David McPhail's television resume is that of a genuine stayer. Working often with Jon Gadsby, his longtime comic partner in crime, McPhail co-starred — and famously impersonated Sir Rob Muldoon — in landmark sketch shows A Week of It and McPhail and Gadsby. He went on to co-create the Barry Crump-style yarns of Letter to Blanchy, and star as the no-nonsense teacher in acclaimed comedy Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby.
I’m an optimist; I can’t afford not to be. David McPhail
From the Archives: Five Decades was a TVNZ series marking the celebration of 50 years of television in New Zealand. The five-part series launched the TVNZ Heartland channel on the Sky TV digital platform, on 1 June 2010. Hosted by children's TV presenter (Hey Hey It's Andy) turned network executive Andrew Shaw, each episode focussed on a specific decade — from the 60s to the 2000s — and featured archival TV footage, plus an interview with a key figure from the decade. Those interviewed were Paul Holmes, Brian Edwards, Ray Columbus, David McPhail and Peter Elliott.
This is the opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television: from an opening night puppet show in Auckland in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ on Air, Sky and Māori Television) and interviews many of the major players. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within a story.
Big business and a small, struggling rural support town are on a collision course in this good-natured comedy made on a shoestring budget with extensive community goodwill. Policeman, author and film director Stefen Harris reunites the cast from his debut The Waimate Conspiracy, but moves the action up SH1 to Temuka. An adaptation of his novel The Hydrosnipe, it features Mark Hadlow as an amoral corporate trouble-shooter threatening the town’s only petrol station after its recently deceased owner may have stumbled on a priceless scientific breakthrough.
Created by superhero fan Stephen J Campbell, this light-hearted adventure series follows teen Ben Wilson (Carl Dixon) who discovers his father and grandad have done time as superheroes. Still getting to grips with the basics of being one himself, Ben enlists family and friends to help fight assorted villians. The show ran for three seasons, and spawned web series The Wired Chronicles and Origins. Nominated for awards in Rome and New Zealand, it picked up one in Korea. The eclectic cast included the tried (David McPhail) and the new (Hannah Marshall from Packed to the Rafters).
This children's adventure-comedy is about a teenager, Ben (Carl Dixon), who becomes a superhero, Captain Extraordinary. He must save City Central from forces of evil, but first he must learn how to fly. Ben's Grandad and mentor is retired superhero The Green Termite (played by veteran David McPhail). Non-PC wit and ironic DIY effects make this light-footed series - created by Stephen Campbell and co-written by Matt McPhail (David's son) - one for all ages. The series (one of three) also screened on Australia's ABC Kids and Nickelodeon; a movie is in development.
Christchurch policeman Stefen Harris launched his film career with this feature-length adaptation of his own book The Waikikamukau Conspiracy, about a small town Māori land claim. When drama funding couldn’t be secured, it was shot as a low budget mockumentary in just six days in South Canterbury. Jim Moriarty manages to be endearing in his determination to regain his people’s land at any cost, while David McPhail and Mark Hadlow enthusiastically lampoon the judicial system. The film won Best Digital Feature at the 2007 Air New Zealand Screen Awards.
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 comedy series followed the daily life of an 1800s Māori chief (Pio Terei) and his interactions with other Māori and newly-arrived Pākehā settlers. Nothing was sacred as a subject for satire, from disease to English gold lust. Created by Ray Lillis (Pio!), the series features Rachel House (Whale Rider), Jason Hoyte (Late Night Big Breakfast), William Davis (Belief) and Jonathan Brugh (What We Do in the Shadows). Guests included Dalvanius and Charles Mesure. It was produced by Terei’s Pipi Productions for TVNZ over two seasons; Terei had shifted from TV3 after his series Pio! in 1999.
This 1995 documentary about New Zealand humour features classic TV comedy moments from Fred Dagg, Barry Crump, A Week of It, McPhail and Gadsby, Letter to Blanchy, Billy T James, Pete and Pio, the Topp Twins, Gliding On, Lyn of Tawa and Funny Business. Tom Scott, John Clarke, David McPhail and Jon Gadsby talk about the nature of New Zealand satire; Pio Terei, Peter Rowley, and Billy T James producer Tom Parkinson discuss the pros and cons of race-based humour; and the Topp Twins explain the art of sending people up rather than putting them down.
