Why I Adore: Round the Twist

By Clem Bastow

There’s no surer way to guarantee your rapid plunge into irrelevance than lamenting the lot of “kids these days”. Their music is too loud, or too stupid; they have no manners; they take too many drugs; and their hair colour is weird and unnatural. “Kids” took plenty of drugs in the 1960s, hair colours were weirder in the ’90s, and music has been loud and stupid since Prokofiev wrote Dance of the Knights. In other words, I’d sooner commit hara kiri via rocking chair than turn into an old fogey.

However, whenever I take a casual stroll across the TV networks during the children’s television hours, I am struck by one particular thought: it’s a shame that kids these days don’t get to grow up with Round the Twist (1989-2000). That sense of slowly creeping fogeyism sparks up whenever I think of Paul Jennings and Esben Storm’s show, unquestionably one of the best children’s television shows Australia has produced. In fact, I would go so far as to say one of the best television shows Australia has produced, period.

It’s funny the way Round the Twist will weave its way back into my life. For a time, there was a Twitter game we (read: I) whiled away the hours with. It entailed, simply, writing “You now have the Round the Twist theme song in your head” and watching the outraged @-replies come flooding in.

Round the Twist Series 2

Round the Twist: Series 2

At other times, it’s been as fleeting and simple as someone saying “You two are on washing-up duty for the next 25 years!” or finishing a sentence with “…Without my pants.” Some days it’s wishing that I had a magical ability to pass on injuries to others by playing The Wild Colonial Boy on an enchanted gum leaf.

Most recently, it was upon hearing the sad news that the show’s co-creator and producer (and star, as Mr Snapper) Esben Storm had died at the age of 60. Mr Snapper was always the archetypal school principal. I can recall many classmates bellowing “SNAPPER’S COMING!” when a teacher’s footsteps stalked the hallway outside the classroom.

Round the Twist occupies a strange place in the subconscious of a generation (or so) of Australians; it didn’t necessarily enter the vernacular in the same way that, say The Simpsons did, and yet there it is, always hiding in the backs of our minds, a televisual folklore. A holiday pilgrimage to “the lighthouse” seems to be a recurring theme among many of my peers.

I think what made it – and keeps it – so compelling and watchable was that unlike most children’s shows, which feature plenty of mugging asides and bright colours, Round the Twist was bawdy, natural and, most important of all, not afraid of melancholy.

The episode Nails, from the second season remains one of the finest filmic depictions of young love. In it, Linda falls for the new boy at school, the mysterious Andrew, who lives on an island with his single dad. It turns out Andrew’s mum was a mermaid, and soon Andrew will return to the sea to live with her in a bittersweet shared custody arrangement.

It’s a testament to the delicacy of Jennings and Storm’s writing that the episode manages to pack more genuine emotion – without ever resorting to sentimentality or mawkishness – into its half hour than most romantic comedies can manage over the course of an hour or more. (In between Linda and Andrew’s lovely interactions, it goes without saying, Nails is also hilarious.)

There are, of course, plenty of good children’s TV shows being made these days. Many of the US efforts, particularly Wizards Of Waverly Place and iCarly, are cut from the same cloth as classic TV comedies like I Love Lucy and TheRound the Twist DVD cover Nanny. But there’s something about Round the Twist’s first two seasons (the “post-Jennings” years were less remarkable) that feels like it was a one-off; as though some special alchemy of cast, crew, time and place came together for a few brief moments to create a perfect series. It’s the same magic that permeates more recent short-lived shows like Freaks & Geeks and Party Down.

It would be easy to say “there’ll never be another show like it”, but that would be to lose faith in the possibility that kids these days may be lucky enough to be treated to their own TV show with the enduring importance of a show like Round the Twist.

Until that day, however, I’ll never forget the time when we “pissed on the cold ear”.

