Claude Wickstead started working at the Government Film Studios in 1938. After serving in WWll, he joined the National Film Unit’s sound department, where he contributed to the soundtracks of a great many films including the long-running series Weekly Review and Pictorial Parade. He was in charge of the NFU Sound Department from 1951 until his retirement in 1977.
All set for a take? OK she’s away! Claude Wickstead at work, as heard on the soundtrack of 1947 film Exhibition Loop
This edition of the New Zealand history series looks at the beginning of World War II. With war declared in 1939 NZ faces the new decade with a call to arms. Presenter Bernard Kearns explains how Kiwis mobilised and set sail for the Middle East, before being sent to Greece and Crete where overwhelming German superiority sent them into retreat. Prime Minister Peter Fraser explains the defeat to New Zealanders in an NFU newsreel filmed in Egypt. The contemporary footage also shows the victory at the naval Battle of the River Plate and looks at some Kiwi war heroes.
Directed by Hugh Macdonald, This is New Zealand was made to promote the country at Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan. An ambitious concept saw iconic NZ imagery — panoramas, nature, Māori culture, sport, industry — projected on three adjacent screens that together comprised one giant widescreen. A rousing orchestral score (Sibelius's Karelia Suite) backed the images. Two million people saw it in Osaka, and over 350,000 New Zealanders saw on its homecoming theatrical release. It was remastered by Park Road Post in 2007. This excerpt is the first three minutes of the film.
"The story of a four-day journey from Westland to Canterbury, across the Southern Alps." Narration from the four climbers accompanies spectacular alpine imagery in this classic NFU film. In crevasse country they rope up and climb to "half way across the frozen roof of New Zealand" and share a can of tinned pineapple as reward. At Malte Brun Hut they meet Sir Edmund Hillary, Murray Ellis and Harry Ayres, and they descend together down the Tasman Glacier. Ayres reflects on the Alps as training ground for famous polar and Everest expeditions.
In this 60s TV series Selwyn Toogood headed to the heartland to explore six Kiwi towns; it was one of the legendary presenter's first TV slots. In this fifth episode Toogood heads to Motueka to check out the hops, orchards and tobacco crops, and the impact of the seasonal workers on pubs and policing in the Tasman district. Toogood muses on machinery, and interviews pickers about their motives. Women pickers exalt the chance to meet some "jokers" and save for an OE. Toogood also asks a couple of Australian blokes “what do you think of New Zealand girls?”
NFU-produced TV series These New Zealanders explored the character and people of six NZ towns, 60s-style. Fronted by Selwyn Toogood, it was one of the legendary presenter's first TV slots. In this episode Toogood dons the walk shorts and long socks and visits Taupō, extolling the lake district as a place of play (camping, fishing, swimming, jet-boating) and work (the development of Lochinver Station for farming). Toogood does a priceless vox pop survey of summertime visitors, including the requisite quizzing of an overseas couple about whether they like it here.
These New Zealanders was a series presented by Selwyn Toogood (one of his first television roles) looking at six Kiwi towns. Here Toogood travels to Benmore Dam, to find out what it was like to live and work on NZ’s (then) largest construction project. He interviews engineers, workmen and housewives, discussing work and pay, social opportunities and family life. As the town had the highest birthrate in the country, facilities for children were also important. The itinerant workers earned good money — about 25 pounds a week, and enjoyed a low cost of living.
These New Zealanders was a series presented by Selwyn Toogood (one of his first television roles) that looked at six Kiwi locations. Here Toogood visits the prosperous farming county of Gore. At that time Gore had a very high rateable value (75 million pounds) and was the only county in NZ to be debt free. A freak early summer storm has left seven inches of snow on the ground at a ‘rehab’ farm; a romney sheep breeder also dabbles in grain, rearing bulls and race horses; and Toogood chats with Maurice Cronin, who has been farming in the area for 45 years.
