Actor Frank Whitten first won attention in 1984 as the enigmatic farmer in Vincent Ward's breakthrough film Vigil. Later he was known to many for his role as the Southern Man in the Speights "onya mate" commercials, and his ongoing role in Outrageous Fortune, playing the manipulative grandfather to the West clan.
...a wicked, irreverent man of lethal wit, a heart of gold and one of the best actors we'll ever work with. Robyn Malcolm on Whitten's passing, speaking for the Outrageous Fortune cast
This first episode of NZ's most popular and critically acclaimed drama series revolves around Wolf West being sentenced to four years in prison — and his wife, Cheryl, deciding it's time for her and her children to get out of the "family business". The local Police and Wolf are dubious; but, even this early in proceedings, it would be foolish to underestimate Cheryl. Whether she can take her daughters (ditzy wannabe-model Pascalle and the cunning Loretta) and sons (yin and yang twins Van and Jethro) with her is another matter altogether. And so begins a dynasty.
After her husband is jailed, matriarch Cheryl West (Robyn Malcolm) decides the time has come to set her family on the straight and narrow. But can the Wests change old habits? So begins the six-series long saga of the Westie dynasty. Hugely popular at home (beloved by public, critics and awards-nights alike), and imitated overseas, Outrageous Fortune has been a flag-bearer for TV3 and contemporary NZ telly drama; the series proved — in all its grow-your-own glory — that genre TV in NZ could be so much more than overseas stories pasted to a local setting.
In this Paul Swadel-directed short, a work-gang on a remote Ruapehu construction site relieves boredom with cruelty. The edgy male camaraderie escalates towards a tense, inevitably dire — and OSH-unfriendly — conclusion. The scrum of Kiwi blokes going Lord of the Flies on the newbie (Marek Sumich) is played by a powerhouse cast: Marton Csokas, Rawiri Paratene, and Frank Whitten. Adapted by John Cranna from his short story, Accidents was filmed under the Makatote viaduct. It was selected for Venice Film Festival and won a special jury mention at Clermont-Ferrand.
City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.
This documentary tells the story of John Glennie and three other men who survived 119 days adrift at sea in an upturned trimaran. The Rose Noelle capsized in the Pacific Ocean on 4 June 1989, and washed up four months later on Great Barrier Island. Director Mark Beesley mixes raw interviews, 3D graphics and spare re-enactment to convey the physical and emotional ordeal. The epic survival-at-sea tale — a compelling early entry in the docudrama style later popularised by Animal Planet's I Shouldn't Be Alive series — won Best Documentary at the 1997 TV Awards.
City Life screened from 1996 to 1998 and made a direct appeal to New Zealand's Gen X apartment-dwelling demographic. Following the lives of a tight-knit group of friends, and featuring racy shots of Auckland's K-Road and nightlife set to contemporary NZ pop music, City Life was NZ's answer to Melrose Place. In this excerpt from the first episode, the friends are thrown into conflict when one of their own (played by Kevin Smith) decides to marry outside the circle. Complications ensue when Smith shares a brief, but notorious, screen kiss with Charles Mesure.
This is the first of a two-part "money and greed" morality tale set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' of property deals and horse racing. Working class lass Tammy (Annie Whittle) and art consultant Joanna (fresh-from-Gloss Miranda Harcourt) are an unlikely duo who inherit a racehorse and a greasy spoon cafe (instant coffee rather than cappuccino). Brit-import James Faulkner plays a shady developer whose scheme is blocked by the obdurate cafe. Murder, underhand unitary plans, yuppie love and old gambling debts complicate life for Tammy and Joanna.
Set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' world of property deals and horse racing, the second part of this 1989 mini-series sees the brassy odd couple Tammy (Annie Whittle) and Joanna (Miranda Harcourt) in deep water. The working class battler and the art consultant have done up their inherited greasy spoon, but they're "the only fly in the ointment" of the 'Vision 2000' scheme of a nefarious developer (Brit-import James Faulkner). Girl power meets utopian unitary planning as the duo find bones in the basement and get (too) close to the secrets of Huntercorp HQ.
This Richard Riddiford-directed comedic thriller plays out in pre-crash 80s Auckland with the CBD skyline changing daily, brick-sized phones, shadowy corporations on the rise and the share market on everyone's lips. With a second harbour crossing due to be announced, a telephone operator (future events maestro Mike Mizrahi) and a waitress moonlighting as a dominatrix (Lucy Sheehan) become ensnared in a web of corporate greed and blackmail. Chris Knox contributes the soundtrack, and extensive outdoor sequences include a memorable chase scene at Kelly Tarlton’s.
Open House revolved around the ups and downs of a drop-in house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten, later Outrageous Fortune's Grandpa Ted). In this first episode there's money trouble, court trouble, domestics, a pregnant teenager and an abandoned baby ... but there's community spirit aplenty as the house's whānau prepares for its first birthday celebration, complete with Scottish brass band and Samoan drums. Tony's first lines to a raving old man on Petone Beach? "Good onya mate!". Features author Emily Perkins as Tony's idealistic stepdaughter.
This Richard Riddiford-directed relationship drama explores the restless homecoming of a Kiwi from her OE. Monica (Judy McIntosh) returns from Europe to sculptor Nick (Peter Hayden), who has stayed behind in Waiuku. She goads him into a road trip north, searching for connection to him and home. At a Dargaville pub they meet Riki (Rawiri Paratene), a charismatic poet who has left the city to find his Ngapuhi roots. Monica is intrigued by Riki's bond to his people and the land, which widens a rift between her and Nick. Caution: this excerpt contains bath tub sax.
This 38 episode series revolved around the ups and downs of a community house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten). The series was devised by Liddy Holloway to meet a network call for an Eastenders-style drama that might tackle social issue storylines. It was the first drama series to put a Māori whānau (the Mitchells) at its centre. Despite being well-reviewed, it was perhaps the last gasp of Avalon-produced uncompromisingly local drama (satirised as the ‘Wellington style’), before TV production largely shifted to Auckland to face up to commercial pressures.
Frank Whitten won probably his biggest audience when 10 million Brits saw him play an outrageous bastard in this primetime melodrama. This first episode sees Ceci (Glaswegian actor Valerie Gogan) arriving from England hoping for a better life, and instead finding herself trapped on a rundown farm with a rapist, a bitter old man and a simpleton. NZ producers Lloyd Phillips and Rob Whitehouse won finance from TVNZ, Westpac and the UK's Central Television for the six-part mini-series, written by Brit Elizabeth Gowans. There were 118 speaking parts, most of them Kiwi.
Aping The Monkees and preceding the Flight of the Conchords, Heroes followed a band trying to make it in the mid-80s music biz. Teen-orientated, the show was a first major role for Jay Laga’aia (Star Wars), and an early gig for Michael Hurst (with blonde Idol spikes — Billy not Pop). Band keyboardist John Gibson co-wrote the series music; he later became an award-winning film composer. Margaret Umbers (Shortland Street, Bridge to Nowhere) was a non-musician in the cast (with Hurst); but since has sung regularly in a jazz band. A second series screened in 1986.
Toss is an 11-year old girl living on a remote hill country farm. While out with her father herding sheep, he falls and is killed. Ethan, a bearded stranger appears, carrying his body, and plants himself on the farm. Toss fears he’s Lucifer and is confused when he and her mother become lovers. It is through Ethan, however, that Toss comes to terms with her father’s death and the first stirrings of womanhood. Vincent Ward’s debut feature was the first NZ film selected for competition at Cannes; LA Times’ critic Kevin Thomas lauded it as “a work of awesome beauty”.