Since joining state television as a sound operator in the 60s, Ron Pledger has gone on to win a reputation for his assured coverage of a wide range of live events, from concerts to This is Your Life to the state funeral of Sir Edmund Hillary. A life long music lover, Pledger was awarded an MBE in 1992, helping recognise 40 years of service in a military band.
In the control room he was calm and focused, and that flowed on to the rest of us working beside him. My over-riding memory is of the fun we had making programmes. Despite the hard work, long hours and unpredictable nature of live TV it was always enjoyable. That was in no small part down to Ron’s input. Christine Brown
An annual television event that comes from the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the National War Memorial in Wellington. Diplomats from all over the world lay wreaths in this ceremony, along with Governor General Anand Satyanand, politicians Trevor Mallard and John Key, and Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast. Ian Johnstone provides a knowledgeable and unobtrusive commentary that brings historical context to proceedings. The coverage is beautifully shot and thoughtfully directed by Ron Pledger.
In this special Easter episode of TVNZ’s Sunday morning mainstay, original Praise Be host Graeme Thomson introduces hymns from some of the country’s oldest churches. Throughout the country church choirs deliver praise, while Thomson offers intermittent quotes from the bible to remind viewers of the true meaning of Easter. The special includes a hymn performed inside Christchurch’s iconic cathedral, before it was destroyed in the 2011 quakes. Praise Be first debuted in 1986, and has been on air ever since, apart from two years off the air in the mid 2000s.
TVNZ's long running religious and choral music programme visits Christchurch's Anglican cathedral. Before its devastation by earthquakes, it was the centre of the city and one of the most celebrated of its great Gothic buildings. It could also claim to be "the most visited, the most accessible and best known church in New Zealand". Host Graeme Thomson explores the cathedral, its chapels and bell tower and outlines its history. He interviews Dean John Bluck and introduces hymns and songs of praise sung by the cathedral's choir and an ecumenical congregation.
This episode of the long-running religious programme focuses on Auckland's Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. It features hymns from the Holy Trinity Choir and Auckland Choral Federation. The Graeme Thomson-hosted show also discusses the history and architecture of the cathedral following the completion of its nave in 1995. Built on land bought by Bishop Selwyn in 1859, the completed cathedral reflects the undulating landscape of Auckland, combining Gothic and Polynesian elements.
All Black great Grant Fox is given the big red book in this award-winning episode of This is Your Life. The first five-eighth’s record points tally and marshalling of stars like John Kirwan made the playmaker a key cog in the 1987 Rugby World Cup-winning All Blacks and champion Auckland teams. His distinctive goal-kicking ritual became as reassuring as a metronome for fans. The diminutive Auckland Grammar old boy meets family and teammates, discusses discipline and his single All Blacks try, and gets busted by coach John Hart. Fox would become an All Blacks selector.
Since debuting in 1986, Praise Be has become a Sunday morning perennial. In this extended 1993 Christmas special, original Praise Be presenter Graeme Thomson travels far and wide in search of heavenly vocals: including big city cathedrals, schools, among singing sailors at Devonport Naval Base, and to a disused Canterbury flour mill, where the local farming community pack in for 'Away in a Manger'. A number of TV personalities (Judy Bailey, Phillip Leishman) also make appearances, to talk about Christmas and read from the bible.
Wheel of Fortune is a game show that involves the solving of Hangman-style posers. Contestants spin the wheel to accrue prizes, guess vowels or consonants that may be in the answer, and earn the right to roll again. The 90s Kiwi edition was hosted by Phillip Leishman and Lana Coc-Kroft. In this 10 October 1992 celebrity episode the contestants were actor Andy Anderson, Fair Go reporter Rosalie Nelson, and Barcelona Olympic bronze medalist boxer (and future World Heavyweight title challenger) David Tua, who infamously requested the letter O, "for Awesome".
