The broadcasting career of so-called 'Mr Country Calendar' Frank Torley spanned almost half a century. He worked on the iconic rural series as reporter, producer and narrator, and a number of other programmes besides. In 2002, he was awarded the ONZM for services to broadcasting. Torley died of cancer on 27 March 2016, just weeks after Country Calendar celebrated its 50th year on air.
In horse-racing terms, I'd best be described as a stayer. Frank Torley
The opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television travels from an opening night puppet show 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). Many of the major players are interviewed. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within the story.
When TV began in New Zealand in 1960, posh English accents on screen were de rigueur. As veteran broadcaster Judy Callingham recalls in this sixth episode of Kiwi TV history: "every trace of a New Zealand vowel was knocked out of you." But as ties to Mother England weakened, Kiwis began to feel proud of their identity and culture. John Clarke invented farming comedy legend Fred Dagg, while Karyn Hay showed a Kiwi accent could be cool on Radio with Pictures. Sam Neill and director Geoff Murphy add their thoughts on the changing ways that Kiwis saw themselves.
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.
From Here to Maternity was a six-part documentary series following seven couples on the way to having their first child, then facing up to the reality of childbirth and parenthood. Following the process from antenatal classes to birth and beyond, the programme utilises frank interviews with the couples as they lay out their expectations and fears. The fathers are at times almost comically disbelieving that their lives are about to be turned upside down. But reality sets in soon enough in this absorbing series produced by Country Calendar stalwart Frank Torley.
This is the first of a six-part TVNZ series which follows seven couples from antenatal classes to the reality of childbirth and parenthood. Along the way they share their hopes and fears as they await the arrival of their first born. This episode focuses on antenatal classes, decisions that have to be made and practical adjustments, including jobs and budgeting. The fathers-to-be provide some of the most humorous lines, mostly displaying their naivety (one looks forward to the chance to "laze back a bit"). But all the participants show an honesty that makes for fascinating viewing.
Ask Country Calendar viewers which shows they remember and inevitably the answer is "the spoofs" — satirical episodes that screened unannounced. Sometimes there was outrage but mostly the public enjoyed having the wool pulled over their eyes. Created by producer Tony Trotter and Bogor cartoonist Burton Silver, the first (in late 1977) was the fencing wire-playing farmer and his "rural music". This special episode collects the best of the spoofs, from the infamous radio-controlled dog, to the gay couple who ran a "stress-free" flock, and more malarkey besides.
"Another adventure with Tim" is how one of Tim Wallis’ friends wryly puts it. The "adventure" came about when Wallis combined an “expensive toy”, and a noxious pest: using helicopters to recover deer shot by hunters in inaccessible South Island backblocks. Next deer were captured alive, to stock deer farms; a multi-million dollar industry was born. At the peak of his operations, Wallis had a fleet of 35 helicopters. The aerial shots in and around Milford Sound are magnificent. The stories he tells of his many crashes are 'she'll be right' Boy's Own classics.
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 slot. The show featured sheepdog trials from around the country, with commentary provided by the wise, bearded John Gordon. In the final from a 1981 series, four 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.
Jon Neilson and Bob Parker host the 13th annual Young Farmer of the Year final, broadcast live from Trillos nightclub in Auckland in 1981. The show includes pre-recorded items showing the seven finalists on their farms, as well as competing in the "rural activities" part of the contest, which consists of such tests as hanging a gate, changing a tyre, and determining defects in sheep carcasses. The presentation of the "cloak of knowledge" to the winning farmer at the end of the night is delightfully cheesy.
Designer Garnet Nelson has a distinctive attitude to fashion for the rural sector, showcased in a range of clothes combining style and practicality — although the after five combinations may be a step too far. This might be one of the celebrated Country Calendar spoof episodes, but the buy-in from models who could only be farmers and not actors is a sight to behold. And the fashion tips don't end there. Reporter (and long time Country Calendar producer) Frank Torley adds his own sartorial note with an unfeasibly long shirt collar that has a mind of its own.
Man. Dog. Sheep. This was an unlikely formula for Kiwi TV gold. Showing sheepdog trials from around the country, A Dog’s Show ran from 1977 to 1992. In each trial a farmer, armed with an array of whistles and commands, instructed a sheepdog to wrangle a flock of recalcitrant sheep along a course or into a pen while the bearded, sagacious, Swannie-clad John Gordon provided the commentary. Trivia: the opening tune is a version of the Statler Brothers song ‘Flowers on the Wall’, also used in movie Pulp Fiction.
This iconic travelling TV game show pitted teams representing New Zealand towns against each other in a series of colourful physical challenges. Top Town was run over a series of weekly heats, staged in different towns on local sports fields. It leveraged nostalgia for a fast-fading time when NZ's population (and identity) resided in rural hub towns. The series was light-hearted light-entertainment gold, but the battle for civic bragging rights was serious stuff and it screened for 14 years from 1976 until 1990.
In 1975 TV One launched with a flagship 6.30 news bulletin which went largely unchanged with the move to TVNZ in 1980. In a 1987 revamp, it became the Network News with dual newsreaders Judy Bailey and Neil Billington (replaced by Richard Long). In 1988, the half hour programme moved to 6pm. With the advent of TV3 in late 1989, it was rebranded One Network News; and, from 1995, extended to an hour. The ill-fated replacing of Long with John Hawkesby in 1999 saw it make headlines rather than report them. In 1999, there was another name change to One News.
The iconic all-things-rural show is the longest running programme on New Zealand television. With its typical patient observational style (that allows stories of people and the land to gently unfold) it’s an unlikely broadcasting star, but New Zealanders continue, after 50 plus years, to tune in. Amongst the bucolic tales of farming, fishing and forestry, there are high country musters, floods, organic brewing, falconry, tobacco farming, as well as a fencing wire-playing farmer-musician, a radio-controlled dog, and Fred Dagg and the Trevs.