Pushing the Boundaries: The Mavis Bramston Show was seen as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival
On the 19th of June this year the world lost an icon of Australian television. Carol Raye was a pioneer in the artform, having emigrated to Australia in 1964 and within a year she was the star and creator of one of the biggest shows on TV, The Mavis Bramston Show. The show was a satirical sketch show, inspired by a show in the UK called That Was The Week That Was, and it was groundbreaking. No one had ever tried a satirical program before on Australian television and for 4 years, The Mavis Bramston Show was must-watch watercooler TV and the entire country stopped to watch it. It’s an important piece of history that’s explored in the documentary Pushing the Boundaries: The Mavis Bramston Show.
Told with a combination of archival footage and interviews with surviving members of the cast and a few historians, Pushing the Boundaries: The Mavis Bramston Show tracks the history of the show from its inception under the title The Late Show to its original airing and throughout its 4-year run. On the way, the impact of the show on things like politics, women’s rights, racial justice and other social movements are explored in as much depth as they can get into. Not only is the show’s cultural importance explored but it also lets the modern audience catch plenty of glimpses of the comedic brilliance that the show became known for, creating a great historic time capsule that’s easily digestible.
Pushing the Boundaries: The Mavis Bramston Show is broken up carefully into sections that explore each element that made the show what it was, from basically turning cultural cringe into a core of Australian comedy to the backlashes the show regularly had to deal with (the funniest probably being when a bishop threatened to sell shares in a sponsor because someone on the show said “Bum”… because it was the 1960s and that was considered truly shocking back then). The individual sections vary greatly in length, some incredibly short and other’s pushing the ten minute mark but all of them really explore the many elements of this program’s creation and rise to importance.
One of the big risks about doing a documentary on a satirical news program from the 60s is that some of the context is inevitably lost to time. This is something that Pushing the Boundaries: The Mavis Bramston Show clearly thought about because whenever they show a sketch of that nature there’s a little bit of context given in text on screen that helps make it clear why this sketch worked at the time. They do this for a few major sketches, the ones they can get the footage of (because, like a lot of older programs, a substantial amount of the episodes of this series have been lost to time) which really helps explore why this show was so big.
You really get the sense that the people behind Pushing the Boundaries: The Mavis Bramston Show wanted to ensure they created a true time capsule of this historic show while there were still people around who were there at the time. There’s a real “throw every story out there” feel, the order of events not exactly mattering that much as long as the information is captured and it can be a little hard to follow if you expect a mostly chronological tale. This is more of an overall historical biography, it might not be in order but every story is still genuinely fascinating and should be preserved even if it could be presented a little bit better.
On the whole, Pushing the Boundaries: The Mavis Bramston Show is an important documentary about the first satirical show ever made on Australian television. It’s truly historic, a piece that will undoubtedly be used to show future generations where Australian satire really began and give icons like Carol Raye a way to be remembered forever. Not only is this just a generally fantastic documentary, hopefully it’ll revive interest in The Mavis Bramston Show and eventually the national archives will find a way to release copies of the episodes that they’ve managed to save so that we can all have a good laugh at some true legends of Aussie comedy.