Rex Simpson has helped create a run of classic Kiwi children's shows. The former teacher joined state televison in 1976 as a presentation director. He established popular afternoon slot Nice One with Stu Dennison, before joining the Children's Department as a director and producer. In 1981 he created long-running Saturday show What Now? In 1988 he left TVNZ to set up a children's department at new channel TV3 — he was co-creator of TV3's InFocus, for which kids made much of the content. Simpson went on to form his own company, Kids TV in 1991, and later did time as a radio announcer and local body politician.

Respect and embrace the child within. Each and every one of us is just a five-year-old in longer pants with more experiences. We learn more in the first five years than we do for the rest of our lives. Rex Simpson

50 Years of New Zealand Television: 1 - From One Channel to One Hundred

2010, Subject - Television

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.

You and Me - The Farm

1997, Executive Producer - Television

In this episode of her TV3 series for pre-schoolers, Suzy Cato creates a farm in her garden and uses songs, stories and animations to introduce a variety of animals. Chickens cluck, a mother pig and her three piglets bathe in mud, frogs catch flies with their tongues — and one of the chickens strays into the family of frogs and has to be returned home. Meanwhile, a baby bird hatches but can't immediately find its mother, the sock puppet family is seen in all of its extended glory and Suzy keeps proceedings moving with her ebullient friendliness.        

You and Me - Going to School

1994, Executive Producer - Television

In this episode of her TV3 series for pre-schoolers, Suzy Cato uses songs, stories, animations and puppets to focus on a topic that will soon loom large for her audience — going to school. Suzy explores the mysteries of the schoolbag with its lunchbox and pencil case; and she tells a story about her own first day at school. A blackboard is used to name parts of the human body in English and Māori; and there are field inserts that take a bilingual look at different colours, and join a family preparing a picnic which they then take to the beach.   

You and Me - Toilet Training

1993, Executive Producer - Television

In this episode of her series for pre-schoolers, Suzy Cato goes where few television programmes have gone before and devotes an episode to toilet training. Food and its digestion, what happens in the bathroom and the importance of hand washing are all covered — with the more practical aspects demonstrated using Terence Teddy. Suzy mixes her customary warmth and friendliness with a no-nonsense approach and it's all done in the best possible taste. Light relief is provided by a film insert about a family making the traditional Tongan fruit drink 'otai.   

You and Me

1993 - 1998, Producer - Television

The irrepressible Suzy Cato (who previously presented TV3's Early Bird Show and 3pm) presents a programme for pre-schoolers. From a set designed to look like a house with bathroom, bedroom and live garden, Suzy talks directly to her audience and makes extensive use of te reo. A multi-cultural focus also comes through in the show's stories, songs, animations and puppetry. Suzy's on-set companions are a doll, teddy bear, clown and scarecrow — and a sock puppet family makes regular appearances. More than 2000 episodes were made in eight years.   

Coca-Cola TVFM

1992, Producer - Television

The Early Bird Show - Excerpts

1991, Producer - Television

Russell Rooster and Suzy Cato bid viewers “doodle-doo” in this TV3 children’s show which combines local skits, interviews and competitions with overseas cartoons. In this August 1991 compilation, “Bugman” Ruud Kleinpaste talks about cockroaches (with serious specimens) and Billy T James is remembered with an excerpt from an appearance on the show. In-house artist Mark shows viewers how to draw 'monstas' and there are time-honoured jokes from Kiri Kea and various ducklings. Mercifully, Suzy protects Russell from the fact she is giving away fried chicken vouchers.

Short Sportz - 1991 'Best Of'

1991, Director, Executive Producer - Television

Hosted by Phil Keoghan not long before he left for the US, Short Sportz was a TV3 sports show encouraging kids to get involved in sports. Keoghan (later to win fame as host of Amazing Race) often kitted up himself Paper Lion-style: here he takes base against Black Sox pitches and cycles with future ironman champion Cameron Brown. This 1991 ‘best of’ show is notable for a segment presented by a rising Wainuiomata league star who’s just been signed by Newcastle Knights: Tana Umaga. Umaga’s NRL career was short-lived, and he went on to become an All Black legend.

Ya Hoo

1991, Producer - Television

The Early Bird Show

1989 - 1993, Producer - Television

A foundation TV3 programme in 1989, The Early Bird Show was devised by What Now? founder Rex Simpson and followed that show’s formula in its mix of overseas cartoons and locally made inserts. Originally broadcast Monday to Friday from 7-9am, it moved to Saturday and Sunday mornings when TV3 dropped weekday morning programming in February 1990. The original puppet line-up of Russell Rooster, Kiri Kea, Dawn Chorus and Quack-ups was given a human presence in the form of Suzy Cato from mid-1990 and she remained with the show until it ended in early 1993.

