show than the official synopsis and character descriptions do, so get some snacks and enjoy.

The series creates more backstory for the Bartons themselves and introduces new characters like Skinner, Vince, the Snollers and of course Anita.

It deals with everyday events that a typical suburban family goes through, never touching on heavy subjects like divorce or death (not counting frogs), and not too far removed from what children would experience in their own lives; so no villains, big mystery or ominous events looming on the horizon.

Press at the time heralded the series as "ABC's 'Neighbours' for kids", although Jenifer Hooks did not agree with that assessment at all. She was interviewed in the 21 May 1987 edition of Green Guide, and told Pamela Bone that The Bartons would be much more refined than a soap, with a lot less fighting in it.[03][06]

Heavy issues, like death or divorce, would also be avoided. The stories told were to be the kind of "adventures" real kids live everyday, in their everyday lives and everyday friendships.


So if there are no villains in The Bartons, then what does that make Mr Jensen?

When asked, Jocelyn Moorhouse confirmed that the adults are depicted as Elly sees them. So Mr Jensen seems a bit more sinister and mean than he actually is; the Snollers slightly more mysterious and exotic (or rather: oblivious) and mum and dad seem to act without thinking of their kids' opinions and feelings.
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True Blue
The song "True Blue", as sung by Douglas and Lee in the episode "Bartons at the Beach", baffled me as a kid. Only when I got some Australian friends later in life, who explained it to me, I finally got what it was about.

The original is by Australian singer John Williamson and is on
YouTube for you to enjoy.


Characters

Elly Barton (Olivia Harkin) is eleven years old and the focus of the story. She's the only girl in a family with four children. Her parents are authoratative, making decisions that affect their children's lives without asking their opinion or considering their feelings. Her older brothers often tease her (although Paul only does so to impress Anthony); her younger brother is merely there for Elly to boss around.

She has two best friends: one is Anita McPherson, who lives just down the street. The other is the tree in the Barton's backyard, where Elly takes refuge from her family and life in general. It's also the perfect place to spy on the neighbourhood, especially her neighbour, Mister Laurie Jensen.

Not portrayed as the perfect daughter, as mostly American shows tend to do, Elly is a very realistic character. She has her moods, sometimes acting out.

Although she'd never admit it, Elly sometimes verges on being a bully; she doesn't shy away from manipulating others to get to the outcome she desires.

But she can also be caring, sweet and worried about others. Especially when others, like her brother Paul, have it rough or when people on the other side of the world are going hungry. Elly's also curious, bordering on nosy; she wants to know everything about everything and everyone.

But whatever Elly does, she does it because she thinks that's the right course of action at that time and she does it with a passion.

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Olivia Harkin as Elly Barton, caught in the act of making fun of and rubbing salt in the wounds of her heartbroken friend Anita, who just minutes earlier found out her crush is in love with someone else.

Screenshot from the episode
Half-time. Digitised by me, used under fair use.

Elly absolutely loves teasing Anita about her interest for boys and her latest crush. She doesn't understand why her best friend finds boys interesting. Boys are annoyances that have to be dealt with quickly, so Elly can resume what she was doing, and not be pondered on for too long. Let alone talk about their bodies, as Anita seems to enjoy doing. No, Elly reckons there must be something wrong with Anita.

In my opinion, the realism with which Elly is depicted, both by the writers and by her actress Olivia Harkin, is one of the aspects that makes COTB stand out from other series of the time (and still today).

Paul Barton (Matt Day) is Elly's fourteen year old brother and the only character besides Elly that gets his own in depth story line in the series. Even though he often sides with Anthony in teasing Elly, he's probably the closest to her of the entire family. He's soft-mannered, enjoys joining Elly's clubs, reading books and he strongly dislikes sports.

Paul feels a lot of social pressure to act like other boys his age do, especially in the areas of sports and girls. He fails at both, and this makes him "suspected" (of being gay) by other boys (especially Anthony). This being the eighties that is frowned upon. The show doesn't shy away from the struggle some boys go through in this aspect; appearance to other boys becoming more important and letting go of your personality in favour of one that's forced on you by peer pressure.

Sure, some boys roll into that social role naturally, but there's herds of them that don't. And unusually for '80s TV, Paul is one of them. And while he does succumb for about 20 minutes in the episode Suspected, he doesn't back off and quickly goes back to his own self. COTB shows that even when you don't act like you're apparently supposed too, you can still have lots of cool friends and girls will still notice you.

Anthony Barton (Michael O'Reilly), Elly's eldest brother, is sixteen, a jock and generally either ignores Elly's existence or teases her; there seems to be no inbetween. Anthony feels ashamed of Paul, his actions and every way Paul is not like Anthony, and dislikes him for that.

Anthony has his own troubles. Yes, he's the jock, good at sports, and very popular with girls. But he's secretly tired of dropping girls like they're wet bars of soap, and wishes he could have a more intimate relationship with one (like Paul seems to be able to do). He decides against a friendship with a girl he likes because she's disabled, presumably again because it doesn't fit in with the image he and his jock friends want to radiate. Although never explored, Anthony seems to be more like Paul than Anthony will ever admit.

Douglas Barton (Ben Toovey), is Elly's only younger brother, seven years old and still respects his parents to no end. He's best mates with Skinner (see further down this page). Elly plays with him, but the age difference usually means that Elly bosses him and his friends around.

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Frankenford
Robert drives a Ford Falcon Wagon XD, which is a model exclusive to Australia.

