Since scrapping a career as a teacher in 1978, actor Desmond Kelly has appeared on screen in more than 40 roles. Often playing the straight-talking working class Kiwi bloke, Kelly has contributed memorable performances to Smash Palace (as Bruno's co-mechanic), The Scarecrow (as the hero's Dad), Springbok Tour telefeature Rage (as rugby union boss Ces Blazey) and as the swagman co-star in TV series Jocko.

Actually the thing I hate the most is being cold. My whole body seizes up in the cold and trying to act while half frozen is tough because nobody watching a screen feels the temperature - but they will see if your performance is inadequate. Desmond Kelly

Rage

2011, As: Cez Blazey - Television

TV movie Rage recreates the 1981 Springbok tour, which saw violent clashes between protestors and police. Ryan O'Kane (Second Hand Wedding) plays the protestor whose girlfriend (Maria Walker) is actually an undercover cop who has infiltrated the anti-tour movement. The script was written by Tom Scott — who protested, in-between writing a humour column in The Listener — and his brother-in-law Grant O'Fee, who was a detective sergeant in Wellington. Rage was nominated for five NZ TV Awards, including Best One-Off Drama, Director (Danny Mulheron) and Actor (O'Kane).

The Killian Curse - First Episode

2006, As: School janitor - Television

Each episode of this kids horror series features three ‘curse busting’ stories. In this first episode, student Jack Williams traces the curse back to creepy Charles Killian’s fondness for satanic rituals. Killian dies a fiery death and damns Room 21’s future students. Despite grave warnings, the new principal unlocks the classroom — and the curse awakens. In the second story it’s studious Celia’s turn to contain and destroy a ‘body jumping’ spirit before it claims her soul; the last tale pits Johnny against a fat-hungry warlock who comes a ‘splatter-tastic’ cropper. A second season followed in 2008.

Shantytown

2005, Narrator

Changi

2001, As: Older Tom - Television

'Op Stars: Mobil Song Quest

2000, As: Fingal - Television

Dark Knight (TV series)

2000 - 2001, As: Fingal - Television

The Day Morris Left

1999, As: Lawrence - Short Film

This Dan Salmon-directed short is about three barbers and the search to replace Morris (Rawiri Paratene), who wants to become a professional dancer. Morris dreams of "bigger mirrors" with "lights around them instead of hair dryers" while the old boys’ club of barbers banter about the past, each telling a personal story as they discuss Morris's impending departure. But the search for a replacement barber is fruitless. "You can't even advertise for a man for a bloody barbers" complains one. Meanwhile local mother Joanne (Pip Hall) dares to apply for the job.

The Fury Within

1998, As: Willy Keller

Duggan: Death in Paradise

1997, As: Doctor Patrick Greer - Television

Before Gibson Group TV series Duggan there were two telefeatures: Duggan - Death in Paradise, and Duggan - Sins of the Father. This first telefilm murder mystery introduces New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse; troubled and brooding Detective Inspector Duggan (John Bach, from Close to Home and The Lost Tribe) who has taken leave from the police, and headed to his bach in the Marlborough Sounds. In this excerpt, a reluctant Duggan is persuaded to investigate when police fish a woman's body out of the water at a local salmon farm.

Song of the Siren

1997, As: Dad - Short Film

This short film is one of writer/director Fiona Samuel’s first directorial efforts, and is a stylish and quirky tale of a plain woman with a beautiful voice who is trapped in a difficult life caring for her cranky elderly father. The singer waiting to bloom is beautifully played by actual singer Janet Roddick (Six Volts) in a rare on-screen role, and Desmond Kelly puts in a strong performance as the cantankerous Dad. The film won the Golden Mikeldi at 1997's Bilbao International Festival of Documentary and Short Film.

Water Rats

1997, As: George Guppy - Television

The Frighteners

1996, As: Harry Sinclair - Film

Peter Jackson’s fifth feature is a playful blend of comedy, thriller and supernatural horror and was an effective Hollywood calling card for Weta FX. Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) resides in Fairwater, where he runs a supernatural scam. Aided by some spectral consorts, he engineers hauntings and “exorcises” the ghosts for a fee. When a genuine spook starts knocking off the locals, the FBI suspects Frank is the culprit. To clear his name, Frank must deal to the real perpetrator – none other than the Grim Reaper ...

