Phillip Gordon began his screen career with 70s soap Close to Home, then won fame in the mid 80s with two different roles: playing conman Cyril Kidman in hit period comedy Came a Hot Friday, and starring in Wellington-set TV series Inside Straight. He went on to act on both sides of the Tasman.
... my feelings about this country are mixed. Sometimes I’m angry, and at other times I’m swept away by the joy of it. Phillip Gordon in the mid 80s
Over four seasons, Street Legal’s slick Kiwi take on urban crime and law genres racked up a stack of award nominations - including a 2003 NZ TV Award for best drama series. Although initially wary that the Auckland setting might alienate viewers, writer Greg McGee chose a Samoan lawyer (Jay Laga’aia) as his main character, to exploit the show’s inner-city Ponsonby setting (where cafe society bumps into Pacific Island immigrant culture). Other key characters included Silesi’s lawyer ex-girlfriend Joni, and her new partner Kees, an overstressed sergeant.
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.
This epic Lee Tamahori-directed promo for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games imagines the stirrings of Games spirit in the mud of the Western Front, 1917. Behind the lines, soldiers from various 'British Empire' nations (Bruno Lawrence, Tony Barry and a young Joel Tobeck) lay bets to see who is the fastest. After racing they pledge to "do this again sometime eh brother" (referring no doubt to the shared joy of competition, as opposed to 1,115,597 Commonwealth war dead). The first Commonwealth Games were held in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), in 1930.
This is the first of a two-part "money and greed" morality tale set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' of property deals and horse racing. Working class lass Tammy (Annie Whittle) and art consultant Joanna (Miranda Harcourt, fresh from Gloss) are an unlikely duo who inherit a racehorse and a greasy spoon cafe (instant coffee rather than cappuccino). Brit import James Faulkner plays a shady developer whose scheme is blocked by the duo. Murder, underhand unitary plans, yuppie love and old gambling debts complicate life for Tammy and Joanna.
Set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' world of property deals and horse racing, the second part of this 1989 mini-series sees the brassy odd couple Tammy (Annie Whittle) and Joanna (Miranda Harcourt) in deep water. The working class battler and the art consultant have done up their inherited greasy spoon, but they're the "only fly in the ointment" of the 'Vision 2000' scheme of a nefarious developer (Brit import James Faulkner). Girl power meets utopian unitary planning as the duo find bones in the basement, and get too close to the secrets of Huntercorp HQ.
This two-part mini-series is set in an 80s 'New Auckland' world of mirror glass and murderous corporate conspiracy. British actor James Faulkner (latterly Bridget Jones' Uncle Geoffrey) plays a shady developer with a smash and burn approach to urban planning. Blocking his utopian waterfront scheme is a cafe. The inheritors of the greasy spoon — and a racehorse — are a duo of feisty femmes: working class Tammy (Annie Whittle), and art consultant Joanna (Miranda Harcourt). The Shadow Trader marked an early producing credit for Finola Dwyer (An Education).
After their house explodes and they bump into a gunman, journalist Alf (Temuera Morrision) and his American girlfriend (Beverly Hills Cop’s Lisa Eilbacher) head to the West Coast, on the run from the cops and mysterious forces. The conspiracy plot is mostly an excuse for chases, capers and crashes galore, all imbued with plenty of pell-mell shenanigans (this time heading north in a red Falcon) by Goodbye Pork Pie director Geoff Murphy. The movie marked Temuera Morrison's first big screen starring role. This excerpt sees John Clarke cameo as a used car salesman.
The Mighty Civic offered a delirious and colourful celebration of Auckland's grandest old movie palace, made at a time when the building's future was under threat. The film uses a mixture of stylised sequences, archive footage, personal memories and poetic narration to evoke the spirit of the theatre in its heyday. Director Peter Wells' film galvanised public support, and ultimately the building was saved and refurbished, to remain the crown jewel of Queen Street's cinema district. This clip features the first 10 minutes of the hour long film. Costa Botes writes about the film here.
Fresh from the larger than life comedy of Came a Hot Friday, Ian Mune made an abrupt turn to horror with this, his second feature as director. Friday alumni Phillip Gordon joins a brat pack of young Kiwi actors; going bush, they meet gun-totting cattleman Bruno Lawrence and a young woman. He is not happy. In this clip the group begin to crack under the strain of being the hunted. Originally written by American Bill Baer, the film was pre-sold to a US investor. Mune was later told by his LA agent that having the dog die did not help its commercial chances in the US.
