Mortified: articles


angela webber

Angela Webber … empathetic eye.

A comic delighted by the absurdities of life

Angela Webber, 1955-2007

ANGELA WEBBER was one of the best Australian comic writers and broadcasters of her generation, known for her radio character Lillian Pascoe and most recently for the internationally acclaimed children's television series Mortified. Her work was marked by a sharp but empathetic eye and a gleeful delight in the absurdities of life.

Webber, who has died at 52, was born to Bruce, the head of light entertainment for ABC radio, and Nan, a journalist. She grew up in Mirool Street, West Ryde, with siblings Prue and Cameron. As the first girl born in the family since 1910, her arrival brought great excitement.

Angela attended PLC Croydon where, in Black Watch tartan and a little Panama hat, she became a dab hand at making her classmates laugh. She also became school captain.

"I remember an afternoon near exam time when one of my classmates noticed a reporter from This Day Tonight disappearing down the driveway, presumably to seek an interview with our headmistress, Freda Whitlam (sister of Gough)," Webber later wrote of her schoolgirl encounter with the 1972 federal election. "Naturally the rest of us dived to the window for a closer look. 'Keep back from the windows, girls!' shouted my teacher whom until that moment I had considered broad-minded. 'That man is from the ABC and it's an organisation that's riddled with communists!"'

She studied architecture at Sydney University, where she found her calling: writing comedy. She wrote and starred in faculty revues with people such as Paul Leadon and Tim Gooding. Leadon and Gooding, along with schoolmate Johanna Pigott, worked with Webber throughout her life.

In 1981 she joined Triple J as a writer and performer on the weekly program Off the Record and then as part of The Jay Team breakfast show, where she perfected her best-known character: the gravel-voiced yet funky pensioner, Lillian Pascoe. Webber said Lillian lived in a bag at the bottom of her wardrobe. She certainly was drawn from the characters who populated Webber's Mirool Street childhood. The radio presenter Jonathan Coleman noted that Ben Elton and Bruce Dickinson, from the band Iron Maiden, still talk with hilarity of their encounters with Lillian.

Collaborating with Adam Bowen, she wrote hundreds of comedy sketches for ABC radio, as well as several cult comedy serials - most famously Brunswick Heads Revisited and Regrets I've Had a Few.

Webber met her husband-to-be, Stuart Matchett, at Triple J. At just 29, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. With Matchett beside her, she underwent the many treatments with great grace and humour.

She also began a spiritual journey that was to last the rest of her life. Angela travelled to India with her mother to undergo what she believed to be a profound healing experience. She also had fun. "There are 500 million people in India and they all came to the station to meet us," she wrote home.

After the birth of her daughters, Lily and Sally, she wrote with Richard Glover The P-Plate Parent, in which she celebrated the adventures of her motherhood. She also wrote material for TV performers such as Gerry Connolly, Garry McDonald, Dave Allen and Pamela Stephenson.

In the mid '90s, Webber presented the afternoon program on ABC radio 2BL (now 702), also writing a weekly humour column for The Sydney Morning Herald. The column featured a lightly disguised version of her own tribe, the Shabby family, which looked at her home life with amused resignation.

"The gene pool into which I have dived, via marriage, is the Shabby family. My husband has managed to trace his tree back to 14th-century France. The name 'Shabby' derives from the French 'Shabbir', meaning 'to rot or ferment'," Webber wrote.

"My own family tree is equally shoddy. On the maternal side I'm descended from a Scottish family, the McStains, 'clan who spills' … The first McStain to arrive in Australia was Captain John McStain, who sailed here in 1863. He was bound for Durban, but spilt so much salted pork on his navigational maps it's lucky he didn't wind up in Tierra del Fuego."

After writing for several successful children's programs, she conceived the series Mortified - a comedy drama playing on that delicious time when children first become embarrassed about their parents.

In 2005, Webber was diagnosed with lung cancer; she had never smoked. With her customary quiet determination she confided to friends that she wanted to live long enough to see both daughters into high school and to see Mortified go to air.

