Top 40 NZ TV Classics

This collection of 40 classic Kiwi TV series offers up images spanning 50 years. The titles range from Gloss to Gliding On, from Olly Ohlson to Nice One Stu, from Ready to Roll to wrestlers. In this special backgrounder, Stuff's James Croot writes about favourite moments of Kiwi TV. The list is in rough chronological order of when each series debuted.

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Town and Around: Wellington Highlights

Television, 1968 (Full Length)

Nightly magazine-style show Town and Around played on New Zealand screens during the second half of the 60s. Hosted by Peter Read, this end-of-1968 special from the Wellington edition showcases highlights from over 500 items that year. The concentration is on lighter material, most famously a hoax piece on a farmer who puts gumboots on his turkeys. In another piece reporter John Shrapnell discovers that locked cars in the city tend to be the exception. Also featured: an interview with entertainer Rolf Harris, and an impromptu Kiwi street-Hamlet.

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40 Years of Country Calendar

Television, 2005 (Full Length Episode)

This best of special culls history and highlights from 40 seasons of the longest running show on NZ television. Farming, forestry and fishing are all on the roster, but this edition is as much about observing people and the land. There is footage of high country musters, helicopter deer capture, floods and blizzards, as well as radio-controlled dogs and mice farmers. Longtime Country Calendar figures like John Gordon and Tony Trotter share their memories, and the show sets out to catch up again with some of the colourful New Zealanders that have featured on screen.

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C'mon - Series One, Final Episode

Television, 1967 (Full Length Episode)

This is the final episode in the first series of New Zealand's classic 60s pop show. Host Peter Sinclair seems to have no idea that the show will return for another two years, as Mr Lee Grant, Sandy Edmonds, Herma Keil, Bobby Davis, Tommy Adderley, a rocking Ray Woolf and the Chicks run through the big hits of 1967. They manage to compress 21 songs into a frenetic half hour. Sinclair promises "big sounds, fun sounds, wild sounds" as the show ranges from blues-rock through ballads and 'Edelweiss', to a nod to the children watching with 'Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead'.

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Pukemanu - Pukemanu Welcomes You

Television, 1971 (Full Length Episode)

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.

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It's in the Bag - Dunedin (1974)

Television, 1974 (Full Length Episode)

It's in the Bag was a travelling television quiz show, fronted by Selwyn Toogood. Competitors were selected from the audience and had to answer three questions before they could select a bag and bargain for its contents. Toogood's catchphrases, such as, "by hokey!" and, "what'll it be customers, the money or the bag?", have become part of folklore. This 1st June, 1974 episode was telecast from Dunedin's Mayfair Theatre; a Frigidaire ("jet-o-matic") Home Laundry and Pye hi-fi system are on offer amongst the booby prizes. Heather Eggleton is the glam bag lady.

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Play School - Presenter Compilation

Television, 1980–1987 (Excerpts)

Play School (1972 - 1990) was an iconic educational show for pre-school children. The opening sequence — "Here's a house ..." — and the toys (Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima, Humpty, Manu) were the stars. This compilation reel of various presenters features two excerpts from 1980: Barry Dorking and Jacqui Hay (future National MP), and Dorking solo; one from 1982: actor Rawiri (Whale Rider) Paratene with Winsome Dacker; and two from 1987: Eilish Wahren with Kerry McCammon, and Russell (Count Homgenized) Smith and actress Theresa (Shortland St) Healey.

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Spot On - First Episode

Television, 1973 (Full Length)

This first episode of this much-loved kids series explores all things to do with lighthouses. It begins with a visit to Nugget Point; then things get eclectic. Earnest informational TV is interspersed with psychedelic graphics, cartoons, a sea shanty ("I want to marry a lighthouse keeper"), and funky lighthouse-themed songs. We meet Don (a lighthouse stamp collector); uncover the mysteries of how a ship fits into a bottle; and the three young presenters deconstruct their attempts at painting lighthouses, including a fine abstract effort from Ray. Classic.

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Close to Home - First Episode

Television, 1975 (Full Length Episode)

Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years (until August 1983) 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. This first episode sees the family gathering for Grandfather’s 78th birthday. Vivian (Ilona Rodgers) moans to Tom (John Bach): “you’ve drunk all my cooking sherry”, then tenderises the beef with the empty bottle.

