Terry Gray composed and arranged music for dramas, variety shows, dance legend Gene Kelly and the Commonwealth Games. Along the way, his work included everything from the iconic 'We are the Boys' Chesdale commercial to a gold-selling CD.
A realistic view of one’s unimportance in the scheme of things, and a good sense of humour, keep one reasonably sane. Terry Gray, on working in television
Hosted by Jason Gunn, McDonalds Young Entertainers was a popular late 90s talent quest for teenagers. A house troupe of singers and dancers (Super Troopers, a Kiwi take on Disney's Mickey Mouse Club) helped the contestants prepare for the judges, and opened and closed each show. Judges included King Kapisi, Tina Cross and Stacey Morrison. Young performers who featured included Ainslie Allen, Hayley Westenra, Sticky TV/C4 host Drew Neemia, actor Michelle Ang (Neighbours, Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462) and concert pianist John Chen.
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.
The Grand Final of this 1996 musical talent quest series Showcase was hosted by Ian Fraser. The nine finalists perform songs from Mozart on guitar, to 'Everything’s Gonna Be Alright'. The opening act is Akustik Fungi: Jason Kerrison, one half of the duo, would later find fame as singer for chart-topping band Opshop, and return the favour as a judge on New Zealand’s Got Talent. The Showcase judges are Sir Howard Morrison, actor Rima Te Wiata, Dame Malvina Major (who performs) and Eddie Rayner (who got his break on TV talent show New Faces, while part of Split Enz).
Showcase was a popular mid 90s TVNZ talent quest, in which broadcaster Ian Fraser hosted a search "to find the very best" emerging musical talent. Filmed at Avalon Studios, this viewers' final from 1996 sees nine finalists compete for the public phone vote (there was a separate studio judges’ final). Songs range from Stevie Wonder and Sister Sledge covers to classical standards. Shona Laing, who got her break on a TV talent show, guest performs. Competitor Shaun Dixon went on to train under Pavarotti, and married another finalist from this episode, fellow opera singer Tania Brand.
Peppermint Twist’s pastel-tinted portrait of 60s puberty floated onto New Zealand television screens in 1987. Despite winning a solid teen following, it only lasted for one series. Set amongst a group of teens in small town Roseville (in reality the outdoors set on the edge of Wellington, originally used for Country GP), the show’s stylised look and sound had few Kiwi precedents — though its links to American perennial Happy Days are clear. Peppermint made liberal, and increasingly confident use of period music, with each episode named after a pop song of the day.
Peppermint Twist’s colourful, stylised portrait of 60s puberty floated onto NZ screens in 1987, winning a solid teenage following. Something of a homegrown homage to US sitcom Happy Days, Peppermint was set amongst a group of teens in small town Roseville, and made liberal use of period songs and arrangements. This episode involves mounting rivalries over a typically pressing issue: an upcoming limbo contest. Further nostalgia value is provided by real-life 60s music show host Peter Sinclair, who makes a cameo as compere of the contest.
Created for television by author Maurice Gee, The Fire-Raiser pits a quartet of smalltown school kids against a balaclava-clad figure with fire on the brain. In this episode, the children sneak onto the property of the man they suspect of terrorising their town. The police arrive after Kitty is trapped inside a room that has tragic memories for the suspect’s mother, the memorably moody Mrs Marwick. This WWI-era gothic adventure went on to score four Listener TV awards, including best drama; and Gee’s accompanying novel was published both here and overseas.
This 38 episode series revolved around the ups and downs of a community house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten). The series was devised by Liddy Holloway to meet a network call for an Eastenders-style drama that might tackle social issue storylines. It was the first drama series to put a Māori whānau (the Mitchells) at its centre. Despite being well-reviewed, it was perhaps the last gasp of Avalon-produced uncompromisingly local drama (satirised as the ‘Wellington style’), before TV production largely shifted to Auckland to face up to commercial pressures.
The Fire-Raiser pits a quartet of smalltown World War I era school kids against a mysterious figure with fire on the brain. Inspired partly by a real-life Nelson arsonist, the five-part gothic adventure was created for television by author Maurice Gee. Peter Hayden plays the town’s unconventional teacher ‘Clippy’ Hedges, while the lead role went to Royal NZ Ballet star Jon Trimmer. The Fire-Raiser won four Listener TV awards, including best overall drama and best writer. Gee’s accompanying novel was published both here and overseas. He writes about the show's birth here.
