A long-lost clip of John Farnham appearing on Happening ’72 – one of the last shows from Australia’s first wave of pop music television – has been restored by the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), immortalising what had long been seen as a forgotten moment in Australian music history.
The black-and-white footage was made viewable by the NFSA earlier this week, almost exactly 50 years after it aired on the 0-10 Network (now known as Channel 10) on November 11, 1972. Happening ran for three seasons between 1970 and 1972 – each titled for its corresponding year – and was consistently successful, even winning a Logie (in the category ‘For Their Contribution To The Australian Teenager On TV’) in 1971.
The show was cancelled in 1972 due to mounting pressure from industry bodies – namely, the Musicians’ Union and Actors’ Equity – who called for a ban on artists miming their performances during TV appearances. Bands rarely performed live in the early years of pop TV (due in large part to cost), and instead singers would lip-sync while their records were dubbed over the footage; this is indeed the case with Farnham’s appearance on Happening ’72.
The newly unearthed clip comes from the very end of the show’s very last episode, where Farnham mimes his cover of the Motown classic ‘For Once In My Life’ (pulled from his 1971 album ‘Johnny’). During the segment, a pair of the show’s production crew dance through the shot with a coffin labelled ‘HAPPENED 72’.
The footage was submitted by singer Jeff Phillips, who alongside a young Molly Meldrum, appeared frequently as a host on Happening. Phillips himself also “performed” for the final episode of Happening ’72, miming to his song ‘Wrong Or Right’. The footage (which spans the entire episode) was recovered from a two-inch reel that Phillips had stored in his Melbourne home.
It’s explained the reel had been run down by decades of wear from travel and storage, and was thought to be damaged by mould. Phillips had long since forgotten what was on the reel, but took it to Simon Smith – the Melbourne-based curator of the NFSA – to be recovered nonetheless. Smith, with the aide of his team of technicians, was able to have the mould cleaned off the tape, and the footage was almost entirely unscathed.
Restored and scanned digitally, it marks the first time that footage from Happening has ever been viewed in high-definition (however it should be noted that the NFSA’s online stream of it maxes out at 540p). The original reel is now being held at the NFSA’s headquarters in Canberra.
Speaking to ABC News, Phillips said he was “thrilled” to see the footage restored: “We were all a real team, artists, bands, everyone, we were all in the same business and we all wanted to go somewhere.”
“It’s a really important find because there’s not a huge amount of pop music television from the early ‘70s,” Smith added. “To find a little bit of pop gold from the end of this influential show is fantastic.”
Over the years, other footage from Happening has been made available to view online thanks to the efforts of home archivists. The YouTube channels nzoz1971 and nzoz1972, for example, have contributed at least six clips from the series (although some have been wiped out due to copyright claims).
Meanwhile, Farnham is recovering from the surgery he underwent earlier this year to remove a cancerous growth from his mouth. The last update came in October, when his sons said in an interview that Farnham is in good spirits and keeping stable.