Inside the wonderful world of ABBA

TV Week 3 July 1976

You’d hardly expect people from Sweden to fall in love with the traditional Australian dish of meat pie and sauce – but ABBA did.

You’d hardly expect a top pop group to need a couple of glasses of champagne to steady their nerves before going on camera – but ABBA did.

You’d hardly expect a top group to do their own ironing and carry their own bags – but ABBA did.

And you’d hardly expect even the most gullible of tourists to believe that Australian waters are teeming with sharks – but ABBA did.

These fascinating insights into the ABBA that few people know are revealed by four Australians who got to know the Swedish group during their Australian visit two months ago 

The four who became friendly with ABBA are Vicki Jones, publicity manager for Sydney’s TCN9 where the ABBA TV special was recorded, Tony Culliton, the special’s producer-director, June Thomas, their housemaid and Sue Ann Downey, public relations manager at the Sydney hotel where they stayed.

Vicki Jones, of TCN9, spent more time with ABBA than anyone else during their Australian visit.

Almost every waking moment she was with one or all members of the group, arranging interviews, lunches, dinners and sightseeing trips.

Although Vicki finished the ABBA visit exhausted, she says it was a lot of fun.

“They were fabulous,” she said. “Absolutely fabulous. I have never worked with such an agreeable group of people.

“The sort of image they present on screen – friendly, warm, bright, intelligent people – is exactly what they are.

“Their schedule made them go at a killing pace – it nearly killed me – but they never once complained. And they were always on time for every appointment.

“They went to the Opera House, up the Hawkesbury River and to a national park where they saw koalas and other animals. The girls, Agnetha (who doesn’t like to be called Anna but her proper name, pronounced Anyetta) and Frida were terrified of the emus.

“We gave them their first taste of an Australian barbecue and they loved it.

“While they were here they heard a lot about Aussie pies, so one lunch time I took them out for pie and peas. Frida ended up with tomato sauce all over her but she thought it was terrific.

“Even though they are such experienced recording stars, they still get nervous before a show.

“The girls asked me for champagne and downed a couple of glasses to calm them before they went on camera.”

Tony Culliton, who produced and directed the ABBA special for Reg Grundy Productions, says “complete modesty” is the group’s most refreshing quality.

“They are astonished at having made the big time as performers,” Tony said.

“I think that as song writers they accept they are good, but as performers they never expected to be accepted internationally.”

“They were incredibly easy to get along with,” he said. “They took direction well, but being professionals, had some suggestions of their own which always worked well.

“Their choreography is just perfection and they have every step worked out.”

But ABBA confessed to Tony that they had some fears about their Australian visit – and one was that if they went swimming they would be attacked by sharks.

“I’m sure they felt sharks were lurking off every beach,” Tony said.

“One day, for instance, we went on a cruise on Sydney Harbour and stopped off at Quarantine Beach.

“I went swimming and tried to get them to swim with me. There was no way. Then Bjorn decided to brave it.

“He dived in, was in the water for about 20 seconds and clambered back into the boat again as if a pack of sharks were after him.”

Mrs June Thomas, housemaid at the Sebel Town House in Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay, where the group stayed during their two-week visit, said: “To me they felt just like my children. They were such nice, unpretentious people. They had no airs and weren’t big-headed at all. They always had a smile and a greeting.

“No matter how busy or how tired they were they’d give out autographs. Nothing was too much trouble.”

Public relations officer of the Town House, Sue Ann Downey, remembers that the group used to slip out early in the morning to go for walks in the parks nearby.

“They loved the open air and were impressed with our parks,” she said.

“They said they wanted to see as much as they could while they were here and their busy schedule didn’t leave them much spare time.”

Photo: ABBA in action during their TV special for the Nine Network. The special has been screened four times and is still a top rater.

© 1976 TV Week. Thanks to Samuel Inglles