Letter to Blanchy was a gentle back-blocks comedy co-written by A.K. Grant, Tom Scott and comedy duo, McPhail and Gadsby (who also starred). Each episode centred on the bumblings of a trio of mates living in a fictional small town: intellectual Derek (McPhail), rough-diamond Barry (Gadsby) and tradesman Ray (Rowley). The show's narration comes from a letter written to Blanchy, a friend living in the relative sophistication of Christchurch. The series was adapted for a theatre tour in 2008.
Letter to Blanchy was an old-fashioned backblocks comedy, which centered on the bumblings of a trio of mates living in a fictional small town: intellectual Derek (David McPhail), rough-diamond Barry (Jon Gadsby) and tradesman Ray (Peter Rowley). In this excerpt from the second episode, the lads plan a "traditional" hangi for local gentleman Len. Amongst much non-PC humour, railway irons are proposed in place of hot stones, pasta in place of pig, and a keg disrupts preparations. Hole-digging is much debated in the usual Kiwi bloke way.
Letter to Blanchy was a gentle rural backblocks comedy, and a rare example of Kiwi TV comedy makers filming extensively on location. The show centres on a trio of bumbling smalltown mates: intellectual Derek (David McPhail), rough-diamond Barry (Jon Gadsby) and tradesman Ray (Petet Rowley). In this excerpt from the third episode, Barry and Ray give Derek advice on how to get rid of a stubborn tree trunk, and plant the explosives needed to blast it out of the ground. In the Kiwi DIY way things are destined not to go to plan. "Where did the stump go?" Ian Mune directs.
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, South Pacific Pictures-produced Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series dramatising events leading up to NZ’s 80s anti-nuclear stand. PM Robert Muldoon (Ian Mune) calls a snap election when his MP Marilyn Waring crosses the floor on the ‘no nukes’ bill, but his gamble fails, and David Lange's Labour Party is elected. Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) is pressured from all sides (including a bullish US administration) to take a firm stance on his anti-nuclear platform. He finally accepts there is no middle ground.
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series about the events leading up to New Zealand's 80s anti-nuclear stand. In part two, the new Lange Labour government narrowly averts an economic crisis; and under political pressure Prime Minister Lange asserts ‘no nukes’ independence at the risk of spurning the country's traditional allies. In this excerpt, Lange speaks at the Labour Party annual conference, then travels to meet with US political officials and British PM Margaret Thatcher (veteran actress Kate Harcourt).
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series about the events leading up to New Zealand's 80s anti-nuclear stand. In this first episode Labour sweeps into power with an anti-nuclear platform. Upon taking office, David Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) faces pressure to live up to his campaign rhetoric. In this excerpt, we see the parliamentary cut and thrust leading up to the election, with National MP Marilyn Waring defying Muldoon (Ian Mune) to cross the floor on the Nuclear Free New Zealand bill.
Letter to Blanchy is a gentle rural comedy co-written by, and starring legendary comedy duo, McPhail and Gadsby. Each episode is a self-contained story, drawing material from the bumblings of a trio of good friends living in a fictional small town. They are: intellectual Derek (McPhail), rough diamond Barry (Gadsby) and tradesman Ray (Rowley). The narration is a letter written to Blanchy, a friend living in the relative sophistication of Christchurch. The series was adapted for a theatre tour in 2008.
Once upon a time the Kiwi accent was a broadcasting crime, and politicians decided in advance which questions they would answer on-screen. Here is the News examines three decades (up to 1992) of Kiwi TV journalism and news presentation. The roll-call of on and off camera talent provides fascinating glimpses behind key events, including early jury-rigged attempts at nationwide broadcast, Dougal Stevenson announcing the 1975 arrival of competing TV networks, the Wahine, Erebus, Muldoon, turkeys in gumboots, and the tour - where journalists too, became "objects of hatred".
On the heels of Issues (1990), More Issues offered more of the same satirical takes on local and international current affairs. It pokes fun at the advent of news-presenting personalities like Judy Bailey, Richard Long and Paul Holmes - such a prominent feature of NZ TV at the time. Politicians Ruth Richardson and Robert Muldoon also featured regularly, and celebs such as Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Hunter made appearances. Issues of the day included Martin Crowe's upcoming nuptials, the first Gulf War, and Māori land claims.
