Crawford Productions was founded in 1945 by brother and sister Hector and Dorothy Crawford as a producer of drama, light entertainment and educational programs for radio. With the introduction of broadcast television to Australia in 1956, Crawfords was one of the few Australian radio production houses that was able to make a successful transition to the new medium.
Early Crawford TV productions included Wedding Day (HSV-7, 1956), the first Australian-produced sitcom Take That! (HSV-7, 1957–59), The Peters Club (GTV-9, 1958), Raising a Husband (GTV-9, 1958), and the drama play Seagulls Over Sorrento (HSV-7, 1960). They also produced segments of the Export Action documentary series, a cartoon, The Flying Dogtor, and a local adaptation of the US game show Video Village (HSV-7, 1962–66).
Crawfords generally had a reputation for higher quality productions than its nearest rival, the Reg Grundy Organisation, which initially specialized in quiz and game shows, before making the transition to drama serials. Company co-founder Hector Crawford was also well known as an orchestral conductor leader, and he was a prominent figure in the ongoing campaign for local content regulations on Australian television.
During the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s Crawford Productions dominated Australian-produced series drama in that country. They gained an early foothold with their first major TV series, Consider Your Verdict (1961–64), which presented dramatisations of court cases, but like all other local producers, Crawfords faced massive competition from imported overseas programming.
This was primarily because there were no local content regulations governing Australian television at the time, and as a result of this de facto free-trade agreement, the vast majority of programs shown on Australian TV content were imported from America. At the time Homicide premiered in late 1964, more than 80% of all content broadcast on Australian TV came from America, and American product enjoyed a virtual monopoly over the field of TV drama—the report of the 1963 Vincent Commission into the Australian media found that 97% of all drama shows broadcast in Australia between 1956 and 1963 were American productions.
Australian producers had to compete against high-quality, high-budget imported programs that could draw on an international talent pool and a skill-base that had grown out of the Hollywood studio system. The massive competitive advantage enjoyed by imported content was exacerbated by the fact that the once-thriving Australia film industry had been decimated by competition from the major American studios; by the start of the 1960s film production in Australia had come to a standstill, and only one locally produced and funded feature film was made in Australia in the decade between 1959 and 1969. One of the major impacts of the suppression of the local film industry was a rapid erosion of skills and experience among local film-makers and a "brain drain" of local talent to Britain and the USA.
Crawford broke through to mainstream success with their popular and long-running police drama Homicide, which premiered in October 1964 on the Seven Network. It became the first TV drama series produced by a local company in Australia to become a major ratings success and compete effectively with imported American programming.
As video technology was still in its infancy in Australia at that time, Crawfords developed a highly efficient integrated production schedule to combine studio scenes recorded on videotape with location footage captured on film for each weekly episode. Encouraged by the success of Homicide (which continued in production until 1975) Crawfords' next drama project was the ambitious espionage drama Hunter (1967), which was purchased by the Nine Network. It starred Tony Ward and also made a star out of the actor who played its villain, Gerard Kennedy.
After Hunter ended in 1969, a new police drama, Division 4 (1969) was conceived as a vehicle for Kennedy's talents and he would become a dual Gold Logie winner, the series also screened on the Nine Network; the other stars included former game show host and newsreader Chuck Faulkner, Terry Donovan, and Ted Hamilton. Unlike Homicide, which concentrated on murder plots, Division 4 was set in a suburban Melbourne police station, and covered a broad range of police work, as well as occasionally featuring more lighthearted episodes. It too became an enduring popular success and earned Kennedy two Logie Awards.
Crawford's next venture was a rural police series Matlock Police (1971), which was sold to the Network Ten; this too became a popular success; it starred veteran Australian actor Michael Pate, who had spent many years in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s, and featured Paul Cronin, who was later given his own spinoff series, Solo One. With the success of Matlock Police, Crawfords cemented its position as Australia's leading drama production house, and gained the unique distinction of having a successful weekly drama series running simultaneously on each of the three major commercial networks.
In 1973 Crawford's created the action-adventure series Ryan (1973). starring Rod Mullinar as a private investigator. This was an all-film colour production (at a time when Australian TV was still in black and white) made with an eye to overseas sales but it only lasted one series of 39 episodes. In 1974 Crawfords moved into the realm of soap opera with its sex-comedy serial The Box, which was set in a TV station. With the top-rating 0-10 Network serial Number 96 as its lead in The Box was an instant success.
Homicide, Division 4, and Matlock Police remained highly popular through the early 1970s, and The Box was a big hit in its premiere year, ranking as Australia's second highest-rated program for 1974. With a highly popular police drama on each commercial network the production company was booming. However, in 1975 and 1976, Homicide, Division 4, and Matlock Police were all abruptly cancelled. It has been suggested that this was because Hector Crawford and several of the actors who featured in his shows figured prominently in the contemporary TV: Make It Australian campaign, agitating for stronger local content regulations to promote and protect local TV production.
Crawford's persevered with The Box through 1975 and 1976 although its ratings were well down on the figures it achieved in its first year. The Box was cancelled in early 1977 and production ended on the series 1 April 1977. The company also created situation comedy series The Bluestone Boys (1976) which was set in a prison, and Bobby Dazzler, a vehicle for pop singer John Farnham, in 1977. Bluey (1976) saw a return to police drama but with a new spin, however the series was not a major success.
Greater success came with The Sullivans (1976–82), a critically acclaimed and highly popular World War II family serial co-starring Lorraine Bayly and former Matlock lead Paul Cronin. Continuing the trend at that time for evening soap opera type shows on Australian television they later launched Cop Shop (1977–84), a meld of soap opera with the Crawfords staple of police drama, and the series emerged as a popular success. Cop Shop featured George Mallaby and former Bellbird star Terry Norris. Skyways (1979–81) replicated the soap opera-meets-weekly adult drama hybrid of Cop Shop in an airport setting, with less success. Later programmes included legal drama Carson's Law (1983–84), a vehicle for former The Sullivans star Lorraine Bayly, children's series Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left and the popular outback medical drama The Flying Doctors.
The company was sold to WIN Corporation in 1989. Subsequent Crawford drama productions included State Coroner, The Saddle Club, and Guinevere Jones. The Crawford studios in Box Hill, Victoria were demolished in March 2006 and a Bunnings Warehouse opened on the site on 30 June 2006. In 2009, Crawfords Australia had an eight-acre studio complex in Melbourne. While the company is still in existence, it currently does not produce television, concentrating instead on marketing DVD releases of the company's earlier dramas.Take That (1957-59)
Consider Your Verdict (1961-64)
Division 4 (1969-75)
Matlock Police (1971-76)
The Box (1974-77)
The Sullivans (1976-83)
Cop Shop (1977-84)
Carson's Law (1983-84)
The Flying Doctors (1986-93)
The Saddle Club (2001-09)