Dave Armstrong writes plays, books, award-winning comedy shows (Spin Doctors) and dramas (quake tale Hope and Wire). He also plays trumpet. Armstrong has been creating comedy alongside director Danny Mulheron since childhood, including Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby — the tale of an un PC teacher — and Samoan family comedy The Semisis. Armstrong also co-wrote award-winning play Niu Sila with bro'Town's Oscar Kightley, which chronicles the friendship between a polynesian and a palagi.
Just about everything I have learnt about literary and dramatic structure has a parallel in classical music composition. Good dialogue has a rhythm, so if you have a musical ear you can hear it when it works. Dave Armstrong
In this family-friendly feature, Santa (Finnish actor Kari Väänänen) does a runner to a beach in Aotearoa days before his big night of the year, fed up with bureaucracy and brats. It falls to two Kiwi kids to get him out of the southern sun, and back to global gift giving. Director Tony Simpson (Kiwi Flyer) pitches the North Pole native against Kiwi biosecurity and a bickering camping family (including Step Dave's Sia Trockenheim). Sunday Star Times critic James Croot praised the trio of writers for delivering "a rare 21st century effort that evokes the memory of the great kidult dramedies."
Narrated by Hilary Barry and screening on 3 News, this series of short documentaries profiles New Zealanders involved in World War I. This episode looks at sexual health campaigner Ettie Rout, who was determined to tackle the high venereal disease rate amongst Kiwi soldiers. Her biographer Jane Tolerton tells of Rout advocating for prophylactic kits, and setting up a safe sex brothel in France. Rout attracted controversy and censorship, and was scorned by the establishment as immoral. But soldiers and doctors thanked her as the "guardian angel of the ANZACs".
In Wellington, Hāmi Grace was respected for his cricketing and rugby prowess. In Gallipoli, his sniper skills became legendary. This four minute short documentary uses Grace's diary entries to recount his experiences at Gallipoli with the Wellington Battalion. The former Wellington College pupil turned lieutenant wrote about the squalid conditions, graves "everywhere", and fighting the Turks. Grace was killed at Chunuk Bair in August 1915. Every year Wellington College holds a remembrance ceremony for Grace and the 29 other former pupils who died in Gallipoli.
This episode of the series about New Zealanders in World War I looks at Lottie Le Gallais. The Auckland nurse worked on the hospital 'mercy' ship Maheno, which transported wounded soldiers from Anzac Cove at Gallipoli. She arrived to find her brother Leddie had been killed. Te Papa exhibition Gallipoli: The Scale of our War featured a large-scale model of Le Gallais learning of Leddie's death, crafted by Weta Workshop. Weta boss Richard Taylor is interviewed here. The series was narrated by Hilary Barry, and screened during 3 News.
From the second series of short documentaries remembering New Zealanders in World War I, this episode looks at Ormond Burton. Burton left for war as a 21-year-old, and served as a medic and in the infantry. He was decorated for bravery, and a bible saved him from a bullet. His stance on the justness of war changed after experiencing the horrors of Gallipoli and the Western Front. During World War ll the Methodist minister was jailed as a conscientious objector; later he became a prominent pacifist and anti-Vietnam War campaigner. The series screened during 3 News.
During World War I five members of the New Zealand Division were executed for military crimes — four for desertion and one for mutiny. Two of them, Victor Spencer and John Braithwaite, are profiled in this episode of Great War Stories. Spencer, an apprentice engineer from Bluff, was twice convicted of desertion, and put to death — despite an officer he'd known at Gallipoli vouching for his good character. Braithwaite was executed for mutiny, after trying to defuse a fight over the inhumane living conditions of military prisons. In 2000 the government pardoned all five executed men.
The youngest of eight children from a prominent Canterbury family, brothers Robin and Gordon Harper signed up eagerly to enlist in World War l. The Harpers fought in Turkey and Egypt as machine gunners with the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, earning medals for their bravery at Hill 60 in Gallipoli. Using their farming skills, the brothers found each other on the battlefield with their distinctive dog whistles. Susan Harper, a relative of the pair, displays a Turkish machine gun one of the brothers brought home. The other sibling was killed in battle in Egypt.
When Taranaki farmer and lawyer William Malone signed up to fight in World War l, he was the oldest man in the Wellington Battalion. But far from being frail, 56-year-old Colonel Malone was fit and disciplined. The Parihaka veteran became one of New Zealand's most important figures at Gallipoli. This short documentary about Kiwis in World War l uses Malone's diary entries and an interview with his great-great-great grandson to tell the remarkable story of Malone's battalion capturing Chunuk Bair, on 8 August 1915. Malone was killed that day by Allied artillery.
