Australian Screen says of Winners that it is 'an anthology series of eight telemovies for children aged between eight and fifteen. No one story is typical. Through comedy, science fiction, historical drama, adventure, fantasy and social realism, many issues are raised. Each of the Winners stories is about children, their families and friends. Common themes across the stories are family relationships, friendship, individuality, and the facing of difficult situations with courage, ingenuity and independence.'
Of the origins of the series, Patricia Edgar says in her memoir Bloodbath: A Memoir of Australian Television (Melbourne: Melbourne UP, 2006):
The series was initially dubbed Masterpiece Theatre, an ironic salute to Phillips Adams' comment at the very first board meeting that we must use popular formats and not look like Masterpiece Theatre. It would eventually air under the title Winners, a title that I selected from a list of ideas during scripting.
I approached a number of experienced producers around the country to induce them to work on a children's program. With guidance from John Morris, I identified twenty of Australia's top writers--including John Duigan, Tom Hegarty, Sonia Borg, Anne Brooksbank, Tony Morphett, Morris Gleitzman, Bob Ellis and Cliff Green--and invited them to a briefing at the Sebel Townhouse in Sydney in February 1983. The way to get their involvement was to make the project high profile and competitivel the media would be involved throughout the process.
Writing is a solitary experience. These selected writers had never been together for a briefing before. The proposal was for each writer to develop two ideas for the sum of $500. If their idea was selected they would go on to the next stage and write a treatment and draft, otherwise we would give their idea back to them. Without exception, the idea appealed. The writers were not instructed on specific program ideas, but I made it clear I did not want bland adventure or syrupy formulaic family shows. I wanted the kind of drama children had not seen before--contemporary, challenging, dealing with important, relevant issue. I wanted stories that would add some meaning to children's lives. If these writers--the cream of the crop--could not deliver, nobody else in Australia could. (pp.155-56)
Edgar said of the series that 'Winners had been a baptism of fire--introducing me to a diverse range of producers, directors, styles of production and problems--as well as a wonderfully exciting introduction to the creation of drama, from an idea on paper to a powerful experience to be shared on screen' (pp.169-70).
Set in 1947, this short story explores the actions and consequences that arise from a young boy's moral dilemma. Ten-year-old Gary Doyle is the third child of a large, poor Catholic family. Bright and with a photographic memory, Gary is constantly picked on and beaten up by the boys at school. His teachers want him to go to a special school for bright kids where his talents will be better developed, but his father can't be convinced to let this happen. When Gary wins a radio quiz show and is asked to become a regular, he finds fame and fortune within his reach. But when they start rigging the show, the religious and ethical Gary has a difficult decision to make, as he becomes trapped between his belief in honesty and the benefits that fame can bring.
Source: Australian Screen.
According to Patricia Edgar's memoirs:
I was really upset when I went to view the director's cut of Top Kid, which was my favourite script in the series. [...] Bob Ellis had written an ending that was ambiguous but which explored the enormous pressures on the boy. I had submitted the script to Father Gerry Briglia at the Catholic Education Office for his advice on such a story for young people. He endorsed it strongly and reinforced my confidence that we should be doing provocative productions of this kind.
But Carl Schultz and Jane Scott didn't like the ending and had shot an alternative, unscripted version in which Gary stood up and said, 'I will not tell a lie'. I was horrified; the film had lost its point and been turned into the kind of moralistic, sermonising story for children I detested. I felt very sure of Ellis' likely response. The shoot was well over, so we had to work with the footage we had. But as the director had not believed in the film as written, when it was assembled the scripted ending did not work. There was a prolonged stand-off between me and Jane Scott. I insisted we invite Ellis to view the ending--without the moral line (and without telling him of the producer's attempt to create an alternative ending to his story)--and ask his advice. Bob came up with a very simple but clever solution to extend the line of dialogue from the boy over a freeze-frame and throw the question of judgement back to the audience to ask them what they would have done.
Source: Bloodbath: A Memoir of Australian Television, Melbourne: Melbourne UP, 2006, pp.167-68.
In 1932, eleven-year-old Joe Riordan gets a job to help support his family after his father loses his factory job. Working on the streets, Joe mixes with all sorts of people, most he never really knew about. They range from the unemployed and other paper boys to ex-servicemen, evangelists, buskers, and communist agitators, all fighting for survival. Joe's father goes to the pub to escape, using what little money Joe has earned. Joe's disappointment in his father turns increasingly to tension as Joe becomes interested in communism. After a fight, Joe runs away and starts living on the streets. He toughens up to survive and to earn enough money for his mother, but when he becomes ill, he has to return home. His father has stopped drinking, and Joe and his father reconcile. When Mr Riordan finally gets a job, the family is able to celebrate with a belated Christmas.
(Source: Australian Screen)1985
Kev and Big Dog do their rounds every day, collecting scraps from the neighbourhood garbage bins and then beautifying the suburb with murals. Four-year-old Mary likes to help, but Mary will soon have to go to school. Kev decorates the schoolyard with tarflower murals, to the horror of the school authorities. But just as they're about to punish Kev, the tarflowers burst into life, so everyone can see their magic.
