Composer, Musical Arranger
Bernie Allen, QSM, was a professional musician and teacher before beginning his TV career as musical director of popular 60s show C’mon. He continued on to Happen Inn, followed by a vast number of shows as composer or music director over the next two decades. His score for Hunter’s Gold won an APRA Silver Scroll; his arrangement of ‘Hine E Hine’ accompanied the classic Goodnight Kiwi animation.
Bernie Allen has a vast and practical musical knowledge. His sound palette ranges comfortably from the honking tenor sax of 50s rock'n'roll to the harpsichord complexities of JS Bach, and for the sheer fun of it, passing John Philip Sousa on the way. Tom Parkinson, former head of entertainment at Television New Zealand
Following the big-screen success of Topp Twins documentary Untouchable Girls came another chronicle of a Kiwi entertainment legend: sometime Taranaki bandito, giggling newsreader and crooner Billy T James. The film uses remastered footage and an impressive cast of interviews to capture his path from cabaret singer to fame, fan clubs and eventual financial and bodily collapse. Te Movie director Ian Mune originally cast James in the classic Came a Hot Friday, as the Māori-Mexican Tainuia Kid; Te Movie co-producer Tom Parkinson played a hand in making Billy T a TV star.
This 'alternative' version of New Zealand history was made by the team behind Eating Media Lunch. Channelling Kenneth Cumberland —presenter of heavyweight 80s series Landmarks— Jeremy Wells plumbs the TV archives to poke fun at New Zealand, and its people. Some excruciating hilarity is mined from artifacts of visitation to southern shores, from Bill Clinton to the Beatles. Muhammad Ali's fast food tastes down under are examined; the Dalai Lama finds bad karma in Christchurch; Charles and Diana visit in 1981; and mirth is mined from all things ovine.
Jeremy Wells brings Kenneth Cumberland-seque authority to this 'alternative' version of Kiwi history, which was made by many of the team that worked on Eating Media Lunch. The Unauthorised History plumbs TV and history archives to poke fun at the pretence of the past (and present). This episode examines artefacts to do with sex and Aotearoa. With tongue planted in check (and in other places) Wells revisits everything from pole-dancing in the "hellhole of the Pacific" — colonial-era Russell — to randy Hutt Valley teenagers "getting laid" in the 1950s.
In the first episode of this dramatic mini-series based on the 1888-89 tour of Great Britain by the NZ Natives rugby team, Pony (Peter Kaa from movie Te Rua) must leave his mother (Rena Owen) and grandfather (Wi Kuki Kaa), to join the side. His motivation isn’t just rugby related — he hopes to find his English father who he has never met. The Natives have an early supporter in an Earl (Ian Richardson of House of Cards) who is a rugby fan intrigued by the novelty of these “savages”. Meanwhile, his granddaughter (Liza Walker) discovers an interest of her own — Pony.
This three part mini-series is loosely based on the remarkable tour by the NZ Natives rugby team which played 107 games in Australasia and Great Britain in 1888-89. At its heart is a cross-cultural love story between Pony — the grandson of a chief and one of the side’s stars — and Charlotte: the granddaughter of an English Earl (Ian Richardson of House of Cards fame). The tour provided the first exposure to Māori for many in the UK. The interaction could be uncomfortable but even more so when affairs of the heart threatened the cultural divide.
Writer Maurice Gee’s experiences growing up in West Auckland during World War II were the basis for this home front drama expertly realised by the producer/director team of Ginette McDonald and Peter Sharp. Twelve-year-old Rex Pascoe (Milan Borich — future singer in the band Pluto) is a war-obsessed schoolboy worried about his father’s black-market dealings. Meanwhile, American soldiers are making their presence felt but not all of their attitudes are welcome. The locals’ prejudices are about to be tested by the arrival of a GI to stay with Rex’s family.
In the 1930s Jean Batten broke solo distance flying records and achieved international fame. Directed by her biographer, Ian Mackersey, Garbo of the Skies chronicles Batten's life through archive footage, interviews, narration from her unpublished memoirs and reconstructions of her epic flights. The documentary also reveals a lonely private world: a domineering mother, romantic tragedy, a fall into obscurity, and death in a Majorcan hotel (a mystery finally solved during the film's making). Garbo of the Skies screened on TVNZ, the Discovery Channel and the BBC.
This four-part TVNZ series from 1986 surveyed the history of soul music, with a roll call of talented Kiwi performers belting out the genre's classics. In this first episode — presented by Dalvanius with Stevie Wonder braids — the focus is on the influential 60s soul music of New York label Atlantic Records. Singers include Bunny Walters, Debbie Harwood, The Yandall Sisters, Peter Morgan and more. Ardijah chime in with their contemporary soul hit ‘Your Love is Blind’. The series writer was Murray Cammick, founder of music magazine Rip It Up.
