Molly (Channel 7 Miniseries)

February 15, 2016 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | LIFE, Modern Music, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS | 4 Comments |

Photo by Jeanie McKinder

(Channel 7 Mini-Series)

Ian “Molly” Meldrum named his house “Luxor”  and hung out with cross-dressers. But Molly was also a brawler and a football fan. While having a genius for television, he could barely string two words together. These contradictions raise questions about this quixotic man, but  there was no question for those of us who grew up in the Countdown days.  Watching Countdown for 25 minutes on the ABC was what you did on Friday, and then Sunday evenings.  Young people today won’t believe it if you tell them that until Countdown, the only tv music shows for the young were occasional all night “Rockathons”* which my brother and I were allowed to stay up to watch in our sleeping bags.  Then Molly brought Countdown to the ABC and we could see “film clips” and live music every week..

This two-part biography of Molly concentrates mainly on the genesis of Countdown and its early years.  It’s all there.   The riveting but painful Prince Charles interview (real footage and a re-enactment).  Renee Geyer and John Paul Young both belting Molly in the face.   Molly on air somewhat the worse for wear.

This  is entertaining and either nostalgic or revelatory, depending on the viewer’s age.  But it is bland and predictable in the way of Australian mini-series made for prime time.  Like  Peter Allen – Not the Boy Next Door), it follows the predictable story arc from early loss through the struggle to be recognised despite evil conservative forces, to the end of it all, via uplifting moments, success and a few silly bits (Molly chasing a train in his underpants).  It also, unnecessarily, uses the time-worn devices of depicting the past in sepia tones and of having our subject relive his life life-story while in a coma – although the hallucinations set in the hospital involving Olivia Newton-John, Freddie Mercury and John and Yoko are effective.

Samuel Johnson as Molly is good and uncannily like him, despite the bad wig, one of several.  (Again see Peter Allen – Not the Boy Next Door.).  Another stand out, Ben Geurens, does not resemble Shirley Strachan at all but leaves us in no doubt that Shirley was unpleasant. Obviously the gloves are off now that Shirley is dead.  Perhaps in the interests of delicacy, because Molly, although fragile now is still with us, certain important aspects of his life are glossed-over.  Were Molly and Charlie “Caroline” Jenkins (an excellent Ben Gerrard) a couple?  That is never clear.  What was Molly’s involvement in Caroline’s brothel?  We see Caroline planning suicide and then she simply disappears.

Those of us who can still hear that drum roll and “Count dow-own!” remember the countdown of the top ten songs with which every episode ended.  That was the highlight and kind of the whole point.    Recently, when I returned to the home of my teenage years, I was surprised to see that there was no rut in the road between my friend’s house and mine.  I was sure that we had worn one over the years of Sundays when we’d just finished tea and were allowed to watch the top 10 together (as I remember, it was always Bohemian Rhapsody anyway). But the actual countdown  is barely mentioned in this series.

Molly is not riveting television, but it’s worth watching, to see The Windsor Hotel in Melbourne (pretending to be in London), to at last learn the truth about the lip-synching, and to see Mr Squiggle (albeit briefly – he had to get back to the moon).  Certainly it does leave one with the feeling that being involved in Countdown must have been more fun, a lot dirtier and less morally uplifting than it appears here.

See our review of the Channel 7 follow-up “Molly: The Real Thing” here.

  • TVC’s good friend G has pointed out, rather testily, that in fact there were earlier “teen shows”, called Happening 70, Happening 71 and Happening 72.  Furthermore, Channel 7’s follow-up to Molly, (Molly: The Real Thing) reminded us of The Go!!! Show, Kommotion and Uptight.  A list of Australian music television shows can be seen here.  We accept that shows with names like Accent on Youth, Hitscene and It’s a Gas probably were designed to appeal to the youth of the day.  How embarrassment.





  1. Reply

    Smug of Glebe

    February 15, 2016

    I remember one year when that ghastly song "January" by Pilot was number one from January to December (or so it seemed). Eventually, they stopped playing it on Countdown and put on another video instead, some crap Aussie pub band whose lead singer Molly was in love with.

    • Reply

      Lesley Jakobsen

      February 15, 2016

      I hated it when they didn't play the number one. That was what we waited for. Even if the song was bad, it was NUMBER ONE.

  2. Reply

    C Reid

    February 18, 2016

    I noticed the sepia in the flashbacks and thought 'here we go' but I suppose a big component of Countdown was colour. The muddy tones could also have been representing the dull conservativism of the pre rock n roll era. When Molly and Caro go back to a sleepy old community once again what you saw was greys and browns everywhere, no colour. The effect was nearly like Wizard of Oz. I guess there were parallels because there must have been times Molly felt transported to another world.

    I was a bit taken aback by the portrayal of Skyhooks particularly Shirley. I know there was mischief and they didn't always do what they were told by the staid ABC. But most people who knew Shirley seemed to describe him as a 'good bloke' and I thought he and Molly were fairly good pals. I read a biography about him that claimed Shirley actually saw very little money from Skyhooks and he felt he would genuinely be better off with a regular job, despite being a Countdown star. The band had tried to crack America but for whatever reason audiences there never took off. They were possibly confused in the US about the curly haired singer with a girl's name and the quirky outfits. After making few gains Shirley quit. I remember the show Shirl's Neighbourhood. It took me a long time to realize he had actually been in a band... I have to wonder if some of the way they were portrayed was due to industry politics more than anything else. I doubt it was Molly himself who was in on this.

    • Reply

      Lesley Jakobsen

      February 18, 2016

      Hi C,
      Yep, if it weren't for the sepia, viewers couldn't be trusted to identify a flashback..and might never catch on to the message that "the past" was dull and conservative. Thank goodness the writers added the obstructive Thatcher-loving ABC executives in suits, so that we could all be sure. Phew! But still - although "Molly" is a bit heavy-handed and old hat, at the same time it's entertaining and heart-warming, like the man himself. Apparently 2.6 million viewers tuned in!
      I too was surprised by the depiction of Shirley. I haven't read about him, as you have and I didn't know all that about his career, but I had never heard that he was nasty. Yes, "Shirl" would have bemused US producers - although "Skyhooks" was probably ok (whereas for the US market "Flowers" was changed to "Icehouse" and "Sherbet" became "Highway").
      I agree, Molly doesn't seem the type to bag old friends. He said that he was going to be out of the country when the miniseries was shown because it was too raw.

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