Although Ginette McDonald's career is most associated with the gormless, vowel-mangling girl-from-the-suburbs: Lyn of Tawa, she is a woman of many parts. Alongside an extensive acting and presenting career, her work as producer and director spans three decades, and includes Shark in the Park, Gliding On, and kidult series The Fire-Raiser. Read the full biography
No matter how much recognition McDonald gets as a producer, it is those brief sporadic performances as Lyn of Tawa that people remember her for. Listener writer Noel O’Hare, 1989
Billy T’s unique brand of humour is captured here at its affable, non-PC best in this compilation of skits from his popular 80s TV shows. There’s Te News (“... someone pinched all the toilet seats out of the Kaikohe Police Station ... now the cops have got nothing to go on!”) with Billy in iconic black singlet and yellow towel; a bro’s guide to home improvement; the first contact skits, and Turangi Vice. No target is sacred (God, The IRA) and there are classic spoofs of Pixie Caramel’s “last requests” and Lands For Bags’ “where’d you get your bag” ads.
Oft-derided across the dutch for its vowel-mangling pronunciation (sex fush'n'chups anyone?) and too fast-paced for tourists and Elton John to understand, is New Zealand's unique accent. Presented by Jim Mora, New Zild follows the evolution of New Zealand English, from the "colonial twang" to Billy T. Linguist Elizabeth Gordon explains the infamous HRT (High Rising Terminal) ending our sentences, and Mora interprets such phrases as 'air gun' (how are you going?). Features Lyn of Tawa in an accent face-off with Sam Neill and Judy Bailey.
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) was set in a North Island timber town. Its portrait of the town’s folk offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; viewers and reviewers praised its Swannie-clad authenticity. This first episode sees a culture clash as a motorcycle gang (including a young Bruno Lawrence) comes to town and causes trouble, running Ray (Geoff Murphy) off the road; and stranded townie Diana (Ginette McDonald) falls in love with a local axeman while hunting.
Peppermint Twist’s colourful, stylised portrait of 60s puberty floated onto NZ screens in 1987, winning a solid teenage following. Something of a homegrown homage to US sitcom Happy Days, Peppermint was set amongst a group of teens in small town Roseville, and made liberal use of period songs and arrangements. This episode involves mounting rivalries over a typically pressing issue: an upcoming limbo contest. Further nostalgia value is provided by real-life 60s music show host Peter Sinclair, who makes a cameo as compere of the contest.
This posthumous series — produced by Ginette McDonald — collects segments from Billy T’s long running skit based comedy series. Some of his most cherished creations are here: the giggling Te News newsreader, Cuzzy in his black shorts, and the chief bemused by Captain Cook. Support comes from a seasoned cast including Peter Rowley, David Telford and Roy Billing (with cameos from Bob Jones and Barry Crump). Some of these skits are essentially elaborate setups for one line jokes but Billy T’s infectious warmth and good humour inevitably carry the day.
A jandal-shod journey through Kiwi pop culture. Kiwiana takes a light-hearted look at the fashion, art, architecture, attitudes, and icons (Buzzy Bees, Edmonds, Swanndri, Pavlova etc) we call our own. Directed by Shirley Horrocks, and shot by Leon Narbey, it featured personalities Gary McCormick, Ginette McDonald, John Clarke, Peter Jackson, and others. Screening at a time (1996) when New Zealanders were just beginning to appreciate these neglected everyday objects as ‘collectibles,' it rated highly, and inspired a sequel, Kiwi As.
The role of women in a traditionally male dominated profession is writ large in the third episode (penned by Norelle Scott and directed by Ginette McDonald) from the first series of NZ TV's first urban police drama. A new addition to the team, Wally (Joanna Briant) faces a baptism of fire from her colleagues — and a rough ride on the streets of inner city Wellington as a drunken couple's antics escalate into major problems for the thin blue line. Robyn Malcolm features in her first screen role and Mark Wright provides some late 80s colour as an inebriated yuppie.
The Feltex-winning series Pioneer Women dramatised the lives of groundbreaking New Zealand women. This episode looks at the story of controversial safe-sex campaigner Ettie Rout. In World War I she travelled to Egypt to care for Kiwi soldiers; there she found venereal disease was rife, and recommended that prophylactic kits be issued and that brothels be inspected for hygiene. To the establishment her pioneering ideas on health, sex and gender were ‘immoral’ and received with hostility; while the RSA and some doctors considered her a “guardian angel of the ANZACs”.
