Dunedin-raised Pat Evison studied acting during an arts degree at Victoria University. During this period Evison began acting in radio plays, in the days when performances were recorded directly onto acetate discs, and a fluffed line meant starting over again.
After studying to be a teacher, Evison sailed for England in 1945. There she managed to win a place to study theatre at London's Old Vic Theatre Centre. She also met her husband to be, with whom she had three children.
Later, back in New Zealand, she made her first moves into television, with a small role in early TV play All Earth to Love (1963). After doing some sketches on comedy show In View of the Circumstances, Evison was invited to join the second series, whose cast included future playwrights Roger Hall and Joe Musaphia.
Julian Dickon, creator of landmark 70s drama series Pukemanu, wrote in a part specifically for Evison. She played the local storekeeper in whom the show's largely male characters confide. In 1998 autobiography Happy Days in Muckle Flugga, Evison argued the role changed her life - that she "was recognised from one end of the country to the other as 'Mrs Pukemanu'."
Evison was originally cast in soap Close to Home as Dot, the role played by Glenis Levestam. But after discovering the contract forbade her from other television work, she withdrew. Later she was offered a second role, that of high school headmistress Faith, which she described as "probably pretty similar to me".
Evison alternated her time on Close to Home with a run of Australian roles - winning a Logie award for playing a breast cancer patient in TV movie Pig in a Poke; playing opposite American William Holden in The Earthling; and mother to a young Mel Gibson in Tim (for which both won Australian Film Institute acting awards). She would later enjoy extended stints on Australian TV staples Prisoner (as an ex-prostitute) and The Flying Doctors (as town matriarch).
Worried at changes to Close to Home that she felt would destroy the credibility of the existing characters, Evison wrote to the producers, outlining some of the cast's concerns. Evison argues it was all in vain - ratings fell away and the show was soon canned.
Evison had already worked with filmmaking team Dave Gibson and director Yvonne Mackay on short Old Man's Story. Then she learnt they had begun casting Māori actors for their first feature, Polynesian fable The Silent One. Eventually, after sessions with a make-up person, an optical expert and a sun-bed, Evison managed to win the lead female role, spending nine tough but "magical" weeks on the Cook Islands, alongside George Henare and Zac Wallace.
In 1980 Evison's long stage career was recognised when she was made a Dame for services to theatre. She has also passionately campaigned on many causes including tax changes for actors, and been patron of a failed campaign to save Wellington's Broadcasting House.
Pat Evison passed away in late May 2010.
- This profile is partly adapted from Evison's autobiography Happy Days in Muckle Flugga.
Pat Evison, Happy Days in Muckle Flugga (Auckland: HarperCollins, 1998)
Jonathan Dennis Library - The Film Archive
Diana Dekker, 'A Class Act' (Interview) - The Evening Post, 4 March 1998, Page 21
Frances Grant, Interview with Pat Evison - NZ Herald, 28 March 1998