This documentary tells the stories of the New Zealand soldiers who were part of the identity-defining Gallipoli campaign in World War I. In the ill-fated mission to take a piece of Turkish coastline, 2721 New Zealanders died with 4752 wounded. As part of research, every one of the then-surviving Gallipoli veterans living in New Zealand was interviewed, with 26 finally filmed. Shot at a barren, rocky Gallipoli before the advent of Anzac Day tourism, this important record screened on Easter Sunday 1984, and won a Feltex Award for Best Documentary.
Kicking off with his hero Elvis Presley's song 'That's Alright,' the late Prince Tui Teka delivers a classic performance in this TVNZ-filmed variety show (one of three specials). The Yandall Sisters back-up on the smoky, Vegas-inspired set. Tui sings his hit 'E Ipo' with wife Missy, and they pay tribute to the song’s Māori lyricist Ngoi (‘Poi-E’) Pewhairangi. The songs are peppered with warmth, humour and poi action (led by a young Pita Sharples), as Tui Teka confirms his reputation as one of Aotearoa's great entertainers. The classy Bernie Allen-led band includes legendary guitarist Tama Renata.
Music legend Prince Tui Teka performs his greatest hit ‘E Ipo’ in this excerpt from a TVNZ special recorded at Auckland’s Mandalay Ballroom. Based on a traditional Indonesian folk melody, ‘E Ipo’ was written by Teka with Ngoi (‘Poi E’) Pewhairangi, when he was courting her niece (and his future wife) Missy. The two join Tui Teka on stage (along with Pita Sharples’ Te Roopu Manutaki cultural group) for a rousing rendition performed with his trademark verve and humour. The song reached number one, following te reo-dominated chart-toppers 'The Bridge' (sung by Deane Waretini) in 1981, and Howard Morrison's 1982 version of 'How Great Thou Art'.
In this film two Kiwi larrikins, Sam and Jack (Alan Jervis and Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) go on a road trip, seemingly fuelled by blokey banter. A pit stop at Hokonui Pub leads to shenanigans with a stolen road roller, varied shaggy dog stories and jail, before Sam has to return to the dreaded missus. The characters and scenarios were adapted from two of Barry Crump's novels featuring anti-hero Sam Cash: Hang on a Minute Mate and There and Back. Mate was made for TVNZ, and screened in late 1982. Pub spotters will appreciate the pub's high pressure hoses and five ounce glasses.
In the days before 24-hour television, there was Goodnight Kiwi, a short animation from Sam Harvey that bade viewers goodnight once the day's broadcasting ended. Each night the plucky Kiwi shut up shop at the TV station, put out the milk, and caught the lift up to sleep in a satellite dish with The Cat. For a generation of kids, Goodnight Kiwi became a much-loved symbol of staying up well past your bedtime. Viewers never questioned why our nocturnal national icon was going to bed at night, or sharing a bed with a cat. The tune is an arrangement of Māori lullaby 'Hine e Hine'.
Presented by Kenneth Cumberland, Landmarks looked at New Zealand history through the landscape — and at man "coming to terms" with it. In this episode Aotearoa's "last, lonely, remote" geography is framed as a stimulus for ingenuity. A narrative of "triumph over the elements" finds its flagbearer in the DIY story of jetboat inventor Bill Hamilton. Cumberland is donnish but game in pursuit of telling landmarks: exposing seashells alongside the Napier-Taupō highway (700 metres above sea level) like a downunder Darwin, or in a gas mask on an erupting White Island.
This live TV spectacular documents an 18 October 1981 Royal Variety performance in front of the touring Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh. Performers in St James Theatre included Ray Columbus (in That's Country mode), Sir Howard Morrison and John Rowles. Dance is represented by Limbs and the Royal New Zealand Ballet, while McPhail and Gadsby and Billy T James deliver pre-PC gags. There’s a show stopping all-singing all-dancing finale, and what seems like the entire roster of NZ showbiz of the time lines up to greet the Queen, including Lynn of Tawa.
Classic sci-fi series Under the Mountain follows redheaded twins with psychic powers — Rachel and Theo — as they battle the alien Wilberforces. This fourth episode sees the twins venture into the aliens' submarine lair for the first time. The lair's moody production design, the NZ Symphony Orchestra's score, and creepy transmogrifying special effects contributed to the slimy imprint the series left on a generation of Kiwi kids, haunted by the giant slugs slithering underneath Auckland's volcanoes. The award-winning series was adapted from the Maurice Gee novel.
