Today I’m very pleased to bring you an interview that I’ve been wanting to do for years. The gentleman I’m speaking to today has had a career in Australian television that has actually lasted as long as Australian television itself!
SH: Pete Smith, thank you so much for joining me today officially for How to Win Game Shows.com.
PS: That’s a pleasure! I’ve got my announcer’s voice on Stephen, if you noticed.
SH: It’s beautiful, I love it. You are one of the longest-serving members of the entertainment community in Australian television. How many years has it been now?
PS: I started at the ABC as a kid in ’57, just after the (Melbourne) Olympics and that was a good time to start, because radio was still king then for that short little time before TV took over. So radio is my grounding, at the ABC but then in ’64, I came across to the Fun Factory.
SH: The Fun Factory in Richmond?
PS: In Richmond.
SH: Bendigo Street (Channel 9), yes.
PS: And back then, there were 9 full time booth announcers.
SH: That’s amazing.
PS: And I was just one of them. Because everything was done live. It was like radio with pictures, you had to be in the announcing booth because every commercial break consisted of live reads. There wasn’t the sophistication of video tape, most of the commercials were on film or just glass slides with a live read by the announcer, so you couldn’t move out of the booth during your shift. And sometimes if Graham Kennedy (host of the live show In Melbourne Tonight) was in a mad mood, it was an open ended show. For a 60 second live commercial, I think the record was 24½ minutes. That was for a Pal dog food commercial, when Rover The Wonder Dog wouldn’t eat the food.
SH: The advertisers got their money’s worth.
PS: They certainly did in those days. The live reads were rehearsed the first thing during the day. The first production piece was at 3:30 when the live commercials were rehearsed, but when they went on air particularly with Graham and Bert (on In Melbourne Tonight), they bore no resemblance to what the rehearsal was… but that was expected.
SH: Pete, can we move to your tenure at the $ale of the Century? You were there for 22 seasons, and 4610 episodes!
PS: Gee I didn’t realise it was that many. It was 21 years, wasn’t it? I do remember that.
SH: It was. I grew up watching it and playing along at home, I went on the show twice, and you were there doing not just the announcing, including this famous show ID….
… but you also did the audience warm up for the show.
PS: Yes, and really the warm up – of course, unseen by the television audience – was very important, because a lot of those people came in and stayed all day through 5 episodes and a lunch break, and we didn’t regard them as fodder; we regarded them as an important part of the program.
SH: And some of them were nervous, too, because some of them were about to go on the show!
PS: Yeah, for sure.
SH: In all of that time, do any spectacularly bad contestants stick in your mind?
PS: No I don’t think so. They had to pass some sort of criteria; it wasn’t just Joe Blow off the street. So it was people with a real intent – they weren’t going to make a fool of themselves, it wasn’t a comedy show.
SH: When I think of Sale of the Century, I think of some of the freakishly good contestants like Carey Young.
PS: Oh, absolutely! And Carey of course lived and breathed quiz, he stands out in my mind as the most prominent contestant on the show, and then he went on to make it his business and he wrote questions for the show.
SH: Yeah that’s right, and he wrote quizzes for newspapers too, I think. Being in the front line for so many episodes, did you learn any strategies that some of the successful contestants might have used?
PS: Yes I think so. The $ale format (which was The Great Temptation before that) was one of the ultimate quiz show formats where you have somebody get out in front then you tempt them with something, which is brilliant really, when you think about it. And you don’t tempt them with a carton of cigarettes; you tempt them with something really worthwhile, which brings a competitive edge back in. On that first week that we recorded, Mel Gibson’s father Hutton was on the show. He was pretty spectacular really, Hutton Gibson. I think Mel might have done a couple of local bits and pieces but he hadn’t risen to prominence back then.
SH: Oh that’s an interesting bit of trivia…
And that’s where we’ll leave it for this week. As our chat continues next week, we discuss Family Feud, and how Pete got the $ale of the Century gig in the first place…
An addition to being so generous with his time, Pete also very kindly agreed to record a little greeting, exclusively for HowToWinGameShows.com.
And you can see (and hear) it by clicking on the play icon in the little window at the top of this page!
Thanks Pete! Our chat continues here next Tuesday.
Until then, then!