Derek Morton is one of those happily unsung industry all-rounders who has tried a little of everything: from documentaries and children's TV to underground films, doing time as a cameraman, editor, writer, producer and director (from commercials and docos, to trucking drama Roche), as well as running his own production company.
He was constantly active, working on many projects and was a major influence in the industry in the days before it was an industry. Geoff Murphy, on Derek Morton
The Dominant Species is a loopy look at the relationship between people and cars in 1975 Aotearoa ... from an alien's eye view. Nifty animation and special effects intersperse the automotive anthropological survey of Mark IIs, VWs, anti-car activism and car-washing. There's a dream sequence involving a ladykilling Jesus Christ atop a car, and Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries scores a rugby match traffic jam (also used in a famous scene in Apocalypse Now). Filmheads will note the tripped out assembly is flush with formative industry talents (see this guide by director Derek Morton).
Mitch (Keith Aberdein) moves to Tongariro National Park to help wrangle wild horses threatening ecology and traffic. He meets Sara, who shares an obsession for a fabled silver horse. They clash with rangers and deer recovery guns-for-hire (Bruno Lawrence is the black-clad villain) determined to eradicate the horses, and a showdown on the Desert Plateau ensues. In the notoriously fraught production a stable of Kiwi acting legends perform a melange of western and freedom-on-the-range genre turns (with the conservationists oddly set up as the bad guys).
This film investigates and captures the dramatic changes to Wellington's cityscape in the 70s and 80s. "To get in before nature's earthquake we created one of our own". As a result of mass demolition of buildings deemed to be earthquake risks and the subsequent building boom, graveyards make way for motorways, and wood and stone for steel, glass and concrete. There are interviews with the boosters (Bob Jones, Sir Michael Fowler), demo workers, and laments for the loss of heritage and local culture (Harry Seresin, Aro Valley protesters, and surprisingly, Rex Nicholls).
After hitting Wellington for a Ranfurly Shield game, two brothers from the sticks (Grant Tilly and Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) have to sneak their abruptly deceased father back home. If the body isn’t buried there, they won’t inherit the family farm. Set back when "blokes were blokes and sheilas were their mums", director John Reid’s shaggy dog tale — a Weekend at Bernie's, reeking of stale beer and ciggies — both lauds and satirises the Kiwi male. Among the six clips, the final clip sees Tilly's character getting things off his chest, now that Dad is finally unable to answer back.
Australian producer Antony Ginnane brought this $6 million romp to New Zealand, after Aussie union Actors Equity objected to the four lead roles going to foreigners. Deer hunting heroes Donald Pleasance (Halloween) and Ken Wahl (six years before becoming TV's Wise Guy) race around in helicopters and jet boats, after discovering a half-sunken WWll plane. This opening excerpt indicates the film's mixture of action, comedy and Southern scenery. Zephyr helped establish Aotearoa's reputation as a place to film; Ginnane and Kiwi John Barnett produced further projects together.
Smash Palace is a Kiwi cinema classic and launched Roger Donaldson's American career. Al Shaw (a brilliant, brooding Bruno Lawrence) is a racing car driver who now runs a wrecker's yard in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu. His French wife Jacqui is unhappy there and leaves him, taking up with Al's best mate. When she restricts Al's access to his young daughter, his frustration explodes and he goes bush with the girl, desperate not to lose her too. "There's no road back" runs the tagline. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called the film "amazingly accomplished".
A fictional memoir of a 12-year-old boy's holiday on his uncle's farm, Old Man's Story is also a character study of the personable, potentially dodgy ex-sailor who works there as hired hand. When an orphaned girl comes to stay, there are worries the man has crossed the line in his relationship with her. The first drama for Wellington company The Gibson Group, Old Man's Story also marks a rare screen adaptation of author Frank Sargeson, whose tales of losers and outsiders made him "one of the founders of a modern New Zealand literature" (Lawrence Jones).
This excerpt from the On Camera series sees Australian entertainer Rolf Harris recording in NZBC’s Christchurch studios for an episode of children’s TV show Kidset. In an ensuing interview — popping with sound effects made using only his voice — he talks about cracking his wobble board, his advocacy for aboriginal music, hit song ‘Two Little Boys’, and differences between children’s and adult audiences. Daughter Bindi drops in before Harris muses on being air-sick, and pounamu hunting in Hokitika. In 2014 Harris was convicted of numerous sex offences.
