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Stormy Petrel (TV series)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Stormy Petrel
Stomy petrel 15 May 1960, Page 111 - The Sydney Morning Herald at Newspapers com.png
Ad in SMH 15 May 1960
Created byRex Rienits
Directed byColin Dean
StarringBrian James
Country of originAustralia
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes12
Running time30 minutes
Original networkABC
Original release29 May (1960-05-29)[1] –
14 August 1960 (1960-08-14)
Followed byThe Outcasts

Stormy Petrel is an early Australian television drama. A period drama, the 12-episode serial told the story of William Bligh and aired in 1960 on ABC. It was the first live TV serial from the ABC.[2]

It was based on a script by Rex Rienits adapted from his 1948 radio serial.[3] The radio serial was rebroadcast in 1953.[4]

Stormy Petrel was a critical and popular success and led to the ABC making a number of period drama series set in Australia's past: The Outcasts (1961), The Patriots (1962), and The Hungry Ones (1963). It also inspired ATN-7, a commercial station, to make Jonah (1962). Telerecordings (also known as Kinescope recordings) of Stormy Petrel are held by National Archives of Australia.


The story of William Blighs' governorship of New South Wales leading up to the events of the Rum Rebellion.


Radio play

The series was based on a radio play which Rex Rienits had written in 1948. Rienits said he believed Bligh "was a great man."[5] He later said that Bligh had "been grossly maligned" and "that Hollywood did a terrible thing in representing him, in the person of Mr. Laughton, as a cruel and brutal despot... However, Bligh undoubtedly had a quick and blustering temper, and it was this temper, rather than any deep-seated viciousness that got him into trouble,both on the 'Bounty' and as Governor of New South Wales'".[6]

The story of Bligh was told through the eyes of his wife Elizabeth, then John Hallet, then his daughter Mary.[7] It went for seventy episodes.[8]

The play was a great success when broadcast. Rienits sold it to the BBC and the ABC rebroadcast it in 1953.[9]

The play was broadcast again on radio in 1959.[7]

TV Production

Early Australian TV drama production was dominated by using imported scripts but Stormy Petrel was made when the ABC was undertaking what has been described as "an Australiana" drive.[10]

It was directed by Colin Dean who called the Rum Rebellion "virtually the colony's first revolt against what was thought to be the tyranny of government vested in the person of the Governor himself."[11]

The sets were designed by Douglas Smith who was on staff at the ABC; he started working on them in December 1959. Smith says it was difficult to get sets to be authentic as while there were plenty of written descriptions there were few pictures so he had to source the latter from the army records in London.[12]

Annette Andre played one of Bligh's daughters.[13] A radio historian said Sullivan "gave the performance of his career" in the show.[14]


  • Ep 1 "The Assignment" – 15 May (Syd), 29 May (Melb), 26 Jun (Brisb) – Captain William Blight is opposed to his daughter Mary marrying John Putland. Sir Joseph Banks offers Bligh the governorship of NSW.[15]
  • Ep 2 "The Voyage Out" 22 May (Syd), 5 Jun (Melb) – Bligh takes the boat to Australia with his daughter Mary and her husband Lt. Putland.
  • Ep 3 "The Arrival" – 29 May (Syd), 12 Jun (Melb) – Bligh, his daughter Mary and Lt Putland arrive in Sydney, they meet MacArthur and his wife.
  • Ep 4 "Enter John MacArthur" – 5 Jun (Syd), 19 Jun (Melb)
  • Ep 5 "Storm Clouds" – 12 Jun (Syd), 26 Jun (Melb)
  • Ep 6 "The Challenge" – 19 Jun (Syd), 3 July (Melb)
  • Ep 7 "The First Skirmish" – 26 Jun (Syd), 10 July (Melb)
  • Ep 8 "The Storm Gathers" – 3 July (Syd), 17 July (Melb) – Bligh clashes with MacArthur in a second court action
  • Ep 9 "The Storm Breaks" – 10 July (Syd), 24 July (Melb)
  • Ep 10 "Rebellion" – 17 July (Syd), 31 July (Melb)
  • Ep 11 ' Aftermath" – 24 July (Syd), 7 Aug (Melb)
  • Ep 12 "The Way Back" – 31 July (Syd), 14 Aug (Melb) – final episode – Bligh returns to England to give evidence at the court martial of Major Johnston. Bligh's widowed daughter Mary becomes betrothed to Macquarie's aide, Maurice O'Connell, while Bligh's secretary, Griffin, who loves Mary, looks on. Bligh is appointed Admiral.