This edition of Great War Stories follows the experiences of Kiwi horses in World War I by recounting the story of Bess, the thoroughbred stead of Colonel CG Powles of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment. The two would serve in the Middle East, and on the Western Front. Over 10,000 horses were sent to war; Bess was one of only four to return home. The clip finishes with an Anzac Day remembrance at Bess’s Rangitikei grave. The first series of seven short documentaries screened during TV3's primetime news in 2014; another series followed in 2015.
This episode from the TV3 series of mini World War I stories looks at Harold Gillies and Henry Pickerill, two pioneers of plastic surgery who grafted “new hope onto despair” for soldiers whose faces had been demolished by war. The short details new methods the pair developed at Sidcup in England, a specialist unit set up by Gilles. It conveys the bravery of the surgeons and nurses in the face of appalling injuries, as well as the courage and “unquenchable optimism” of the patients. Presented by Hilary Barry, Great War Stories screened during 3 News.
“We’ve chosen someone Hollywood would call an action hero” says Hilary Barry, as she introduces this TV item recalling Kiwi experiences in World War I. The subject is decorated flying ace Keith Caldwell, who left for England in 1916 to join the RAF with only eight hours training (which he’d paid for himself). He became one of the most successful pilots on the Western Front, leading ‘Tiger Squadron’. The short, which screened during 3 News, recounts the dogfights and close escapes that Caldwell negotiated with “splendid skill and fearlessness”.
In 2014 a series of short documentaries began screening on 3 News, describing Kiwi experiences in World War I. This debut item tells the home front story of Annette Liverpool, wife of the Governor of NZ, and her wartime charity work. In 1914 she founded the Lady Liverpool League, providing comfort parcels and support services for Kiwi soldiers on the front lines. League groups formed throughout the country, inspired by Her Excellency’s Knitting Book: “We all must do our bit; The men go forth to battle, The women wait — and knit.”
This edition of Great War Stories series revisits “a candidate for the darkest day in New Zealand war history” — 12 October 1917. The Passchendaele disaster in Belgium is explored via a letter smuggled home from 23-year-old private Leonard Hart. The front was a quagmire of mud and blood where, in a catastrophic blunder, Kiwi soldiers were shelled by their own artillery fire before being caught in barbed wire, and slaughtered by enemy machine guns. Hart called it “the most appalling slaughter I’ve ever seen.” Presenter Hilary Barry also sings the opening hymn, 'Abide with Me'.
This slot in TV3’s Great War Stories series looks at Kiwi conscientious objector Mark Briggs. In World War I imprisonment faced those who objected to doing their bit for King and country on moral grounds. In 1917 unionist Briggs and 13 others (including Archibald Baxter) were shipped to the front and made an example of via ‘Field Punishment No.1’, which saw the pacifists bound to a post in the open, then forced into the trenches. Archive material and art by Wellington's Bob Kerr depict the torture in this short documentary, which screened during 3 News in 2014.
This edition of a series of TV3 shorts retelling Kiwi World War I stories follows Māori soldier Rikihana Carkeek into war. The 24-year-old Te Aute College old boy was working as a clerk in Wellington when he volunteered for the Native Contingent. His grandson, Te Waari Carkeek, a kaumatua at Te Papa, reads excerpts from Rikihana’s diary: recounting waiting for a chance to fight in Malta, and the “hell on earth” carnage of Gallipoli. Carkeek returned home to Otaki and became a Ngāti Raukawa leader. This third episode screened during 3 News on 6 August 2014.
Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), this top-rating tele-feature dramatised the life story of legendary comedian Billy T James. Billy screened on 21 August 2011 as a Sunday Theatre drama on TV One, 20 years after Billy T’s death, aged just 42. Actor Tainui Tukiwaho (Step Dave) plays Billy T. Touted as revealing "the man behind the chuckle", the drama traverses Billy T’s life from childhood. This excerpt follows Billy as he reaches the peak of his career, fronting TV skits and pub stand-up. It was adapted by Briar Grace Smith and Dave Armstrong from the Matt Elliott biography.
In the 2000s mockumentary realism (led by The Office) was making its mark in television comedy. Series The Pretender gave Kiwi politics the embedded camera treatment, with expat comedian Bob Maclaren playing overconfident property developer-turned-MP Dennis Plant. The first episode of the second series sees Plant cause political chaos, with the launch of his Future New Zealand party. This season was nominated for three Qantas TV awards in 2009, including best comedy. The show was created by Peter Cox (Insider’s Guide to Happiness) and Great Southern TV’s Philip Smith.
