A Tongue of Silver

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"A Tongue of Silver"
Shell Presents episode
Tongue of Silver.png
The Age 19 Feb 1960
Episode no.Season 1
Episode 8
Directed by David Cahill
Teleplay byMichael Dyne
Produced byBrett Porter
Featured musicThomas Tycho
Original air dates17 October 1959 (Sydney) [1]
20 February 1960 (Melbourne) [2]
Running time60 mins
Guest appearance
John Meillon
Episode chronology
List of episodes

"A Tongue of Silver" is an episode of the 1959 Australian TV drama anthology Shell Presents . Australian TV drama was relatively rare at the time. [3] It starred John Meillon who had been in Thunder of Silence for the same show. [4]


It was the first play from Shell Presents to be telecast in Western Australia. It broadcast there in 17 October 1959. [5]

It was repeated on 22 May 1960.


A stranger arrives in an Irish village during a thunderstorm. They are convinced he is an emissary from Heaven. He sets about selling them plots in Heaven. He says he was sent by St Colomba patron saint of the village who he says is annoyed the villagers have allowed the church to fall into disrepair. He says money from the sale of plots of land will go to repair the church.



The play had been filmed in the US in 1957 as Matinee Theatre with Robert Horton as the Traveller. [6] It would be filmed again in 1960 as an episode of Startime with Robert Goulet as the Traveller.

John Meillon was cast in the lead on the basis of his performance in Thunder of Silence . [7]

Stanley Kramer, who directed Meillon in On the Beach, called him "a brilliant young actor, and he could take his place in any moving-picture market of the world." [8]

Filmink thought ATN-7 might have selected this play because "they wanted to tell an “Irish story”, but didn’t wish to tackle anything political (which ruled out, say, adaptions of Sean O’Casey and Brendan Behan), and preferred using a road-tested script that had already been filmed overseas versus taking the risk of commissioning something new from an Australian writer with Irish heritage... They may also have been influenced by the fact that A Tongue of Silver would provide a terrific star part for John Meillon." [9]

It was the only TV performance of Wynne Nelson. [10] Cul Cullen did the sets.


The TV critic for the Sydney Morning Herald called it "a piece of folksy whimsy" which was overlong and suffered from cliches and poor accents. He said Meillon "was very effective in a quiet and craftsmanlike way; but the vigour that would have provided the proper foil for his well-judged performance was not vitally forthcoming from the actors around him. David Cahill's direction, within the limits set by the play itself, was fine:' and inventive, and there was some very precise and imaginative marrying of image and sound. But if we are going to have Irish plays, why not something like Juno and the Paycock or Shadow of a Gunman ? There is not much merit in producing a poor play just because it is relatively new." [11]

The Sunday Sydney Morning Herald called it "a most creditable job for all concerned." [12]

The critic for the Woman's Weekly said the play "nearly sent me round the bend" in which a "wonderful idea... was almost completely lost in a welter of phony Irish accents" and Meillon "was sadly miscast." [13]

The Age said "every time Meillon opened his mouth I could ses only that beautifully starched shirt. A pity." [14]

A 1967 review of Australian television drama said that this and Johnny Belinda were among the most successful of early Australian TV plays. [15]

Filmink said "Meillon is perfectly cast as a smooth-talking con man, full of blarney and charm; he even sings several times, twice while playing the harp, which is cool. It’s also fun to see Gwen Plumb as a barmaid, Minnie Love as a particularly naive rich old lady, and Gerry Duggan... if you don’t like Irish whimsy, then A Tongue of Silver is unlikely to change your mind, but if you do, you’ll have good time watching it." [9]

See also

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  1. "All the TV Programmes". ABC Weekly. 14 October 1959. p. 34.
  2. "Advertisement". The Age. 19 February 1960. p. 23.
  3. Vagg, Stephen (18 February 2019). "60 Australian TV Plays of the 1950s & '60s". Filmink.
  4. McPherson, Ailsa (2007). "Dramas and Dreams at Epping: Early Days of ATN-7's Drama Production". In Liz, Liz; Dolin, Tim (eds.). Australian Television History. ACH: The Journal of the History of Culture in Australia. Australian Public Intellectual Network. p. 160.
  5. Marshall, Valda (10 April 1960). "TV Merry Go Round". Sydney Morning Herald.
  6. A Tonge of Silver at IMDb
  7. "Women dominate cast". Sydney Morning Herald. 14 September 1959. p. 13.
  8. "Meillon stars again". Sydney Morning Herald. 12 October 1959. p. 15.
  9. 1 2 Vagg, Stephen (7 November 2020). "Forgotten Australian TV Plays: A Tongue of Silver". Filmink.
  10. Lane, Richard (2000). The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama Volume 2. National Film and Sound Archive. p. 82.
  11. "Irish Whimsy In ATN Play". Sydney Morning Herald. 19 October 1959. p. 5.
  12. Marshall, Valda (25 October 1959). "TV Merry Go Round". Sydney Morning Herald. p. 111.
  13. "Viewers' firm friends make ratings soar". The Australian Women's Weekly . 27 (22). Australia. 4 November 1959. p. 76. Retrieved 14 September 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  14. Janus (25 February 1960). "On Channel". The Age. p. 27.
  15. Robinson, Harry (22 May 1967). "Our people in our time". The Age. p. 7.