Murray Reece has been the director at a number of key turning points in New Zealand's television history: from the debut of our first drama series (Pukemanu), to the first telemovie (The God Boy), to the episode of Country Calendar where Fred Dagg first showed us around the farm.
After The God Boy debuted on TV One, plaudits flowed in newspaper review columns, and Wellington’s Evening Post devoted a front-page headline to the achievement of its local production team. Trisha Dunleavy, in her 2005 book Ourselves in Primetime: A History of New Zealand Television Drama
Based on the chldren's books by Lynley Dodd, this show follows beloved dog Hairy Maclary on his adventures in the neighbourhood. Opening with the theme tune familiar to many Kiwi families, this is Hairy's first screen adventure, introducing his canine mates — Schnitzel von Krumm, Bottomley Potts and Muffin McClay — and his tomcat tormenter: Scarface Claw! Actor Miranda Harcourt narrates, capturing the rhythms of Dodd's prose that have seen the stories sell in the millions since they first appeared in 1983. The 10-part series was animated by the late Euan Frizzell.
Designed to inspire school leavers to find their career, Pathways sees a selection of young New Zealanders talk about their job paths. The pilot episode of this 1994 Careers NZ resource is bookended with a 'mini-drama' about young people flatting together, which includes some familiar faces. Karl Urban plays lazy surfer Wayne, while Robbie Magasiva is the sales assistant whose plans of climbing the career ladder go awry. Marcus Lush plays a DJ who links a series of interviews with people either working or training. Later Lush interviews experts on youth employment prospects.
This 1994 ‘home front noir’ is set in World War II Wellington, where the plots — a murdered marine, exploited working girls and gonorrhea — spread amidst the invasion of US soldiers stationed at Paekakariki. Kerry Fox (An Angel at My Table) is a public health nurse who becomes romantically linked with the US investigating officer (Tony Goldwyn — Ghost, TV's Scandal) while pursuing the STDs and the truth. They’re supported by Oscar-winning US veterans Rod Steiger and Robert Loggia. John Reid (Middle Age Spread) directs, from a Keith Aberdein script.
Homeward Bound was TV3’s bid for New Zealand on Air funding for a local soap opera. Set around the lives of the rural Johnson family, 22 episodes were produced for the then-nascent network (the series ultimately lost out to TVNZ’s Shortland Street). Created by Ross Jennings and written by Michael Noonan, it represented a move back to a small town way of life after the Gloss-y urban excesses of the 1980s; it also explored pressures facing country communities following the stock market crash. The cast included Liddy Holloway, Peter Elliott and a young Karl Urban.
Norvin has razor teeth and looks as much like a shark as any young boy can. So he makes a dorsal fin out of plastic and sets off to scare everyone out of the water. Now Norvin has the cove to himself. Or does he? The success of animator Euan Frizzell's wry adaptation of the Margaret Mahy picture book saw four more Mahy tales follow (collected on DVD as The Magical World of Margaret Mahy). Among a trio of awards, The Great White Man-Eating Shark won best children's short at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Ray Henwood provides the droll narration.
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was New Zealand's first urban cop show. Devised by Graeme Tetley (Ruby and Rata), it portrayed a unit policing inner city Wellington, under the guidance of Inspector Brian 'Sharkie' Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, the show followed the character-based storytelling of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first season marked one of the last in-house productions for TVNZ's drama department. The next two series were made independently by The Gibson Group.
Gloss was a popular Kiwi television drama series made by TVNZ that screened in the late 80s; it combined a wealthy family, the Redferns, with a lucrative high-fashion magazine business. Yuppies, shoulder-pads and méthode champenoise abound in this cult "glamour soap". New Zealanders wanted to see themselves as less bottom of the world and more "here we come and we are sailing" (as the infamous Cup campaign song warbled), and Gloss was just what the era demanded.
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.
This off-the-wall comedy of errors — from the Loose Enz series — sees hapless tour operator Graham (Ian Watkin) and his wide boy driver Ron (John Bach) leading a busload of international visitors (well) off the beaten trail. the teleplay neatly skewers clichéd promotional travelogue commentaries (with the music of Sibelius never far away) and takes broader shots at the tourists’ various cultural stereotypes. With Graham well-meaning but dim, and Ron too busy looking after number one, Graham’s mum (a formidable Yvonne Lawley) and enterprising local Iwi come into their own as hosts.
