The TV Times has little to say about the plot of Emerald Soup apart from this brief outline: Three crooks are after the secret that John and Margaret Maxwell (William Dexter and Jessica Spencer) have discovered in experiments with seaweed to produce the cheapest form of radio-isotope ore. Most of the action takes place on beaches and in caves which become the hide-out for the Maxwell's children, Tim (Gregory Phillips) and Jo (Janina Faye), as well as their school friend, Gally (Karl Lanchbury).
The choice of casting for the young actors was influenced by "Australian children who have told me that they find many of the children in English stories too prim and bookish," according to Bill Bain, the Australian producer of the seven part children's adventure serial which began on Saturday 9 November 1963. "I saw hundreds of kids before I found Janina and Gregory" Bain told the TV Times reporter Diana Lancaster. "They're so alive and natural." Bain, an ex-schoolteacher had taught 11 and 16 year-old children for five years in Sydney as well as writing for schools radio programmes. But when television arrived in Australia in 1958 he began directing and producing as well as writing every kind of programme for children and adults.
Janina Faye (Jo), who was 15, had already been acting for five years although her first success was at seven when she played in the Helen Keller film, The Miracle Worker. Gregory Phillips (Tim) was also fifteen but had only started acting two years beforehand. But he had already played in an Armchair Theatre production (The Invasion) and as Judy Garland's son in I Could Go on Singing. Karl Lanchbury (Gally) was a bit older at 19. "I don't usually play healthy types - normally I'm a psychological mess. I've been maladjusted in Probation Officer, in John Cassavetes' The Webster Boy and Terence Rattigan's The Final Test." Jessica Spencer was best known for her part as Maggie Weston in Probation Officer.
Other cast members included 74-year old Ethel Gabriel, one of Australia's leading actresses, who had just enjoyed success in the stage and film versions of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and had flown to the UK for an Armchair Theatre production (The Wednesday Caller). Another import from Australia was Annette Andre, who stopped on her way to Rome to be handmaiden to Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. In Emerald Soup she played Margaret Maxwell's glamorous blonde sister. 23-years of age at the time, Andre had been acting since she was sixteen and before that she had been a ballet dancer. Emerald Soup was her first appearance in England. She would later star as Jeannie Hopkirk, wife of the late Marty in the cult ITC series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).
Also in the cast was 25-year old Michael Bangerter, who played a security officer (a 'goody' as Michael pointed out; "had he been a baddy I might have enjoyed playing him a bit more"). Michael had appeared in a number of single-play productions for both ITV and the BBC (a number of which are featured on this website as well as an exclusive interview with Michael). He had also appeared, up to this point, in No Hiding Place, The Plane Makers and Probation Officer. Although listed on IMDb as appearing in three episodes of Emerald Soup, Michael is certain he appeared in at least five of them.
During rehearsals, Michael would sketch his fellow actors and actresses. An example of his work is shown here, with a stunning sketch of Annette Andre. Michael's artistic talent appears to be inherent in his family as he explained to Television Heaven: "My father's uncle was illustrator and cartographer to Winston Churchill, and father's cousin was a leading letter carver and sculptor (the amanuensis of Eric Gill) - he ran the Ditchling commune after Gill died. He also assisted Epstein in carving the Oscar Wilde tomb in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Both my children have infinitely more talent than myself. My daughter, Kate, is an oil painting conservator and my son, Rex, a maritime archaeologist who does all the illustrations for his projects." ABC cast Michael in the serial because he had, a little while before, played the romantic lead in an Armchair Theatre production - A Degree in Murder.
But back to the plot: In the Maxwell laboratory an exciting new experiment is underway, but unexpected results occur. The children discover that mysterious parties are interested. Can the teenagers stop the Gaunt gang from leaving the country with stolen samples? And is the dear old soul who runs the village shop all that she seems?
Review: Review: Laurence Marcus based on an original TV Times article (1963) and contributions from Michael Bangerter. Pictures on this page (except where stated) and Annette Andre portrait courtesy of Michael Bangerter.
Published on May 10th, 2020. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.