John, 76, says the can-do, positive attitude that made working on Cop Shop such a delight came direct from the top via siblings Hector and Dorothy Crawford, the show’s producers, who founded Crawford Productions.
When Cop Shop premiered on Aussie TV screens 45 years ago, it did so in a blaze of action that was balanced with romantic storylines and a decent dollop of comedy.
This winning mix continued throughout the series’ 582 episodes, before the credits rolled for the last time in 1984.
“Not only did Cop Shop deal with the usual police fodder, from murders, rapes and kidnappings to bashings, bomb threats, car chases and bank robberies, it also delved into the personal lives of those at the Riverside police station,” recalls Paula, who says fans loved the “upstairs-downstairs dynamic” of the uniformed versus the plain-clothed officers.
Unlike its predecessors, Cop Shop was groundbreaking due to its focus on female detectives, moving away from the standard all-male domain.
“It was way ahead of its time. Viewers loved seeing beautiful Lynda Stoner as constable Amanda King – buxom in blue, chasing the baddies in high heels and lip gloss!” says Paula, 69. Her own character, Danni, had a wild, revolving-door love life.
“[Danni] began as bisexual, then romanced an array of police officers, a priest and a crooked politician before marrying John’s macho detective.”
John joined Cop Shop three months after the show’s debut, filling a void left by the shock exit of Tony Bonner’s character, Don McKenna.
“Detective Georgiou was supposed to be Greek … and when the producers asked my agent if I spoke Greek, they were told no, but that John could learn to speak any language for an extra $100 per week, per language. Suffice to say, Georgiou only spoke English,” John laughs.
Paula became an inspiration to many budding actresses, including future Gold-Logie queen, Lisa McCune.
“Lisa said she loved Danni Francis, that I was her TV hero. So when Lisa landed the role of Maggie Doyle on Blue Heelers, John and I thought: ‘What if Lisa’s Maggie was the grown-up version of our baby girl from Cop Shop?’
“So Danni and Mike from Cop Shop were Maggie’s parents. That would’ve been a fabulous twist,” enthuses Paula. “Lisa loved the idea, so she pitched it to Channel 7, ... but they knocked it back.”
To this day, Paula and John still anguish over receiving a 3am phone call from producer Ian Crawford announcing the death of their co-star Bill Stalker in 1981.
“Bill was just the most beautiful man, who was loved by everyone on the show.”
For Paula, one of the show’s highlights was the hilarious schtick between Gil Tucker’s bumbling constable and Terry Norris’ stern and crusty desk sergeant.
“We all made lifelong friends. I’m still very close to Joanna [Lockwood], Lynda, Gil and my darling ex, John,” she smiles.
Despite meeting in the early ’70s on Number 96, the pair say they barely crossed paths properly until Cop Shop.
“The moment I saw Paula’s face, it was lust at first sight,” says John – although Paula remembers it slightly differently.
“I can still see John swaggering around like a Greek god in the tightest pants. I thought: ‘What an ego,’ but as our characters fell in love on-screen, so did we in real life.”
“We actually had three wedding ceremonies – our first, in 1982, was private,” recalls John. “We married again, but this time it was a glitzy affair.”
Paula and John’s final marriage was on Cop Shop, and their characters’ fairytale wedding was a ratings triumph.
“Our marriage wasn’t meant to be … we gave it our best shot. Nineteen years of loving memories, I inherited a stepson, Simon, and we had our beautiful daughter, Jessica,” notes Paula. “We may not have been good at marriage, but we’ve made for terrific friends.”
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