Coming at a time when Australia produced few dramatic television series, The Age called it a "successful serial" and commented "These colorful – and factual – Australian series are a "must" for Australian television."[16][17]

The Sunday Sydney Morning Herald called it "first rate entertainment."[18]

At the end of the series' run The Age called it "Channel 2's most consistent production... stands head and shoulders above all other Australian-produced drama series."[19]

The Woman's Weekly said Dean was to be "cogratulated on a production (made difficult, I'm sure, by budget-balancing) marked by a simplicity that has been the trademark of some of the B.B.C. adaptations of famous classics. You may cock a snoot at Australian history, but "Stormy Petrel" makes Australian history come alive in absorbing TV."[20] At the end of the series' run the Woman's Weekly called it "an outstanding production."[21]


According to director Colin Dean "I got the results from Audience Research – the average audience for Stormy Petrel was the same as a years run in her Majesty's Theatre including matinees. I thought to myself – that is unbelievable. That is what we have been missing. We never had audiences like that before. What a great thing we done!"[22]

It was repeated by the ABC in 1974.[23]


In November 1960 it was announced that Rex Rienits and Colin Dean would reunite on a sequel that would focus on William Redfern but feature many characters from Stormy Petrel.[24]


Rienits wrote up the story as a novel, Stormy Petrel, which was published in 1963. The London Sunday Times said "narrative swings along until Bligh and MacArthur sink with all hands in a bog of litigation."[25]


  1. ^ "Aust TV Serial About Bligh". The Age. 26 May 1960. p. 14.
  2. ^ Marshall, Valda (3 April 1960). "TV Merry Go Round". Sydney Morning Herald. p. 111.
  3. ^ "STARS OF THE AIR". Wodonga and Towong Sentinel (Vic. : 1885 – 1954). Vic.: National Library of Australia. 17 December 1948. p. 1. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  4. ^ ""THE STORMY PETREL"-NEW A.B.C. SERIAL ABOUT BLIGH". South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus (NSW : 1900 – 1954). NSW: National Library of Australia. 3 August 1953. p. 2 Section: South Coast Times AND WOLLONGONG ARGUS FEATURE SECTION. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  5. ^ "STARS OF THE AIR". The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser. 81 (95). New South Wales, Australia. 16 December 1948. p. 4. Retrieved 16 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  6. ^ ""THE STORMY PETREL"-NEW A.B.C. SERIAL ABOUT BLIGH". South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus. LIII (60). New South Wales, Australia. 3 August 1953. p. 2 (South Coast Times AND WOLLONGONG ARGUS FEATURE SECTION). Retrieved 1 October 2020 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ a b "Stormy, but the real Bligh identifier". ABC Weekly. 6 May 1959. p. 3.
  8. ^ Lane p 97
  9. ^ ""THE STORMY PETREL"-NEW A.B.C. SERIAL ABOUT BLIGH". South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus. LIII (60). New South Wales, Australia. 3 August 1953. p. 2 (South Coast Times AND WOLLONGONG ARGUS FEATURE SECTION). Retrieved 16 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ Vagg, Stephen (19 October 2020). "Forgotten Australian TV Plays – The Slaughter of St Teresa's Day". Filmink.
  11. ^ "ABN plans third historical TV serial". The Australian Women's Weekly. 29 (35). Australia. 31 January 1962. p. 17. Retrieved 1 October 2020 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ "The Real Captain Bligh". TV Times. 23 June 1960. pp. 12–13.
  13. ^ Vagg, Stephen (29 August 2020). "Annette Andre: My Brilliant Early Australian Career". Filmink.
  14. ^ Lane, Richard (2000). The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama Volume 2. National Film and Sound Archive. p. 103.
  15. ^ "Bligh Family Story". Sydney Morning Herald. 9 May 1960. p. 13.
  16. ^ "Standard set by Petrel". The Age. 29 December 1960. p. 9.
  17. ^ "Serial on Bligh is Good TV". The Age. 9 June 1960.
  18. ^ Marshall, Valda (22 May 1960). "TV Merry Go Round". Sydney Morning Herald. p. 90.
  19. ^ Janus (18 August 1960). ""Petrel" Milestone for Australian TV". The Age. p. 27.
  20. ^ "They don't socialise". The Australian Women's Weekly. 28 (4). Australia. 29 June 1960. p. 57. Retrieved 16 July 2020 – via National Library of Australia.
  21. ^ "20th century wisdom". The Australian Women's Weekly. 28 (11). Australia. 17 August 1960. p. 55. Retrieved 16 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  22. ^ "Interview with Colin Dean". ABC Gore Hill.
  23. ^ "1960 series on Bligh was worth repeating". The Canberra Times. 48 (13, 821). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 31 July 1974. p. 12. Retrieved 16 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  24. ^ "A.B.C. plans new historical serial". The Australian Women's Weekly. 28 ([?]). Australia. 2 November 1960. p. 74. Retrieved 16 July 2020 – via National Library of Australia.
  25. ^ Shorter notices Authors: Philip Day and A. S. Byatt Date: Sunday, Jan. 12, 1964 Publication: The Sunday Times (London, England) Issue: 7339 p 38

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This page was last edited on 24 August 2021, at 18:54
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