More Legendary NZ TV Moments

“Don’t beat a dead horse to death.”  

The thing about legendary moments (see here, and here) is that you really can’t plan them. But you can help the process along with a few tricks. One technique is to include some nudity. This was especially effective back in the 1980s when topless women on TV were as rare as newsreaders who said “Ki Ora.”

It’s also why, all these years later, the late Angela D’Audney has been used to front this selection. It was, to my mind, one of the greatest moments in the history of the medium.

The nation was shocked when in 1982, Angela, then a household name as a newsreader, bared her bosom 9.30pm one night in The Venus Touch (part of the Loose Enz series of one-off dramas). The sex-farce was a popular genre of the time and this one, written and directed by Keith Aberdein, is fantastically farcical.

Bruno Lawrence is the man with the ‘Venus Touch’ of the title. If he touches a woman, they go loco and quickly pull off their panties, or in the case of Angela, a turquoise onesie (known then as a cat suit). Strangely, D’Audney, who is the only non-actor on the show, is way more convincing than the big guns of Grant Tilly as Rufus the sexologist and Lawrence as a Kiwi version of Alvin Purple.

Actually this may be a career low for Bruno (who is clearly missing having his finger on the trigger of his shotgun). D’Audney died in 2002 but was always rightly proud of her topless moment, a piece of performance art from the days when nipples still caused a ripple.

Performance art is probably a good way to sum up a lot of these moments. The invasion of the TVNZ Six O'Clock News by Māori activists was one that stands out like Kuri balls. Led by future politician Ken Mair, the protestors ‘stormed’ the One Network News desk just before the show went to air.

The protest was in reaction to Te Karere, the Māori news show, being dropped for the summer holidays, or as Ken Mair put it, “Māori news should receive the same allocation as Pākehā news.” Legend has it that when one of the activists spoke to presenter April Ieremia in te reo, April, a Samoan, replied: “Wrong tribe bro.”

New Zealand’s first ovine celebrity, Shrek the sheep, provided a great opportunity back in 2004 when I was working on a show called Eating Media Lunch. The media didn’t just go mad over the shaggy beast, it went bat-shit crazy. Helen Clark, the then Prime Minister, even met the sheep outside Parliament rather than Māori who had marched there on a historic hikoi.

By the time Paul Holmes presented a live special in which Shrek was shorn, in primetime, we knew we had gone too far. In our version of the story a clerical error had meant that Shrek was sent to be slaughtered rather than to retirement in Arrowtown. We found a farmer who was doing a home-kill and filmed the procedure, after placing a replica ‘Shrek’ blanket on the stand-in sheep. Naturally the complaints flowed in.

Some people thought it was the real Shrek who had been butchered, while others accused us of the crime of “killing an animal for ratings.” We figured that if we're going to kill and eat millions of them we should at least show people how it’s done.

Of course Country Calendar had done it all before. Their spoofs, conceived by Burton Silver and Tony Trotter, are legendary (Silver was also the brain behind the book Why Cats Paint). As any townie knows, our country cousins love pulling the wool over our eyes while they feed us ‘mountain oysters’. This tradition is seen in the brilliant p*ss-takes that had many of us fooled.

As a kid I recall being convinced by the farmer who played music on his fence wire as if it were a guitar. Even more convincing was the ‘remote controlled dog’, which — unlike many a Dog Show canine — certainly looks like he’s doing his master’s bidding.

What’s interesting about Country Calendar's campy hairdressers-turned-farmers and their ‘stress free grazing technique’ is how ‘gays’ were portrayed in the 1970s. The tell-tale signs: drinking wine and eating croissants.

In another gem, a man called Trevor is seen planting gardens on unused space on the top of buildings in the Wellington CBD, where he also runs a few hundred head of guinea pigs, allegedly farmed for their fibre.

These are brilliant fakes that make you wonder when the show will strike again. It’s long overdue.

A film that is often mistakenly attributed to Country Calendar was the legendary hoax in which farmed turkeys were shown wearing gumboots. The farmer explained that they had already tried out Roman sandals but the boots gave more support. The footage of a poor turkey staggering around with boots attached is pre-animal rights humour at its best. 

But best of all, the segment, which screened, not on Country Calendar but on Town and Around in 1968, fooled executives from boot company Skellerup who flew to Whanganui with dollar signs in their eyes.

The best trick of all was played on us by a film called Forgotten Silver. Outrage and anger followed in the wake of this literally unbelievable story of New Zealand film pioneer Colin McKenzie. I say unbelievable, but I confess to buying the gag hook line and sinker when I watched it. And yes, I did feel stupid the next day while my smarter friends looked at me with disdain.

But other people found the deception harder to laugh off, as creator Costa Botes recounts, “Despite all the (we thought) obvious clues we planted to undermine the story's veracity, a large proportion of the audience swallowed the whole thing; and when they found out next day that the new national hero they were celebrating was a sham, the mood turned nasty.”

Part of the genius of the film is that it looks so authentic, thanks in no small part to the special effects workshop that Peter Jackson was starting to build as he entered the world of big budget blockbusters that eventually made him an even bigger hero than Colin McKenzie. So why did so many of us fall for it? One scene stands out. It’s the one that ‘proved’ that Richard Pearse flew before the Wright brothers. We wanted to believe.

But we were skeptical when we first heard the tale of the Ingham Twins. Sarah and Joanne Ingham became household names when, as 18 year olds, they stowed away on a Malaysian ship after Sarah fell in love with a crewman (whom she later married). Some thought they were fibbing about surviving in shark-infested waters for 18 hours, but most of us were transfixed by their bogan bravery.  

Then came the back-story, the drunken escapades and the angry landlords. These young ladies had the makings of stars. They were outlaws. There was only one problem. The “gift of the gab” — as you’ll see in that year's Holmes - Christmas Party — was something they didn’t have.

Nineties Rapper Redhead Kingpin is way more chatty. But two things came to mind after watching him being interviewed on NZ kids TV:

1) A good way to p*ss off a rapper is to talk about their mother, especially if she’s a cop.

2) And a good way to unsettle Hine Elder and fellow 3:45 LIVE! host Phil Keoghan is to wave a voodoo stick about and babble like a madman.

But Redhead did finish up with a thoughtful proverb that has stuck with me to this day: “Don’t beat a dead horse to death.”