Directed by David Fowler for the National Film Unit, tourism promo Holiday For Susan enthusiastically follows 22-year-old Aussie Susan's tour of Godzone with Kiwi lass Lorraine Clark. En route, Susan finds a husband in Auckland's David Thomas. Abounding with shots of scenic wonder (cleverly integrated with signs of the country's industrial progress), and Susan's legs (many aspects of the film would have had Kate Sheppard rolling in her grave), the film presents a jaunty portrait of 60s NZ as a destination for young, well-to-do, globetrotters.
Peppered by colourful commentary this newsreel shows highlights of the first rugby test in the 1961 series between the French tourists and the All Blacks. Fans queue outside Eden Park, playing cards or reading Lady Chatterley's Lover. Don "the mighty boot" Clarke kicks off and the ABs score right away, but Pierre "Monsieur Drop" Albaladejo pots two field goals for a French lead. The All Blacks fight back for a 13 - 6 win to delight 60,000 locals. An intercept try escapes the camera: before live broadcast developed, action was sometimes missed while changing film.
This 1960 National Film Unit documentary visits the Cook Islands, a group of volcanic isles and coral atolls administered by New Zealand. Ron Bowie's film surveys the challenges of island life (sourcing fresh water, lack of timber for housing) as well as agriculture (coconuts), recreation and schooling. Though patronising — describing Rarotongan people as “the cheerful islander” — the narration confronts some impacts of modernity (eg the shift to European diet for dental health), and anticipates young people will be the islands' biggest export.
This edition of the NFU's long-running magazine film series boards the Wellington to Auckland 'experimental express', to test its 11 and a half hour trip claims. Then it's south for the opening of Christchurch Airport's new modernist terminals, designed by architect Paul Pascoe. At Waitangi, ships and a submarine from the New Zealand, Australian and British navies train, and Waitangi Day is commemorated. A reel highlight is Australian Formula One champion Jack Brabham meeting jet boat inventor Bill Hamilton, and trying out a 'Hamilton turn' on the Waimakariri River.
An edition of the Pictorial Parade magazine-film series, 'The New Army' provides a short potted history of Kiwis in combat overseas, from World War I to the then-current Malayan Emergency. From the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force being reviewed by King George V in England, through desert warfare and island hopping in World War II, to the New Zealand Regiment's 2nd Battalion training for jungle warfare. The reel finishes with the battalion displaying new weapons and techniques, before parading through Wellington and embarking for Malaya.
It’s possible that Auckland’s early 60s urban growth has never seemed bigger, brighter or bolder than it does in this breathless NFU newsreel. As the city encroaches ever further into the countryside, suburbs blossom and improved roads, motorways and the new harbour bridge keep the citizenry moving. In the CBD, construction is booming with a 23 storey civic centre on the way up and an obsession with bigger and better parking buildings. Improved infrastructure is also demanded — with upgrades to ports, railways, telephone exchanges and sewage facilities.
This National Film Unit short captures the action with the RNZAF’s 75 Squadron aerobatic team. The pilots, all in their early to late 20s, fly their de Havilland Vampire jets through low and high altitude manoeuvres. NFU cameraman John Hutchinson squeezed himself and his camera into the cockpit for 14 flights over five days, to capture spectacular images from a fifth Vampire piloted by Flight Lieutenant Barry Gordon. The team was formed in 1958 for the RNZAF's 21st Anniversary Air show at Ohakea. It then toured New Zealand, giving displays at all the major airports.
This National Film Unit documentary follows the British Lions 1959 rugby tour to New Zealand. Prior to live televised sports coverage, match highlights were rushed onto cinema screens; NFU tour coverage was later edited into this feature length doco. On the field the series was won by the All Blacks 3-1, including the first test where Don Clarke famously kicked six penalties to beat the Lions’ four tries. Off the field, the Lions visited farms and resorts, drove trout and tried Māori song and dance with guide Rangi. A star back for the Lions was Peter Jackson.
Though first established at Wigram in 1923, it wasn't until 1937 that the Royal New Zealand Air Force became an independent military command. This NFU documentary marks the 21st anniversary celebrations in 1958. It looks back at the RNZAF's early days and its battle-hardened contribution in World War II, then follows cadets working towards their ‘wings’ — Top Gun training Kiwi-style. The RNZAF's jets are also seen in action in Malaya; and its search and rescue role is covered. At a celebration dinner, an officer muses that one day planes may be pilotless.