This hit animated series about five Auckland school kids was created by Elizabeth Mitchell and theatre group Naked Samoans. This episode sees Vale (Oscar Kightley) dealing with deadlines, punch-ups and prima donnas as he rushes to write and direct the school musical. In the audience are HRH Prince Charles, Chris Knox, Scribe and Helen Clark, who all end up joining in during a showstopping final number about togetherness. "Stop the violence. We're honkies and Asians, horries and curry munchers. Morningside for life."
Teacher Mr Gormsby believes in brutal honesty - and that the education system has gone all namby-pamby. In desperation, a dysfunctional low-decile school employs him.director/co-creator Danny Mulheron was inspired partly by an old school teacher who wore a military beret, and has irreverent fun with the archaic antics of Mr Gormsby. The Dominion Post compared Gormsby to Fred Dagg and Lyn of Tawa; The Sydney Morning Herald found it "darkly funny". Running two seasons, it was nominated for Best Script and Best Comedy in the 2006 NZ Screen Awards.
Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby was a sharp-witted comedy about an appallingly politically incorrect relief teacher. In this episode, the irreverent Mr Gormsby (artfully played by David McPhail) is the unlikely candidate to teach a Human Relationships class. Later, a used condom is discovered in the wharenui and Gormsby's powers of deduction lead him to the culprit. The "darkly funny" comedy (Sydney Morning Herald) was partly based on a former teacher of director Danny Mulheron and was nominated for Best Script and Best Comedy at the 2006 NZ Screen Awards.
Director Danny Mulheron has fun with the subversive character of Mr Gormsby in this irreverently funny series. In desperation, the Tepapawai High School principal has hired paragon of old school values Mr Gormsby (David McPhail) after yet another relief teacher walks out. Forming an instant dislike for fellow teacher 'Steve from Guidance' and frustrated that his trusty cane has been taken from him, Gormsby comes up a unique form of discipline which manages to offend pretty much everyone. Nominated for Best Script and Best Comedy at the 2006 NZ Screen Awards.
This hit animated TV comedy follows the adventures of five kids growing up in the Auckland suburb of Morningside. This rugby-themed episode starts with God praising George Nepia (with Jesus weeping because he’s no good at sports), before heading down to Morningside for a lesson on teamwork. As the Sylvester 1st XV face up against a superstar team which includes Tana Umaga and Stacey Jones, Mack pulls a sicky so that his mates won't find out how little he knows about the game. Michael Jones is the Savages' inspirational coach.
This animated hit follows the adventures of five kids growing up in the Auckland suburb of Morningside. The show's fearless, un-PC wit was developed from the poly-saturated comedy of theatre group Naked Samoans. In bro'Town's very first episode, Valea gets hit by a bus and wakes up a genius, allowing him to demonstrate that his school is not just full of dumbarses after the boys compete on a school quiz show. The Simpsons-esque celebrity cameos start strong, thanks to Robert Rakete, Scribe, PM Helen Clark, David Tua and "marvellous" John Campbell.
It's election time in this special episode from the topical weekly satire series about a PR firm (written by James Griffin, Dave Armstrong, Tom Scott and Roger Hall). Giles Peterson and Associates will take on any client - even if it means trying to update Helen Clark's wardrobe, speechwriting for Winston Peters, offering succour to fading National and Alliance MPs, brokering a coalition deal between the Greens and Labour, or helping candidates master the intricacies of The Worm. Meanwhile, elements of the Catholic Church feel they haven't apologised enough.
The Strip centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who sheds a legal career to set up a male strip revue. Created by Alan Brash, The Strip played to a certain demographic's desire for ogling naked men (warmed up by 1987 play Ladies Night and 1997 film The Full Monty), but with a focus on female characters, as Melissa juggles business with raising a teenage daughter. Taking cues from Ally McBeal (with fantasy sequences to match) the Gibson Group tale of g-strings, feminism and red light romance screened for two series on TV3 and sold internationally.
Set in a high flying PR firm, Spin Doctors was a topical, fast turnaround satire — in the tradition of John Clarke’s The Games. No client is too grasping, no issue too unsavoury for Giles Peterson and Associates, and a team including a ruthless Australian (Mark Ferguson), a boozy trout (Elizabeth Hawthorne) and the office liberal unsuccessfully battling his conscience (John Leigh). Each episode was written and produced in just five days — allowing the writers (including James Griffin, Roger Hall and Tom Scott) full license with the week’s issues.
Skitz was a popular long-running sketch-based comedy that ran for four series from 1993 to 1997. This selection of excerpts contains sketches from the final season of the Gibson Group satirical show famous for its broad, take-no-prisoners humour, and memorable characters and catchphrases. The wacky Semisi family and their 'fresh off the boat' antics inspire mirth and groans in equal measure and filmmaker Sima Urale is enjoyably ludicrous as the terrifying Aunty Mele. Jemaine (Flight of the Conchords) Clement and members of the Bro' Town posse also feature.
