The decade of fondue and flares also cooked up colour television. Our black and white living room icons — from Selwyn Toogood to Space Waltz — melted into a Kiwi kaleidoscope of Top Town, Grunt Machine, and Close to Home. And 'our stories' and rights fights — boks, hikoi, nukes and 'nam — echoed onscreen (Sleeping Dogs, Tangata Whenua). Ready to roll?
This long-running travelling TV game show pitted towns against each other in a series of physical challenges. Leveraging nostalgia for a fast-fading time when NZ's population (and identity) resided in rural hub towns, Top Town was Kiwi light-entertainment gold. This 1977 final, presented by Howard Morrison and radio host Paddy O'Donnell, features short shorts, jockettes, greasy poles, 'balloon baloney', and beautiful scorer Theresa. A large crowd at Okara Park watch Timaru, Greymouth, Waihi and Woodville compete for civic bragging rights in the sun.
Roving quiz show It’s in the Bag got its first screen incarnation in 1973, after Selwyn Toogood campaigned to bring his popular radio series to television. Competitors answered three questions before picking a bag, hoping it contained treasure. Several of Toogood's catchphrases won enduring fame, including "by hokey!” and ”what’ll it be customers, the money or the bag?”. His co-hosts included Heather Eggleton and Tineke Bouchier. After Toogood retired in 1986, John Hawkesby took over, then Nick Tansley. Māori Television relaunched the show in 2009 (also viewable on NZ On Screen).
“Watch out young love!”. Even in black and white Alistair Riddell’s pouting Bowie riff brought a shock of rock'n'roll verve to the ‘New Faces’ talent section of Studio One — a popular TV show more used to singing families and novelty acts. The judges were mostly bemused by the glam-rock onslaught and only grudgingly allowed Alastair Riddell's band to get through to the finals (where they buried them). But rock fans took notice of the x-factor and EMI quickly signed the band. Within weeks 'Out on the Street' was the first local chart topper in three years.
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.
In the 1970s Kiwi music was making more impact, and artists’ confidence was increasing with more self-penned tracks. In May 1975, the Official NZ Top 40 Music Chart – based on a weekly survey of music sales – was introduced. Every local number one song from the 70s is represented in this Spotlight. There’s a nice little extra on John Rowles’ ‘Cheryl Moana Marie’, a snippet of John Hanlon’s ‘Lovely Lady’, and The Fourmyula perform ‘Nature’ for only the second time in New Zealand. There’s also a 1998 interview with Craig Scott, including a taste of 1970 chart-topper ‘Star Crossed Lovers’.
A Week of It was a pioneering comedy series that entertained and often outraged audiences over three series from 1977 to 1979. The writing team, led by David McPhail, AK Grant, Jon Gadsby, Bruce Ansley, Chris McVeigh and Peter Hawes, took irreverent aim at topical issues and public figures of the day. Amongst notable impersonations was McPhail's famous aping of Prime Minister Rob Muldoon; a catchphrase from a skit — "Jeez, Wayne" — entered NZ pop culture. The series won multiple Feltex Awards and in 1979 McPhail won Entertainer of the Year.
Smith (Sam Neill, in his breakthrough screen role) is devastated when his wife runs off with his best friend Bullen (Ian Mune). Smith escapes to the Coromandel. Meanwhile, the government enlists an anti-terrorist force to crack down on its opponents. Bullen, now a guerrilla, asks Smith to join the revolution. Directed by Roger Donaldson, this adaptation of CK Stead's novel Smith's Dream heralded a new wave of Kiwi cinema; it was one of the only local films of the 1970s to win a big local audience. This excerpt includes a much talked about scene: a baton charge by government forces.
The Grunt Machine began life in May 1975 as a pop culture show for 12-20 year olds playing four days a week at 5.30pm. Presented by Andy Anderson, it featured music and reporter based items. Pulled in August, it returned in September as a much hipper late Friday night rock show fronted by David Jones. The 1976 season started with Paul Holmes (in his first presenting role) and featured a Split Enz special for its first show. Fellow DJ John Hood took over later in the year (lying on cushions to do his links). The final Grunt Machine aired in December 1976.
Tangata Whenua was a groundbreaking six-part series from 1974, on Māori. Barry Barclay directed, and historian Michael King was writer and interviewer. Each episode (remarkably screening in primetime on Sunday nights) chronicled a different iwi and included interviews with kaumātua — a first for New Zealand screens. This episode looks at the people of Waikato, and focuses on the Kīngitanga (Māori King Movement), examining why a movement formed in the Waikato in the 19th century to halt land sales and promote Māori authority has contemporary relevance.
The Years Back was a 13-part documentary series made for television by the National Film Unit and first broadcast in 1973. Covering six decades from 1900 to 1960, it was promoted as "people and events that shaped the New Zealand of today", and content was largely influenced by what historic film had survived. Presented by Bernard Kearns, fascinating footage (including the 1931 Napier Earthquake and Jack Lovelock’s 1936 Olympic triumph) is accompanied by interviewees recalling or commenting on past events, big and small, as they unfold on the screen.
The NZ Music Awards ceremony now fills Auckland’s Vector Arena and is a major social and music industry event. In 1978 the awards were broadcast in this 16 September Ready to Roll special, cobbling together finalists at Avalon Studios. Stu (Nice One) Dennison is the host (in brown overalls); and there are performances from John Rowles, newcomer Sharon O’Neill, the Rodger Fox Big Band, Hello Sailor, Toni Williams and Golden Harvest (who feature teeth-picking lead guitar in best Hendrix style). Just two awards are covered here: for single and album of the year.
In this famous edition of current affairs show Gallery interviewer Brian Edwards turns conciliator in a long-running industrial dispute. Post Office workers had imposed a go-slow after wage negotiations broke down. Producer Des Monaghan managed to get the Postmaster General Mr McCready and Mr Reddish of the Post Office union into the studio together. In the interview’s final minutes Edwards forced an agreement between the two men to stop union action and go back into mediation. This programme won Edwards a Feltex Award for ‘Best Performance as Frontman’.
The Governor was a television epic that examined the life of Governor George Grey in six thematic parts. Grey's "Good Governor" persona was undercut with laudanum, lechery and land confiscation. NZ TV's first (and only) historical blockbuster was hugely controversial, provoking a parliamentary inquiry and "test match sized" audiences. It won a 1978 Feltex Award for Best Drama. Auckland Star reviewer Barry Shaw trumpeted: "It has made Māori matter. If Pākehā now have a better understanding of the Māori point of view [...] it stems from The Governor.
This classic kids’ adventure series follows a boy trying to find his missing father, amidst the 1860s Otago gold rush. The show brandished unprecedented production values, and demonstrated that NZ-made kids’ drama could be successfully exported. This first episode sees plucky Scott Hunter (Andrew Hawthorn) steal away to Tucker’s Valley, spurred on by his unsympathetic uncle. In the background pieces, writer Roger Simpson recalls creating 13 scripts at high speed, and director Tom Parkinson writes about the Kiwi landscape as character, and finding the production team.
In the one channel days of the early 1970s, the Survey slot was the place to find local documentaries. Topics ranged across the board, from social issues (alcoholism, runaway children) to the potentially humdrum (an AGM meeting) to the surprisingly experimental (music film The Unbelievable Glory of the Human Voice). After extended campaigning by producer John O’Shea, emerging independent filmmakers, including Tony Williams and Roger Donaldson, joined the party — bringing fresh creativity and new techniques to the traditional gentle, narration-heavy doco format.