The late, great, Davina Whitehouse arrived in New Zealand from England in 1952, having already performed in more than 40 films. Active across multiple mediums — radio, stage, television and film — she also spent four years as an NZ Film Commission board-member. Whitehouse was still acting into her 80s.
Acting is not something to pick up for a while and dabble with, it needs a lifetime of sacrifice and devotion, it demands training, knowledge and hard, grinding work. To survive you need the thickest hide, tremendous ambition, versatility, patience, and stickability, and above all, luck. Davina Whitehouse, in her book Davina - An Acting Life
A Twist in the Tale was one of a series of kidult shows launched by The Tribe creator Raymond Thompson, after he relocated to New Zealand. The anthology series spins from a storyteller (Star Trek's William Shatner) introducing a story (often fantastical) to a group of children, some of whom appear in the tales. The show featured early appearances by many young Kiwi thespians, including Antonia Prebble, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Dwayne Cameron and Michelle Ang. Although the writing team were British, some of the directors and most of the crew were New Zealanders.
Written by Fiona Samuel and produced by Ginette McDonald, Face Value is a series of monologues by three women with very different stories to tell, but who share a quest for inner happiness. In House Rules, the inimitable Davina Whitehouse gives a poignant performance as Miss Judd, a housekeeper of 22 years who is forced to reassess her life and situation after her employer’s death. Propriety at all costs is the rule of the day. House Rules is another example of Samuel’s ability to create memorable and subtly complex female characters.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
After his mother gets infected by a bite from a deadly Sumatran rat monkey, Lionel (Almighty Johnson Tim Balme, in an award-winning performance) has to contend with a plague of the living dead while attempting to woo the love of his life. Peter Jackson had already been tagged with the title ‘The Sultan of Splatter’ after his first two features, but this was the film that confirmed it. Armed with a decent budget, he takes a Flymo to fusty 1950s New Zealand and takes cinematic gore to a whole new extreme in the process.
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.
Based on the 1950s US show of the same name, This Is Your Life first began honouring and embarrassing famous New Zealanders in 1984. Past recipients of the Big Red Book have included Sir Howard Morrison, Davina Whitehouse, John Walker and many others. Bob Parker was the original presenter of the show (later hosts were Paul Holmes and Paul Henry). Before lives and careers are celebrated there's a moment of mild excruciation as viewers wait for the presenter to surprise the soon-to-be-anointed subject with the famous words: "This is your life''. XXXX
This Loose Enz edition follows a theatre group developing a play about Greek Gods. The full gamut of am-dram tropes are featured: know-all director, a lecherous lead (Jeffrey Thomas), zealous extras, drunk techies, an existential playwright (Colin McColl), shambolic dress rehearsal etc. Estranged couple Tom (Grant Tilly) and Helen (Liddy Holloway) find the play’s lofty themes echoed in more earthly realities. With a who’s who of NZ luvvies of the era it’s not quite Carry On, but there are japes aplenty, the show must go on, and it’ll be all right on the night.
Smith (Sam Neill, in his breakthrough screen role) is devastated when his wife runs off with his best friend Bullen (Ian Mune). Smith escapes to the Coromandel. Meanwhile, the government enlists an anti-terrorist force to crack down on its opponents. Bullen, now a guerrilla, asks Smith to join the revolution. Directed by Roger Donaldson, this adaptation of CK Stead's novel Smith's Dream heralded a new wave of Kiwi cinema; it was one of the only local films of the 1970s to win a big local audience. This excerpt includes a much talked about scene: a baton charge by government forces.
Solo is a story about three people on the edge of nowhere, struggling to decide how much of themselves to share with those they care about. Young Australian hitchhiker Judy romances solo Dad Paul, who finds peace flying fire patrol planes above the forest. Paul's precocious son reacts badly to losing pole position to Judy, and takes to the air. Inspired partly by the oft-painful times when we are "more acutely in touch” with our emotions, Tony Williams' romance helped launch the Kiwi movie renaissance. But as he writes in the backgrounder, there was no fun in filming it three times.
Presented by broadcasting legend Selwyn Toogood, this beloved agony-aunt (and uncle!) discussion show screened on weekday afternoons, from 1976 to 1985. Toogood and four female panelists answered viewers' letters, taking on issues big and small. "We tackle every problem, be it incest, love or tatting" as panelist Liz Grant put it. Regular panellists included artist Shona McFarlane, Heather Eggleton, Catherine Saunders, and writer Johnny Frisbie.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years, middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977, nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series, which was co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac. They initially only agreed to make it on condition they got approval for The Governor. The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen; the demands of creating a regular show helped develop the skills of Kiwi actors and crew.
This tale of body-snatching botanical aliens invading 70s Wellington shared the 1973 Feltex Award for Best Drama. Dominated by Davina Whitehouse’s performance as a retired teacher-turned ET foster parent, it included early TV roles for Paul Holmes, Grant Tilly and Susan Wilson. Vincent Ley’s script won a Ngaio Marsh teleplay contest, and its realisation stylishly traverses local summertime environs — Silence was one of the first NZBC dramas filmed in colour. Director David Stevens went on to success in Australia (writing Breaker Morant, and The Sum of Us).