Ray Woolf’s career as a performer spans from rock’n’roll to jazz, including touring shows of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Sound of Music. Born in England, but New Zealand-based since the early 60s, Woolf’s television work includes singing, acting, and hosting his own talk show. He was New Zealand Entertainer of the Year in 1975.
I don't think I could have survived on just being a singer, or just being an actor, or just being an MC. You have to kind of mix it all up. Ray Woolf in a November 2008 radio interview.
Nothing Trivial was a dramedy that kept score on the lives and loves of five friends in a pub quiz team called Sex on a Stick. The cast of City Lifers shifted to the suburbs and nearing middle age was led by Shane Cortese, Tandi Wright, Nicole Whippy, Debbie Newby-Ward and Blair Strang. Created by Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan, (the veteran writers behind Go Girls, Maddigan’s Quest, and Mercy Peak) the popular South Pacific Pictures production screened for three seasons on TV ONE. A fan-driven campaign saw NZ On Air fund a tele-movie to wrap up the series.
Following the big-screen success of Topp Twins documentary Untouchable Girls came another chronicle of a Kiwi entertainment legend: sometime Taranaki bandito, giggling newsreader and crooner Billy T James. The film uses remastered footage and an impressive cast of interviews to capture his path from cabaret singer to fame, fan clubs and eventual financial and bodily collapse. Te Movie director Ian Mune originally cast James in the classic Came a Hot Friday, as the Māori-Mexican Tainuia Kid; Te Movie co-producer Tom Parkinson played a hand in making Billy T a TV star.
The Insatiable Moon is the tale of a man with nothing but wisdom, joy and possibly a direct line to God. Arthur (Rawiri Paratene) wanders the streets of Ponsonby, where he finds perfection (Sara Wiseman) just as his community of boarding house friends faces threat. Producer Mike Riddell first wrote The Insatiable Moon as a 1997 novel, inspired by people he met while he was a clergyman in Ponsonby. The film’s extended development almost saw it made in England with Timothy Spall - before finally coming home, “on half a shoestring and a heap of passion”.
Peter Jackson's love affair with moviemaking and special effects was ignited by seeing the original King Kong (1933) as a child. Jackson's Kiwi-shot remake takes one of cinema's most iconic monster movies, retains the 30s setting and iconic New York finale, and toughens up the "beauty" (Naomi Watts). The film also transforms the male (non-ape) lead from lunkhead to sensitive playwright (Adrien Brody). Exhilarating, Oscar-winning CGI brings the great ape to life, alongside rampaging dinosaurs, and oversized weta inexplicably absent from the maligned 1976 remake.
The Strip centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who sheds a legal career to set up a male strip revue. Created by Alan Brash, The Strip played to a certain demographic's desire for ogling naked men (warmed up by 1987 play Ladies Night and 1997 film The Full Monty), but with a focus on female characters, as Melissa juggles business with raising a teenage daughter. Taking cues from Ally McBeal (with fantasy sequences to match) the Gibson Group tale of g-strings, feminism and red light romance screened for two series on TV3 and sold internationally.
This low-budget feature fishtails after a Mum and her teenage kids, kicking around the far north one sleepy summer. Store Santa holiday jobs, teen romance, purloined cars, pet possums, and pot deals fill out the small town shenanigans plotline. Ray Woolf plays an undercover cop, and Calvin Tuteao is a kauri-hugging suitor. Director Peter Tait (who acted in Kitchen Sink) wrote the film to showcase the charisma of kids he was teaching at Taipa College. Made for under $20,000, the film “was bigger than Titanic” at Oruru’s Swamp Palace cinema and community hall.
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.
Director Peter Salmon's sci-fi short is set in a dystopian future where citizens spend most of their lives in virtual reality to escape the bleak Blade Runner-like offline world. Grace (Sara Wiseman, in a NZ Film Award-winning performance) is a lonely programmer looking for cyberspace love via Angelife: a fantasy-fulfillment site with "five billion connections worldwide". Disenchanted with her Adam (Rupert Cocks), her desire for real world connection, plus a chance meeting, push her into a dangerous underworld. Ray Woolf cameos as a winged Angelife agent.