She achieved both. Mortified has since been sold to more than 15 countries, including Britain, France, Italy and India. It has won an AFI Award for best children's television drama, an award at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival and two awards at the New York Festival, including the grand award for best youth program.

Webber died at her Coogee home on March 10. She is survived by husband Stuart, daughters, Lily and Sally, her mother, Nan, and siblings, Cameron and Prue. She leaves memories of her pealing laugh, profound intellect, generosity of spirit, her happiness and delight.

By Johanna Pigott, Richard Glover
March 22, 2007
Sydney Morning Herald



Mortified nominated for BANFF World Television Award

Mortified, the Australian children’s television series currently screening on Channel 9, has been nominated for a BANFF World Television Award.

Mortified is the only Australian children’s television program to be nominated for an Award at one of the world’s most significant television festivals.

The Mortified episode, The Talk, directed by Pino Amenta and written by Tim Gooding won first prize at last year’s Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.

Mortified is a co-production between the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF) and Enjoy Entertainment for the Nine Network Australia, Disney Australia and the BBC.

The 26-part series has been feted around the world, winning two major awards at the 2007 New York Festivals Television Programming and Promotion Awards, Best Children’s Television Series at the Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards in December, the AFI Young Actor Award for its lead Marny Kenndy, a Bronze Plaque (6 out of 7 rating points) at The Chris Awards in Columbus, Ohio and Best Children’s Television Series in the Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) Awards.

Since its sales launch at MIPTV last year Mortified has been extremely well received worldwide, with confirmed sales including to Disney France, Disney Italy, Disney Latin America, BBC Kids Canada, RTE Ireland, as well as to broadcasters in Sweden, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Bangladesh, CIS (Eastern Europe), Latin America and the Middle East. Sales concluded at the current MIPTV include to Bayerischer Rundfunk /K.I.K.A. (Germany) and Mediaset (Italy).

release from TM Publicity for the Australian Children's Television Foundation and Enjoy Entertainment
April 20, 2007



The young and the embarrassed

Children's comedy Mortified - recipient of many awards - is in a class of its own, writes Michael Dwyer.

MY DAD sang too loud at mass. There, it's out. He did have a fabulous, warm, booming tenor voice, and the parish ladies would lavish compliments as we made our agonisingly slow escape past the prickle bushes every Sunday.

But me, I was mortified simply to be noticed, to stand out from the crowd at that insecure age when a fleeting moment of conspicuousness was only barely removed from your full-blown naked-at-assembly nightmare.

This apparently universal rite of parental humiliation is the cornerstone of Mortified.

It's a children's series aimed at the permanently embarrassed prepubescent market, but its sitcom format, snappy comic dialogue and cartoonish pace and devices make it a guilty pleasure for adults who happen to tidy the living room between 4 and 4.30pm on Wednesdays.

The key to its broad appeal is creator Angela Webber's dual perspective as a mother very much in touch with her squirming inner-child. She says the idea first occurred to her when she spontaneously leapt to her feet to dance with her horrified 10-year-old daughter in 2002.

"It wasn't just another idea," says producer Phillip Bowman, who began developing the series with Webber that year.

"There was a very strong voice evident in the first treatment she gave me, which only ran to a page and a half. I knew in many ways that what I was buying was Angela's childhood, and also her adulthood as a parent with her own daughters. Really, it was what every producer is always looking for, which is a take on life."

This vivid first-person focus is crystallised in the narration of 11-year-old Taylor Fry (Marny Kennedy). She reveals her aspirations and anxieties to camera, the latter usually beginning with her immediate family. Her father is a local men's wear battler known as the Underpant King; her mother an intense New Age throwback; her sister Layla a glamour-obsessed boy-magnet.

With her acute consciousness of the combined pressures of school academia and popularity, the sometimes questionable support of best friend Hector and the impossible perfection of her next-door neighbour, Brittany, Taylor effectively mines her own seam of comic-drama.

"Taylor speaking directly to camera was really important," says Bowman, who admits that Malcolm in the Middle was an early reference point. "It gives you direct access to her inner world and how she feels about it. Her true feelings about any situation we could use, as and when required, as a way of exposition. It's also a very big comic tool."