InFocus

1989 - 1990, Producer, Creator - Television

The Renovators

1984 - 1986, Producer - Television

What Now?

1981 - 1987, Producer, Creator - Television

What Now? is a long-running entertainment show for primary school-aged children. Filmed before a live studio audience on weekend mornings, What Now? is a New Zealand TV institution; it was the first TV show to have live phone-ins. The series is known for its challenges that sometimes result in participants being 'gunged'. A roll-call of presenters includes Steve Parr, Danny Watson, Simon Barnett, Jason Gunn, Michelle A'Court, Tamati Coffey, Antonia Prebble, and more. 'Get out of your Lazy Bed' by Matt Bianco is the theme song memorable to generations of Kiwi kids.

How's That

1979 - 1980, Director, Creator - Television

Nice One - Christmas Show

1978, Producer, Director - Television

Stu Dennison hosted TV One's children's show Nice One from 1976 to 1978, making the catch phrase "Nice one, Stu" a part of NZ TV legend. This 1978 Christmas show, and final ever Nice One programme, branched out from the show's usual after-school interstitials length to a half-hour special featuring series regulars such as singer/songwriter Steve Allen, and chef Alison Holst (look out for her son and now business partner Simon as a young boy, in their Christmas cooking segment). Stu's corduroy flares and waistcoat ensemble is a 70s delight to behold. 

Will the Real Mr Claus Please Stand Up

1977, Writer, Director - Television

TV1 celebrated Christmas by throwing most of its big names into this 1977 comedy/variety show. Ringleaders Roger Gascoigne and Nice One Stu's Stu Dennison are joined by a cavalcade of newsreaders hiding under Santa beards. Among the loopy 70s oddities on show: Brian Edwards in school uniform, channelling The Goons; Selwyn Toogood doing an It's in the Bag sketch that would nowadays likely be deemed too un-PC to make it to air; plus racehorse expert Glyn Tucker talking reindeer races. Madcap band Mother Goose also appear. 

University Challenge

1987 - 1988, Director - Television

TVNZ’s long running quiz show was based on the BBC series which pitted four-member teams from the country’s universities against each other. Otago lecturer Charles Higham was the initial quizmaster but veteran frontman Peter Sinclair (C’mon, Happen Inn) took over a year later and remained with the series until it ended in 1989. Otago produced the most champion teams — winning on six occasions (followed by Canterbury who won three times); and members of winning teams included musician Bruce Russell, writer Jolisa Gracewood and MP Charles Chauvel.

Nice One

1976 - 1978, Director, Producer - Television

Nice One has become a legend in New Zealand children's TV: with the show's signature theme tune ('Nice one Stu!') and Stu's thumbs-up salute, totemic for kids of the era. On the show, host Stu Dennison played a cheeky pony-tailed schoolboy who delighted children and infuriated adults with his irreverent antics. Dennison developed the persona in live segments on Ready to Roll, before transporting him to his own after-school programme, filmed at Avalon Studios for TV One. Nice One also featured cooking (with Alison Holst), craft, singing and plenty of humour.

Beauty and the Beast

1984 - 1986, Producer - Television

Presented by broadcasting legend Selwyn Toogood, this beloved agony-aunt (and uncle!) discussion show screened on weekday afternoons, from 1976 to 1985. Toogood and four female panelists answered viewers' letters, taking on issues big and small. "We tackle every problem, be it incest, love or tatting" as panelist Liz Grant put it. Regular panellists included artist Shona McFarlane, Heather Eggleton, Catherine Saunders, and writer Johnny Frisbie.

Ready to Roll - Nice One Stu excerpts

1975, Producer, Director - Television

After-school show Nice One was a popular classic of NZ childrens television, with the show's signature theme tune ("Nice one Stu-y!") and Stu's thumbs-up salute, totemic for kids of the 70s. Host Stu Dennison played a cheeky, long-haired schoolboy who delighted children and infuriated adults with his irreverent antics. But Dennison developed the persona in short live segments for Ready to Roll (shot live at Avalon Studios, excerpted here). Prototype Stu is seen being a truant, reciting rude poetry, singing 10cc and ribbing Roger Gascoigne and 70s metrosexuals. 

Spot On

1977 - 1981, Director - Television

Launched in February 1974, Spot On was an award-winning education-focused magazine programme for children. Presenters who got their break on the beloved show included Ian Taylor, Danny Watson, Phil Keoghan and Ole Maiava. Keoghan went on to global fame as host of The Amazing Race; Taylor now heads up Taylormade Productions and Animation Research Ltd. The show was created by Murray Hutchinson. Producer Michael Stedman later became head of the Natural History Unit. Peter Jackson and Robert Sarkies entered Spot On’s annual Young Filmmaker competition.

Play School

1977 - 1980, Director - Television

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.