Wheel of Fortune is a game show that involves the solving of Hangman-style posers. Contestants spin the wheel to accrue prizes, guess letters that may be in the answer, and earn the right to roll again. The Kiwi edition was hosted by Phillip Leishman and Lana Coc-Kroft (with Simon Barnett later replacing Leishman). In a 1992 celebrity episode, Barcelona Olympic bronze medalist boxer (and future World Heavyweight challenger) David Tua, infamously requested the letter O, “for Awesome”. The show returned briefly in 2008 hosted by Jason Gunn and Sonia Gray.
Howard Morrison gets the surprise of his life in this emotional reunion of his showbiz friends and whānau. Veteran This Is Your Life presenter Bob Parker consults his big red book to revisit all of Morrison's major career milestones. Known as 'The Sinatra of New Zealand' and 'Ol' Brown Eyes', Morrison was a New Zealand entertainment icon. The show brings back his first singing teacher, his Mum, Kahu, his sisters and many friends from the industry. The show is a roll call of major NZ entertainment figures who come to pay tribute to 'Mr Entertainment'.
Dating game show Blind Date ran for more than a decade in the United Kingdom and the United States. At two seasons, the Kiwi version proved less of a long-stayer. The show’s format prioritises the importance of clever answers, over impressive looks: the person taking the hot seat asks questions of a trio of unseen contestants, before choosing who to take on a blind date. The series was presented by Dave Jamieson and Suzy Aiken (before she became Suzy Clarkson).
Based on the US show of the same name, This Is Your Life has been honouring famous Kiwis since 1984. This 1988 edition hosted by Bob Parker features Colin “Pinetree” Meads, whose All Black career spanned 15 years, 133 games and 55 test matches. New Zealand’s “Rugby Player of the Century,” remains modest throughout his tribute at the Avalon TV Centre, where guests include fellow All Black legends Brian Lochore, Kel Tremain and Wilson Whineray; and Irish referee Kevin Kelleher, who controversially ordered Meads off the field in Scotland in 1967.
One of NZ television's more notorious episodes, the 1987 Gofta Awards start promisingly with an extended montage of Auckland scenes (just before the share market crash) but it's downhill from there. Presenters Leeza (Entertainment This Week) Gibbons and Nic Nolan look bizarre in silver suits; an underfed and over excited audience grows more and more vocal; special guest John Inman (Mr Humphries from UK sitcom Are You Being Served?) is heckled; and things come badly unstuck as timing issues see winners turned away as they try to collect their awards.
The Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards were the big fashion event of the year from the mid 60s to the 90s. The Wellington show was organised by model agent Maysie Bestall-Cohen from 1982, and from 1984 TVNZ broadcast the 'B&H' live from the Michael Fowler Centre. Bestall-Cohen and Bob Parker host this 1986 GOFTA award-winner. Former Miss Universe Lorraine Downes is a guest presenter, and the line-up of models includes a teenage Rachel Hunter and future TV presenter Hilary Timmins. Padded shoulders, geometric prints and garish colours date stamp the era.
Recorded in varied locations across New Zealand, Praise Be mixed choral contributions and biblical readings. Though its siblings Country Calendar and Fair Go are even older, Praise Be ranked among New Zealand’s longest-running television shows. The Sunday worship show played from 1986 to 2016, apart from two years off air in the mid 2000s. Veteran broadcaster Graeme Thomson presented the show for its first two decades, before he passed away in 2008; then the show ws hosted by Chris Nichol, a Presbyterian minister and veteran of TVNZ’s Religious Programmes Unit.
Based on the 1950s US show of the same name, This Is Your Life has been honouring and embarrassing famous New Zealanders since 1984. Past recipients of the Big Red Book have included Sir Howard Morrison, Davina Whitehouse, John Walker and many others. Bob Parker was the original presenter of the show (later hosts were Paul Holmes and Paul Henry). Before lives and careers are celebrated there's a moment of mild excruciation as viewers wait for the presenter to suprise the soon-to-be-anointed subject with the famous words: "This is your life''.
This 80s precursor to Dancing with the Stars put the competitive community spirit of Top Town onto the dancefloor, as ballroom dancers representing different regions twirled and dipped for supremacy. Created by Ron Pledger (a longtime TVNZ go-to person for major event TV — Top Town, This is Your Life, Anzac Day broadcasts), the concept was inspired by Pledger’s wife, a champion Latin American dancer who had connections in the ballroom dancing world. Top Dance ran for three seasons.