The Enid Blyton Adventure Series: Mountain of Adventure

1995, As: Grunwald

Cover Story - First Episode

1995, As: Dr Treloar - Television

The Gibson Group drama series centres on a team of TV journalists working on a weekly current affairs programme. Katie Wolfe plays stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins, who has been lured back to Wellington from Australia by a network boss hoping her tabloid style will help ratings. Her workmates are not so confident. In this excerpt from the start of the first episode, Robbins hits the news (literally) as she runs into a disturbed nightclubber (Katrina Hobbs) on a rainy night. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was one of the series writers.

Mirror Mirror - First Episode

1995, As: Dr. Wileby - Television

In this children's fantasy drama, the everyday trials of teenager Jo Tiegan — school, an archaeological dig — are soon forgotten as a mysterious antique mirror sends her back in time to her house in 1919. There, Jo (Australian actor Petra Yared) encounters 14 year-old Louisa Airdale (Michala Banas). In the time honoured tradition of time travel tales, Jo's excursion threatens alarming present day consequences. The award-winning trans-Tasman co-production was created by Australian Posie Graeme-Evans (who devised TV shows Hi-5 and McLeod's Daughters).

Fallout

1994, As: H Monroe Brown - Television

Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, South Pacific Pictures-produced Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series dramatising events leading up to NZ’s 80s anti-nuclear stand. PM Robert Muldoon (Ian Mune) calls a snap election when his MP Marilyn Waring crosses the floor on the ‘no nukes’ bill, but his gamble fails, and David Lange's Labour Party is elected. Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) is pressured from all sides (including a bullish US administration) to take a firm stance on his anti-nuclear platform. He finally accepts there is no middle ground.

Fallout - Part Two

1994, As: H Monroe Brown - Television

Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series about the events leading up to New Zealand's 80s anti-nuclear stand. In part two, the new Lange Labour government narrowly averts an economic crisis; and under political pressure Prime Minister Lange asserts ‘no nukes’ independence at the risk of spurning the country's traditional allies. In this excerpt, Lange speaks at the Labour Party annual conference, then travels to meet with US political officials and British PM Margaret Thatcher (veteran actress Kate Harcourt).

Fallout - Part One

1994, As: H Monroe Brown - Television

Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series about the events leading up to New Zealand's 80s anti-nuclear stand. In this first episode Labour sweeps into power with an anti-nuclear platform. Upon taking office, David Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) faces pressure to live up to his campaign rhetoric. In this excerpt, we see the parliamentary cut and thrust leading up to the election, with National MP Marilyn Waring defying Muldoon (Ian Mune) to cross the floor on the Nuclear Free New Zealand bill.

The Last Tattoo

1994, As: Monty McGurr - Film

This 1994 ‘home front noir’ is set in World War II Wellington, where the plots — a murdered marine, exploited working girls and gonorrhea — spread amidst the invasion of US soldiers stationed at Paekakariki. Kerry Fox (An Angel at My Table) is a public health nurse who becomes romantically linked with the US investigating officer (Tony Goldwyn — Ghost, TV's Scandal) while pursuing the STDs and the truth. They’re supported by Oscar-winning US veterans Rod Steiger and Robert Loggia. John Reid (Middle Age Spread) directs, from a Keith Aberdein script.

Typhon's People

1993, As: Dr. Kennedy - Television

After the assassination of scientist David Typhon, a cast of interested parties head for his secret lab in New Zealand, pursuing the truth behind rumoured experiments on humans. Among them are rabid protestors, a European infiltrator (Michael Hurst) and the strangely-gifted Cato (Greg Wise). Typhon’s People marked a rare time that writer Margaret Mahy created a story aimed at adult audiences. Blessed with an impressive cast of Kiwis, Brits (Wise, Alfred Molina), and Australian Sophie Lee (The Castle), it sold as both a miniseries and as a 90 minute telemovie.

Matrons of Honour

1992, As: Sam - Television

Absent Without Leave

1992, As: Daisy's Father - Film

In 1992 Australian soap star Craig McLachlan (Neighbours) landed in NZ, to tackle one of his only starring roles in a movie to date. McLachlan plays Ed — a WWll soldier who goes AWOL — in a story 74-year-old writer James Edwards drew from his own life. When Ed is shipped overseas with no leave, he feels obliged to make sure that his recently pregnant wife Daisy (Katrina Hobbs) is OK before he departs. But then the days become weeks. For director John Laing the road movie offered a chance to explore changing gender roles, as women discovered life beyond house and family.