A Twist in the Tale was one of a series of kidult shows launched by The Tribe creator Raymond Thompson, after he relocated to New Zealand. The anthology series spins from a storyteller (Star Trek's William Shatner) introducing a story (often fantastical) to a group of children, some of whom appear in the tales. The show featured early appearances by many young Kiwi thespians, including Antonia Prebble, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Dwayne Cameron and Michelle Ang. Although the writing team were British, some of the directors and most of the crew were New Zealanders.
One of Them! was one of two dramas (alongside Niki Caro movie Memory and Desire) inspired by short stories collected in Peter Wells' 1991 book Dangerous Desires. It was made for TV One as a Montana Sunday drama. Set in Auckland, 1965, One of Them! follows Lemmy and Jamie, two teenage boys coming to terms with their sexuality. In the dark days before gay liberation, bullying and intimidation was rife, and while the boys flaunt their sissyness, their internalised homophobia wreaks havoc on their emotional lives — until they can admit to being "one of them".
From 1996 to 1998 broadcaster Ian Fraser took time out from hosting current affairs, to MC this popular musical talent quest (Fraser, a trained pianist, also tinkled the ivories himself during the series). There were two finals: one assessed by studio judges, and one from viewers' votes. The performers ranged from covers bands to opera singers, from country and western to soul. Future Opshop members Jason Kerrison and Shay Muddle were judged runners-up in 1996 (as Akustik Fungi). Other contestants included Lisa Tomlins, opera tenor Shaun Dixon and actor Stig Eldred.
Having made a comeback after heart surgery in 1990, legendary entertainer Billy T James passed away in August 1991. Four years later that anniversary was commemorated with Billy T James - A Celebration. Hosted by Pio Terei, the special highlights some of Billy’s best moments of both comedy gold, and his vast talents as musician. Interviews with Billy T and his colleagues (including showband veteran Robbie Ratana, comedian Peter Rowley, and screen wife Ilona Rodgers) offer insight into the real man behind arguably New Zealand’s most beloved entertainer.
Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. It follows the events of a far-north resort and casino; a number of well-known actors made up the cast of earthy locals, wealth foreigners and city weekenders, including Ilona Rodgers, Don Selwyn, Andy Anderson and Katie Wolfe. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic. In this episode the swarthy Cosic cooks up an illegal smuggling scheme to diversify a farm's income stream.
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.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
In this video billowing sails and an impressive array of mid-80s celebrities (musicians, broadcasters, sportspeople) raise their voices in patriotic fervour, to rally support for the first Kiwi challenge for the America’s Cup: “in a boat just called New Zealand”. The bid failed, but ‘Sailing Away’ set a record for the most consecutive weeks at number one by a NZ artist (nine), until the arrival of Smashproof’s ‘Brother’ in 2009. The tune — borrowed from ‘Pokarekare Ana’ — remains both as a reminder of simpler times in the America’s Cup, and an era of questionable haircuts.
By the mid 1970s, Kiwi entertainer Ray Woolf was a regular television presence as a performer and host. After a stint co-hosting chat show Two on One (with Val Lamont and later Davina Whitehouse), the show morphed in 1979 into Woolf’s own singing and talk slot: The Ray Woolf Show, where he interviewed international stars, and sung and filmed clips around the country. After a season the show was reformatted to focus on music as The New Ray Woolf Show, and ran for another two years. In this period Woolf was awarded Best Television Light Entertainer multiple times.
In 1979 entertainer Ray Woolf went from co-hosting Two for One to his own chat show. This wide-ranging 'best of' episode from the end of the first season takes in bloopers, the victims of the Amityville Horror, Doctor Who Jon Pertwee, Gomer Pyle Jim Nabors, Norman Gunston, Alan Whicker, Frankie Howerd, Derek Nimmo, Diana Dors, Austin Mitchell, poet Pam Ayres, humorist Erma Bombeck and singer Billy Daniels — plus Kiwis Ricky May, Ian Fraser (on piano), Tina Cross, Selwyn Toogood and Precious McKenzie. Woolf, was judged 1979 TV Light Entertainer of the year.