This was a beloved six-part children’s drama about the adventures of skateboarding 12-year-old Terry Teo, based on a 1982 graphic novel comic by Stephen Ballantyne and Bob Kerr. The Auckland-set series honoured the comic’s distinctive New Zealand landscapes, people and humour, and gave them a cartoonish feel with larger-than-life acting, animated arcade game style sequences, bright costumes and oversized props. Former Goon Michael Bentine headed the cast which also featured Billy T James as a bikie, and a cameo from former PM Sir Robert Muldoon.
This first episode from the kidult series pits 12-year-old Terry Teo, sister Polly and brother Ted against a gang of gunrunners led by crime boss Ray Vegas (former Goon Michael Bentine), after Terry skates down the wrong driveway and stumbles on the crims and their illegal arsenal. Terry was fondly remembered by Kiwi kids who grew up in the 80s. Taking cues from the Stephen Ballantyne and Bob Kerr comic it was based on, there are Batman-esque graphics and arcade game-style animated sequences. Sean Duffy’s bald villain is called Curly and the bikie is Billy T James.
In this episode of the kids’ adventure series, 12-year-old hero Terry Teo has stumbled on a gunrunning operation. The baddies — boss Ray Vegas and villainous sidekicks Curly and Blue — are hunting for him; and Terry’s brother and sister are doing their best to help, ending up in Kaupati in the most Kiwi holiday park ever. Meanwhile, more information emerges about the mysterious, but dim, Thompson and Crouch as they report to their boss (played by none other than real life ex PM Sir Robert Muldoon) — and Billy T James is turning out to be a very cultured bikie.
In this episode of the larger-than-life kids' drama series, action moves to the punningly-named town of Kaupati where crime boss Ray Vegas and sidekicks Curly and Blue are expecting a weapons delivery (in well-labelled cardboard cartons). They’ve also abducted Terry Teo after he stumbled on their cunning plan. Meanwhile, Terry’s sister and brother are in pursuit, Thompson and Crouch are looking highly conspicuous in their quest for stealth, the bikies are discussing Hegel — and the Kaupati cop could be the dimmest bulb in the chandelier so far.
In this episode of the beloved 80s kids’ drama, hero Terry Teo has escaped from evil criminal mastermind Ray Vegas. All roads lead to a lovingly realised Kaupati A&P Show (with cameo from radio personality Merv Smith) as Vegas’ henchmen Curly and Blue, Terry’s brother and sister, and Thompson and Crouch pursue him. Curly still has the best outfit and manages to trash another motorcycle — but the bikies are too busy discussing philosophy. Meanwhile, Thompson and Crouch are revealed as government agents (with a cavalier approach to spending taxpayers’ money).
In this episode of the 80s kid’s TV drama, matters are coming to a head. Terry Teo and brother Ted and sister Polly, criminal mastermind Ray Vegas and his henchmen Blue and Curly, government agents Thompson and Crouch, the bikies and the local policeman continue to chase each other around rural Kaupati. What Thompson and Crouch lack in intelligence, they make up for in costume changes; and Spud (Billy T James) is now quoting Byron to his bikies. The constable is dimmer than first suspected — but old salt Captain Shaddock’s aim is true.
The series finale in this 80s children’s drama begins with hero Terry Teo once again in the clutches of the evil Ray Vegas and sidekicks Blue and Curly. While Terry is held hostage by the gang, local cop Sergeant Wadsworth calls for back up — but reinforcements seem to have come from Keystone rather than HQ. Blue reveals an unexpected facility with heavy weaponry and humanity in amongst the pyrotechnics, but will the forces of good, and Polly’s karate skills and commonsense, be enough to get the Teo siblings back home for mum’s roast dinner?
Gritty, award-winning drama, set in Auckland suburbia. Danny and Raewyn's relationship is skating close to the edge. And so are their finances. Though the physical attraction between them remains, Raewyn is growing tired of encouraging Danny to make more effort. Then one night alcohol and memory collide with an order of black-market meat, and everything turns on its head. One of the most acclaimed episodes of the About Face series, Danny and Raewyn won funding after another episode fell through.
