O.W.L. (The Organisation for World Liberty) was a secret government organisation whose agents were young people with physical disabilities. Using devices like laser-beam-firing crutches and computerized wheelchairs, the kids from OWL always overcame the bumbling plots of operatives from S.L.I.M.E. or "the Southern Latitude's International Movement for Evil during its 26 part run.
Lisa Bridger-Walker as Jackie
Warrick McNeil! as Mike
Ann Simpson as Mrs Foskett-Hewson
William Kircher as Cane
Writer GRANT MORRIS
Producer/director KIM GABARA
Shane Brookfield (right), of Amberley High School north of Christchurch, joined the cast as wheelchair- bound Dave. Mike, also confined to a wheelchair, was promoted to OWL’s head office because of his prowess with computers. In real life, actor Warrick McNeil was busy studying to be a physiotherapist. Another cast change saw Alisdair Kincaid replacing Tony Warren as SLIME baddy Cobra. And the parents of lead character Jackie (Lisa Bridger-Walker, left) featured in the series, played by David Telford and Maureen Kim. Something like a New Zealand-based Get Smart with disabled lead characters, the Kids from OWL was well-received when it first screened in 1984. But producer Kim Gabara felt 1985 would the last series as “it will have run its course by the end of this one and it’s better to finish on top”.
The Kids From Owl, 'stungun' crutches at the ready, continue their struggle against the nasties from SLIME (Southern Latitudes International Movement for Evil).
The handicapped heroes, Jackie and Mike, are played by Lisa Bridger-Walker and Warrick McNeill, who are in fact able-bodied. Producer Kim Gabara says he had to use non-handicapped actors because of the crowded and difficult conditions of television studios, with cables, lights and plywood sets strewn about.
Bridger-Walker and McNeill spent a lot of time trying to get the look right, talking to many handicapped people, spending time at camps and working through the routines of life in a wheelchair during rehearsals. It has been an eye-opening time for both actors.
Some of Bridger-Walker's experiences have made her wish her crutches actually did have a stungun facility.
People stare so much. You get really self-conscious. It made me aware of what life must be like for disabled people," she says.
But it didn't make me feel sorry for them. It made me angry with able-bodied people.
Nonetheless, both actors have got so into their roles that they have even fooled experts on disability. For Bridger-Walker, playing the part has also had its physical demands: she had leaned so hard on the crutches to carry her body weight-that she ended up with sprained wrists, which is a problem disabled people on crutches often have.
The series presents a positive role model for disabled children, showing how these characters have overcome their handicap. But, says Gabara, the programme makers had not set out to make a programme about the handicapped.
It just happened to be another kids' adventure drama that has two handicapped kids in it. They just accept what they've got as do all the other characters in the programme.
The response to The Kids from OWL has been so good, says Gabara, that another series is planned for next year. Graham Ford