Monday, September 14, 2009

Mike Leyland a Early Australian Documentary Maker

Mike and Mal Leyland, also known as The Leyland Brothers, were Australian explorers and documentary film-makers, best known for their popular television show, “Ask the Leyland Brothers”. The show ran on Australian television from 1976 until 1984.

The two brothers first came to prominence in the late 1960s and reached a peak of popularity in the 1970s, often providing Australian viewers with their first look at outback Australia.

.................................................Mal and Mike Leyland.

I was one of thousands of Australians who watched Mike and Mal Leyland (The Leyland Bros.) when their T.V. show “Ask The Leyland Bros.” began in 1976. Their show was filmed in the Super 8 format and was a little amateurish, but this was the appeal of the show. Nobody had ever made a show like this before, giving the average Australian a view of places that most would never get to. It showed that the average “Joe” could take their 8mm family movie camera outdoors to the outback and record their own holiday documentary. This also inspired me to film my own holiday film and edit it with music and commentary. I’m sure that Steve Irwin would of also been influenced by the Leyland Bros. Where Steve was outgoing and flamboyant, Mike and Mal were the opposite, somewhat shy, quite, and in the early days softly spoken.

When television came, that was 1956 I actually won a trip to the Olympic Games. And I wasn't going to enter the competition but my father said, "If you do, I'll buy you a movie camera." And I won a trip, so he had to cough up with a camera - a little square, spring-driven camera, which I took to the Olympic Games and shot some footage down there. But it sort of got me going. The first footage I shot with it was around Lake Macquarie at home, trying a roll of film with the family standing beside the car.

There was no film and television school that I know of, so the only way to learn about it was to buy books. So I bought an old Land Rover and set off on a trip to Ayers Rock. My brother was with me, and his mate, and we set off to drive out to Alice Springs in 1961 in January, which was a real dumb thing to do. But we knew nothing about what we were doing, really.

While I was shooting news, I had this dream in the back of my head to actually shoot an expedition. All the books that I'd read said the secret to selling a documentary was to do something for the first time. So I picked up a map of Australia and thought, "What can we do that won't be too expensive and too far away?" Looked at New South Wales, and there was this wriggly line going through it - the Darling River. And no-one had done it and it was 1,400 miles. So this was the start of the Leyland Brothers - the first thing we ever did as a team. The trip that was supposed to take a month actually took us three months.

We were the first people to ever actually film Ayers Rock in the rain. So we edited up a one-hour version of it, which we sold to Channel Nine, because they'd bought 'Down the Darling'. Then we started screening it. We showed it in Newcastle, the first screening we had, and it was a huge success. And that continued for three months. And in that three months, we made a profit of $60,000 and the bank. By the time we started 'Off the Beaten Track', Mal had also got married. The four of us were involved in the different processes of making the film. I was still the director/cameraman but Pat was the second camera. She did a lot of film work. Mal was the sound man and the still photographer and Laraine did sound.

In 1956 Mike won a trip to the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne from a cartoon drawing competition, and his father bought him a 16mm movie camera to take along.

By the age of 21 Mike was a news cameraman at NBN. By the age of 18 Mal was a cadet at Newcastle's now defunct newspaper The Sun.

In 1980, Mike and Mal Leyland were awarded the MBE in the New Year’s honours list (the only time brothers had simultaneously received such an award) for services to the film industry.

Their television programmes constantly achieved the highest prime time ratings and have never been off air in 28 years.

After the 1992 bankruptcy caused by the failure of their theme park, Mike and his wife Margie ran a New Lambton video store and worked for the park's new owner, while Mal and his wife Laraine ran a photo processing lab in Queensland and launched a travel magazine.

In 1997 Mike sold part of his Tea Gardens property to fund the production of a far north Queensland film for Channel Seven. Mike and his wife Margie signed a contract with Channel Seven for 12 one-hour documentaries, the first of which aired in 1998 in “The World Around Us” slot.

In 1997 Mal and Laraine launched a bi-monthly magazine, Leyland's Australia.

In 2000 Mal produced the television show Leyland's Australia, with his wife Laraine, daughter Carmen and her husband Robert Scott - travelling around Australia in a caravan. In April 2000 Channel 9 cancelled the show after 6 episodes the series was then picked up by Network Ten.

Television Series.

“Ask the Leyland Brothers” – 156 episodes between 1976-1980 and 1983-1984.

“Off the Beaten Track”


“The Leyland Brother's Great Outdoors”

Leyland Brothers' World”

T.V. Documentaries

1963 - Down the Darling - A trip from Mungindi, Queensland, to Mildura, Victoria, following the 2,300 kilometre course of the Darling River, Australia's longest river, in a small aluminium boat. An accompanying book was titled Great Ugly River was published by Lansdowne Press in 1965.

1966 - Wheels Across a Wilderness - Driving two Land Rovers from Steep Point, Western Australia, across the centre of the continent to Cape Byron, New South Wales. The trip was also published as a book, Where Dead Men Lie.

1969 - Open Boat to Adventure - A six month journey from Darwin to Sydney in an 18-foot open boat, following the coast around Arnhem Land and Cape York. The book was titled Untamed Coast.

It's this photo I will remember Mike and Mal, with a camera in the outback of Australia ready to film another episodes for their T.V. show.

Mike was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease about two years ago but had suffered most in the past two months. The family announced that 68-year-old Mike passed away on Monday morning following complications from Parkinson's disease.


Peter said...

Shit they can't die quick enough for you can they!!!!!!!

Merle said...

Hi Warren ~~ Another well researched post with a lot of info about both the both the Leyland Brothers. They had a hand in quite a few money-making businesses and were full of ideas. Sorry to hear about Mike's death and Parkinsons is a rotten disease - a couple of relatives had it.
And of course Michael J Fox. I just bought his book called, "Always Looking Up." He says he is a very lucky man and has a really wonderful life.
Take care Warren, Those Chinese Ballet dancers were terrific, thanks. Love, Merle.

Paul Denham said...

Hey Warren,

Great synopsis on the two blokes that have been an inspiration to us as a film team.
Here's to you Mal... CHEERS

Our crew is:
Local Legends: Terror Australis.

We are currently looking for volunteer researchers to help study themes such as:

* Sam Poo (Australia's Chinese Bushranger)
* The Missing Back Packs full of Gold.
* The Underground Dragon of Wellington NSW

If you know anyone interested in these types of stories please let me know.

Kind regards,
Paul Denham.
DOP. Local Legends Entertainment Pty Ltd.