Alongside a busy theatre career, Ross Jolly's screen credits span four decades. But he is remembered for one role more than any other: that of likeable joker John in Roger Hall hit Gliding On (a role he repeated in 90s sequel Market Forces). The original office comedy was on screens for five years. Jolly first played John in 1976 at Circa Theatre, the same Wellington theatre where he continues to direct plays.

Behind the scenes panic, clothes flying in all directions. On the set supposed professional calm ... Two versions so any enormous gaffe can be edited out. Another nerve-wracking 30 minutes, laughs in different places, different things going awry... Ross Jolly on making an early episode of Gliding On, The Listener, 29 August 1981

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Birdsong

2013, As: Laptop Executive - Short Film

50 Years of New Zealand Television: 5 - Telling Stories

2010, Subject - Television

From early teleplay The Evening Paper to the edgy Outrageous Fortune, this episode of 50 Years of New Zealand Television talks drama and comedy. Key players, from actors to executives, recall a host of signposts in the development of storytelling on Kiwi TV screens. John Clarke recalls 1970s sitcom Buck's House; Paul Maunder remembers the drama that likely helped introduce the DPB; and TV executive John McRae recalls worries about the projected cost of global hit Hunter's Gold, and mentioning the word 'placenta' on the first episode of Shortland Street.  

Until Proven Innocent

2009, As: Sunday Star-Times Editor - Television

Until Proven Innocent is based on the case of David Dougherty, and the lawyer, scientist and journalist who concluded he had been wrongly convicted. In 1993 Dougherty was jailed for the rape and abduction of an 11-year-old girl. This dramatisation follows the campaign to prove his innocence: court appeals, journalism, and a key piece of DNA evidence. Chosen to open 2009's Sunday Theatre season the tele-movie was nominated for 10 Qantas Awards, and won five, including best drama and best actor (for Cohen Holloway's standout performance as Dougherty).

Dark Knight (TV series)

2000 - 2001, As: Lord Balfour - Television

Market Forces

1998, As: John - Television

Tiger Country

1998, Actor - Television

Xena: Warrior Princess

1995 - 2001, As: King Barus - Television

Letter to Blanchy

1994 - 1997, As: Ron - Television

Letter to Blanchy was a gentle back-blocks comedy co-written by A.K. Grant, Tom Scott and comedy duo, McPhail and Gadsby (who also starred). Each episode centred on the bumblings of a trio of mates living in a fictional small town: intellectual Derek (McPhail), rough-diamond Barry (Gadsby) and tradesman Ray (Rowley). The show's narration comes from a letter written to Blanchy, a friend living in the relative sophistication of Christchurch. The series was adapted for a theatre tour in 2008.

Lyn of Tawa - In Search of the Great New Zealand Male

1994, Subject - Television

Kiwi icon Lyn of Tawa (Ginette McDonald) — she of mangled vowel fame — goes on the prowl in search of the ultimate Kiwi bloke. The girl-from-the-suburb's mission takes in the gamut of masculine mythology, from Man Alone to mateship, as Lyn provides manthropological reflections ("can a woman ever be a mate?"). Made when the good keen man was facing up to the challenge from SNAGs, the documentary travels from the West Coast (for sex education) to a men's club, from rugby scrums to rabbit culls, and meets hunters, lawyers, students and gay ten-pin bowlers.

Sunday (magazine show)

1991 - 1994, Director - Television

Sunday was one of a number of magazine-style shows to screen on TVNZ, in a weekend morning slot. It was hosted by Radio New Zealand presenter Kathryn Asare, who the previous year had been drafted in to present a similar show, 10AM. Liz Gunn (Breakfast) later took over the reins. Many of the items on Sunday had an arts bent, including pieces on designer/producer Logan Brewer, and La Sagrada Família architect Mark Burry. Sunday is not to be confused with the long-running TVNZ current affairs show of the same name.  

Meet the Feebles

1990, As: Various voices - Film

Director Peter Jackson's second feature Meet the Feebles offers even more bad taste than his debut. The irreverent, outlandish, part-musical satire is populated almost entirely by puppets, but it is by no means cute. The motley creatures are all members of a variety show that’s working up to a major performance. They include Bletch the two-timing pornographer walrus, an obese hippo femme fatale, a drug-dealing rat, and a heroin-addicted frog — in other words, something to offend everyone. Richard King writes about the creation of New Zealand's first puppet movie here.

Public Eye

1988 - 1989, As: Various Roles - Television

Gibson Group production Public Eye was inspired by the British series, Spitting Image. Latex puppets caricature topical personalities, mostly drawn from the world of politics (Ruth Richardson, Helen Clark, Winston Peters etc). Their foibles are duly skewered in fast-moving comic skits such as the 'Ruatoria Rasta' segment, 'The White Way' and 'Honky Tanga'. The wickedly grotesque puppets were based on drawings by cartoonist Trace Hodgson, and built by a team headed by future Weta FX maestro, Richard Taylor.

Send a Gorilla

1988, As: Conman - Film

Worzel Gummidge Down Under

1986 - 1989, As: PC Peacock - Television

Heart of the High Country

1985, As: Mine Foreman - Television

Cuckoo Land

1985, As: Dr Whats It - Television

Heavily influenced by the mid-80s MTV-led music video boom, this madcap six part kids fantasy series focuses on an aspiring songwriter and her daughters who renounce life on a land yacht to settle in a house with a mind of its own. Based on scripts by acclaimed author Margaret Mahy (in her first collaboration with director Yvonne Mackay), it utilises then cutting edge video special effects (requiring locked off shots and no camera movement). The soundtrack is by composer Jenny McLeod while Paul Holmes' narrator is omnipotent and petulant in equal parts.

