Despite the producers ofThe Doctor Blake Mysteriesclaiming earlier this week that there were “no incidents” of inappropriate behaviour by the show’s star Craig McLachlan, cast and crew members paint a different picture.
“There is no possibility that they didn’t know he was up to inappropriate behaviour. I don’t know how blind and deaf you have to be to miss this stuff,” one crew member claimed.
Allegations: The Doctor Blake Mysteries hangs in the balance.
After revelations by Fairfax Media and the ABC that McLachlan had allegedly indecently assaulted, sexually harassed and groped three actresses during the 2014 production of theRocky Horror Show, McLachlan was stood down from his starring role as Frank N Furter for the current n tour.
December Media, the producers ofDoctorBlake, followed suit announcing that “in the light of these allegations” the company would temporarily halt preparations for the new series while the allegations against McLachlan are investigated by Victoria Police.
On Friday December Media revealed they had launched their own internal investigation as further allegations emerge.
“Surely not everyone is OK with this?” one crew member thought to himself within days of starting atDoctor Blakein late 2016.
He said McLachlan’s constant talk of sex and sexual innuendos might have looked like a joke to some but to him “it looked like sexual harassment”.
The crew member claims that during rehearsals with two other actors, McLachlan abruptly left the set. He returned a short time later with a banana, which he placed at his groin and then proceeded to thrust it towards the faces of a young guest actress and the director.
On another occasion, while filming at Williamstown Town Hall, McLachlan allegedly snuck up behind the female camera assistant and “starts humping her – like a dog would hump a leg – as they start to roll the camera”.
“She didn’t react but I’m thinking, ‘That’s not appropriate behaviour’.”
Stalled: Dr Blake was in the early stages of pre-production when the allegations were made. Photo: ABC
On another occasion during a lunch break the crew member asked if McLachlan would like a drink. He claims McLachlan replied, “No thanks, I’d prefer a hand job.”
“No one that I know complained about his behaviour,” he said. “I feel bad that I didn’t go to the producers and say ‘I don’t think this is good behaviour’ but the problem is that all those in charge were often on set and could see it for themselves.”
An extra in the 2013 shooting ofDoctor Blakesaid he was appalled to see McLachlan, during a break in filming, pressing his crotch against the leg of a wardrobe assistant. He alleges McLachlan said, “Oops, you got a bit of knob on you”.
In late 2016 McLachlan allegedly called the production office in a complete fury over a scheduling mix-up.Those in the office were horrified at the five-minute torrent of abuse McLachlan heaped on the person who picked up the phone. “It was effing this, effing that. He also called her the C-word.”
“She was really horrified, it was awful,” said her co-worker. A complaint was made to management, who apologised but said words to the effect, “That’s him, this is what he does. Sorry that happened to you but there’s nothing we can really do about it.”
She never received an apology from McLachlan.
McLachlan, who has previously denied all allegations of indecent assault and harassment, did not respond to a request for comment on these allegations.
December Media has appointed workplace consultant Fiona Bigelli to speak to cast and crew from the series.
Going commercial: The series was created by December Media for the ABC until it was picked up by The Seven Network. Photo: ABC TV
“This afternoon we received a list of specific allegations and questions from Fairfax Media. Looking into these allegations and any others that may arise will be part of the work that Fiona will undertake,” CEO Stuart Menzies said.
“If these allegations are substantiated this points to a serious breakdown in the adherence to the policies and procedures that December Media has in place.
“We reiterate that until this afternoon December Media had received no complaints from the set ofDoctor Blake 5.”
As more cast and crew members who have worked with McLachlan come forward with allegations surrounding his behaviour, the future of December Media’s flagship production hangs in the balance.
In 2016,Doctor Blakeaveraged 1.7 million viewers nationally – and remained the ABC’s top-rating local drama in 2017.
The series is set in the Victorian regional city ofBallarat. Residents were dismayed last year when the ABC confirmed it had not commissioned a sixth season.
“I find it baffling, because when a show is working and popular why would you stop making it?” saidBallarat’sfederal member, Catherine King, in April. FellowLaborfrontbencher TanyaPlibersek described the decision as “madness”, while lead actor Nadine Garner was “sad, disappointed and a little bit confused”.
It wasn’t long before Seven picked up the series, with chief programmer Angus Ross telling News Corp its appeal was “as reliable as live sport”.
Television industry sources have told Fairfax Media the network intended to air four two-hourtelemovies, most likely towards the end of 2018.
Filming was not likely to start until later this year, with insiders confirming the scripts are unfinished. Thetelemoviesare not listed in Screen ‘s most recent upcoming productions report, suggesting there is no confirmed date for the shoots.
When the allegations againstMcLachlansurfaced this week, December Media suspended preparations “to allow due process”. A Seven spokeswoman said the network was seeking an “urgent update” from the production company.
On the Internet Movie Database, more than 650 people are listed as cast or crew in previous seasons. With thetelemoviesnow in doubt, many face an uncertain future.
A veteran drama producer told Fairfax Media that if the project is scrapped, lower-ranking workers could suffer the most. “A lot of these people will be trying to plan their lives, and that uncertainty is terrible for them,” the producer said. “They might have budgeted on [being paid for their work on thetelemovies] and not everyone will be able to find equivalent jobs elsewhere.”
It might have been worse, he added, if filming was imminent: “At this early stage, a lot of the crew will be able to find other work, because the production business is reasonably good at the moment.”
The producer saidtelemoviesusually require around 70 crew members and a cast of 40, not including extras. The budget for each two-hour production “would be north of $2 million, for sure”. Adding to this is the program’s 1960s period setting, requiring expensive costumes and sets.
Generally, each day of filming yields four to eight minutes of footage. One source estimates thetelemovieswould have been shot over 12 to 18 weeks. “You have to remember that some cast and crew would work every day for 18 weeks, while others might only do a few days,” the source says.
Film Victoria – which contributed $487,000 to the 2017 season on ABC– estimates that a typical n drama of this size creates up to 200 jobs and injects up to $8 million into the state economy.
The Doctor Blake Mysterieshas filmed in various locations across the state, including Melbourne, but the series largely showcases Ballarat’sintricate gold rush-era architecture.
“They used all of the correct street names and place names in the show, like LakeWendouree,” said CommerceBallaratCEO JodieGillett. “It was great for us, because people would then visit those specific places.”
Gillettsaid the series was especially popular among European viewers. “They would addBallaratto their n itineraries, to see all the beautiful buildings where it was filmed,” she said.
Last year, the city’s Gold Museum staged an exhibition calledDoctor Blake’sBallarat. Guided bus and walking tours, featuring the main filming locations, are also popular with tourists.
It is unclear how much Film Victoria had allocated to Seven’stelemovies, but the authority does not release funds until the first day of filming. If a series is cancelled, these funds are revoked and allocated to other projects.
Previous seasons ofThe Doctor Blake Mysterieshave been funded by the ABC, Film Victoria, Screen and international distributor,ITVStudios. The series has been sold to 130 international territories. In the UK, it aired on the BBC One channel, averaging 1.5 million viewers in an early afternoontimeslot.
King told Fairfax Media that although she was pleased when Seven picked up the series, she believes it is appropriate for production to be suspended.
“I feel sickened by the allegations of sexual harassment and bullying that have emerged,” King said. “There is no place for this behaviour anywhere … the women who have come forward deserve our utmost respect and support, and [to have] the allegations fully investigated and dealt with.”