In this 1956 reel, Sir Edmund Hillary and colleagues describe their mission to set up bases in advance of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Ed meets Everest mate George Lowe in Uruguay to board The Theron, and they smash and use explosives to blast their way through ice, then unload supplies (including the soon-to-be-famous Ferguson tractors). Sections of the footage were shot on 16mm film by Hillary himself. Lt Commander Bill Smith and Dr Trevor Hatherton narrate pathfinding with sledges in McMurdo Sound, on the other side of the continent.
This 1955 film looks at the “savage” geology of the North Island volcanic region, and its human settlement. Te Arawa myth introduces the steaming valleys of volcano and quake god Rūaumoko. The film then surveys geothermal activity and its exploitation by Māori and Pākehā, from cooking to heating hospital radiators. It ends with a dramatic geyser display in front of tourists. Guide Rangi cameos. It screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and was John Feeney’s last National Film Unit gig before directing Oscar-nominated films for the National Film Board of Canada.
This short National Film Unit documentary travels to Westland to meet the kōtuku or white heron. In Aotearoa, the kōtuku is known for its beauty and scarcity (the bird’s only NZ breeding colony is near Okarito Lagoon). The black and white film joins the ranger to go whitebaiting, as kōtuku arrive in spring. Kōtuku’s special place in Māori mythology is recounted, and legendary ornithologist Robert Falla checks out chicks in a crowded ponga fern nest. Directed by John Feeney, the film premiered in Christchurch in front of Queen Elizabeth, on her Coronation Tour.
This New Zealand Now edition looks at working dogs. A brief look at show dogs makes way for a Timaru sheep farmer conducting six border collies to round up a mob of ewes. Elsewhere pig dogs bail up a wild boar; rabbit hunters use spaniels to flush their prey; retrievers aid pheasant and duck shooters; and off goes the hare for the greyhound to chase. The attitude to imported species (seen as game rather than as environmental pests) dates the film to an acclimatisation society era, and the close relationship between man and dog provides enduring fascination.
This isn't an apartheid manual or minimalist design code, but a 1952 road safety film from the National Film Unit. The film follows 'Mrs White' and 'Mrs Black' leaving their respective homes (on foot) for a bridge evening. Mrs White wears visible clothing and faces the traffic (would a modern colour remake see a Mrs Fluoro?). Mrs Black dresses eponymously and walks with her back to the traffic. Predictable results ensue. Modern viewers who associate such character names with Reservoir Dogs will not be disappointed by the suspenseful denouement.
In this first edition of the NFU’s monthly magazine series, the US Davis Cup team — featuring tennis legend Vic Seixas — plays a demonstration match in Wellington, en route to Australia. Further south Christchurch hosts the annual A&P Show. Motorbike-riding traffic cops keep the traffic moving on one of the busiest days of the year, and a shot of Cathedral Square is a reminder of pre-quake days. Then Ohakea farewells No. 14 Squadron, led by World War II air ace Johnny Checketts, as its de Havilland Vampires jet off to Cyprus and Cold War peacekeeping duties.
Aroha depicts a young Māori chief's daughter who embraces the modernity of the Pākehā world (attending university in Wellington) while confronting her place with her own people (Te Arawa) and traditions at home. The NFU-produced dramatisation is didactic but largely sensitive in making Aroha's story represent contemporary Māori dilemmas (noted anthropologist Ernest Beaglehole was the cultural advisor). Watch out for some musical treats, including an instrumental version of classic Kiwi song, 'Blue Smoke' and a performance of the action song 'Me He Manu Rere'.
This 1950 documentary about early primary school education was made by pioneering female director Margaret Thomson, who rated it her favourite NZ work. The survey of contemporary educational theory examines the new order in 'infant schooling' (though some things never change, like tadpoles and tidy up time). It is broken into sections: ‘Play in the Infant School’, ‘Doing and Learning’, ‘Learning to Read’, ‘Number Work’ and ‘Living and Learning’. The National Film Unit doco was made for the Department of Education. Douglas Lilburn composed the score.