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Telethon - 1981 show

Television, 1981 (Excerpts)

Telethon was a widely popular 24-hour live television spectacular aimed at securing donations from viewers for a charitable cause. The feel-good vibe of Telethon was infectious, appealing to both adults, kids (who were allowed to stay up in front of the telly) and willing celebs. This selection covers highlights from the 1981 Wellington Telethon (for International Year of the Disabled). Bob Parker, Selwyn Toogood, Ian Johnstone and host Peter Sinclair get goofy amongst smurfs, bagpipes, and talking belly-buttons. "Thank you very much for your kind donation!"

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Ready to Roll

Television, 1975–1994

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.

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On the Mat - 17 March 1981

Television, 1981 (Full Length Episode)

This episode of the legendary professional wrestling series screened in March 1981. Barry Holland and the late Steve Rickard host (Ernie Leonard has moved behind the scenes into a producer role). Rickard welcomes locals and viewers from Kenya, Hong Kong and Malaysia. On the Mat mainstay Mark Lewin features prominently, appearing in tag action before reminiscing about a fiery battle with King Curtis in Japan. Things don't improve as he's attacked by the Voodoo-crazed Big Mullumba. The main event sees local star Johnny Garcia and Samoan Joe battling it out.

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The Romper Room - Opening Titles

Television, 1975 (Excerpts)

Romper Room kept little 70s kids entertained while they waited for big brothers and sisters to come home from school. The format was imported to NZ from the US with these animated titles — all that remains of the show in the archives. The titles established the programme’s bee motif (carried through to Do Bee and Don’t Bee who were used to model correct and incorrect behaviour). Once the bee had bounced off the jack in a box, Miss Yvonne and her fellow presenters entertained with songs and stories — and looked through the “magic mirror” at the audience at home.

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Moynihan - You Can't Win 'Em All (Episode Two)

Television, 1976 (Full Length Episode)

Ian Mune is Leo Moynihan, secretary of the carpenters’ union, who — with orange mini and leather jacket — has to navigate the shark-infested waters of 70s industrial relations. In this episode, earthquake regulations, a shifty minister and stand-over tactics from worksite agitators, count amongst Moynihan’s workplace problems. At home he has to introduce lecturer girlfriend Sarah to his young son. The NZ-Australia co-production (with ABC) was the first drama series made by TV One’s drama department. It won Feltex awards for best drama and Mune’s performance.

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Nice One

Television, 1976–1978

Nice One has become a legend in New Zealand children's TV: with the show's signature theme tune ('Nice one Stu!') and Stu's thumbs-up salute, totemic for kids of the era. On the show, host Stu Dennison played a cheeky pony-tailed schoolboy who delighted children and infuriated adults with his irreverent antics. Dennison developed the persona in live segments on Ready to Roll, before transporting him to his own after-school programme, filmed at Avalon Studios for TV One. Nice One also featured cooking (with Alison Holst), craft, singing and plenty of humour.

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Top Town - 1977 Final

Television, 1977 (Full Length Episode)

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.

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Hunter's Gold - First Episode

Television, 1976 (Full Length Episode)

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. 

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The Governor - The Reverend Traitor (Episode One)

Television, 1977 (Full Length Episode)

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 televison's first historical blockbuster was hugely controversial, provoking a parliamentary inquiry and "test match sized" audiences. It won a 1978 Feltex Award for Best Drama. In ‘Episode One: The Reverend Traitor', Grey arrives to colonial troubles: flag-pole chopping Hōne Heke, missionary Henry Williams, and rebellious Te Rauparaha.

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Fair Go - 30 Years on Television

Television, 2007 (Full Length Episode)

Popular consumer affairs show Fair Go is one of New Zealand TV's longest-running series. This episode — presented by its longest serving host, Kevin Milne — looks back at 30 years and 860+ shows of Fair Go. Amidst regular Fair Go stories, there is a flashback to the 1977 debut of original host Brian Edwards; retro segments on soapbox rights in Christchurch Square, blocked gutters, and neighbours at war; a 1982 spoof on the struggle to open screw tops on soft drink bottles; and a 1980 survey of NZ's most untrustworthy occupations (lawyers, car dealers).   Contact Fair Go here.