This 80s precursor to Dancing with the Stars took the competitive community spirit of Top Town to the dance floor, with dancers twirling and dipping in sequinned spandex for the ‘Top Dance City’ trophy. Hosted by radio personality Lindsay Yeo, this 1982 final follows the foxtrot and samba at Wellington’s Majestic Cabaret. Beside regional bragging rights, winners take home a Pye Vidmatic 10 inch TV. The Northern Ballet Company (the one from Auckland, not the company from Leeds) interrupt proceedings for a Venusian space travel interlude that won't soon be forgotten.
This courtroom drama sets in conflict opinions about the proposed sale of a block of Māori ancestral land. The arguments are intercut with footage of the 1975 land march, and Jim Moriarty comments on proceedings as a tangata whenua conscience. The drama shows its stage origins (it was adapted by Rowley Habib from his 1976 play) but it is passionate and articulate, and is notable as the first TV drama to be written by a Māori scriptwriter. The grievances aired echoed contemporary events, particularly the Eva Rickard-led occupation of the Raglan Golf Course.
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.
This iconic travelling TV game show pitted teams representing New Zealand towns against each other in a series of colourful physical challenges. Top Town was run over a series of weekly heats, staged in different towns on local sports fields. It leveraged nostalgia for a fast-fading time when NZ's population (and identity) resided in rural hub towns. The series was light-hearted light-entertainment gold, but the battle for civic bragging rights was serious stuff and it screened for 14 years from 1976 until 1990.
For a generation of music fans rock show Radio with Pictures was their link to local and international music — and essential viewing before TV2's Sunday night horror movies. Following on from the Grunt Machine in 1976, its presenters included Dr Rock (Barry Jenkin), Phil O'Brien, Karyn Hay and Dick Driver. RWP's run coincided with the rise of MTV and the music video, and a burgeoning 80s New Zealand music scene. Videos were a staple but artist interviews also featured and the show staged a number of televised concerts featuring leading local artists.
Telethon was a 24-hour live television spectacular aimed at securing donations from viewers for a charitable cause. The first, in 1975, launched the second channel (TV2) and raised over half a million dollars for St John's Ambulance. By 1981 Telethon had hit the $5 million mark. Along with willing local celebrities, volunteers and a receptive public, it attracted overseas stars: Basil Brush, Entertainment Tonight's Leeza Gibbons and Coronation Street's Christopher Quinton (who famously got together after the 1988 show). "Thank you very much for your kind donation!"
In the early 80s Ready to Roll was NZ’s premier TV pop show. It emerged in the pre-music video boom mid-70s hosted by Roger Gascoigne (and later Stu Dennison) with bands and dancers live in the studio. By the early 80s it was a seamless video clip Top 20 countdown — introduced by the Commodores pumping ‘Machine Gun’ — and appointment Saturday evening viewing for music fans (and a regular in the week’s Top 10 rating shows). It then evolved into a brand, spawning a number of RTR offshoots (Mega-Mix, Sounz and New Releases), before disappearing in the mid-90s.
This NZBC series from the first great era of TV talent shows (and the heyday of light entertainment on the box) featured three new artists and three new songs vying for the judges' favours each week. Performers include Steve Allen (fresh from the success of his Commonwealth Games song 'Join Together') and actor and singer Annie Whittle; and there's a rare glimpse of singer-songwriter John Hanlon. Auckland band Space Waltz steals the show in the New Faces section, debuting their glam rock anthem 'Out on the Street' to an unsuspecting nation (and judges).
The Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards were the big fashion event of the year from the mid 60s through to the 90s. The show was organised by Josephine Brody, with a TV version screening later. Model turned agent Maysie Bestall-Cohen organised the ‘B&H’ from 1982. An early 80s screen hiatus ended with TVNZ screening a live-to-air show from 1984 to 1998 — the Michael Fowler Centre event was one of its biggest outside broadcasts. In the later 90s the show was known as the Smokefree Fashion Design Awards (after tobacco company sponsorships were outlawed).