Dunedin barrister Alf Hanlon’s first — and most famous — defence case was the first episode in this award-winning drama series about his career. In 1895, alleged baby farmer Minnie Dean was charged with murdering two infants in her care. Hanlon’s inspired manslaughter defence was undermined by the judge’s direction to the jury; and Dean became the only woman to be hanged in NZ. Hanlon vowed none of his future clients would ever suffer this fate. Emmy-nominated and a major critical success, the episode contributed to a re-evaluation of Dean’s conviction.
This charity single, sung by Spot On presenter Ole Maiava, was made for Telethon in 1985. In the studio-shot video Maiava is supported by co-presenters Sandy Beverley on drums and Helen McGowan on maracas, backed by Eastbourne's Muritai School Choir. The song was produced by late screen composers Terry Gray (Sea Urchins and the classic 'We are the Boys' Chesdale commercial) and Rob Winch (Mark II, ‘Cruisin' on the Interislander’). The song made it to number eight in the charts. That year Telethon raised $1.5 million for the Child and Youth Development Trust.
This New Zealand television special was made in 1985 (during Rob Guest’s Vegas showman days). It pre-dates Guest’s distinguished career in musical theatre in Australia and NZ, but the late singer’s musical talent and versatility is still on display. It’s a little cheesy (what entertainment special made out of Avalon Studios in the 80s wasn’t?), but Guest shines as the classy all-round entertainer he was. Singers Yolande Gibson and Jan Lampen are the main guest stars. The NZ Maori Chorale and The Lynette Perry Dancers also feature.
This was New Zealand's first big historical drama after the controversy over the cost of The Governor almost a decade earlier. Over seven episodes — set between 1895 and 1914 — it followed the life of Dunedin barrister Alf Hanlon, focussing on six of his most important cases. British actor David Gwillim played Hanlon, while Australian Robyn Nevin was cast as convicted baby murderer Minnie Dean in the first and most celebrated episode. A major critical, ratings and awards success, it immediately recouped its budget when the Minnie Dean episode spurred a big international sale.
The early 80s were the apex of the local beauty pageant — Lorraine Downes won Miss Universe in 1983, and more Kiwis watched the 1981 Miss New Zealand contest on TV than Charles and Di’s wedding. This 1984 Miss World New Zealand live telecast was legendary for host Peter Sinclair announcing the wrong winner (clip six). Miss Auckland Barbara McDowell’s runner up sash is swiftly swapped for a crown and she is (eventually) made the first part-Samoan Miss NZ. A retro delight is the beauties dancing to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ in an Oamaru quarry.
Country GP was a major 80s drama series that charted the post-war years 1945 to 1950 in a rural central South Island town. Using fast-turnaround techniques that anticipated later series like Shortland Street, 66 episodes of Country GP were shot in 18 months at a specially built set in Whiteman’s Valley, Lower Hutt. It was groundbreaking as the first NZ series to cast a Samoan in a title role (Lani Tupu as Dr David Miller); but it also provided a nostalgic look back to an apparently kinder, gentler time than mid-80s New Zealand with its major social reforms and upheavals.
This film tells the story of the world’s rarest wading bird, the black stilt (kakī). With its precise beak and long pink legs the stilt is superbly adapted to the stony braided riverbeads of the McKenzie Country, but it is tragically unable to deal with new threats (rats, ferrets, habitat loss). An early doco for TVNZ’s Natural History Unit, the magnificently filmed drama of the stilt’s struggle for survival makes it “stand out as a classic of its genre” (Russell Campbell). It won the Gold Award at New York’s International Film & TV Festival (1984).
Charlie is about to die. His wife is playing prison guard, stopping visitors. She wants to score him a christian grave. But Charlie would prefer a drink. It it is time for blunt honesty — which means more battles with his wife, insulting the kids, and making sure his funeral involves the ocean. One of the last things legendary playwright Bruce Mason wrote before his death in 1982, Do Not Go Gentle also offers a rare central role for veteran Bill Johnson, fresh from playing villain in Under the Mountain. Late children’s TV talent Huntly Eliott cameos as the priest.