Classic sci-fi TV series Under the Mountain follows the adventures of redheaded twins with psychic powers — Rachel and Theo — on their Auckland summer holiday. They meet the mysterious Mr Jones, an alien emissary who enlists them in the battle against the evil Wilberforces, who are plotting planetary destruction. Adapted from the Maurice Gee novel, the series' fx left their slimy imprint on a generation of NZ kids, haunted by the transmogrifying Wilberforces, who changed from humans into giant slugs slithering underneath Auckland’s volcanoes.
This eighth episode in the Landmarks series was the first episode filmed, to test how geographer Kenneth Cumberland handled being in front of the camera. On a Cook Strait ferry in a southerly, he begins exploring how trade and people have gotten about Aotearoa: from the “Māori main trunk line” (beach, water), sailing ships, Cobb & Co and ‘Shanks's Pony’, to the railways and Bob Semple’s roadmaking bulldozers.The episode ends with the national grid and airways, with a rocky landing at Wellington airport demonstrating that the wrestle with place is an unresolved one.
Framed around a visit to New Zealand by Irish-born entertainer Danny La Rue, this all-singing all-dancing spectacular was recorded over three days in March 1980. The “fella in a frock” was famed for his drag acts and double entendres. Comedians Jon Gadsby and David McPhail provide local support as Marlene Dietrich visits a farm, Mae West visits the All Blacks changing room, and Margaret Thatcher meets Robert Muldoon (McPhail). Filmed at Avalon Studios, the revue was a co-production with London Weekend Television, made during the golden era of NZ TV variety shows.
Mortimer’s Patch was a popular police series following detective Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper), a city cop returning to his rural roots. In the first episode, scripted by Keith Aberdein (The Governor), a girl (Greer Robson) goes missing in sand dunes near the shack of an eccentric recluse. Fear and suspicion mounts, and Mortimer brings in help from the city: prejudiced detective Chris Knight (Ken Blackburn). Don Selwyn plays Sergeant Bob Storey. In this background piece, Mortimer's Patch producer Tom Finlayson writes about the show's birth, death and double resurrection.
The original launchpad for Billy T’s rise to TV superstar, Radio Times travels back in time to find a fresh angle on the musical variety show. Inspired by 30s and 40s era radio shows, the series features a swinging dancehall band, fake singing stars, German villains, and coconut shell sound effects. Creator Tom Parkinson’s masterstroke: casting Billy T James as oh-so-British compere Dexter Fitzgibbons. In this episode the cast go South American, forgotten bombshell Alita Gotti channels Marlene Dietrich, and The Yandall Sisters cover Fats Waller classic 'Handful of Keys'.
This Feltex award-winning kidult series is set in the colonial town of Wainamu in 1900, amidst the North Island’s ‘thermal wonderland’. It follows the challenges that Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) faces in building a spa on Māori land. In this first episode, local lad Tom, son of the hotelier, is irritated by the arrival of Sir Charles and his aristocratic entourage (particularly granddaughter Sarah Jane, also known as “Little Miss Prim”). Their train is late after being spooked by natives. Tom's gang of shanghai-toting scallywags also take on the mean local butcher.
Ngaio Marsh Theatre was based on four murder mysteries by crime writer Dame Ngaio Marsh: Vintage Murder, Died in the Wool, Colour Scheme, and Opening Night (the latter was the only one not set in her homeland). UK actor George Baker (The Ruth Renell Mysteries, I, Claudius) starred as Inspector Roderick Alleyn — the rational Englishman solving murderous crimes in the green and pleasant colony. The series successfully leveraged the international appeal of Marsh's novels. Ngaio Marsh Theatre was the first New Zealand television drama to screen in the US (on PBS).
Died in the Wool was part of a TV anthology adapting the murder mysteries of Dame Ngaio Marsh. MP Flossie Rubrick has been found dead in a wool bale, and it's up to Inspector Roderick Alleyn (UK actor George Baker — Bond, Z Cars, I, Claudius) to unravel the secrets of a South Island sheep station. The tale of a cultured Englishman amidst World War II spies, Bach and seamy colonial crimes — like Marsh's books — found a global audience: it was the first NZ TV drama to screen in the US (on PBS). Includes a Cluedo-style sitting room inquest and a wool shed reveal.
Kidult drama Gather your Dreams follows Kitty (Kerry McGregor), an aspiring performer travelling with her family's vaudeville troupe in 1930s NZ. In this episode, the troupe competes for viewers with boxing promoter Ted Crawley (George Henare) at a Depression relief camp. Troupe patriarch Wallace (Terence Cooper) plots to best Crawley by managing "Haggis the brawling Scot" (actor's agent and On the Mat legend Robert Bruce’s acting debut). But the 'worker's hope' turns out to be a stooge with a glass jaw. Will coaching from Kitty save the day? The show must go on!