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A Dog's Show - 1981 Final

Television, 1981 (Full Length Episode)

Man. Dog. Sheep. This was an unlikely formula for Kiwi TV gold; A Dog's Show was familiar as a homespun in its long-running Sunday night slot. The show featured sheepdog trials from around the country, with commentary provided by a sagacious, bearded John Gordon. In the final from a 1981 series, three farmers wield sticks and whistles and put their dogs through their paces to wrangle the "sticky sheep". It's 1981, but the only riots here are ovine. Trivia: the opening tune is a version of the song 'Flowers on the Wall', also used in the film Pulp Fiction.

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A Week of It - Christmas Special

Television, 1979 (Full Length Episode)

This final episode of pioneering A Week of It ("NZ's longest running comedy programme — discounting parliament") features a three wise men parody (lost without a Shell road map); pirate Radio Hauraki; and a parliament-themed Cinderella Christmas pantomine, with David McPhail's Muldoon playing the stepmother. Jon Gadsby appears as Dr Groper, an un-PC GP; and God is a guest at an Anglican church in Fendalton. British comic legend Dudley Moore appears briefly in the extended 'best of' credits reel, alongside (Jeez) Wayne and the rest of the Gluepot Tavern lads.

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It is I Count Homogenized - First Episode

Television, 1982 (Full Length Episode)

Three years after debuting on A Haunting We Will Go, Count Homogenized makes a memorable re-entrance in this first episode of his own series, disguised as a movable charity bin. The episode has the simplicity of a good cartoon: essentially the Count endeavours to trick or talk his way past the local dairy owners, on his endless mission to make it to the milk supplies. Aside from Russell Smith in full comic flight as the Count, Lynda Milligan takes the New Zild accent in dramatic new directions as no-nonsense shopkeeper Rhonda Dearsley.

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Gliding On - No Smoke Without Fire (First Episode)

Television, 1981 (Full Length Episode)

In an age before Rogernomics, 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. Inspired by Roger Hall's hit play Glide Time, the award-winning series satirised a paper-pushing working life familiar to many Kiwis. This episode features Beryl's non-smoking campaign, Jim's efforts to kick the habit, office sexual innuendo and a much-debated fire drill. "Morning Jim!"

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After School - Māorimind (Episode)

Television, 1981 (Full Length Episode)

Host of weekday kids' programme After School, Olly Ohlson, was the first Māori presenter to anchor his own children's show, and his catchphrase (with accompanying sign language) "Keep cool till after school" is remembered by a generation of Kiwi kids. The show also broke ground in its use of te reo Māori on screen. This episode sees a game of Maorimind (a te reo test based on Mastermind) and the building of a road-sign for the longest place name in New Zealand - a 85-letter te reo gobstopper that Olly rolls out with aplomb: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateatu... etc. 

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Landmarks - A Land Apart

Television, 1981 (Full Length)

Presented by Kenneth Cumberland, Landmarks looked at New Zealand history through the landscape, and at man "coming to terms" with it. In this episode NZ's "last, lonely, remote" geography is framed as a stimulus for ingenuity. A narrative of "triumph over the elements" finds its flagbearer in the DIY story of jetboat inventor Bill Hamilton. Cumberland is donnish but game in pursuit of telling landmarks: exposing seashells alongside the Napier-Taupō highway (700m above sea-level) like a down-under Darwin, or in a gas-mask on an erupting White Island.  

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Hudson and Halls - Episode Seven (1982)

Television, 1982 (Full Length Episode)

They came, they battered, they bickered. Peter Hudson and David Halls were as famous for their on-screen spats as they were for their recipes. The couple ("are we gay - well we're certainly merry") turned cooking into comedy. Coming soon after winning 1981 Feltex Entertainer of the Year, this episode shows viewers how to make crepes with cream chicken and vegetable filling. There's microwaves, roasted nuts and dollops of innuendo. Guests are English jazz clarinetist Acker Bilk, and poet and TV personality Pam Ayres, who performs some ribald rhymes.