A good example is when Taylor gives a bored, shorthand commentary over breakfast as her mother and sister have a silent but ferocious argument over her shoulder: "First, the helicopter arms . . . followed by the forehead smack . . . yelling over each other . . . pleading . . . memory loss . . . finally, the door slam. No surprises," she sighs.

Direct access to Taylor's imagination also brings a heightened realism to proceedings: talking animals and dramatised daydream sequences are standard. When a CGI-assisted mouse confides he's a reincarnated pacifist named Mahatma, he becomes a secret moral accomplice in Taylor's plan to outfox the pest exterminator.

Young Melbourne actor Marny Kennedy shoulders her responsibility with significant aplomb, especially considering the intense five-days-per-episode shooting schedule on location on the Gold Coast, with breaks for on-set tutoring. She won the AFI Young Actor Award for her pains in November.

"I knew it was a big ask," Bowman says. "One little girl on screen in almost every scene is atypical of kids' series. Blue Water High, Saddle Club - they're terrific, but they tend to have an ensemble cast. So I saw this as a potential problem, but it became the strength because she is such a little star."

The adult talent is also pretty conspicuous, on screen and off. For early script development, Bowman employed feature film writer Paul Leadon, now an executive producer at Channel Ten. A more visible trump card is veteran director Pino Amenta (The Sullivans, Flying Doctors, All Saints), whose striking touch earned Mortified another nomination at last year's AFIs.

Such industry accolades are piling up. Mortified won first prize in the Live Action section at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival in November, and days before the second series premiered on Channel Nine in February, it won two New York Festivals Television Programming and Promotion Awards, including the Grand Award for Best Youth Program out of 29 countries.

Co-production deals with Disney and the BBC have helped ease the series into Italy, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, the UK and numerous networks through Asia and the Middle East. "It's selling well," Bowman says.

That's partly due, one suspects, to the highly unlikely exoticism of the humble Fry household. If there's a significant criticism to be made of the otherwise realistic reflection of the travails of the Aussie everykid, it's in the family's outrageously privileged beachfront real estate. For all the admirable values Mortified espouses, this undertow of unattainable aspiration must surely jar with the average, struggling suburban mortgagee.

"That's an interesting observation and one we were hoping you wouldn't make," Bowman says with a chuckle. "OK, look, you might have noticed the house is pretty shabby? The back story we had was that they were left the house by a grandparent. They don't have any disposable income. They do struggle with their rates and taxes. We did hope people didn't read the wrong message.

"When you're making a series in Australia, you don't want kangaroos hopping down Collins Street, but you do want to show the best of what we've got, and I think we did that."

Given the essential transience of its cast and target audience, however, no amount of international attention can guarantee an open-ended run for Mortified. Twenty-six episodes are in the can so far but, perhaps mercifully, prepubescent angst is a finite commodity.

"We do have a little girl who's nearing puberty and so going to change quite dramatically," Bowman says. "If we move forward reasonably quickly we can manage that, but two years down the track, if we were still shooting, we might have a problem. But we could still be Mortified. We could still find 26 more good reasons to be mortified by mum and dad at 14, believe me."

By Michael Dwyer
March 1, 2007
The Age



Mortified wins 2 major awards at New York festivals

Australian children’s television series Mortified has won two major awards at the 2007 New York Festivals Television Programming and Promotion Awards.

Mortified won the Gold World Medal for youth programs ages 7 to 12 and also the Grand Award for Best Youth Program in 2007 from all the programs entered.

There were 29 countries competing in the Awards.

The New York Festival accolades are the latest in a long list for the series, which returns to air on Channel 9 next Wednesday February 14 at 4pm. Mortified is a co-production between the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF) and Enjoy Entertainment for the Nine Network Australia, Disney Australia and the BBC.

Mortified also won Best Children’s Television Series at the Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards in December, its young star Marny Kennedy received the coveted AFI Young Actor Award, and an episode won first prize in the Live-Action Television Program section at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, North America's largest and most celebrated film festival devoted to films for and by kids.

