The Coral Island: articles

From Cop to Corsair

Gone is the crewcut, and stoney-faced scowl of the hardened cop - Gerard Kennedy is Bloody Bill, swashing and buckling on Coral Island.

Gerard Kennedy said it. Given Kennedy's blood-caked cutlass and seemingly permanent scowl, nobody else would have dared. "The thing about my face is that it's either stony or overly expressive," he said.

"There doesn't appear to be any in be-tween stage."

Kennedy, currently making ABC-TV's million dollar series Coral Island, was discussing the type of roles he was offered on television.

"It's not that I'm typecast, but I often find myself playing stone-jawed goodies," he said.

Coral Island, however, has offered him a somewhat nastier role. He plays Bloody Bill, a ten o'clock-shadowed pirate.

"Occasionally I get offered roles, like this one, and I think 'This is interesting! I'll do it'," he enthused.

Kennedy was talking during a break in shooting the ABC-Thames Television co-production on the Whitsunday Islands off the Queensland coast.

He said he'd read R. M. Ballantyne's 19th century novel as a youngster "but then, of course, I looked at Coral Island through the eyes of the three young men in the story."

"Playing a pirate gives me a new angle," he added.

If the sound of the author's name only conjures up images of a whisky brand, then here's a rundown on Coral Island.

In Sydney, in the mid-1800s, a posh family decided to ship their son Ralph (Richard Gibson) off to Eton for a chunk of decent schooling.

Aboard a sailing ship, en route, to England, the prissy Ralph is teased by a boisterous young seaman named Jack (Scott McGregor). Stowing away on the ship, is petty thief Peterkin (Nicolas Bond-Owen).

The trio of young men are ship-wrecked during a South Pacific storm, and are washed up on a beach in Western Samoa.

The snob, the larrikin and the pick-pocket become friends.

While exploring their desert island, the lads stumble across a band of natives preparing to sacrifice a village virgin.

Then along comes a pack of pirates, led by Captain Carver (Brian McDermott). Bloody Bill (Kennedy) is one of Carver's lieutenants.

You'll have to wait for the series screening, probably sometime next year, before you can see the resulting brouhaha.

A large section of the series was actu-ally shot on location in Western Samoa.

Based at the town of Apia, the ABCTV cast and crew put in several weeks of 12-hour days, filming around the coastline.

The Samoans were entranced by the visitors and their equipment. Kennedy was equally taken with the Samoans.

The village and beach of Salamumu were chosen as the main location spot. The silence of the peaceful village was broken only by the sound of coconuts concussing the television crew.

So wary did the visitors become of the dropping coconuts that producer/ director Ray Alchin sent a local young-ster up the trees to shake down the pos-sibly lethal nuts before filming began.

Kennedy took a crash course in the Samoan language. The actor's inability to handle some of the words reportedly had the children chortling.

When Kennedy and the rest of the Coral Island entourage left Western Samoa, the locals put on a farewell fia fia (feast).

It'll be interesting to see if the Whitsunday islanders do the same when shooting finishes there.

Greg Flynn
Australian Women's Weekly
Wednesday, August 26, 1981
page 128

A children's adventure tale

Scenes from Coral Island: the three boys take over the pirate ship. From left, Ralph (Richard Gibson), Peterkin (Nicholas Bond-Owen) and Jack (Scott McGregor). Inset, three black-hearted pirates. From left, Captain Carver (Brian McDermott), Bloody Bill (Gerard Kennedy) and Samuel (Johnny Johnstone)

CORAL ISLAND, the new children's TV serial on 2, is a reminder of the days when Captain Fortune ruled the airwaves, and the only extra-terrestrials around were ghosts.

It's a nice, safe adventure story with all your favourite stereotypes the spoilt rich kid; the lovable urchin with a cockney accent and chipped teeth; blood-thirsty pirates; and natives, who, as usual,' are restless.

This nine-part series has been adapted from the R.M. Ballantyne novel and is set in the year 1840. A wealthy ship-owner in New South Wales, Sir Charles Rover (Charles Tingwell). sends his wet, -puny son, Ralph (Richard Gibson), away to study at Eton, via sailing ship.

On board the vessel there's Jack (Scott McGregor), an assistant cook who takes an immediate dislike to Ralph and nicknames him Snotty.

The ship sinks and the arch-enemies end up on the same desert island. The waif with the chipped teeth, Peterkin (Nicholas Bond-Owen), a stowaway, is thrown in for good measure.

Earlier, we had witnessed Peterkin stealing from the Rovers' dinner table. He is painfully thin but when he tries one of the Rover's delicacies he grimaces with distaste and spits . out in the nearest flower-pot Finally he is chased away from the house by Sir Charles who is intent on having him whipped. Mr Rover doesn't understand the meaning of the word "mercy".

In later episodes more colour is added with the appearance of Gerard Kennedy, on the other side of the law this time as a pirate by the name of Bloody Bill.

Coral Island has been shot in the Western Samoan village of Salamumu which makes for quite a magical setting and this, coupled with an enthralling story line, should keep the kids glued to the set for each of the nine instalments.

Coral Island begins on Thursday at 6.30pm.

Rosalind Reines
The Sydney Morning Herald
January 04, 1983