‘Friday on my Mind’ screenwriter Christopher Lee reflects on the late George Young

‘Friday on my Mind’. 

When screenwriter Christopher Lee was researching Friday on my Mind, the ABC miniseries on The Easybeats, he was not surprised that George Young, one of the band’s founders, was reluctant to co-operate.

The Glasgow-born Young had shunned publicity ever since the band broke up in 1969, although he enjoyed a long-running songwriting and producing partnership with fellow band member Harry Vanda.

In an exchange of emails over the course of a year with Young, who had houses in Sydney, Singapore and Portugal, Lee managed to win his confidence.

“George was an international man of mystery,” Lee tells IF. “He was initially reticent to be involved because for the last 50 years he rejected all publicity. I sent him parts of the script, we went back and forth and he was very professional.

“We connected very well as writers. I feel I got to know him over the last year. Apparently he did not ever get on with people very well. He was a bit of a tough guy and a genius.”

Christopher Lee.

Produced by Playmaker Media and directed by Matthew Saville, the two-part drama which premieres on Sunday November 26 at 8.40 pm will salute the legacy of Young, who died on Monday, aged 70, and his colleagues in the band, which was the first to take Australian rock’n’roll to the world.

The miniseries chronicles how the band was founded by five young, newly-arrived immigrants who met in the Sydney migrant hostel at Villawood in the ’60s and charts their loss of identity in pursuit of success.

Will Rush plays George Young alongside Christian Byers as Stevie Wright, Mackenzie Fearnley as Harry Vanda, Du Toit Bredenkamp as Dick Diamonde and Arthur McBain as Snowy Fleet.

Ashley Zukerman (The Code, Manhattan) plays the band’s guru, music industry pioneer and record producer Ted Albert.

Lee had a few meetings with Vanda (“the loveliest man on Earth, absolutely charming”), met with Fleet in Perth and exchanged a few letters with the reclusive Diamonde, who lives in Queensland.  He also gleaned a lot of insights from Nick Wright, the son of Stevie Wright, who died in 2015.

“The producers and I had to tread carefully with members of the band because we knew they had knocked back other offers to tell their story over the years,” he says.

“It was quite a long gestation period because we wanted to assure everyone that we would respect their work and get it right. They read the script and there were no parts where they said, ‘That can’t go in.’”

The script is a mix of fact and fiction, mirroring the writer’s approach to his previous works such as Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War and Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo. “If the reality works and the made-up bits work, it hardly matters. What’s true doesn’t have to be real,” he observes.

At the outset Lee believed it was crucially important to find the right actor to play Stevie Wright. He could not be happier with the performance of Byers, whose credits include Puberty Blues, Newton’s Law and Ready for This. “Christian is wonderful, he pulls it off. After this he will be getting a lot of offers,” he says.

Similarly he was very impressed with Rush, a Brit who appeared in Vera, Waterloo Road, Coronation Street and Casualty, and with Zukerman as Ted Albert.

He recalls Zukerman playing a tyro cop in Rush, the police series which he co-created with John Edwards for Network Ten in 2008.

Observing the overall downturn in viewing levels for Australian dramas this year – with the notable exception of Doctor, Doctor – Lee blames the fall-off in free-to-air viewing as people embrace Netflix and other streaming services, rather than any inherent problem with local drama.

A month ago Lee went to Los Angeles to talk to executives at Netflix, Sundance TV and other streaming platforms. As a result he’s working on an idea for an Australian series for international audiences that would be set in the outback.

“These platforms are looking for what they call internationally-themed stories,” he says.  “You can make an international story by going as culturally-specific as you possibly can. Look at the Scandi noir stories.”