About the Author:
Clem Bastow is a Melbourne writer. She is the Music Editor of The Big Issue and Senior Contributor at Inpress, and also writes for the Sydney Morning Herald and Sunday Age. Catherine Deveny called her “one of the most dynamic, innovative and talented young writers and communicators we have in Australia”; Brian McFadden called her “some journalist”. After a decade of dedicated service to the music criticism business, she has also branched out into TV and film criticism at The Vine. In her spare time she spends too much money making costumes to wear to pop culture conventions.

Extra Links for Round the Twist:

Round the Twist on Wikipedia
Round the Twist on Australian Screen
Buy the series – available from the ABC Shop
Read the AFI’s tribute to the late Esben Storm here.

Read Previous ‘Why I Adore’ Posts:

Paul Anthony Nelson (the ‘Why I Adore’ godfather and founder) introduces the concept, and rhapsodises about Mad Max. AFI Membership Administrator Lia McCrae-Moore revisits the lyrical beauty of One Night the Moon.

Contribute:

We’re currently looking for more ‘Why I Adore’ articles devoted to Australian film and television. Send a one paragraph summary to editor[at] afi.org.au and we’ll get back to you with more details.

Vale Esben Storm (1950 – 2011)

The AFI was saddened by the sudden death of actor, director, producer and writer Esben Storm at the age of sixty yesterday.

Esben Storm

Esben Storm on the set of Round the Twist, courtesy of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation

The Australian screen industry has lost one of its great, but perhaps quietest, achievers. Esben Storm worked across film, television and documentary, both behind the camera and in front of it.

Esben Storm and producer Haydn Keenan were in their early 20s when they made their first feature 27A in 1974. Based on a true story 27A followed the experiences of an alcoholic man in the Queensland prison system. Storm would return to similar terrain two decades later in Deadly. 27A starred Robert McDarra, Bill Hunter and Richard Moir. Richard Moir would go onto be a frequent collaborator, appearing in In Search of Anna, Deadly, Winners and More Winners. 27A won the AFI Award for Best Film and Best Actor for Robert McDarra, who died the following year. You can read Paul Byrnes’ commentary here.

While some will remember the multi-AFI Award nominated feature In Search of Anna (1979) that won Esben Storm an AFI Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1979, it is his taut 1992 thriller Deadly, about Aboriginal deaths in custody starring Jerome Ehlers, Frank Gallacher and John Moore, that left a lasting impression. Deadly tackled the issue of racial tension in a frank manner and was one of the first screen explorations of the often harsh treatment of Indigenous people by the police and authorities. Deadly was nominated for two AFI Awards.

Esben Storm’s greatest legacy, however, was his extensive work in children’s television drama, often in association with the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, notably on one of Australia’s most loved children’s series Round the Twist. Based on the books by Paul Jennings, Round the Twist starred Richard Moir, Mark Mitchell, Jeffrey Walker and an engaging young cast. A generation of Australian children was entertained and inspired by the tales of a family living in lighthouse where strange and exciting things happened.

Esben Storm also directed episodes of other significant children’s television series, most notably Touch the Sun: Devil’s Hill (1988) based on Nan Chauncy’s classic novel and the teen drama Winners (1985) and More Winners (1990) – all of which were screened in many a middle school classroom. More recently Storm directed the SBS drama series Kick (2007) which helped launched the careers of actors Zoe Ventoura, Firass Dirani and Natasha Cunningham.

Also a gifted character actor, Esben Storm was last seen in All Saints and has more than 26 films and TV series to his credit.

AFI Chair, Alan Finney said:

I am saddened by Esben’s passing but have fond memories of his energetic passion since first meeting him in the early 1970’s when he was part of an exciting time that created a revitalized local production industry.

Esben remained as enthusiastic about making films all his life and would unashamedly and delightfully share his latest project plans with me, never allowing the reality of the difficulty of getting films made to deter his commitment to achieve this.

He will be missed and will be remembered as a role model for future generations of Australian filmmakers.

Esben Storm is survived by his wife and two children.

See also obituaries by Screen Hub and Encore, video clips at Australian Screen Online and Past AFI Award winners.