After completing a BA in politics, English-born, Kiwi-raised Bill Manson joined Radio New Zealand, then reported for TV's Town and Around. By 1969 he was globetrotting — it wouldn't be the last time — then hosting a radio show in Thailand. Back in New Zealand, he worked as a reporter for TVNZ from 1977 to 1981; in 1980 he won fame as presenter of The Deep End, having a go at everything from pro wrestling to female impersonator and naval commander. Now based in California after reporting everywhere from London to Eritrea, Manson has written for The Huffington Post, The Guardian and the cover of The San Diego Reader.
It was sometimes hard, but the experience of living through those situations has stayed with me like an old love affair. The fun, the terror, the whole feeling doesn't go away. Bill Manson, on 1980 television series The Deep End
Wellington's Today Tonight began, along with other regional news shows in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin, after the amalgamation of TV One and SPTV in 1980. Its catchment was diverse, covering the wider Wellington area, Taranaki, Hawkes Bay, the Wairarapa and extending to Nelson, Marlborough and the West Coast in the South Island. Presenters over the years included Roger Gascoigne, Leighton Smith, Mike Bodnar and Mark Leishman. The regional news shows bowed out in Auckland and Wellington in 1989, having yielded to the Holmes era.
American journalist George Plimpton was a pioneer of ‘participatory journalism’; writing stories describing his experiences trying on the shoes of boxer, comedian and trapeze artist. In Kiwi TV series The Deep End, reporter Bill Manson tested himself by taking turns as a professional wrestler, female impersonator, captain of a navy frigate, and so-called Mum to a family of 18 kids, among others. The globe-travelling journalist later said the show was one of the projects that remained dearest to his heart, despite — or because of — its mixture of joy and terror.
This episode of The Deep End asks whether a navy captain has the skill set to direct television. Aided by Royal NZ Navy officer Peter Cozens, navy veteran Ian Bradley agrees to direct a teleplay starring an occasionally troublesome team of Kiwi actors. Bradley's mission had its roots in an earlier episode, where he forced normal Deep End host Bill Manson to walk the plank of the frigate HMNZS Waikato. The result is a rare behind the scenes glimpse into local TV production — and a chance to witness the grace under pressure of both Bradley, and veteran TV Production Assistant Dot LePine.
TV series The Deep End saw reporter Bill Manson trying his hand at a variety of tasks, from female impersonator to Robinson Crusoe to captaining a navy frigate. In this episode, Manson is given six weeks to get in shape for a pro wrestling bout. To prepare himself for the dangerous job, 12 stone Manson hits the weights, grapples with wrestling legend Steve Rickard (On the Mat) and works with an acting tutor, barber and promoters on his onstage persona: ‘Doctor Mindbender’. “The thing that scares me," he says, "is just breaking my neck…”
Town and Around was a nightly magazine show, covering everything from current affairs and studio interviews to slapstick to stunts; including a notorious spoof on a farmer who shod his turkeys in gumboots. A popular and wide-ranging regional series, it ran for five years from 1965, and was the training ground for a generation of industry professionals (Brian Edwards, David McPhail, and Des Monaghan amongst many others). Town and Around was made prior to a national network link, and editions came out of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.