This 1949 NFU film is a whistle-stop tour of Aotearoa that, per the title, takes in the full gamut of the scenic wonderland. Splendidly filmed in Kodachrome, there are lakes (Tutira, Manapouri, Te Anau, Wakatipu), caves (Waitomo), mountains (Cook/Aoraki, Egmont/Taranaki) and forests and farms aplenty, with the occasional city sojourn and an obligatory ferry shot. In the narration indefatigable nature is harnessed for man’s needs and appreciation. Of note is a sequence on gum-collector Nicholas Yakas, who shows impressive agility as he scales a giant kauri.
This edition of the National Film Unit newsreel series promotes a newly established New Zealand industry: the manufacturing of domestic ware. It shows the process of producing a cornucopia of Crown Lynn-like crockery — plates, cups, saucers, teapots, vases, etc. Machines make and glaze plates, while technicians cast irregular shaped vases, make prototypes for items such as Toby jugs, hand paint, and apply transfers. For, as the title suggests, the potter's wheel and handiwork still have their place, even in the age of mechanical reproduction.
Prelude to Aspiring was the first National Film Unit title directed by legendary photographer Brian Brake, soon after he joined the Unit in 1948. It follows a group of climbers up the Matukituki Valley, west of Wanaka, towards Mt Aspiring for the opening of a new hut and a trudge through snow to resurrect a flattened shelter high up Mt French. The autumn alpine scenery is breathtaking even in black and white, and the film perfectly performs its role as one of a series of promotional ‘documentaries' made by the NFU.
This National Film Unit magazine film meets the NZ team for the 1948 London Olympics as they prepare to depart by boat (accompanied by a manager, and a chaperone for the sole female competitor). Each of the seven members is profiled in this reminder of an era when athletes had day jobs, training was 'several hours a day' and swimsuits looked more like impediments than performance aids. A nicely-shot demonstration of weightlifting technique by Maurice Crow is a highlight. Despite the enthusiasm of Selwyn Toogood's voiceover, the team failed to win any medals.
This postwar Weekly Review joins a welfare officer from the Crippled Children’s Society on her Wellington rounds: advising parents, chaperoning children to hospitals to undergo physical and speech therapy, and overseeing the supply of specialist footwear and splints. There’s also a Kiwi take on Heidi as a boy is offered a farm holiday, walking on crutches among the cows: “No care and treatment can substitute for the uplift of two weeks in the country.” Released in September 1948, the film was made by decorated war correspondent Stan Wemyss (grandfather of Russell Crowe).
This short profiles the work of Gisa Taglicht. A pioneer of women's rhythmical gymnastics, Taglicht advocated the benefits of physical exercise for women. Risqué at the time for the women’s skimpy outfits, the Wellington-set film sees women escaping machine and washing line oppression via a YWCA hilltop session: limbs reaching and stretching towards a stark sky. The National Film Unit's post-war Weekly Reviews became less overtly patriotic, and some, like this Michael Forlong-directed one, were unabashedly experimental. The score was composed by Douglas Lilburn.
The coaster Breeze and her crew are immortalised in this much praised National Film Unit documentary. Poet Denis Glover and narrator Selwyn Toogood provide a rhythmic and lyrical commentary as the Breeze runs from Wellington to Lyttelton, then to Wanganui. Three weeks after the film's November 1948 release, director Cecil Holmes had his satchel snatched. He lost his NFU job after the resulting smear campaign accused him of communist leanings. Although reinstated after a court case, Holmes left for a successful screen career in Australia in 1949.
This National Film Unit documentary provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the various stages of 40s film production at the relatively nascent unit, from shoot to post production. It was made to be screened continuously (thus the ‘loop’ title) at exhibition theatrettes. There’s genial interaction among the cast and crew (see backgrounder for who they are). Directed by pioneer woman director Kathleen O’Brien, the filming took place at the unit’s Darlington Road studios in Wellington, close to where Weta Workshop and Park Road Post now operate in Miramar.