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Mortimer's Patch - Day of Judgement (First Episode)

Television, 1980 (Full Length Episode)

Mortimer’s Patch was a popular police series following detective Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper), a city cop returning to his rural roots. In the first episode, scripted by Keith Aberdein (The Governor), a girl (Greer Robson) goes missing in sand dunes near the shack of an eccentric recluse. Fear and suspicion mounts, and Mortimer brings in help from the city: prejudiced detective Chris Knight (Ken Blackburn). Don Selwyn plays Sergeant Bob Storey. In this background piece, Mortimer's Patch producer Tom Finlayson writes about the show's birth, death and double resurrection. 

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Under the Mountain - The Alien World Below (Episode Four)

Television, 1981 (Full Length Episode)

Classic sci-fi TV series Under the Mountain follows the adventures of redheaded twins with psychic powers — Rachel and Theo — as they battle the alien Wilberforces. This fourth episode sees the twins venture into the aliens' submarine lair for the first time. The lair's uterine production design, the NZSO score, and still-creepy transmogrifying SFX contributed to the slimy imprint the series left on a generation of NZ kids, haunted by the giant slugs slithering underneath Auckland's volcanoes. The award-winning series was adapted from the Maurice Gee novel.

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Chic Chat - 1981 Episode

Television, 1981 (Full Length Episode)

Chic Littlewood’s afterschool show for children featured skits performed by Chic and his puppets to link cartoons and other overseas programming. Chic should be in control — but the real star here is the somewhat wayward Willie McNabb (from a Scottish family of mice courtesy of Auckland theatre doyenne Alma Woods). Chic and Willie are never quite on the same wavelength — and Chic’s Gramps character has even less chance of matching wits with him. Mother McNabb appears briefly — while the apparently ogre-like producer is an ominous but unseen presence.

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Radio with Pictures

Television, 1976–1988

For a generation of music fans rock show Radio with Pictures was their link to local and international music — and essential viewing before TV2's Sunday night horror movies. Following on from the Grunt Machine in 1976, its presenters included Dr Rock (Barry Jenkin), Phil O'Brien, Karyn Hay and Dick Driver. RWP's run coincided with the rise of MTV and the music video, and a burgeoning 80s New Zealand music scene. Videos were a staple but artist interviews also featured and the show staged a number of televised concerts featuring leading local artists.

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Terry and the Gunrunners - 1, First Episode

Television, 1985 (Full Length Episode)

This first episode from the kidult series pits 12 year old Terry Teo, sister Polly and brother Ted against a gang of gunrunners led by crime boss Ray Vegas (former Goon Michael Bentine) after Terry skates down the wrong driveway and stumbles on the crims and their illegal arsenal. Terry was fondly remembered by Kiwi kids who grew up in the 80s. Taking cues from the Stephen Ballantyne and Bob Kerr comic it was based on, there are Batman-esque graphics and arcade game style animated sequences. Sean Duffy’s bald villain is called Curly and the bikie is Billy T.

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Hotshotz

Television, 1989 (Full Length)

Future Shortland Streeter Craig Parker features in this tale centred on a group of young teens fascinated by radio-controlled car racing. Screening as a TV series, Hotshotz was also recut into this telefilm. The "swift and slick" tale (The Listener) sees the teens setting out to foil a criminal gang, as a kidnapping sets the scene for espionage and counterfeiting. In scenes that echo modern-day drone use, a remote controlled model helicopter equipped with a camera plays a key role in the story’s resolution. Veteran writer Ken Catran contributed to a title that sold in 25 territories.      

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Gloss - First Episode

Television, 1987 (Full Length Episode)

Yuppies, shoulder-pads, sports cars and méthode champenoise abound in this cult 'glamour soap'. Gloss was NZ's answer to US soap Dynasty, with the Carrington oil scions replaced by the wealthy Redferns and their Auckland magazine empire. The series epitomised 80s excess, and became something of a guilty viewing pleasure. In this Rosemary McLeod-penned pilot, a 'Remuera Revisited' plot unfolds as Brad Redfern's plans to have a quiet wedding get waylaid by ex-wife Maxine. Schoolgirl Chelsea wags, listens to her Sony Walkman and gets an unorthodox haircut. 

