Australia has lost one of its most successful and prolific screenwriters with the passing last week of Philip Dalkin.
His loss to our industry is profound.
Over his four-decade career, Philip wrote for both film and television. He wrote across multiple genres. He could write kid’s television. He could write drama. He could write sitcoms.
Boy, could he write sitcoms.
Philip holds the record for the longest-running sitcoms on two different networks. He wrote and co-created All Together Now for the Nine Network and Col’n Carpenter for Ten.
He didn’t just write them; he produced them. Long before the title of showrunner became a thing, Philip was exactly that – a consummate showrunner who fiercely protected the writer’s vision while delivering a hit show, week-in, week-out.
As a drama writer and producer, Philip could hold his own with the best of them. He took over the script department of Stingers and reinvigorated the series, writing 27 episodes along the way. He wrote on everything from Sea Patrol to Water Rats and then turned his prodigious talent to children’s television.
Philip’s CV runs to more than 20 pages. The sheer volume of his screen credits is daunting, the diversity of genres and styles slightly bewildering, and the number of highly successful and trail-blazing shows extraordinary.
As both a writer and a script editor, Philip was at the forefront of a resurgence in children’s television. He guided the creative direction of kid’s shows like H20 – Just Add Water and Dogstar, which have been seen by millions of children all over the world. He even received an unprecedented Australian Film Institute nomination for an episode of Dogstar in the Best Drama Script category – even though it was a kid’s animated series. And after that success, he found the time to write Dogstar, the novel.
Along the way, between kid’s television, sitcoms and adult drama, Philip set an unusual precedent by writing the first two officially sanctioned China-Australia coproduction feature films – co-writing 33 Postcards and solo writing The Dragon Pearl.
No one who knew him was surprised.
I first met Philip in 1985 on a show called Special Squad. He lounged in the doorway, introduced himself and laconically said we should hire him to write an episode because he was really good.
We did, and he did. And he was.
But at the time, he was also working on his first feature film, Wills & Burke, and the series was cancelled before we could get him back to write more. It was the beginning of a friendship that spanned four decades.
I loved Philip’s fierce loyalty to writers and his willingness to go head to head with often risk-averse networks and production executives to protect the words on the page.
I loved that he was so generous with his time and his talent, mentoring new writers and encouraging the old to try something new.
I loved that he loved writing as much as I did.
Most of all, I loved that he made me a better writer every time we worked together.
Philip’s unexpected passing seems cruelly unjust. After a career giving his all, he still had so much more to give.
Philip was 67. He died after a short illness, surrounded by the family he loved.
Australian Writers’ Guild