Blue Heelers: articles

Meg and John Wood

Here's cheers: John Wood and daughter Meg toast their new venture at Wandin North.

Wood fears the axe

JOHN WOOD has found little to smile about during the 10th anniversary of the popular TV cop show Blue Heelers.

Wood, who plays Sgt Tom Croydon, senses the Seven network has lost interest in the series.

“I’m a bit irritated by the seeming malaise towards the show in the network,” Wood says.

In fact, he has made plans for life without Heelers.

In partnership with wife Leslie and eldest daughter Meg, Wood has bought the Yarra Valley Belly Cafe at Wandin North in the Dandenongs.

He hopes it will pay his mortgage when the series comes to an end.

And that could be sooner than later. Although network executives deny it, rumours persist in the industry that this will be the show’s last year.

Wood, who signed to a network contract, rather than being employed directly by the producers of the show (Southern Star), is yet to see his contract renewed. It ran out three months ago.

Wood is the linchpin on which the network built Blue Heelers and much of its early success was attributed to his popularity.

But he also acknowledges, as he puts it, “the McCune factor”—a reference to Lisa McCune (Senior Const Maggie Doyle), who won three Gold Logies as Australia’s most popular TV personality.

When McCune left at the beginning of 2000, the network concentrated on finding a replacement blonde (Caroline Craig and now Simone McAullay), rather than dramatically shifting character focus.

Playing Croydon, according to Wood, has not been challenging for the most part.

“I don’t get asked to do the highly emotional stuff very often—that goes to characters such as Paul (Bishop, who plays Sgt Ben Stewart) and Marty (Sacks, who plays Sen-Det P.J. Hasham). “So it’s been a bit like marking time.”

Consequently, Wood has sought to create artistic challenges. In 1998, he renewed acquaintances with Melbourne Theatre Company.

“If I hadn’t done theatre in that time I probably wouldn’t have been able to maintain my interest in Blue Heelers,” he says.

Wood is in talks for another theatre project in Sydney later this year. While Wood’s tenure does not inspiring him, he is still loyal to the show, its cast and crew.

“Cast and crew are like a second family when you spend up to 16 hours of most days with them,” he says.

This is reinforced by the cast and crew’s start to the new season’s shooting (first week of February), which will be celebrated with a welcome-back barbecue at Wood’s Wandin property this weekend.

This is his Blue Heelers farm, with most of his earnings from the 10-year run of the show poured back into improvements on the property.

The move was perhaps inspired by the fact he was unemployed and literally “pulling down the old duck shed” for something to do when he was first offered the Croydon role in 1993.

“When I signed the initial contract for two years, I would have been happy to see the contract out,” he says. “Ten years is extraordinary.”

Writing looms as a possible major source of income post-Heelers.

He has written numerous scripts for Cop Shop, Prisoner, The Sullivans and Blue Heelers.

After his back operation at the end of 1995, Wood says it was script writing that kept him sane.

“I was in terrible pain,” he says. “Then, when I realised I’d have to have an operation on the ruptured disc in my spine, I thought I’d never be able to work as an actor again.

“Without writing I’d have gone nuts.”

With a decade of ups and downs in Australia’s favourite TV drama series behind him, Wood feels qualified to plead a case for the show, its cast and crew.

“Anything from here on is a bonus,” he says. “The strength of the stories coming up (as the show returns to air this week) is terrific.

“I just wish Sydney would get behind the show more. I can’t fault publicity here, but there’s not much happening up there.

“There’s this seeming malaise—the network seems scared of everything at the moment.

“Instead, it should be jumping on this bandwagon it helped create.”

By Tony Johnston
Picture: Tim Carrafa
Janaury 25, 2004
The Herald Sun