According to the Internet Movie Car Database, Robert's Falcon is a bit of a Frankenstein's car, with parts of different Falcon versions mixed together.

Elly's father Robert Barton (Frankie J. Holden) works as an assistant manager at the local branch of a bank. Caught up in his job, he isn't very close to his children (with the possible exception of Anthony). His will is law, and he expects his children to fall in line, and is not afraid to (threaten to) use physical punishment to get them to do that. Elly and Robert have a special kind of 'friendship', one that only fathers and daughters can have, but there is a large gap between their understanding of the world. Robert seems to understand his daughter's opinions less and less because of it.

Mum Clare Barton (Jennifer Jarman-Walker) became a stay-at-home-mum when her children were born. She's inititially happy with the situation, as raising four kids (of which one is Elly) really is a full time job. She wants to rejoin the workforce as the series progresses. Clare tries to force Elly into being more feminine, like painting her room pink against Elly's will and buying her dresses Elly doesn't want to wear, but secretly has already given up on it.

The Davies are a family that live on the other side of Banksiawood. Son "Skinner" (real name Mervyn, portrayed by Frank Webb) is Douglas' best mate, and even though only seven years old, a real street smart kid. He makes money by letting other children place bets on the outcome of certain events, or by making them pay to make use of the public playground. In the show it's hinted at that Skinner is being abused by his father.

Skinner's older sister Susan (Natasha Kenneally) is known as "The Lonely Girl" in school and around the neighbourhood. She's shy and apparently has no friends. During the course of the series she not only befriends Elly and Anita, but also becomes the girlfriend of Banksiawood's most popular boy, Vince Capaletti (Christian Pellone).


Miss Julia "India" Snoller (Maureen Edwards) and Tom Snoller (Alan Lovett) are brother and sister, and British immigrants.

Their mother used to live in the house where they live now and was strongly opposed to the suburb being built around her property. This alienated the family from the people eventually moving into the houses around them.

The Snollers lived a secluded life in their old house after their mother passed away, until Elly breaks that by befriending them. Miss India, as everybody calls Julia Snoller, becomes a close friend to Elly, although relations with Elly's parents remain cold.

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Maximum cuteness
Mr Jensen's dog, Max, was found at a pound by the production. He wasn't what they had in mind for Mr Jensen's dog, but they fell in love with him on first sight

If Elly has a nemesis, Mister Laurie Jensen (Robert Essex) is it. He's annoyed with kids and is disliked by most people in the neighbourhood.

Mr. Jensen especially dislikes Elly, because of her spying on his property from her tree, and wants her tree cut down. He thinks of himself as an accomplished gardner, but in reality knows very little about plants and trees (judging by the way he prunes various plants throughout the series).

He is shown to have a softer side, even helping Elly out in an episode or two, but all amiability is out the window again by the time the series ends. Yet, in his final shot in the series (pictured here), he's seen smiling in his own way after Elly tells him they're not moving (and the tree's staying too). So maybe he secretly doesn't dislike Elly after all, or maybe Elly has proven herself in his eyes over the course of the series.


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Real sisters
Pippa Smith and Rosemary Smith (Yvonne and Anita McPherson) are sisters in real life too.

Anita McPherson (Rosemary Smith) is Elly's best friend. She's by far the most developed character after Elly and Paul.

Just weeks before we meet her in the series, Anita starts to go "boy crazy" (in Elly's words; mentioned in the book) and develops a crush on Vince Capaletti, the local football team's captain. She fantasises about marrying him and takes every opportunity to change the subject matter to Vince when talking to Elly (again, more so in the book than on the television series).

Anita's crush on Vince makes way for true love in episode three, and Paul's the lucky man. He just doesn't know it yet, and Anita spends the next nine episodes building up the courage to tell him. She's eventually forced to do so by events in the final episode.

Anita aspires to be a real lady. This is extra difficult when you have a tom-boyish friend like Elly. She's a so called "Brownie" (young girl scout) when the series starts and becomes a "Girl Guide" (older girl scout) somewhere between the events of the episodes
The Barton League of Bird Lovers and Beautiful Beetroot (as she's already a Guide in the flashbacks in that episode).

Other than being a Guide, Anita likes embroidery, wearing dresses, have her hair done and experiments with make-up. In short; she's in some ways the complete opposite of Elly. When Elly's not around, she initially prefers to hang out with the younger kids in the neighbourhood, with her younger sisters Yvonne and Simone acting as a gateway. Later this changes to Susan, who's also a Guide.

She's prone to nosebleeds, which is used as a plot device in two episodes.

Although Anita sometimes gets bossed around by Elly, and often gets dragged into whatever Elly is plotting, she certainly can stand her ground when it comes to it. Often challenging Elly, or even opposing her. But in the end, Elly and Anita are best friends through and through.

Yvonne McPherson (Pippa Smith) is one of Anita's younger sisters (the other one is Simone McPherson; played by Laura Noonan) and her partner in crime when Elly's not around. Yvonne is friends with Douglas and looks up to her big sis and Elly.

Vince Capaletti (Christian Pellone) is a class mate and friend of Paul's and the captain of the Banksia Blues, the Australian rules football team where Paul plays/played. Vince is Anita's first crush until she finds out Vince and Susan Davies are in love with each other.



Further reading
Use the links below to find out more. And don't forget the interviews with cast and crew; accessible through either the crew page or under the
Interviews tab in the menu. More will be added in time as I track down some more people.


 

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