Xmas for Lou

1992, As: Jock - Television

Market Forces (short film)

1991, As: Athol - Short Film

Gold

1991, Actor - Television

Embassy

1991, As: Fellowes - Television

The New Adventures of Black Beauty

1990 - 1991, Actor - Television

A continuation of the classic 70s UK TV series cherished by herds of horse-loving girls, the New Adventures follow Vicky Denning (Amber McWilliams) who has emigrated to the antipodes with her step-mother, where she is captivated by a mystic black horse. The co-production was set in NZ, produced by Tom Parkinson and features many Kiwi names in front of and behind the camera (Illona Rodgers, Ken Catran). Key original cast and the famous original title sequence and tune are reprised, but now with Beauty galloping along a west coast beach. Two seasons were produced. 

The Next Four Minutes

1989, Writer - Short Film

Frontline

1989, As: Walter Nash - Television

Frontline replaced Close Up as TVNZ’s flagship, primetime current affairs show in 1988. Fronted by Ross Stevens, and made at Avalon at a time when TVNZ management had relocated to Auckland, it produced the controversial 1990 doco For the Public Good which explored the relationship between business and the Labour Government. In the fallout, TVNZ was sued, staff were sacked and the office moved to Auckland. In 1994, a special about the Winebox tax allegations saw Frontline back in the news. Other presenters included Lindsay Perigo, Anita McNaught and Susan Wood. 

O'Reilly's Luck

1988, Actor - Short Film

Adventurer

1988, As: Becket - Television

Illustrious Energy

1988, As: Harry, As: Surveyor - Film

Illustrious Energy sees Chan and his older mate Kim prospecting for gold in 1890s Otago. Marooned until they can pay off their debts and return to China; they’ve been fruitlessly working their claim for 12 and 27 years respectively. Chan faces racism, isolation, extreme weather, threatening surveyors, opium dens and a circus romance. The renowned feature-directing debut of cinematographer Leon Narbey provides a poetic evocation of the Chinese settler experience; especially vivid are Central’s natural details — desolate schist and tussock lands, rasping crickets.

The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey

1988, As: Smithy - Film

A young boy is afflicted by apocalyptic visions in medieval Cumbria. Believing he is divinely inspired to save his village from the Black Death, he persuades a group of men to follow him into a tunnel. They dig deep into the earth and emerge ... in Auckland, New Zealand, 1987. Following portents, the time travelers must negotiate the terrors of a strange new world, (motorways, nuclear submarines) — while seeking to save their own. Nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, it scooped the gongs at the 1988 AFI and 1989 NZ Film & TV Awards.

The Deep End (one-off documentary)

1987, Producer, Narrator - Television

The Marching Girls - Mahara's Story

1987, As: Les Stone - Television

Created by Fiona Samuel, The Marching Girls follows a Taita social marching team who decide to have a crack at the North Island champs. In the first episode of this feminist-Flashdance-in-formation 80s classic, young whippersnapper Leonie tries to modernise the girls' routine by getting them to march to the heavy metal tunes of Ironlung ("they're really big in Australia!"). This proves too much for Mahara (Patupatu Ripley), who's got enough on her plate with her new role as hesitant union spokesperson for her fellow workers down at the factory.

The Flying Doctors

1989 - 1991, Various Roles - Television

Dangerous Orphans

1986, As: O'Malley Senior - Film

Director John Laing followed acclaimed romance Other Halves with an equally stylish but very different big city tale: a thriller in which three orphans plan an international heist to avenge the killing of one of their fathers. The expected diet of shootings, skulduggery and globetrotting accents is enlived by side trips to Geneva, songs from romantic interest Jennifer Ward-Lealand, and a cast of villains to die for (Peter Bland, Ian Mune, Anzac Wallace, Grant Tilly). When Dangerous Orphans was sold in Europe it set an early record for a New Zealand film.

The Ray Bradbury Theatre

1989 – 1992, Actor - Television

Country GP

1984 - 1985, As: Malcolm Barr - Television

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.

Inside Straight

1984, As: Digger Haynes - Television

Shot on location in Wellington, often after dark, Inside Straight helped usher in a new era of Kiwi TV dramas, far from the rural backblocks. This Minder-esque portrait of Wellington’s underworld was inspired by writer Keith Aberdein’s experiences as a taxi-driver and all night cafe worker. Phillip Gordon (soon to win fame as a conman in Came a Hot Friday) stars as the former fisherman, learning the ways of the city from veteran taxi driver Roy Billing. A solid but unspectacular rater over 10 episodes, the show was scuttled by the launch of trucker’s tale Roche.