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The Best of The Billy T James Collection

Television, 1992 (Full Length)

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 (“... somebody pinched all the toilet seats out of the Kaikohe Police Station ... now the cops 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, the talking Japanese sketch) and there are classic advertising spoofs for Pixie Caramel’s “last requests” and Lands For Bags’ “where’d you get your bag”.

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Holmes - First Episode

Television, 1989 (Excerpts)

The very first Holmes show. In this famous interview, Paul Holmes asks American yachtsman Dennis Conner to apologise for cheating in the America's Cup. Conner storms out, making headlines the next day and giving the new show a ratings boost. The NZ Herald described this interview as "an aggressive, overly-mannered encounter interview rather than a thoughtful interrogation, a ratings-generating event rather than a genuine, tenacious journalistic grilling." It was a style that made Holmes famous.

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The Boy from Andromeda - The Guardian

Television, 1990 (Full Length Episode)

On a holiday to Mt Tarawera, teenager Jenny (Katrina Hobbs) finds an odd shard of metal. In this third episode of the kids sci-fi series she meets its owner: 'Drom' — a survivor of an alien mission to deactivate a planet-annihilating space gun (aka Tarawera itself). They find themselves under siege from a Predator-like 'Guardian' of the gun. If Drom and Jenny and local kids Tessa and Lloyd (future What Now? presenter Anthony Samuels) can't defeat the mechanoid, catastrophe is imminent! The South Pacific Pictures series found international sales and cult repute.

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What Now? - Christmas Special

Television, 1991 (Full Length Episode)

What Now? is a long-running entertainment show for primary school-aged children. Live to air on weekend mornings since 1981, it is a Kiwi kids' TV institution. This Christmas Special sees presenters Simon Barnett, Jason 'The Ace' Gunn, and Cath McPherson larking it up with guests (Cath's Scottish Uncle Bob, Constable Keith and Sniff the Dog, The Wizard of Christchurch, the NZ 'Young Guns' cricket team) and in oddball summer and Christmas tales. Eddie and Fifi do decorative DIY. Check out the stone-wash denim and Barnett's frosted tips and lycra shorts.

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Shortland Street - First Episode

Television, 1992 (Full Length Episode)

The first episode of Shortland Street starts with a pregnant woman being rushed to the clinic after an accident. Only the doctors are all missing. Visiting Doctor Hone Ropata (Temuera Morrison), who is soon to join the Shortland Street team, makes the call to deliver the baby. Head nurse Carrie Burton (Lisa Crittenden) disagrees, and proceeds to mention that Doctor Ropata is no longer in Guatemala. This first episode of the five night a week soap screened on 25 May 1992. It would go on to become New Zealand's longest running TV drama (but not our first soap — that was Close to Home).

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Nightline - 20th Anniversary Episode

Television, 2010 (Full Length)

A special tribute to 20 years of TV3's late night news show Nightline — including interviews with most of its regular newsreaders and major contributors of the previous two decades. Belinda Todd pops up in Los Angeles via satellite link and Darren McDonald is "door-stepped" at home while the others celebrate in a Ponsonby Road bar. There's a tribute to the late Dylan Taite; and other packages are devoted to Belinda Todd's more notorious antics, Bill Ralston's gonzo approach to politics, the show's arts coverage and its on-going love affair with nudity.    

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The Son of a Gunn Show - Christmas Special

Television, 1992 (Full Length Episode)

Jason Gunn and sidekick Thingee present a Christmas Day special as only they can. Guests include Wonder Dogs host Mark Leishman, singers Debbie Harwood and Kim Willoughby and All Black Va’aiga “Inga the Winger” Tuigamala. The fate of Christmas dinner hangs in the balance as guests and audience members take part in competitions that include an unfortunate way to make eggnog. Some bizarre presents are exchanged and there’s a cameo for Gunn's Mum. Jason also manages a Paul Holmes impression (along with some Frank Spencer and a dash of Rik Mayall).

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Outrageous Fortune - First Episode

Television, 2005 (Full Length Episode)

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". Wolf and the local police 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.