For the third series of this TVNZ kidult drama, the location moved from the Hauraki Gulf to the Marlborough Sounds, where there's also plenty of water for floatplane and speedboat thrills (and an explosion). Brothers Peter, Nik and Hape — the "sea urchins" — attempt to foil a thuggish gang of tuatara and kākāriki smugglers, led by cravat-wearing evil mastermind, Carl. The urchins are aided on the ground and in the air by a young Rebecca Gibney (the Packed to the Rafter's star's first major TV role), while future broadcaster and Wiggle Robert Rakete plays Nik.
Speakeasy was an early 80s chat show hosted by broadcaster Ian Johnstone. Each episode explored a theme and invited a trio of subjects “who could talk well about their own experiences and views” (as Johnstone put it in his 1998 memoir Stand and Deliver). Produced by David Baldock, the subjects were “New Zealand events and issues but not news and politics”, and ranged from sports leadership, to returning home from overseas, to race relationships in Aotearoa. Interviewees included cricketer Glenn Turner, singer Howard Morrison and actor Ellie Smith.
This second episode of the early 80s chat show sees host Ian Johnstone welcome Howard Morrison, Pita Sharples and Rosa Tamepo to talk about ‘breaking in’. Morrison and Sharples discuss being Māori ‘breaking in’ to a Pākehā world. Tamepo reflects on being a Pākehā married to a Māori. Sharples recalls being a Kahungungu boy from the backblocks at Auckland University; Morrison twists the theme to talk about growing up as a Te Arawa tama in Tūhoe country. Made by David Harry Baldock, the show was inspired by the relaxed style of English interviewer Michael Parkinson.
Broadcaster Ian Johnstone was an intrepid explorer for TVNZ's 80s Beginner's Guide documentary series; the series embedded personal guides to lift the veil on everything from marae protocol to the Freemasons. This edition sees a crime (embezzlement of TVNZ money) pinned to 47-year-old Johnstone by the CIB and so begins his (fictional) experience of judicial process and imprisonment. A humbled Johnstone aims to convey what life behind bars is like, and bust some myths en route, from "they only serve half their time don’t they?" to "it's like a four star hotel".
Daphne and Chloe offers a love triangle with a twist: here the couple under threat are two woman friends (despite rumours their relationship is romantic) who work at an advertising agency. Their friendship, based partly on warding off loneliness, is threatened when the cool, cultured Edith (Helena Ross), starts dating the new office boy (Michael Hurst) — a man 18 years her junior. The typing pool are abuzz. Daphne and Chloe was one of a trio of tele-plays that resulted after TVNZ gave legendary playwright Bruce Mason the chance to choose his themes.
Flightless and nocturnal, the kākāpō is the world's heaviest parrot. By the 1970s the mysterious, moss-coloured bird was facing extinction, "evicted" to Fiordland mountains and Stewart Island by stoats and cats. Thanks to innovative night vision equipment, this film captured for the first time the bird's idiosyncratic courtship rituals, and the first chick found in a century. Marking the directing debut of NHNZ veteran Rod Morris, it screened in the Feltex Award-winning second season of Wild South, and won acclaim at the 1984 International Wildlife Film Festival.
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.
Kingi (Mitchell Manuel) is a sultry teenager who encounters domestic violence and racism and veers down a path of petty crime. School ground punch-ups, stealing milk money and shoplifting see him placed under care of a social worker — and eventually Kingi runs out of chances. From writer-director Mike Walker, Kingi's Story tackles Māori youth and the path to delinquency and is based on the lives of a group of boys (including Manuel) who became wards of the state. It is the first part of a loose trilogy that includes Kingpin (1985) and Mark II (1986).
This teleplay from writer Greg McGee is a satire of prejudice and the market economy set in the grey, divisive atmosphere of early 1980s New Zealand. Kate Harcourt plays the proprietor of Dot's Terminal Cafe, a cantankerous spinster who rails against 'bludgers' and 'foreigners'. One rain-soaked Wellington night, her lumpen clientele decide to stage a small but telling uprising — with the help of a dead mouse. It screened in early 1982, following the breakout success of McGee’s confrontational take on Kiwi conformity: rugby player losing-his-religion play Foreskin’s Lament.