Pioneer Women - Hera Ngoungou

1983, As: Sheehan - Television

This episode in the Pioneer Women series dramatised the story of Hera Ngoungou. In 1874 in Taranaki, Māori kidnapped an eight-year-old Pākehā girl — Caroline “Queenie” Perrett — possibly in retribution for her father breaking a tapu. Her family didn’t see her again until she was 60, when she was a grandmother and had spent more than 50 years living with, and identifying as, Māori. A moving (Feltex award-winning) performance from Ginette McDonald (aka Lyn of Tawa) mixes stoicism with an acknowledgement of good times and a sense of loss for what might have been.

Bad Blood

1982, As: Mr Elder - Film

This feature tells the true story of the notorious 1941 manhunt for Stanley Graham. The West Coast farmer went bush after a shooting spree that followed police pressure to have him hand over his firearms. Seven men were ultimately killed. Written by Kiwi-born Andrew Brown (from Harold Willis’ book), Bad Blood was made during the tax break era for UK TV, but was released in NZ cinemas. Directed by Brit Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral), it won strong reviews. Aussie legend Jack Thompson and compatriot Carol Burns star as the isolated Bonnie and Clyde coasters.

Jocko - Man with a Gun

1981, As: China - Television

In this episode of the early 80s TVNZ high country drama (penned by Pukemanu writer Julian Dickon and directed by Roger Donaldson), Jocko (Bruce Allpress) is reunited with two fellow Korean War veterans — but one is now an escaped convict and the other a police officer heading the manhunt. Stan, another escapee (a suitably manic Bruno Lawrence), stirs things up but the real drama here involves unfinished business for three former soldiers from a conflict 25 years earlier. It’s also very much a man’s world, without a single female character to be seen.

Loose Enz - Free Enterprise

1981, As: Mattie - Television

This teleplay from writer Greg McGee is a satire of prejudice and the market economy set in the grey, divisive atmosphere of early 1980s New Zealand. Kate Harcourt plays the proprietor of Dot's Terminal Cafe, a cantankerous spinster who rails against 'bludgers' and 'foreigners'. One rain-soaked Wellington night, her lumpen clientele decide to stage a small but telling uprising — with the help of a dead mouse. It screened in early 1982, following the breakout success of McGee’s confrontational take on Kiwi conformity: rugby player losing-his-religion play Foreskin’s Lament.

Goodbye Pork Pie

1981, Actor - Film

Goodbye Pork Pie was a low-budget sensation, definitively proving Kiwis could make blockbusters too. Young Gerry (Kelly Johnson) steals a yellow Mini from a Kaitaia rental company. Heading south, he meets John (Tony Barry), who wants his wife back, and hitchhiker Shirl (Claire Oberman). Soon they're heading to Invercargill, with the police in pursuit. High on hair-raising driving and a childlike sense of joy, the Blondini gang are soon hailed as folk heroes, on screen and off. Remake Pork Pie (2017) was directed by Matt Murphy — son of Geoff, who drove the original film. 

Jocko

1981 - 1983, Actor - Television

Introduced by a pilot called High Country, Jocko was an early 80s attempt by TVNZ to build a series around a travelling swagman character. Jocko (Bruce Allpress) is a maverick musterer and rural jack-of-all-trades in the tradition of the Australian swagman and the American cowboy. But the setting is a contemporary one: in the South Island high country where old and new methods of farming are coming into conflict. Two series were made, written by Julian Dickon (Pukemanu), and co-starring Desmond Kelly as Jocko’s off-sider and travelling companion, China.

Smash Palace

1981, As: Tiny - Film

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".

The Scarecrow

1981, As: Pa - Film

Praising novel The Scarecrow, one critic argued that author Ronald Hugh Morrieson had melded genres together into “a brilliant, hallucinatory mixture distinctively his own". The movie adaptation is another unusual melding; a coming of age tale awash with comedy, nostalgia, and a touch of the gothic. Taranaki teen Ned (Jono Smith) is worried that the mysterious arrival in town (US acting legend John Carradine) has murderous designs on his sister. The masterful narration is by Martyn Sanderson. The result: the first Kiwi film to win official selection at the Cannes Film Festival.

The Deep End

1980, Narrator - Television

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.  

Sons for the Return Home

1979, Actor - Film

Sons for the Return Home tells the story of a Romeo and Juliet romance between students Sione, a NZ-raised Samoan, and Sarah, a middle class palagi. Director Paul Maunder shifts between time and setting (London, Wellington, Samoa) in adapting Albert Wendt's landmark 1973 novel. Sons was the first feature film attentive to Samoan experience in NZ — alongside themes of identity, racism and social and sexual consciousness. In this excerpt Sione meets Sarah's parents, and his tin'a has him scrubbing their Newtown pavement prior to Sarah's reciprocal visit.

Kaleidoscope

1983, Presenter, Writer - Television

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.