This episode of the Loose Enz series features small town intrigue in Hawkes Bay. Prickly, violin playing, ex-POW Austin (Derek Hardwick) refuses to retire despite handing over the farm to son Wesley (Goodbye Pork Pie director Geoff Murphy) — and the impending sale of the neighbouring property (to Japanese buyers) puts him on the warpath one boozy night at the local. Rural land politics and identities are nicely observed, the farmers’ band is delightfully chaotic (with Paul Holmes as a sax-playing fencer), and the Land Rover stuck in reverse is worthy of Fred Dagg.
American journalist George Plimpton was a pioneer of ‘participatory journalism’; writing stories describing his experiences trying on the shoes of boxer, comedian and trapeze artist. In Kiwi TV series The Deep End, reporter Bill Manson tested himself by taking turns as a professional wrestler, female impersonator, captain of a navy frigate, and so-called Mum to a family of 18 kids, among others. The globe-travelling journalist later said the show was one of the projects that remained dearest to his heart, despite — or because of — its mixture of joy and terror.
This episode of The Deep End asks whether a navy captain has the skill set to direct television. Aided by Royal NZ Navy officer Peter Cozens, navy veteran Ian Bradley agrees to direct a teleplay starring an occasionally troublesome team of Kiwi actors. Bradley's mission had its roots in an earlier episode, where he forced normal Deep End host Bill Manson to walk the plank of the frigate HMNZS Waikato. The result is a rare behind the scenes glimpse into local TV production — and a chance to witness the grace under pressure of both Bradley, and veteran TV Production Assistant Dot LePine.
TV series The Deep End saw reporter Bill Manson trying his hand at a variety of tasks, from female impersonator to Robinson Crusoe to captaining a navy frigate. In this episode, Manson is given six weeks to get in shape for a pro wrestling bout. To prepare himself for the dangerous job, 12 stone Manson hits the weights, grapples with wrestling legend Steve Rickard (On the Mat) and works with an acting tutor, barber and promoters on his onstage persona: ‘Doctor Mindbender’. “The thing that scares me," he says, "is just breaking my neck…”
In Moynihan, secretary of the carpenters’ union Leo Moynihan (Ian Mune) — with orange mini and leather jacket — has to navigate the shark-infested waters of 70s industrial relations. The first NZ-Australia co-production (with ABC) was devised by union organiser Earle Spencer and Jane Galletly (a rare credit in the then-male dominated industry). It was the first series made by TV One’s drama department; it won viewers as well as Feltex awards for best drama and Mune’s performance. The changing face of Wellington, including an under-construction Beehive, features.
The God Boy is a portrait of a troubled teen Jimmy (Jamie Higgins) growing up in post-war small town New Zealand and wrestling with a repressive education and home front turmoil. Adapted from the Ian Cross novel by Ian Mune and directed by Murray Reece, the landmark film was the first NZ telefeature, gaining Feltex awards and front page reviews. With menace and Catholic guilt ever-present, it’s credited as a pioneer of what Sam Neill dubbed NZ’s “cinema of unease”. Higgins later starred in Australian TV show The Sullivans.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years, 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, which was co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac. They initially only agreed to make it on condition they got approval for The Governor. The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen; the demands of creating a regular show helped develop the skills of Kiwi actors and crew.
New Zealand’s economy is in serious trouble in the first episode of this award-winning drama series about The Great Depression. An ailing Prime Minister and a weak government seem powerless in the face of a downward spiral caused by rising unemployment and falling export prices. Meanwhile, the plight of a boot maker seeking work while people are being laid off all around him, and a jeweller struggling to keep his business afloat and food on his family’s table bring home the human cost and social divisiveness being caused by the worsening crisis.
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) followed the goings-on of a North Island timber town. The series was conceived by former forester Julian Dickon (who quit the series and was replaced by Listener critic Hamish Keith as writer). Producing two seasons of six episodes was a key step in industry professionalisation, and many of the cast became stars (Ginette McDonald, Ian Mune). It offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; and reviews praised its Swannie-clad authenticity.
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.
The Italian Job meets cheap jugs and a student union gig in this early heist tale from Geoff Murphy (Goodbye Pork Pie). The plot follows some university students — short on exam fees and beer money — and their scheme to crack a campus safe. Murphy enlisted $4000 and a bevy of mates (including Bruno Lawrence in one of his earliest screen roles), and made it over nine months of weekends. It sold to local television (as well as the ABC in Australia). Its deliberately low key, naturalistic acting stood in stark contrast to the stage-influenced television dramas of the time.
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.