Vale Michael Laurence

30 March, 2015 by Donald Macdonald

One of Australia’s foremost television writers, Michael Laurence, died this week on March 23rd,  2015, after a long illness. He was 79. Michael was creator and writer of close to two hundred hours of commercially successful Television. He was a gifted storyteller, probably best known for his successful series Return to Eden.

He began his professional career as a child actor in Sydney radio, and was always distinguished by his mellifluent speaking voice. This together with his imposing height and dark good looks made him someone not to be ignored. At eighteen he won a two-­â€year scholarship to LAMDA (London
Academy of Music and Dramatic Art). He worked as an actor in the UK and Australia, in everything  from musicals to Shakespeare, and with all the major theatrical companies. He was a clever comedian in shows like “Black Comedy” at Sydney’s Philip Theatre. Working at the Melbourne Theatre Company he met the English actress Jan Leeming who became a life-­â€long friend. She spoke to him from London two days before his death.


Michael’s acting life changed to that of a writer when he met another actor, Robert Bruning and together they produced the family series, The Godfathers, for the Nine Network in 1970. Michael created, wrote and starred in all seventy-­â€two episodes. In 1971 the series won the Logie for best television comedy. It continuously won the ratings in its timeslot for two years.

He then created, wrote and was Associate Producer for The Lost Islands a 22 part children’s series for the Ten Network. He was also a regular contributor for the hit series, Number 96.

He created, wrote and co produced Return to Eden, a six-­â€hour mini-­â€series produced by Hal McElroy for Hanna Barbera Australia, and Network Ten, loosely based on a radio serial Michael remembered as a child. This wonderful melodrama about a woman thrown to the crocodiles, who emerges with a new face to take revenge, was a ratings winner and enjoyed great success overseas, particularly in France where it has been shown thirteen times. It still enjoys repeats all over the world.

Robert Bruning said of Michael that he had a supreme talent for melodrama and an unerring sense of what audiences would enjoy.

He created and wrote The Last Frontier a four hour mini-­â€series for McElroy and McElroy, and CBS, USA, which starred Linda Evans and Jason Robards.

Which Way Home, a three-­â€hour movie special that Michael created and wrote for McElroy and McElroy, Southern Star and Turner Productions, USA, followed this. It starred Cybill Shepherd and John Waters.

He wrote Shadow of the Cobra a four-­â€hour mini-­â€series produced by Ben Gannon (View Films), and Zenith productions in the UK. His work has been sold in 89 countries, which testifies to his abilities as a consummate storyteller.

After such success, he was taken on by one of LA’s top Agents, but he chose to remain in Australia, saying he preferred to live and work here.

In his later years he was out of the spotlight. He created a series about the life of Joan Sutherland, and one on the life of Ian Gawler. Sadly these did not make it to the screen. After too many rejections, Michael became depressed and stopped writing. In his last years he was plagued by depression and illness.

In his private life he was an intense Spiritual seeker. For many years he was a devotee of the Eastern Guru, Swami Muktananda. I was a convert to Catholicism and this always intrigued Michael. I gave him a book on Medjugorje , a small town in Bosnia-­â€Herzegovina where the Virgin Mary was purported to be appearing daily. The next week Michael was on a plane to travel to the small town. He claimed he saw miracles and on his return immediately became a Catholic. This mad impetuosity was a quality so likeable in him, although often to his detriment, particularly where money was concerned. He spent freely and was too generous, helping many people financially.

His autobiography, Skeletons are Dancing is a brutally honest and funny account of his life, including his spiritual search and his conversion in Medjugorje to Catholicism. I wonder what the Catholic Church made of Michael when he joined their ranks. His unflinching honesty in the confessional might have startled even the most sophisticated Priest.

But that was what was so lovable about him. He held nothing back. Michael Laurence was a one off. A very funny man, and great raconteur whom his friends will remember with joy. Australia has lost a rare talent.