Children's adventure series Gather Your Dreams follows Kitty, a teenager who dreams of stardom while travelling with her family's vaudeville troupe in Depression-era 1930s New Zealand. The troupe's impresario (and Kitty’s father) was played by Mortimer’s Patch star Terence Cooper. Mostly shot in the Coromandel, the half hour 13-part series was one of a run of kidult dramas made in the late 70s by South Pacific Television. Like its predecessor — colonial scamp saga Hunter's Gold — it had international sales success. Dreams was helmed by Hunter's Gold director Tom Parkinson.
The Mackenzie Affair told the story of colonial folk hero James Mackenzie: accused of rustling 1000 sheep in the high country that would later bear his name. This fifth and final episode sees the manhunt for Mackenzie over, with ‘Jock’ facing a sentence of hard labour and provoking sympathy from equivocal sheriff Henry Tancred. Adapted from James McNeish’s book, the early co-production (with Scottish TV) imported Caledonian lead actor James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and veteran UK TV director Joan Craft. It was made by Hunter’s Gold producer John McRae.
The five-part series told the story of colonial outlaw James Mackenzie: accused of rustling 1000 sheep in the high country that would bear his name. His escapades on the lam elevated him to folk hero status. Like producer John McRae’s prior series, Hunter’s Gold, the South Pacific Television ‘prestige’ drama was made with export in mind. Adapted from James McNeish’s book, the early co-production — with Scottish TV, where the opening episode was shot — imported Caledonian lead actor James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and veteran UK TV director Joan Craft.
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.
This classic kids’ adventure series follows a boy trying to find his missing father, amidst the 1860s Otago gold rush. The show displayed unprecedented production values, and demonstrated that Kiwi-made kids’ drama could be successfully exported. This first episode sees Scott Hunter (Andrew Hawthorn) steal away to Tucker’s Valley, spurred on by his unsympathetic uncle. In the background pieces, writer Roger Simpson recalls creating 13 scripts at high speed, and director Tom Parkinson writes about the Kiwi landscape as character, and finding the production team.
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.
A Going Concern was part of a wave of new drama which hit television from the mid 70s, after the launch of a new second TV channel. The soap debuted in July 1975, initially twice a week in an afternoon slot, before moving to primetime. Chronicling the lives of the staff of a South Auckland factory, it won enthusiastic reviews. The Auckland Star praised the "believable Kiwis with topical problems". Critic Barry Shaw argued it had "a good deal more going for it in characterisation, pace and direction" than rival soap Close to Home. A Going Concern was cancelled after a year.
Legendary professional wrestling TV show On the Mat ran from 1975 until 1983. Each half-hour show featured wrestling matches accompanied by commentary. Promoter Steve Rickard described the technical in-the-ring aspects and Ernie Leonard, and later Barry Holland, added colour. The larger-than-life wrestlers were a mix of American imports and local characters: King Curtis, Samoan Joe, Aussie Larry O'Day, Rick Martel, and Sweet William and Brute Miller (soon famous in the US as The Bushwackers). The show helped increase the popularity of Rickard's pro wrestling tour.
This end of season Sing special from 1975 takes place mostly in the Wild West. After some song and dance numbers and comedy, we meet two small-time crooks: Lone Wolf (Ray Woolf) and Crazy D (Laurie Dee). A musical showdown at the saloon ensues — featuring a Tom Jones medley — before a bungled bank robbery brings down the burglars. The performers include Craig Scott, Chic Littlewood, Angela Ayers and George Tumahai (who shows Woolf how to hongi). The show also contains a rare clip from A Going Concern, an early NZ soap of which no known episodes survive.
Sing featured Kiwi entertainers performing popular songs and musical standards, accompanied by a bevy of dancers. The performers included Craig Scott, Ray Woolf, Angela Ayers, Chic Littlewood and musical comic relief Laurie Dee. The hair was big and the collars large, while songs tended towards the middle of the road — for example 'Love is All Around', Tom Jones and Glen Campbell.
C’mon brought the hits of the day into New Zealand living rooms for three years in a tightly scripted, black and white frenzy of special effects, pop art sets, go-go girls and choreographed musicians while host Pete Sinclair kept the pace cracking with breathless hipster charm. Most of the stars of the day appeared at one time or another but sadly only two episodes have survived. As the 60s finished C’mon fell victim to the fragmenting of the music world and the arrival of darker music that the show could no longer turn into family friendly viewing.