Gliding On - Mastermind (Series Four, Episode Five)

1984, As: John - Television

This episode of New Zealand's own office comedy sees John (Ross Jolly) concluding that a love of stamps makes the boss (Ken Blackburn) a natural fit for Mastermind — next thing, the stores branch staff are gathering around with imaginary cameras and desk lamps, to help him practise for the pressures of facing quiz master Peter Sinclair. Meanwhile the team try to score another victory by getting an astrological chart made for a racehorse. Roger Hall's sitcom about public servants was a bona fide hit, long before Rogernomics and Ricky Gervais in The Office.

Battletruck

1982, As: Shotgun - Film

In a lawless fuel wars future, marauders roam the wasteland looking for oil. Their malevolent leader Straker threatens his daughter Corlie; she’s rescued by loner Hunter and they harbour with eco-sensitive folk in the Clearwater Commune ... but not for long: there will be blood on the Central Otago plains! Following in the exhaust of Mad Max, the cult film was made during the 80s tax-break feature surge, with US director (Harley Cokliss) and leads flocking south during a Hollywood writers’ strike, and Kiwis as crew (“artists with chainsaws”) and supporting cast.

Loose Enz - Press for Service

1982, As: Coe - Television

Written by Tom Scott, Press for Service is a humorous take on the shenanigans of the parliamentary press as they battle with the prime minister over their journalistic freedom. With the idealism, sleaze and alcoholism, that traditionally go hand and hand with the job, we follow David Miller; striving to be a respected journalist. Miller writes a damning piece but forgets to check his sources. Opening and closing with John Toon's elegant aerial shots of Wellington and a buoyant score, the episode features prominent Wellington thespians Ray Henwood and Ross Jolly.

Gliding On

1981 - 1985, As: John - Television

In an age before Rogernomics, and well before The Office, there was the afternoon tea fund, Golden Kiwi, and four o'clock closing: welcome to the early 80s world of the New Zealand Public Service. Gliding On (1981 - 1985) was the first locally made sitcom to become a bona-fide classic. The series was inspired by Roger Hall's hit play Glide Time and satirised a paper-pushing working life then-familiar to many Kiwis. Gliding On won several Feltex Awards including best male and female actors and best entertainment.

Gliding On - No Smoke Without Fire (First Episode)

1981, As: John - Television

In an age before Rogernomics, well before The Office, there was the afternoon tea fund, Golden Kiwi, and four o'clock closing: welcome to the early 80s world of the New Zealand Public Service. Gliding On (1981 - 1985) was the first locally-made sitcom to become a bona-fide classic. Inspired by Roger Hall's hit play Glide Time, the award-winning series satirised a paper-pushing working life familiar to many Kiwis. This episode features Beryl's non-smoking campaign, Jim's efforts to kick the habit, office sexual innuendo and a much-debated fire drill. "Morning Jim!"

The Les Deverett Variety Hour

1978, As: Various Roles - Television

Hunter's Gold

1976, As: The Hatter - Television

This classic kids’ adventure tale follows a 13-year-old boy on a quest to find his father, missing amidst the 1860s Otago gold rush. When it launched in September 1976, the 13 part series was the most expensive local TV drama yet made. Under the reins of director Tom Parkinson, the series brandished unprecedented production values, and panned the Central Otago vistas for all their worth. Its huge local popularity was matched abroad (BBC screened it multiple times); it showed that NZ-made kids’ drama could be exported, and helped establish the new second television channel.

Winners & Losers: A Lawful Excuse

1976, Writer - Television

This episode of anthology series Winners & Losers takes a fresh angle on going straight. Smooth-talking criminal Mick (Ian Mune) dreams of starting over, by cultivating mushrooms with cellmate Charlie (Coronation Street's Ivan Beavis). Charlie claims to have committed a lawful murder, thanks to a technicality. In an inspired change to Barry Crump's original story, Mick commandeers a bus to finance the pair's plan. Crump praised the episode, but felt that Mick and Charlie treat their third cellmate unfairly. Director Roger Donaldson cameos in a red Swanndri during the bus scenes.

Phone

1974, As: Bryan Foote - Short Film

This 1974 primer on proper phone manner marks one of the earliest films directed by Sam Neill. Actor turned scriptwriter John Banas plays a polite eccentric calling a company about his telepathic machine, only to face rude behaviour at every turn. Among those failing to bring the nice are two future Gliding On actors: a mullet-haired Ross Jolly, and Grant Tilly, who would rather be eating his sponge finger. Also known as Telephone Etiquette, the film was made by the National Film Unit for the Post Office, back when telephone services were still under its command.  

Hunt's Duffer

1973, As: Findlay - Television

This 1973 TV drama is inspired by events which led to a major riot on the West Coast during the 1860s gold rush. After prospector Albert Hunt (Ron Burt) registers a gold claim near Ōkārito, he finds himself accompanied by hundreds of fellow miners — who refuse to let Hunt out of their sights, as he returns to the site via water-logged forests and beaches. The darkly poetic tale of what men can do after they smell gold was partly shot on location on the West Coast. The opening features Sam Neill and Close to Home veteran Tony Curran, among Hunt's fireside colleagues.