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I’m often asked why more Cliff Hardy novels haven’t been filmed or made for television. Good question, but it’s a long story.

The idea of a Hardy film came up quite early when only three of the books had been published. Director Stephen Wallace responded to my agent Rosemary Creswell’s idea of filming the second book, White Meat. Her office was in Glebe and both Stephen and I lived nearby so we met there. I liked Stephen and had admired his feature films Love Letters from Teralba Road  and Stir, both starring Bryan Brown.

I wrote a script and we applied for development funding. I’m quoting from memory, but one of the assessors said something like, ‘This is the nastiest script I’ve ever read’. The result: no funding. Stephen had, as directors must have, other irons in the fire and the plan lapsed.

It revived a few years later when the fourth Cliff Hardy book, The Empty Beach, was published. Producers Tim Read and John Edwards bought an option with the same idea as Stephen Wallace –  cast Bryan Brown as Cliff Hardy. It seemed a perfect fit. I was contracted to write a script with the producers having an opt-out clause if unsatisfied.

I wrote a script which they deemed ‘too soft’; I wrote another which they said was ‘too hard’. Sandra Levy was then brought in and we wrote a script together. John Edwards said, ‘Peter, this is almost there!’

The next I heard, they’d exercised the clause and brought in a new scriptwriter. This was Keith Dewhurst who’d written scripts for the British TV series Z Cars. Good choice, I thought and went overseas, adopting the Hemingway philosophy – take the money and run.

The film, in my view, was a mess, although critic David Stratton in his book The Avocado Plantation differs. I believe the script missed the point of the book. Bryan Brown was good, perhaps too good. I heard later that some of the cast were so overawed by him they gave lame performances. The director, Chris Thompson, and Brown were said to have been at odds. The female lead, supposed to be whippet-thin and feisty, was so when cast but was pregnant by the time of shooting and wore enveloping garments.

The film flopped. Cruelly, but accurately, a young person I knew declared that its title should have been The Empty Cinema.

Since then, there have been many skirmishes towards putting Hardy on the screen. The highly successful producers of a New Zealand television series took out an option which they renewed for several years. ‘Peter, this is our year,’ they once wrote across their Christmas card to me, and it was the last I ever heard from them. Happily, option money is non-returnable.

Stephen Wallace and I, good friends through a love of films, books and golf, more recently produced a script based on one of the later Hardy books which failed to generate interest.

The intriguing, left-field idea of casting Paul Hogan came up and fell down.

Recently, the ABC was tossing up between a series featuring Hardy or one with Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher. Silk stockings won out. I can understand that.  It may be that the hard-boiled private eye, who still works well on the page, is an anachronism for the screen. I hope not.

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