• Richard Roxburgh as corrupt cop Roger Rogerson in ‘Blue Murder’. (Screen Australia)
Billed as the most controversial series ever on its release in 1995, this landmark two-part series is based on the brutal, frightening and fascinating true story of the alliance between members of Sydney’s criminal underworld and a group of corrupt police during the late 1970s and ’80s.
By
Tanya Modini

12 Nov 2019 - 1:28 PM  UPDATED 12 Nov 2019 - 3:19 PM

Blue Murder has most definitely stood the test of time – its outstanding performances and screenplay, impressive production values and tight direction have elevated it to a unique status where it is regularly recognised as the best Australian TV drama series ever. Here are some reasons why.

Historical significance

Blue Murder kicks off with a bungled payroll robbery involving underworld identity Neddy Smith (Tony Martin). It tracks his violence-fuelled activities, and gradual acceptance into the inner circle of a gang of corrupt police officers helmed by top cop Roger (“The Dodger”) Rogerson (Richard Roxburgh) – arguably Australia’s most crooked cop. Rogerson and Smith strike up a sinister alliance, becoming co-conspirators in a tirade of vicious crimes including the shooting of police officer Michael Drury (Steve Bastoni) until the demise of Rogerson’s empire and their friendship in the late ’80s.

While the series presents Smith as a ruthless and violent career criminal, Blue Murder points the finger at the corrupt police as the real threat and menace, with Rogerson depicted as essentially managing Smith. Blue Murder does not claim to be a documentary, merely an interpretation of the events that shaped this dark period in Sydney’s history and is filmed in some of the locations where the actual events took place.

Series producer Rod Allan says, “It’s important to highlight the events of the late 70s and 80s because if corruption is ever going to be eradicated, we need to expose and understand the full extent of it. People need to know how some members of the New South Wales Police Force effectively franchised criminal activity in the period we’re dealing with.” 

Authentic, gritty feel of ’80s Sydney

Ian David (Joh’s Jury) initially used two books as his research base to capture the essence of the story while writing the screenplay for Blue MurderIn The Line of Fire by Darren Goodsir, and Neddy by Arthur Stanley Smith with Tom Noble. David then went on to do over two years of his own extensive research of the period which included conducting hundreds of interviews. The attention to the raw and at times disturbing detail captured in the screenplay is a testament to this, and a hallmark of the series. David perfectly captures the Australian vernacular throughout, adding to the overall authentic, gritty feel of the series.

Blue Murder is impeccably directed by Michael Jenkins (Wildside) who also went on to direct the follow-up 2017 series about Roger Rogerson, Blue Murder: Killer Cop.

This is a male-dominated story of unbelievable violence and is a virtual who’s who of Australian male actors in the 90s including Bill Hunter, Peter Phelps, Gary Sweet, Marcus Graham, Alex Dimitriades, Steve Jacobs and Gary Day. Richard Roxburgh is a standout as Rogerson, as is Tony Martin in the role of Neddy Smith.

One of the few female roles in this series is that of Sallie-Anne Huckstep (Loene Carmen), the fearless Sydney writer and sex worker who became a threat to Rogerson and Smith when she publicly blew the whistle on their corrupt relationship, which at that time was not widely known, after her boyfriend, Warren Lanfranchi was gunned down by Rogerson. Huckstep was later found murdered in Sydney’s Centennial Park.

Legal action

Blue Murder went to air in September of 1995 in all Australian states apart from New South Wales. The New South Wales Supreme Court granted an injunction that year to prevent the broadcasting of the television series in New South Wales. Blue Murder was pulled from screening due to Neddy Smith being charged with two counts of murder. Broadcasting the show was deemed to have the potential to prejudice his right to a fair trial, and to go ahead with the broadcast would have constituted contempt. The airing of this series was put on hold in New South Wales for a further six years until it finally screened there in 2001.

Rogerson, now 78, is serving life in prison. Neddy Smith, 74, is currently in the hospital wing of Sydney’s Long Bay jail where, at the time of writing, he was battling the final stages of Parkinson’s disease.

Highly acclaimed two-part series Blue Murder will stream at SBS On Demand from Wednesday, 20 November.  

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