The Mackenzie Affair told the story of colonial folk hero James Mackenzie: accused of rustling 1000 sheep in the high country that would later bear his name. This fifth and final episode sees the manhunt for Mackenzie over, with ‘Jock’ facing a sentence of hard labour and provoking sympathy from equivocal sheriff Henry Tancred. Adapted from James McNeish’s book, the early co-production (with Scottish TV) imported Caledonian lead actor James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and veteran UK TV director Joan Craft. It was made by Hunter’s Gold producer John McRae.
The five-part series told the story of colonial outlaw James Mackenzie: accused of rustling 1000 sheep in the high country that would bear his name. His escapades on the lam elevated him to folk hero status. Like producer John McRae’s prior series, Hunter’s Gold, the South Pacific Television ‘prestige’ drama was made with export in mind. Adapted from James McNeish’s book, the early co-production — with Scottish TV, where the opening episode was shot — imported Caledonian lead actor James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and veteran UK TV director Joan Craft.
A forgotten slice of New Zealand TV history, A Going Concern was the country's second, short-lived soap opera. Launched in July 1975 — two months after rival soap Close to Home — it revolved around the staff of a South Auckland plastics factory. The characters were a mixture of Pākehā and Māori, plus a Brit (entertainer Ray Woolf, in his first acting role). Apart from this 23 second clip pulled from a 1975 variety show, the series is believed destroyed. A Going Concern won solid reviews, but the new channel's limited coverage affected audience numbers; it ended after a year.
This end of season Sing special from 1975 takes place mostly in the Wild West. After some song and dance numbers and comedy, we meet two small-time crooks: Lone Wolf (Ray Woolf) and Crazy D (Laurie Dee). A musical showdown at the saloon ensues — featuring a Tom Jones medley — before a bungled bank robbery brings down the burglars. The performers include Craig Scott, Chic Littlewood, Angela Ayers and George Tumahai (who shows Woolf how to hongi). The show also contains a rare clip from A Going Concern, an early NZ soap of which no known episodes survive.
Sing featured Kiwi entertainers performing popular songs and musical standards, accompanied by a bevy of dancers. The performers included Craig Scott, Ray Woolf, Angela Ayers, Chic Littlewood and musical comic relief Laurie Dee. The hair was big and the collars large, while songs tended towards the middle of the road — for example 'Love is All Around', Tom Jones and Glen Campbell.
Play School was an iconic educational programme for pre-school children, which was first produced in Auckland from 1972, then Dunedin from 1975. The format included songs, a story, craft, a calendar, a clock and a look outside Play School via the shaped windows. But the toys, Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima, Humpty and Manu, were the real stars of the show. The title sequence ("Here's a house ...") and music were a call to action recognised by generations of Kiwis. Presenters included actors Rawiri Paratene and Theresa Healey, Russell Smith and future MP Jacqui Hay.
C’mon brought the hits of the day into New Zealand living rooms for three years in a tightly scripted, black and white frenzy of special effects, pop art sets, go-go girls and choreographed musicians while host Pete Sinclair kept the pace cracking with breathless hipster charm. Most of the stars of the day appeared at one time or another but sadly only two episodes have survived. As the 60s finished C’mon fell victim to the fragmenting of the music world and the arrival of darker music that the show could no longer turn into family friendly viewing.
In the heady days of Beatlemania, Let's Go was the first viable successor to In The Groove (NZ's first TV pop music show in 1962). It was devised and produced by Kevan Moore — with DJ Peter Sinclair in his first big presenting role. Recorded in Wellington at the NZBC's Waring Taylor Street studio (with its notorious sloping floor a challenge for the big cameras), it featured a resident band — first The Librettos and then the Pleasers. Let's Go only lasted two years, but in 1967 Moore and Sinclair teamed up again for the hugely successful C'mon.