According to Patricia Edgar,
The film was to be shot on videotape as the special effects would have been expensive to produce on film. [...] When I came to Sydney to check on the production, Tom was worried about the coverage the director was achieving. Every scene was filmed in a long take, with no close-ups; the director said it was a personal style, but it meant that, when the scenes came together, the film was about thirty minutes longer than it should have been. The only way to shorten it was to cut out scenes completely, and then the film didn't make sense. I had to sack the director and try to make sense of the footage we had. Anne Brooksbank was brought in to write a narration to unify the film. Geoff Bennett, who had done well with On Loan and was available at very short notice, became a consultant director.
Source: Patricia Edgar, Bloodbath: A Memoir of Australian Television, Melbourne: Melbourne UP, 2006, p.169.
Lindy believes she is a Vietnamese orphan, adopted by Marj and Geoff Baker when she was three years old. She lives happily with her adoptive family, only occasionally wondering about her past. This changes, however, when she receives a letter from her real father, Le. Having searched for many years, he is overjoyed to find her and tells her that he is coming to Australia to see her. The narrative explores the family's emotional turmoil as they wait for his arrival and their defensive attitude when he arrives. For Lindy, the meeting opens up a past she has never known as she is introduced to her Vietnamese family and culture. Le eventually tells Lindy that he wants her to return with him and she is subsequently torn between the two possible futures she is being given--one in Australia or one in Vietnam--and the two families she must choose between. She chooses to stay in Australia, but she makes it clear that she intends to visit and stay with her Vietnamese family when she is older. Although he is disappointed, Le has given Lindy a gift she never expected--a sense of identity she did not have before--and she tells him this in her letter to him. (Source: Australian Screen.)1985
Thirteen-year-old Susan has just moved to a new part of town. She's practising her skills at the local roller-skating rink when Buzz, the prince of the rink, spots the talented newcomer and moves in on her. Susan joins Buzz and his gang but doesn't know what she is letting herself in for. Meanwhile, her family are distracted with their own worries: her dad has lost his job, her mother is an exhausted working mum, and her older teenage sister is pregnant. Susan has to work her way through the difficult process of making new friends in a tough environment. Buzz wants to be more than just friends and Susan has to decide what she is prepared to accept and what is important to her. (Source: Australian Screen).
In her memoir Bloodbath: A Memoir of Australian Television (Melbourne: Melbourne UP, 2006), Patricia Edgar recalls that
Jan [Sardi] wanted to speak to the audience with an authentic voice, using the language of the western suburbs where the film was set. This time I was not on the writer's side. I believed the language would draw attention away from the content of the story and ultimately prevent the film from being seen by the children it was intended for. While I agreed in principle with Sardi's view, I felt it would not work in practice. I insisted that swearing was not acceptable.
The script had only a provisional C classification from the tribunal, where all final drafts were being scrutinised carefully. Smoking had to be kept to a level essential to the plot. (Too much smoking could also jeopardise an overseas sale.) Violence had to be kept in context, within acceptable limits. The party punchbowl scene, which was essential, should only have one character, Maggs, showing any signs of intoxication. The shoplifting scene should be directed to show that the film was not condoning stealing. The 'lip twister kiss', so described in the script, should be directed carefully. The film should promote a sense of children being responsible for one another. The characters must look like twelve to fourteen year olds. All these issues required sensitive direction. (p.168)
While hang gliding one day, Mike is transported five hundred years into the future. When he arrives, he meets a primitive pagan community who ask for his help to cure their sickness. They need him to fly to get a cure from a group of wise women on an island isolated by a sea of nuclear waste. Reluctantly, Mike agrees to help and, with Katrin of the Clan Murray, he sets out on a dangerous quest through a savage land. (Source: Australian Screen.)1985
Room to Move is a story about an unlikely friendship between two girls: one a sporting champion, the other a dancer and an outsider. Carol is a top runner with great potential, and her father runs her training program day and night. When the punk-influenced Angie arrives at the school, the two become friends. They give each other lots of support and get up to things that Carol has desired but never had the courage to do, including learning how to dance. She begins to rebel, but an all-important race is coming up. Carol has to make a very important choice.
(Source: Australian Screen)1985
Twelve-year-old Ben Guthrie appears to have a good life. His family are well off and his father is a successful and ambitious butcher. However, there are some things that Ben doesn't understand. His father attempts to explain the facts of life, but Ben is more interested in the bigger life picture, such as why some people are starving. When both his parents fail to provide answers, Ben begins an inspired crusade to make the world right. He becomes a neighbourhood nuisance and an embarrassment to his family, constantly and publicly challenging their values. His parents seek the help of friends and experts, to no avail. When Ben meets Esme, an elderly animal liberationist, and they end up in the hands of the police, his parents resort to faking family illnesses to distract Ben from the larger troubles of the world. But it is not until his work-obsessed father suffers a genuine heart attack that Ben is able to focus his energies on a problem he can do something about: helping his family.
(Source: Australian Screen)1985