Arthur Baysting was working for Thursday magazine in the early 1970s when he wrote a review of Derek, a TV drama about a man messing up his last day at work. He predicted two things: that Derek would win a Feltex award, and annoy morals campaigner Patricia Bartlett. When both predictions came true, he got a call from Derek's co-creator Ian Mune.
Mune was as impressed by Baysting's poetry as his telepathic abilities. And he needed a writer. Nelson-raised Baysting had already created teleplay A Bed for the Night for 1974 anthology series Spotlight, a darkly comic tale of couple swapping. The two got busy scripting Mune's idea for an adventure about two kids visiting a farm, who form a secret club. After finally emerging in 1979, TV movie The Mad Dog Gang Meets Rotten Fred and Ratsguts won a Feltex Award for Best Drama (Mune writes about the experience at the bottom of this AudioCulture page).
In the meantime Mune pulled in Baysting for another project. Winners & Losers was a series of dramas based on classic Kiwi short stories, which Mune was making with Roger Donaldson. Baysting ended up adapting two of them: A Great Day, based on Frank Sargeson's enigmatic tale of two men in a rowboat, and Maurice Shadbolt's After the Depression, which followed a stressed couple and child in the 1930s.
Debuting on local television in 1976, Winners & Losers was part of a wave of creative change; suddenly local stories were starting to hit the screen in real numbers. Spurred on by Roger Donaldson, Mune rushed to complete the script for their landmark debut feature, Sleeping Dogs. Maybe Baysting could help write that too? (Baysting's account of how he got involved, can be found late in the second clip of this documentary.)
When the film had its premiere in 1977 in Auckland, one of the guests was Neville Purvis. Mune recalls a vision in a "white suit, pencil moustache and Tyrolean hat, both dapper and sleazy" (see images). He also looked a lot like Arthur Baysting. Born a number of years before in a blue lurex shirt at an Elam fancy dress party, Purvis had gone on to prove his mettle at Wellington strip club Carmen's Balcony. When theatre troupe Red Mole leased the venue for seven months in 1977 for a cabaret show, Baysting donned Purvis’s hat and sunglasses, playing MC and singing. Soon they were on three nights a week. "There were queues round the block," says Baysting, "but barely enough money to get by".
"I got quite good at faking it. It was this New Zealand thing that really worked." Baysting described the character as a working class loser who'd spent time in Mt Crawford for car conversion, and had an individual view of the world. Baysting's wife Jean Clarkson created the costume. In a 1977 Listener review, Ian Fraser praised Purvis as "a dazzling comic creation" who deserved to be as successful as Fred Dagg. When Red Mole returned in 1978 for show Ghost Rite, Purvis was amongst those winning raves.
By 1979 Red Mole had gone overseas. Baysting had no desire to follow; he and Clarkson had recently returned from an OE (during which they drove across America in a Plymouth Valiant, while Baysting researched crystal-gazing docudrama Paths to the Future.) As for Purvis, he made his TV debut in a 1978 documentary on punk, before playing comic relief on current affairs show Eyewitness. He also appeared at music festivals, and released single ‘It Takes Money'. Roger Donaldson directed the music video. After an impromptu speech at a music conference, television executives invited him to star in a TV series.
In 1979 The Neville Purvis Family Show debuted in a late night slot, with Prime Minister Rob Muldoon doing opening honours. The show had no local precedent. Purvis was laconic and slightly dodgy, with actors (including Marshall Napier and Bruno Lawrence) among the studio audience playing Purvis family members. Baysting wanted it to be even hipper; he'd hoped The Crocodiles would be the house band, but had little control over the music content.
When NZ Herald critic Barry Shaw began repeating how much the show offended him, Purvis made sure to read out each review on air. In the final episode on 18 October, while doing his weekly apologies, he concluded the show with a word rarely heard on national television: “…but at least we never said f**k".
Avalon logged only three negative phone calls that night. But the press were not amused. Baysting was forced to visit the Lower Hutt police station, where he was slapped on the back and told not to worry (a letter from the police later informed him that Broadcasting's Director-General and the Broadcasting Corporation were "vicariously responsible for the obscene language"). But over the next few weeks, he found screen commitments suddenly getting cancelled. He and his wife started anew in Australia, where Baysting wrote music, short stories, and newspaper columns. Leaving the country, he told Salient at the time, had made him appreciate the good things about it. "You can’t see New Zealand until you’re outside of it. I never knew New Zealand until I went away."