On the heels of Issues (1990), More Issues offered more of the same satirical takes on local and international current affairs. It pokes fun at the advent of news-presenting personalities like Judy Bailey, Richard Long and Paul Holmes - such a prominent feature of NZ TV at the time, and politicians and celebs of the day. These excerpts from the series include Rima Te Wiata's uncanny impersonation of Judy Bailey, David McPhail's reprisal of a conniving Rob Muldoon, Rawiri Paratene as Oprah Winfrey, and Mark Wright as war reporter Peter Arnett.
In these excerpts from his last TV series — a family based sitcom — Billy T has to deal with his radical older daughter who wants to get a moko, a teenage boy trying to smuggle beer into his younger daughter’s birthday party, a defamation writ, and another tribe becoming his landlord. There are varying degrees of help from his wife (Ilona Rodgers), his aggressively dim Australian brother-in-law (Mark Hadlow) and his daughter’s painfully politically correct pakeha boyfriend (Mark Wright), as well as cameos from Temuera Morrison, Martin Henderson and Blair Strang.
To mark its first 25 years, TVNZ commissioned independent producer Ian Mackersey to chronicle a day in its life as the national broadcaster. Coverage is split between the often extreme lengths (and heights) gone to by technicians maintaining coverage, and the work of programme makers — including the casts and crews of McPhail and Gadsby and Country GP. The real drama is in the news studio during the 6.30 bulletin (with light relief from the switchboard) in this intriguing glance back at a pre-digital, two channel TV age during the infancy of computers.
After turning “Jeez Wayne” into a national catchphrase with their hit series A Week of It, comedy duo David McPhail and Jon Gadsby continued their TV dream run with the sketch comedy show McPhail and Gadsby. This 1983 'Best of' featured highlights from series five including: 'pronouncing things proper with Jim Knox'; 'This Is Your Life with Robert Muldoon' (featuring McPhail’s infamous caricature of the then PM); Lin Waldegrave’s popular impersonation of music show host Karyn Hay; and a Goodnight Kiwi take-off in 'Goodnight from the Beehive'.
One of an early 80s series of stand-alone dramas, Coming and Going is set in a boozy officers’ mess in Maadi in Egypt during World War II. Based on a short story by Dan Davin (who saw service in North Africa and Europe), it centres on Reading (David McPhail in a rare serious role) who will never be one of the blokes — but who is now facing ostracism and open hostility. Andy (Kevin Wilson) has just rejoined the unit after being wounded; and he gradually discovers that Reading’s plight is the result of something far more serious than standoffishness.
Framed around a visit to New Zealand by Irish-born entertainer Danny La Rue, this all-singing all-dancing spectacular was recorded over three days in March 1980. The “fella in a frock” was famed for his drag acts and double entendres. Comedians Jon Gadsby and David McPhail provide local support as Marlene Dietrich visits a farm, Mae West visits the All Blacks changing room, and Margaret Thatcher meets Robert Muldoon (McPhail). Filmed at Avalon Studios, the revue was a co-production with London Weekend Television, made during the golden era of NZ TV variety shows.
Programmes featuring the immortal Count Homogenized are among the most-requested by visitors to NZ On Screen. Homogenized - a vampire with a white afro and cape and a lust for milk - made his debut in this children's show, ultimately going on to star in his own series. In this early episode the Count turns up at Major Toom's haunted house on his unending search for bovine liquid sustenance, and befriends Toom over some wine. Shark in the Park actor Russell Smith's mischievous Count has lodged itself in the hearts of many Kiwis of a certain vintage.
The debut episode of McPhail and Gadsby plunged into religion as the object of satire, and the result spawned death threats and annoyed letters to the editor. The pair dress up as angels, devils, monks, nuns, priests and Moses, and also make the first of many appearances as the smug Denny (McPhail) and not so clever Ron (Gadsby). McPhail argued later that a simple sketch involving an Anglican vicar dispensing communion unexpectedly caused the most offence. The thematic approach was soon abandoned in favour of shorter episodes, and a more familiar style of topical satire.
Count Homogenized, the vanilla-clad vampire with a lust for milk made his debut on this ghost-flavoured children's series, before moving on to star in his own show. Russell Smith's portrayal of the mischievous The Count has lodged itself in the hearts of many Kiwi kids of a certain vintage and has become an — absolute original — icon of NZ TV. True Blood has nothing on The Count and his unending search for bovine liquid sustenance!
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.