Audiences first discovered dysfunctional Samoan-Kiwi family The Semisis via 90s sketch comedy series Skitz. In 1996 they got their own spin-off show. A talent-heavy cast found themselves lobbing lines and props in each other's direction: future Naked Samoans Dave Fane and Robbie Magasiva, performer Jackie Clarke, and Hori Ahipene, as the family matriach. Creators Dave Armstrong and Kerry Jimson got input for storylines from the cast, director Danny Mulheron and a group of young Samoans from Porirua. Seven episodes were made by Wellington's Gibson Group.
Created by Dave Armstrong and Kerry Jimson, The Semisis was a satirical take on a contemporary Samoan-Kiwi family. In this opening episode, the Semisis handle eviction by heading to a campground with all their belongings. There romance buds, the palagi next door neighbour (Brian Sergent) proves unwelcoming, and the South African camp commander is even worse. The over the top Semisis family began as part of 90s TV sketch show Skitz; Armstrong consulted with cast members and a group of young Samoans from Porirua, while writing the scripts.
This series centred on a weekly TV current affairs programme in mid-90s Wellington. Katie Wolfe stars as stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins: lured back from Australia for her tabloid style in an effort to boost the show's ratings. Tackling timely storylines and shot ‘handheld’ in the NYPD Blue-inspired style, the TV3 series was well reviewed but faced its own ratings struggles (a later series screened on TV One). It was Gibson Group’s second foray into producing a TV drama series, after Shark in the Park. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was a series writer.
Skitz was a popular long-running sketch-based comedy that screened for four series. Populated with memorable characters and catch-phrases, and broad, take-no-prisoners humour, it won Best Entertainment Programme at the 1996 NZ TV and Film Awards. A particular favourite in its arsenal of regular characters was the Semisi family with their 'fresh off the boat' antics inspiring mirth and groans in equal measure. Skitz featured seasoned comedians such as Jackie Clarke, as well as new faces at the time, including Jemaine Clement of future Flight of the Conchords fame.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.
Away Laughing was an early sketch comedy show from Wellington company Gibson Group. In this episode from the second series, skaters, spies, panelbeaters and Buck Shelford are the butt of jokes. Kevin Smith and Murray Keane play two Australians mocking New Zealand place names; a trio of firefighters make idiots of themselves in a classroom; ingratiating priest Phineas O'Diddle (Danny Mulheron) arrives at the pub in time to join in on Hori's birthday; and onetime Telecom promo man Gordon McLauchlan interviews two gorillas about Telecom's privatisation.
Debuting on 6 May 1991, this TV3 comedy show saw sketches tested out before a live (unseen) audience — and dropped from the episode if no one laughed. The performers were a mixture of rising standup comics (Jon Bridges) and theatre talents (Danny Mulheron, Carol Smith), plus late actors Kevin Smith and Peta Rutter. Producer Dave Gibson wanted to avoid satire and politics, in favour of the challenge of broad social comedy. Among the regular sketches were a pair of gormless skateboarders and ingratiating priest Phineas O’Diddle. Another season followed in 1992.
This sketch comedy series screened over two years in the early 90s. Many of the Gibson Group show's skits were tested and filmed in a theatre, in front of a paying audience. This first episode sees laughs come from Watties spaghetti and a roll call of emerging comic talent of the era. Danny Mulheron and Hori Ahipene act up, Tim Balme plays Trivial Pursuit, Kevin Smith gets his vernacular on negotiating NZ customs, Peta Rutter crushes on Steve Parr, and Facial DBX comedians Jon Bridges and David Downs are teenage skaters who talk digital watches while wearing day-glo.
Gibson Group production Public Eye was inspired by the British series, Spitting Image. Latex puppets caricature topical personalities, mostly drawn from the world of politics (Ruth Richardson, Helen Clark, Winston Peters etc). Their foibles are duly skewered in fast-moving comic skits such as the 'Ruatoria Rasta' segment, 'The White Way' and 'Honky Tanga'. The wickedly grotesque puppets were based on drawings by cartoonist Trace Hodgson, and built by a team headed by future Weta FX maestro, Richard Taylor.
Inspired by the British series Spitting Image, Gibson Group's Public Eye features latex puppets based on drawings by cartoonist Trace Hodgson and built by a team headed by future Weta FX maestro, Richard Taylor. Highlights from the first episode include a boxing match between former finance minister Ruth Richardson and Winston Peters; Helen Clark's attempts to convince a bunch of labour party ministers to enforce a ban on pornography; and cricketer Richard Hadlee's failure to promote a life insurance company while being interviewed by Keith Quinn.