Veteran theatre and comic talent Doug Aston made one of his earliest TV appearances on cooking show Hudson and Halls; in two minutes on screen he almost brought the house down. In 1981 the English-born Aston joined The Billy T James Show for the first of four seasons, as one of Billy T’s main sidekicks. Later he cameoed on Billy’s self-titled sitcom, and appeared in Niki Caro's Old Bastards and drama Homeward Bound. Aston passed away on 20 July 2011.

When Doug delivered a line there was a hell of a lot of visual trimmings with it. Doug could stand onstage and eat a banana and have everyone falling around in stitches. He was of that very visual tradition — the English stage clown. Billy T James Show director Jeff Bennett

Old Bastards

1994, As: Peg - Short Film

Whale Rider director Niki Caro’s fourth short film is comprised of six vignettes — each focusing on a different elderly man. With minimal supporting cast (Joel Tobeck has a cameo as a competence-challenged waiter), the men talk mainly to themselves or the camera. Shot on Super 8mm (with graphics from an overhead projector), Old Bastards attempts to “subvert our kindly and slightly condescending view of old men”; its dark alternative view instead paints the aging male as vigorously intolerant, lecherous, impotent, trapped or just lost.

Bread & Roses

1993, As: Vern - Film

Made to mark 100 years of women's suffrage in New Zealand, Bread & Roses tells the story of pioneering trade unionist, politician and feminist Sonja Davies (1923 - 2005), who rose to prominence in the 1940s and 50s. Directed by Gaylene Preston and co-written by Graeme Tetley, the acclaimed three-hour production played on television screens, and also got a limited cinema release. Australian actor Geneviève Picot (as Sonja Davies) and Mick Rose (as her husband) won gongs for their roles at the 1994 NZ Film and TV Awards. Bianca Zander writes about Bread & Roses here.

Homeward Bound - First Episode

1992, As: Haddon - Television

A family reunion is the perfect vehicle to introduce the characters of this early TV3 soap. Set in a rural hamlet just south of the Bombay Hills, it revolves around the Johnstone family who have farmed the area for 100 years; but times are changing and, following the market crash, so are their fortunes. Beneath the surface of reunion civilities lurks a marriage in tatters, a prodigal son returned, a family inheritance spat and a mystery teenager (Simone Kessell) confusing the bloodlines. The cast included Liddy Holloway, Peter Elliott and a young Karl Urban.

The Best of The Billy T James Collection

1992, As: Various roles, Writer - Television

Billy T’s unique brand of humour is captured at its affable, non-PC best in this compilation of skits from his popular 1980s TV shows. There’s Te News (“somebody pinched all the toilet seats out of the Kaikohe Police Station...now the cops got nothing to go on!”) with Billy in iconic black singlet and yellow towel; a bro’s guide to home improvement; skits about first contact, and a take off of Miami Vice. No target is sacred (God, the IRA, the talking Japanese sketch) and there are classic advertising spoofs for Pixie Caramel’s “last requests” and Lands For Bags’ “where’d you get your bag”.

The Billy T James Collection - Episode Four

1992, Actor - Television

This posthumous series — produced by Ginette McDonald — collects segments from Billy T’s long running skit based comedy series. Some of his most cherished creations are here: the giggling Te News newsreader, Cuzzy in his black shorts, and the chief bemused by Captain Cook. Support comes from a seasoned cast including Peter Rowley, David Telford and Roy Billing (with cameos from Bob Jones and Barry Crump). Some of these skits are essentially elaborate setups for one line jokes but Billy T’s infectious warmth and good humour inevitably carry the day.

Homeward Bound

1992, As: Uncle Haddon - Television

Homeward Bound was TV3’s bid for New Zealand on Air funding for a local soap opera. Set around the lives of the rural Johnson family, 22 episodes were produced for the then-nascent network (the series ultimately lost out to TVNZ’s Shortland Street). Created by Ross Jennings and written by Michael Noonan, it represented a move back to a small town way of life after the Gloss-y urban excesses of the 1980s; it also explored pressures facing country communities following the stock market crash. The cast included Liddy Holloway, Peter Elliott and a young Karl Urban.