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.
At a time when TVNZ light entertainment inevitably meant major studio productions complete with dancing girls, Live from Chips presented singers in a live, no frills environment freed from big budget distractions. The venue was Wellington nightclub Chips and each episode focussed on one singer and backing band playing a 25 minute set. Four episodes were made featuring artists from outside the pop/rock orbits of Ready to Roll and Radio with Pictures — Tina Cross, Herb McQuay, Frankie Stevens and Mark Williams (flown in from Sydney to do the show).
Made during Kiwi television's golden age of light entertainment, Rock Around the Clock set out to recreate the golden days of early rock'n'roll. Lifelong rock'n'roller Tom Sharplin took the lion's share of time behind the microphone, with Paul Holmes introducing occasional guests as fictional compere Wonderful Wally Watson. Completing the 50s vibe were a bevy of rock'n'roll dancers, and an elaborate set which incorporated both dance floor and milk bar.
Introduced by a pilot called High Country, Jocko was an early 80s attempt by TVNZ to build a series around a travelling swagman character. Jocko (Bruce Allpress) is a maverick musterer and rural jack-of-all-trades in the tradition of the Australian swagman and the American cowboy. But the setting is a contemporary one: in the South Island high country where old and new methods of farming are coming into conflict. Two series were made, written by Julian Dickon (Pukemanu), and co-starring Desmond Kelly as Jocko’s off-sider and travelling companion, China.
The golden age of rock is recaptured in a studio mock-up of the Wellington Rock 'n' Roll Revival Club. Hosted by Paul Holmes (under the name Wonderful Wally Watson), the show features Tom Sharplin and his band. Dalvanius Prime also puts in an appearance, delivering a wonderful version of 'The Great Pretender'. The show mixes studio and location sequences, as it delivers hits made famous by the likes of 50s legends Bill Haley and Chuck Berry. Actors Marshall Napier and Brian Sergent are on hand to play a couple of bodgies, referencing the milk-bar cowboys of the era.
The launchpad for Billy T’s rise to television superstar, Radio Times recreates an era when home entertainment involved another type of box entirely. Inspired by 30s and 40s era radio extravaganzas, producer Tom Parkinson creates a show complete with swinging dancehall band, adventure serials and coconut shell sound effects. Parkinson’s masterstroke was casting Billy T as the oh-so-British compere glueing everything together (and occasionally sliding effortlessly into a different accent). The Yandall Sisters, singer Craig Scott and writer Derek Payne also feature.
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.
Kaleidoscope was a magazine-style arts series which ran from 30 July 1976 until 1989. Running for many years in a 90 minute format, the show tried varied approaches over its run, from an initial mix of local and international items — including live performances — to episodes which focused on a single artist or topic. In the early 80s Kaleidoscope collected three Feltex awards for Speciality Programme. Hosts over the years included initial presenter Jeremy Payne, newsreader Angela D'Audney, future Auckland music professor Heath Lees, and Warratahs fiddler Nic Brown.
Town Cryer was New Zealand's first live talk show to play to a national audience (Peter Sinclair had earlier hosted a late night regional chat show). Although enthused, local audiences took a while to believe it wasn't prerecorded. Over 64 episodes, Max Cryer persuaded both local and international names to join him, including actors, sports stars, Robert Muldoon — and an emotional appearance by singer Larry Morris, hours after finishing a prison sentence for drugs. In 1977 Town Cryer morphed into an afternoon show, shorn of its musical performances; by year's end it was gone.
The iconic all-things-rural show is the longest running programme on New Zealand television. With its typical patient observational style (that allows stories of people and the land to gently unfold) it’s an unlikely broadcasting star, but New Zealanders continue, after 50 plus years, to tune in. Amongst the bucolic tales of farming, fishing and forestry, there are high country musters, floods, organic brewing, falconry, tobacco farming, as well as a fencing wire-playing farmer-musician, a radio-controlled dog, and Fred Dagg and the Trevs.