This episode in the Pioneer Women series dramatised the story of Hera Ngoungou. In 1874 in Taranaki, Māori kidnapped an eight-year-old Pākehā girl — Caroline “Queenie” Perrett — possibly in retribution for her father breaking a tapu. Her family didn’t see her again until she was 60, when she was a grandmother and had spent more than 50 years living with, and identifying as, Māori. A moving (Feltex award-winning) performance from Ginette McDonald (aka Lyn of Tawa) mixes stoicism with an acknowledgement of good times and a sense of loss for what might have been.
Kiwi icon Lyn of Tawa — she of mangled vowel fame — goes on the prowl in search of the ultimate Kiwi bloke. The girl-from-the-suburb's mission takes in the gamut of masculine mythology, from Man Alone to mateship, and Lyn provides manthropological reflections ("can a woman ever be a mate?"). Made when the good keen man was facing up to the challenge from 'knackered' SNAGs, she travels from the West Coast (for sex education) to the Wellesley Club, from rugby scrums to rabbit culls, and en route meets hunters, lawyers, students and ... gay ten-pin bowlers.
Created for television by author Maurice Gee, The Fire-Raiser pits a quartet of smalltown school kids against a balaclava-clad figure with fire on the brain. In this episode, the children sneak onto the property of the man they suspect of terrorising their town. The police arrive after Kitty is trapped inside a room that has tragic memories for the suspect’s mother, the memorably moody Mrs Marwick. This WWI-era gothic adventure went on to score four Listener TV awards, including best drama; and Gee’s accompanying novel was published both here and overseas.
Writer Maurice Gee’s experiences growing up in West Auckland during World War II were the basis for this home front drama expertly realised by the producer/director team of Ginette McDonald and Peter Sharp. Twelve-year-old Rex Pascoe (Milan Borich — future singer in the band Pluto) is a war-obsessed schoolboy worried about his father’s black-market dealings. Meanwhile, American soldiers are making their presence felt but not all of their attitudes are welcome. The locals’ prejudices are about to be tested by the arrival of a GI to stay with Rex’s family.
Ambitious kids' sci fi series Space Knights pitched the King Arthur myth into a zany universe of Knights of the Round Space Station, Vader-esque villains, rainbow rocket exhaust, and laser lance jousting. The distinctive look of this early South Pacific Pictures series — like a picture book come to life — was led by cartoonist Chris Slane who achieved it by using actors in life-size puppet suits and blue screen effects. In this excerpt, the evil Mordread creates an android Trojan horse to infiltrate Castle Spacelot. The 'Space Junk' theme song is by Dave Dobbyn.
Doves of War is a political thriller revolving around a group of ex-Kiwi soldiers and their involvement in a war crime committed 10 years earlier. In this opening episode media reports of a mass grave discovered in Bosnia, force ex-SAS Sergeant Lucas Crichton (Aussie actor Andrew Rodoreda) to revisit a past he and his comrades would rather keep buried. Also on the trail is ambitious Hague prosecutor Sophie Morgan and the journalist who was leaked the story. Written by Greg McGee (Fallout, Erebus, Skin and Bone), Doves screened for one season on TV3.
This late 70s gender politics satire was a Television One sitcom written by future Gloss creator Rosemary McLeod; it was broadcast live-to-air from Avalon Studios. In this episode, Ginette McDonald’s lippy feminist withholds the joy of sex from her hippy hubbie, and Bruno Lawrence (sporting a magnificent anti-comb over) is the unreformed motorhead neighbour whose hangover cure is beer and cornflakes. Lawrence’s larrikin performance in the show was spotted by director Roger Donaldson who cast Bruno in his breakout big screen lead role: Al Shaw in Smash Palace.
Growing up in one of New Zealand’s many convent schools before they were reordered by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, was an experience many found tough. This documentary explores the stories of the girls who endured the nuns’ strict rule, including interviews with Ginette McDonald, Moana Maniapoto and painter Jacqueline Fahey, plus some of the nuns themselves. They discuss discipline, education, their thoughts on becoming nuns and how despite all the rules, they wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
Separation City is a comedy-drama about the complications that ensue as two marriages collapse. Men's groups and midlife crises in contemporary Wellington make up the world in which the multi-national cast explores, in screenwriter Tom Scott's words, "biology and human nature". This feature marks the first solo film script by political cartoonist Scott, who honed his writing skills on a run of TV projects during the two-decade journey to bring the film to the screen. Successful commercials director, Australian-based Kiwi Paul Middleditch, directs.