Returning to Aotearoa in the mid 1980s, Baysting worked on varied screen projects (and also did two years leading the NZ Writers Guild). The biggest was 1991 TV movie Undercover. His script followed an undercover cop (William Brandt) caught up in music and crime, while infiltrating a heroin ring. Cliff Curtis had an early role, as a singer. Undercover won an NZ TV Award for Best Drama. He also co-wrote 1990 movie The Returning with the film's director John Day. It won a muted response in local cinemas, although reviewer John Parker praised this erotic thriller about a man haunted by visions as "excellent".
Baysting's time as part of a puppet theatre group fed into a run of projects in this period. He wrote for kids series Space Knights and puppet comedy Public Eye, and contributed lyrics to Peter Jackson's cult puppet movie Meet the Feebles. He has also appeared in a number of music-based documentaries, including Costa Botes' Struggle No More (about band The Windy City Strugglers).
In 2008 Baysting made The 'Ahu Sistas, chronicling a visit made to Tahiti by his wife, who was there as part of a group exhibition by female descendants of the Tahitians who had sailed to Pitcairn Island with mutineers from the Bounty.
All this screen activity sidelines a key element of Baysting's career: music. In 2000 he and Mike Chunn won government support to create the NZ Music Commission, which continues to promote Kiwi music. Baysting would co-lead them for five years (with Cath Andersen). He also directed 47 Making Music - Te Waihanga Pūoro video interviews with local musicians, for use in schools, and spent 18 years on the board of songwriter's body APRA, the Australasian Performing Right Association. His farewell speech at the 2010 Silver Scroll Awards was met with a standing ovation.
In the early 90s Baysting helped create the Green Ribbon Trust campaign, for local quotas across both music and television. The 1998 Endangered Species conference made the case that New Zealand content was unusually low on local airwaves — under five percent. In 2001 local radio agreed to a voluntary 20 percent quota — the same year that Baysting was awarded a SPADA/On Film Industry Champion Award for his quota work. That year he and Mike Chunn compiled Nature's Best, a hit collection of local songs as voted by APRA members. As these AudioCulture tribute pages attest, the list of musicians and creatives who got vital encouragement from Baysting is long.
Baysting and children's TV veteran Suzy Cato went on to set up the Kiwi Kids Music Association, a group of songwriters and videomakers promoting New Zealand music for children and families. Baysting continued to concentrate on songwriting. His biggest Kiwi hit, written with Fane Flaws, was ‘Tears’, recorded by The Crocodiles in 1980. He also wrote songs with Che Fu, Dragon, Jenny Morris, and King Kapisi. In Australia, there were gold and platinum-selling albums for children’s performer Justine Clarke, featuring songs written by Baysting and longtime friend Peter Dasent.
In November 2019 APRA announced the launch of the Baysting Prize for Children's Champion, to honour those making a significant contribution to the development and wellbeing of New Zealand children.
Arthur Baysting died of cancer on 3 December 2019.
Profile written by Ian Pryor; updated on 3 December 2019
Various writers, 'Arthur Baysting: Dreams, Schemes and Themes' AudioCulture website. Loaded 30 September 2019. Accessed 3 December 2019
Chris Bourke, 'Arthur Baysting' AudioCulture website. Loaded 30 September 2019. Accessed 3 December 2019
Michael Brett, 'Red Mole wants to dig in here' - The Auckland Star, 12 October 1977
Ian Fraser, 'Moles in the foundations' (Review of Red Mole at Carmen's Balcony) - The Listener, 12 November 1977
John Ghent, 'Crazy ... and lots of fun' (Review of Ghost Rite) - The Auckland Star, 23 February 1978
Barbara Hunt, 'Moles burrow up from underground' - The NZ Herald, 23 November 1977, section 3, page 7
Ian Mune, Mune - An Autobiography (Nelson: Craig Potton Publishing, 2010)
'Songwriters Choose new Representative' (Press release) The Big Idea website. Loaded 21 December 2008. Accessed 3 December 2019
John Parker, Review of The Returning - Onfilm, March 1991
Unknown writer, 'Dr Sunshine' - The Auckland Star, 1978 (unknown month)
Unknown writer, 'Announcing the Baysting Prize for Children's Champion' (Press release) APRA website. Loaded 21 November 2019. Accessed 3 December 2019