This 1968 Looking at New Zealand episode travels to NZ’s third-largest island: Stewart Island/Rakiura. The history of the people who've faced the “raging southerlies” ranges from Norwegian whalers to the 400-odd modern folk drawn there by a self-reliant way of life. Mod-cons (phone, TV) alleviate the isolation, and the post office, store, wharf and pub are hubs. The booming industry is crayfish and cod fishing (an old mariner wisely feeds an albatross); and the arrival of tourists to enjoy the native birds and wildness anticipates future prospects for the island.
Current affairs show Gallery took on controversial topics of the day, most famously in a Brian Edwards interview which solved a Post Office industrial dispute live on-air. Produced by Des Monaghan, it began as a studio-based programme that discussed political issues, but was soon expanded. Edwards’ confrontational style of interrogating public figures was new to New Zealand TV, and polarised viewers. It saw Edwards (the "mad mauler") become a household name, and earned him a reputation as a hardline interviewer. He was succeeded as host by David Exel.
NZBC series On Camera was an afternoon magazine show. It screened separately on each of the regional channels, but shared items and interviews. Subjects ranged from Rolf Harris and Alfred Hitchcock to VSA and ballet, and topics “of particular appeal to women”. Presenters included Julie Cunningham (Christchurch), Irvine Lindsay (Wellington) and Sonia King (Auckland), with Max Cryer reporting from Hollywood. Future head of TVNZ Māori programming Ernie Leonard (reporter) got early experience on the show, and future Quiet Earth composer John Charles was a director.
This popular series was an early NZBC "pictorial magazine" show that explored "New Zealand’s backyard". Synonymous with producer Conon Fraser, the it was a staple of Sunday night 60s TV. Subjects ranged from Chatham Islands lobster fisheries, to Central Otago frost fires, to Miss New Zealand contestants. The show was praised in a 1968 NZ TV Weekly review as breaking new ground in relying more on imagery and interviewees' reflective voice-overs than (then usual) omniscient narration: "one of the few pure Television productions to have originated within the NZBC."
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.
The iconic all-things-rural show is the longest running programme on New Zealand television. With its typical patient observational style (that allows stories of people and the land to gently unfold) it’s an unlikely broadcasting star, but New Zealanders continue, after 50 plus years, to tune in. Amongst the bucolic tales of farming, fishing and forestry, there are high country musters, floods, organic brewing, falconry, tobacco farming, as well as a fencing wire-playing farmer-musician, a radio-controlled dog, and Fred Dagg and the Trevs.
In this episode, New Zealand's first celebrity chef abandons his usual format to answer queries from his studio audience about food and cooking. Topics covered by the soon to be world famous Graham Kerr include how to stop scrambled eggs drying out (add cream), battering oysters (never) and when to make Christmas cake (at least six months in advance). The show is a fascinating preserve of mid-60s cuisine – from crumbed cutlets and bolognese to the Galloping Gourmet's curious ‘Long White Cloud’ dessert. Kerr, of course, is as witty, charming and urbane as ever.
Launched in October 1964, Compass was the first local programme to provide regular coverage of politically sensitive topics. Alongside the job of reporting on the news from a NZ perspective, Compass was the first to file comprehensive news reports from overseas. The controversial banning of a programme on the changeover to decimal currency became a flashpoint in 1966. This led to the high profile resignation of producer Gordon Bick. Compass can now be seen as the forerunner to Close Up, Foreign Correspondent and more recently Sunday.
New Zealand TV and the space race grew up hand in hand. For 11 years, self-taught astronomer and enthusiast Peter Read explained each new development and talked about what could be seen in the heavens on his monthly show Night Sky. A commercial artist by training, Read painted the set’s early backdrops. He made several trips to the USA to witness launches, interviewed visiting astronauts and, with models in hand, broadcast live on the night of the first moon landing. When it was cancelled in 1974, Night Sky was the country’s longest running show.