In this short off-beat romance, Penelope (Anna Kennedy), a temp and unpublished romance novelist, discovers that in order to find love, she has to find herself. Combining fact and fantasy Penelope goes on a quirky quest to write her own love story: from dating, to group therapy, to a 'man rack' that memorably visualises Penelope's tendencies towards the fictional. Veterans Ginette McDonald (Penelope's agent) and Jed Brophy (a short date) are included amongst the supporting cast. Darryn Exists won an honourable mention at Nashville Film Festival.
Who Laughs Last profiles Roger Hall, New Zealand’s most successful playwright. Three decades after the opening of Hall's Middle Age Spread became a hit, the original cast return for 2006 follow up Spreading Out. The Shirley Horrocks doco explores the secrets behind Hall’s successful brand of comedy (25+ stage plays, plus TV series and musical comedies) andclosely explores the popularity of Middle Age Spread and Spreading Out. Among those interviewed are John Clarke, Ginette McDonald, the late Grant Tilly, and Hall himself.
Made for Montana Sunday Theatre, Dead Certs provides rare starring roles for talents Rawiri Paratene and Ginette McDonald. Paratene won a Television Award for his acting, and also co-wrote the script (with director Ian Mune), which he began writing on a Burns Fellowship. Paratene plays Hare Hohepa, whose dreams of a winning bet that will allow him to escape his down'n'out existence take an unusual turn: his friend Martha (McDonald) expires after some drinks, then returns in ghostly form to encourage him to keep betting. So begins a dream run at the TAB.
Written by Fiona Samuel (Marching Girls, Bitch, Home Movie) and produced by Ginette McDonald for television’s Montana Sunday Theatre, Face Value is a trilogy of monologues delivered by three separate women. While each woman’s story and background are vastly different, they are all united by their shared quest to find happiness amidst personal trauma. In A Real Dog, Carol Smith’s performance is spot-on as Lynette, a conflicted new-age hippie who struggles to recreate harmony when a new flatmate (and her estranged boyfriend) moves in.
Written by Fiona Samuel, Face Value was a trilogy of monologues by three women with different stories to tell but who share a quest for inner happiness. Ginette McDonald plays Steph, the pampered wife of a wealthy advertising executive in Her New Life. The action centres on Steph’s preparations for a friend’s daughter’s wedding while her husband is away on a business trip. The script cleverly subverts viewer expectations; and McDonald's performance delivers a fair dose of pathos from it. Her New Life was a finalist at the Banff and New York TV Festivals.
Written by Fiona Samuel and produced by Ginette McDonald, Face Value is a series of monologues by three women with very different stories to tell, but who share a quest for inner happiness. In House Rules, the inimitable Davina Whitehouse gives a poignant performance as Miss Judd, a housekeeper of 22 years who is forced to reassess her life and situation after her employer’s death. Propriety at all costs is the rule of the day. House Rules is another example of Samuel’s ability to create memorable and subtly complex female characters.
Doves of War is a political thriller revolving around a group of ex-Kiwi soldiers and their involvement in a war crime committed 10 years prior. A discovery of a mass grave in Bosnia forces ex-SAS Sergeant Lucas Crichton (Aussie actor Andrew Rodoreda) to revisit a past he and his comrades would rather bury. Also on the trail is ambitious Hague prosecutor Sophie Morgan. Action travels from Europe to upmarket Auckland, Wellington nightclubs, West Coast bush, and central Otago. Written by Greg McGee (Fallout, Erebus), it screened for one season on TV3.
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) followed the goings-on of a North Island timber town. The series was conceived by former forester Julian Dickon (who quit the series and was replaced by Listener critic Hamish Keith as writer). Producing two seasons of six episodes was a key step in industry professionalisation, and many of the cast became stars (Ginette McDonald, Ian Mune). It offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; and reviews praised its Swannie-clad authenticity.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977 nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac (who had initially only agreed to make the show on the condition they would get to make The Governor). The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen, and the output demands were foundational in developing industry talent.
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was NZ's first urban cop show and first true genre police drama. Devised by Graham Tetley, it portrayed a unit policing Wellington's inner city under the guidance of Inspector Brian "Sharkie" Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, it was firmly in the mould of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first of three series was the last in-house production for TVNZ's drama department. The other two were made independently by The Gibson Group.