In director Gaylene Preston's genre-bending tale, Meg (Heather Bolton) buys a stylish old Jaguar so she can be more independent. While driving on a country road, she hears screams in the back – but there's no one there. In the excerpt above, she picks up a mysterious woman in the rain. Later she discovers that the woman was the car's previous owner, and she is missing. Now her killer might just be stalking Meg too. For their first, acclaimed feature, Preston and producer Robin Laing rented out local cinemas, conclusively proving that Mr Wrong had an audience.
Shot on location, Inside Straight‘s colourful portrait of Wellington’s underworld helped usher in a new era of urban Kiwi TV dramas, far from the backblocks. Phillip Gordon (Came a Hot Friday) stars as Steve Keenan, the everyman learning the ways of the city from taxi driver Roy Billing. In this episode, Steve finds himself on the run from dodgy gamblers, while trying to raise $5000 to enter a high stakes card game. Meanwhile another card-player has hit town: conman Nick (Bruno Lawrence), who quickly starts romancing Steve’s sometime girlfriend (Joanne Simpson).
“The funniest, liveliest, most exuberant film ever made in New Zealand”. So said critic Nicholas Reid, a year after Came a Hot Friday became 1985's biggest local hit. Though Billy T’s loony Mexican-Māori cowboy is beloved by fans, he is but one eccentric here among many — as two scheming conmen hit town, and encounter bookies, boozers, country hicks, nasty crim Marshall Napier, and Prince Tui Teka playing saxophone. Until the arrival of The Piano in 1993, Ian Mune and Dean Parker’s award-loaded adaptation remained NZ's third biggest local hit. Ian Pryor writes about the film here.
Shot on location in Wellington, often after dark, Inside Straight helped usher in a new era of Kiwi TV dramas, far from the rural backblocks. This Minder-esque portrait of Wellington’s underworld was inspired by writer Keith Aberdein’s experiences as a taxi-driver and all night cafe worker. Phillip Gordon (soon to win fame as a conman in Came a Hot Friday) stars as the former fisherman, learning the ways of the city from veteran taxi driver Roy Billing. A solid but unspectacular rater over 10 episodes, the show was scuttled by the launch of trucker’s tale Roche.
This pirates of the South Seas tale stars Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, The Fugitive) as rogue Bully Hayes, who helps a missionary save his kidnapped-by-savages wife. Produced by Kiwis Rob Whitehouse and Lloyd Phillips (12 Monkeys, Inglorious Basterds), the film was made in the 80s ‘tax-break’ feature surge and filmed in Fiji and New Zealand (with an NZ crew and supporting cast). John Hughes (Breakfast Club) and David Odell (Dark Crystal) scripted the old-fashioned swashbuckler from a Phillips story. It was released by Paramount in the US as Nate and Hayes.
In Geoff Steven's Kiwi riff on the European art film, a vulcanologist (Brit character actor Nigel Davenport) roams the Volcanic Plateau accompanied by a journalist, a photographer and escapees from a cholera quarantine. Steamy philosophical musings and symbolic intent made for a marked departure from the realism of the NZ feature film renaissance (e.g. Steven’s own Skin Deep). The second feature produced by John Maynard (The Navigator), this moody allegorical tale was co-scripted by Czech writer/designer Ester Krumbachova and Czech-based Kiwi Michael Havas.
Blam Blam Blam’s second hit from 1981 was angular and artsy, hook-filled but unsettling: all qualities captured in a theatrical video, directed by Andrew Shaw. Clowns, magicians, fire-eaters and trick cyclists join the band, while actors play out the saga of ‘Don’t Fight It, Marsha’. The actors — including Phillip Gordon (Came a Hot Friday), Michael Hurst and Donogh Rees (Constance) — were directed by Harry Sinclair, who would later join Blam band member Don McGlashan in The Front Lawn. The Len Lye-style scratch effects were by Jenny Pullar, the Blams’ lighting designer.
Wild Man is the missing link between 1970s musical legends Blerta, and the burgeoning of Blerta trumpeter Geoff Murphy as a director whose talents knew few bounds. The Blerta ensemble relocated to the mud-soaked West Coast to create this tale of pioneer con men and silent movie style pratfalls. Bruno Lawrence and Ian Watkin arrange a fight — and betting — in each town they arrive in, while Bruno channels his inner wild man from under a leopard skin. Wild Man was released in cinemas alongside John Clarke and Geoff Murphy’s Fred Dagg comedy Dagg Day Afternoon.
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 co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac (who had initially only agreed to make the show on the condition they would get to make The Governor). The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen, and the output demands were foundational in developing industry talent.