Other awards include a Bronze Plaque (6 out of 7 rating points) at The Chris Awards in Columbus, Ohio and Best Children’s Television Series in the Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) Awards.

Since its sales launch at MIPTV in April this year Mortified has been extremely well received worldwide, with confirmed sales including to Disney France, Disney Italy, Disney Latin America, BBC Kids Canada, RTE Ireland, as well as to broadcasters in Sweden, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Bangladesh, CIS (Eastern Europe), Latin America and the Middle East.

'Mortified has always been a project developed with a great deal of love, and this has resulted in a beautifully executed and hugely appealing series. Mortified has been an outstanding success for the Nine Network, the producers and writers, winning awards in Australia and internationally, including AFI Awards for Best Children's Television and Best New Talent for Marny Kennedy. Recent awards at the New York Festivals are further proof of its international appeal. Nine is thrilled to be associated with a children's drama of this calibre,' said Jo Horsburgh, Head of Drama at the Nine Network.

release from TM Publicity for the Australian Children's Television Foundation and Enjoy Entertainment February 09, 2007



Mortified - review

Created by Angela Webber, this kids' series follows the trials and tribulations of Taylor Fry (Marny Kennedy), an imaginative 11-year-old schoolgirl beset by a host of adolescent anxieties. Her eccentric parents are a constant embarrassment; her best friend, Hector, has a crush on her; she has a crush on the school spunk; and her next-door neighbour is Little Miss Perfect.

In this opening episode, Taylor tries to stop her parents performing in a parent talent quest. When this fails, she enlists Hector to help prove she's adopted.

With its inventive camerawork and enthusiastic performances, this is perfect after-school viewing for hyperactive kids. Webber knows her audience, providing an entertaining mix of quirky humour, pop-cultural references and surreal flourishes, while Kennedy brings the right mix of precociousness and vulnerability to Taylor Fry.

By Greg Hassall
June 30, 2006
The Age



26-part Children's TV series to film on Gold Coast

Filming of a $9.3 million live action children’s television series, Mortfied, begins on the Gold Coast today.

Mortified is a co-production between the Australian Children’s Television Foundation and Enjoy Entertainment for the Nine Network Australia, Disney Channel and the BBC.

The Pacific Film and Television Commission is a major investor in the 26-part series which will be shot entirely on location on the Gold Coast. Several of the lead actors and senior production crew are from Queensland.

Mortified follows the adventures of 11-year-old Taylor Fry whose rich inner world of imagination is played out on the screen. Animals suddenly talk, Egyptian mummies come to life and Taylor takes career advice from St Francis of Assisi. Taylor’s a lively kid, courageous and with plenty of attitude, but the truth is she feels as if she doesn’t belong. Mortified is about the awkward 11-year-old in us all.

The lead role of Taylor will be played by Marny Kennedy, young Brisbane actors Nicolas Dunn and Dajana Cahill also have major roles. Other Queensland actors in regular roles include Rachel Blakely, Sally McKenzie and Steven Tandy.

The producers of the series are Phillip Bowman from Enjoy Entertainment and Bernadette O’Mahony from the Australian Children’s Television Foundation. Phillip has produced adult and children’s drama in both the UK and Australia, including the children’s animated series Lizzie’s Library and the UK series Minder. Bernadette’s credits as producer include the children’s series Legacy of the Silver Shadow and Crash Zone.

The Australian Children's Television Foundation produces quality children's programming which has screened in over 100 countries and won more than 95 national and international awards. Their programs include Round the Twist, The Genie from Down Under and Noah and Saskia.

Mortified was created and written by scriptwriter and author Angela Webber. Series director is Pino Amenta. Other directors on the series include Paul Moloney, Ian Gilmour and Queenslanders Michael Pattinson and Evan Clarry.

Queensland heads of department include production designer Georgie Greenhill and director of photography Henry Pierce.

Mortified has been financed with the assistance of the Film Finance Corporation Australia, Australian Children’s Television Foundation, Pacific Film and Television Commission and Film Victoria’s Melbourne Film Office.

July 18, 2005
Press Release