This episode from the second series of pioneering comedy show A Week of It takes a light-hearted look at issues of the day: sporting contact with South Africa, the 1978 election, traffic cops against coupling in cars, dawn raids in Ponsonby, weather girls struggling with te reo, and bread and newspaper strikes. Censorship campaigner Patricia Bartlett struggles with a French stick, and beer baron Sir Justin Ebriated is interviewed. John Walker, "current world record holder for selling cans of Fresh Up", is sent up, and there's a racing-themed "geegees Wayne" sign off.
Long before he became the stuff of nostalgia and t-shirts, Count Homogenized debuted on this pilot episode of A Haunting We Will Go. Made in 1977 but unscreened till 1979, this pilot follows Major Tooms and his long-suffering butler as they take the audience on an extended tour of their haunted house. In the second half, scene-stealing Homogenized (Russell Smith) appears, a vampire whose raison d'etre - an endless quest for milk - proves as ridiculous as it is delightful.
A Week of It was a pioneering satire series that entertained and often outraged audiences from 1977 to 1979, with its irreverent take at topical issues. The debut episode opens with an investigation into what Labour politician Bill Rowling is like in bed, and then Prime Minister Muldoon gets a lei (!). McPhail launches his famous Muldoon impression, Annie Whittle does Nana Mouskouri; and the Nixon Frost interview is reprised as a pop song. The soon to be well-known Gluepot Tavern skit wraps the show: "Jeez Wayne". McPhail writes about first launching A Week of It here.
A Week of It was a pioneering political satire series. This episode from the first series tackles topical issues — many of which will seem bewildering to a 21st Century audience. Ken Ellis and David McPhail discuss the great NZ work of fiction and Jon Gadsby presents Māori news. Annie Whittle and McPhail act out how babies are made; there's a Justice Department recruitment film; interviewer (and future royal PR man) Simon Walker is sent up; the sex habits of the 1977 Lions rugby tour are covered, as is wisdom of sheilas on racehorses. McPhail writes about the show's launch here.
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.
Around 31 March 1903, eccentric farmer Richard Pearse climbed into a self-built monoplane and flew for about 140 metres, before crashing into a Waitohi gorse bush. The amount of control he maintained and exact date (before the Wright brothers?) has been oft-debated. This award-winning TV film (an early script for Hunter's Gold's Roger Simpson) dramatises the life of the reclusive young inventor and his flying machine, from his youth up until the flight itself. Actor Martyn Sanderson captures 'Mad Dick's' obsession in a Feltex-winning performance.
This was the 1974 end of year special for this Christchurch-based music show (with a number of acts performing in exterior locations around the Garden City). A stellar cast includes Steve Gilpin (prior to Mi-Sex), Rob Guest (before musicals fame), Space Waltz (in technicolor glam rock glory), Annie Whittle (in the daffodils on the banks of the Avon), Rockinghorse (featuring 'Nature' composer Wayne Mason), Mark Williams (sparkling in lurex), Beaver (in full flight) and the archly named Drut who come complete with pyrotechnics (and really have to be seen to be believed).
In 1973 EMI NZ producer Alan Galbraith saddled up Rockinghorse: a supergroup of Kiwi musicians (including ‘Nature’ composer Wayne Mason) to provide session music for the label’s artists. Rockinghorse found success of their own with the third single from the Throughbred album — ‘Thru the Southern Moonlight’. It won Best Single at the 1975 RATA Awards. The band also won Best Group and their celebrations led to a year-long ban from the Lion Breweries pub circuit. Here they funk up the cowbells in a 1974 end-of-year special, for Christchurch-based music show Pop Co.
Pop Co slotted in after Movin’ and before Norman as part of a long tradition of Christchurch music shows beginning with Let’s Go in the early 60s. It featured a studio band, the Maggie Burke Dancers and vocalists including Bunny Walters, Annie Whittle, Tom Sharplin and Rob Guest who performed the hits of the day. There were appearances from local acts including Ticket and Chapta, and overseas performers like Lindisfarne and Gary Glitter (who was overcome with vertigo and had to be rescued from a high diving board at QE2 pool after miming one of his hits).
Town and Around was a nightly magazine show, covering everything from current affairs and studio interviews to slapstick to stunts; including a notorious spoof on a farmer who shod his turkeys in gumboots. A popular and wide-ranging regional series, it ran for five years from 1965, and was the training ground for a generation of industry professionals (Brian Edwards, David McPhail, and Des Monaghan amongst many others). Town and Around was made prior to a national network link, and editions came out of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.