The Billy T James Show (sitcom) - excerpts

1990, As: Harry - Television

In these excerpts from his last TV series — a family based sitcom — Billy T has to deal with his radical older daughter who wants to get a moko, a teenage boy trying to smuggle beer into his younger daughter’s birthday party, a defamation writ, and another tribe becoming his landlord. There are varying degrees of help from his wife (Ilona Rodgers), his aggressively dim Australian brother-in-law (Mark Hadlow) and his daughter’s painfully politically correct pakeha boyfriend (Mark Wright), as well as cameos from Temuera Morrison, Martin Henderson and Blair Strang.

Just Me and Mario

1989, As: Compere - Short Film

Director Greg Stitt's 50min short sees actor Mark Hadlow playing Kevin: a pie cart worker obsessed with the singer Mario Lanza. Kevin's idolatry turns into an identity crisis as operatic-scale fantasising clashes with his meek disposition. Further complications arise from a friendship with his brash punk neighbour, and from stage fright ahead of a fundraiser for Kev's Lanza fan club (Lanza also had a noteworthy teenage fan club in Heavenly Creatures). Will Kev get his Susan Boyle moment? The black comedy was written with Scarecrow scribe Michael Heath.

Never Say Die

1988, As: Kentucky Fried Chicken retail assistant - Film

After their house explodes and they bump into a gunman, journalist Alf (Temuera Morrision) and his American girlfriend (Beverly Hills Cop’s Lisa Eilbacher) head to the West Coast, on the run from the cops and mysterious forces. The conspiracy plot is mostly an excuse for chases, capers and crashes galore, all imbued with plenty of pell-mell shenanigans (this time heading north in a red Falcon) by Goodbye Pork Pie director Geoff Murphy. The movie marked Temuera Morrison's first big screen starring role. This excerpt sees John Clarke cameo as a used car salesman.

Terry and the Gunrunners - 1, First Episode

1985, As: Workman 1 - Television

This first episode from the kidult series pits 12-year-old Terry Teo, sister Polly and brother Ted against a gang of gunrunners led by crime boss Ray Vegas (former Goon Michael Bentine), after Terry skates down the wrong driveway and stumbles on the crims and their illegal arsenal. Terry was fondly remembered by Kiwi kids who grew up in the 80s. Taking cues from the Stephen Ballantyne and Bob Kerr comic it was based on, there are Batman-esque graphics and arcade game-style animated sequences. Sean Duffy’s bald villain is called Curly and the bikie is Billy T James.

Royal Variety Performance Show 1981

1981, Performer - Television

This live TV spectacular documents an 18 October 1981 Royal Variety performance in front of the touring Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh. Performers in St James Theatre included Ray Columbus (in That's Country mode), Sir Howard Morrison and John Rowles. Dance is represented by Limbs and the Royal New Zealand Ballet, while McPhail and Gadsby and Billy T James deliver pre-PC gags. There’s a show stopping all-singing all-dancing finale, and what seems like the entire roster of NZ showbiz of the time lines up to greet the Queen, including Lynn of Tawa.

The Billy T James Show

1981 - 1988, As: Various roles, Writer - Television

Goodbye Pork Pie

1981, As: 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. 

Radio Times

1980 - 1983, As: Various roles - Television

The launchpad for Billy T’s rise to television superstar, Radio Times recreates an era when home entertainment involved another type of box entirely. Inspired by 30s and 40s era radio extravaganzas, producer Tom Parkinson creates a show complete with swinging dancehall band, adventure serials and coconut shell sound effects. Parkinson’s masterstroke was casting Billy T as the oh-so-British compere glueing everything together (and occasionally sliding effortlessly into a different accent). The Yandall Sisters, singer Craig Scott and writer Derek Payne also feature.

Hudson and Halls

1978, Subject - Television

They came, they battered, they bickered. Peter Hudson and David Halls were as famous for their on-screen spats as they were for their recipes. The couple ("are we gay - well we're certainly merry") turned cooking into comedy. Their self-titled show ran for a decade on New Zealand TV and it attracted a cult following when they moved the show to the UK. The duo won Entertainer of the Year at the 1981 Feltex Awards. Microwaves, little roasted nuts and great dollops of innuendo: the sometimes fusty genre of TV culinary demonstration would never be the same.