In an age before Rogernomics, and well before The Office, there was the afternoon tea fund, Golden Kiwi, and four o'clock closing: welcome to the early 80s world of the New Zealand Public Service. Gliding On (1981 - 1985) was the first locally made sitcom to become a bona-fide classic. The series was inspired by Roger Hall's hit play Glide Time and satirised a paper-pushing working life then-familiar to many Kiwis. Gliding On won several Feltex Awards including best male and female actors and best entertainment.
Peppermint Twist’s pastel-tinted portrait of 60s puberty floated onto NZ screens in 1987 and despite winning a solid teen following, only screened for one series. Set amongst a group of teens in small town Roseville (in reality the outdoors set originally used for Country GP), the show’s stylised look and sound had few Kiwi precedents - though its links to US TV perennial Happy Days are clear. Peppermint made liberal, and increasingly confident use of period music, with each episode named after a pop song of the day.
In the early 80s Ready to Roll was NZ’s premier TV pop show. It emerged in the pre-music video boom mid-70s hosted by Roger Gascoigne (and later Stu Dennison) with bands and dancers live in the studio. By the early 80s it was a seamless video clip Top 20 countdown — introduced by the Commodores pumping ‘Machine Gun’ — and appointment Saturday evening viewing for music fans (and a regular in the week’s Top 10 rating shows). It then evolved into a brand, spawning a number of RTR offshoots (Mega-Mix, Sounz and New Releases), before disappearing in the mid-90s.
The last drama to be made in-house by TVNZ, The Champion was written by author Maurice Gee at the behest of producer Ginette McDonald after the success of their collaboration on The Fire-Raiser. Set in Henderson, West Auckland over three weeks in early 1943, it centres on 12 year old Rex (Milan Borich — later the lead singer in Pluto) and a black American GI billeted with his family. This tough, accomplished drama looks unflinchingly at racism and prejudice — both imported and local — and is ample testimony to the skills of its writer, cast and crew.
Off the back of the success of A Week of It and McPhail and Gadsby, Jon Gadsby was given his own opportunity to write this gentle rural based sitcom series. No involvement from David McPhail but AK Grant was on board as script editor (with Gadsby’s onscreen involvement limited to a cameo as a highly competitive rugby coach). Set in the rural backwater of Rabbit Flats, the series drew on Gadsby’s own experiences as a bar worker in the Southland town of Dipton, and allowed him to revisit the familiar territory of the bar-based skits from his previous series.
The award-winning Pioneer Women series was producer Pamela Meekings-Stewart’s response to her perception that histories on NZ television, like The Governor, hadn’t adequately recognised the role played by women in shaping the nation. The initial series of six episodes focussed on the lives of Nurse Maude, Ettie Rout, Hera Ngoungou, Princess Te Puea, Elizabeth Colsenso and Ellen Hewett; it celebrated women who not only had to face hardship and deprivation but were charged with raising the next generation. A second series of three episodes screened in 1990.
The Fire-Raiser pits a quartet of smalltown World War I-era school kids against a mysterious figure with fire on the brain. Inspired partly by a real-life Nelson arsonist, the gothic adventure was created for television by author Maurice Gee. Peter Hayden plays the town’s unconventional teacher ‘Clippy’ Hedges, while the lead role went to Royal NZ Ballet star Jon Trimmer. The Fire-Raiser won four Listener TV awards, including best overall drama and best writer; and Gee’s accompanying novel was published both here and overseas.
Indie production house Communicado made their name with a stable of television shows that celebrated Kiwi culture. After the success of late-80s show That’s Fairly Interesting, the company began work on Magic Kiwis, a show devoted to heroes of popular culture. Mostly the cavalcade of Kiwi celebs were stars of entertainment (Howard Morrison, Split Enz) and sports (Susan Devoy, John Walker), with the odd politician thrown in. Over three series, the half hour shows combined classic clips and interview footage, all tied together in trademark upbeat style.
Country GP was a major 80s drama series that charted the post-war years 1945 to 1950 in a rural central South Island town. Using fast-turnaround techniques that anticipated later series like Shortland Street, 66 episodes of Country GP were shot in 18 months at a specially built set in Whiteman’s Valley, Lower Hutt. It was groundbreaking as the first NZ series to cast a Samoan in a title role (Lani Tupu as Dr David Miller); but it also provided a nostalgic look back to an apparently kinder, gentler time than mid-80s New Zealand with its major social reforms and upheavals.
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.