The voice and face of Ian Johnstone are a familiar part of the New Zealand television landscape. Since the early 60s, his work as a reporter, presenter and producer has allowed him to document many key events from the first four decades of local television.
The power of television is not to change us, but to throw light on things we might wish to change. It can let us see places where change may be needed, and hear from people who want it and those who don’t. Ian Johnstone, writing in his book Stand and Deliver
When Taranaki farmer and lawyer William Malone signed up to fight in World War l, he was the oldest man in the Wellington Battalion. But far from being frail, 56-year-old Colonel Malone was fit and disciplined. The Parihaka veteran became one of New Zealand's most important figures at Gallipoli. This short documentary about Kiwis in World War l uses Malone's diary entries and an interview with his great-great-great grandson to tell the remarkable story of Malone's battalion capturing Chunuk Bair, on 8 August 1915. Malone was killed that day by Allied artillery.
Moa-nominated for Best Documentary, this full-length title chronicles two decades of political football between New Zealanders hoping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and followers of the business as usual approach. Co-directing with his longtime editor Abi King-Jones, Alister Barry (The Hollow Men) continues his patented approach of melding new interviews with raids on the news archives. Critic Graeme Tuckett argued that the film makes “a compelling case that although the science was settled by 1990, we’ve allowed politics and corporations to mute our response to a very real crisis”.
The opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television travels from an opening night puppet show in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ On Air, Sky and Māori Television). Many of the major players are interviewed. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within the story.
The birth of television in the 1960s meant that suddenly protests and civil unrest could be broadcast directly into Kiwi homes. This episode of 50 Years of New Zealand Television looks at many of those events — involving everything from the Vietnam War and the Springbok tour, to Bastion Point and the Homosexual Law Reform Act. It also examines how being televised altered their impact. Interviews with both protestors and reporters provide a unique insight into what it was like to be living through extraordinary periods of New Zealand history.
When TV began in New Zealand in 1960, posh English accents on screen were de rigueur. As veteran broadcaster Judy Callingham recalls in this sixth episode of Kiwi TV history: "every trace of a New Zealand vowel was knocked out of you." But as ties to Mother England weakened, Kiwis began to feel proud of their identity and culture. John Clarke invented farming comedy legend Fred Dagg, while Karyn Hay showed a Kiwi accent could be cool on Radio with Pictures. Sam Neill and director Geoff Murphy add their thoughts on the changing ways that Kiwis saw themselves.
An annual television event that comes from the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the National War Memorial in Wellington. Diplomats from all over the world lay wreaths in this ceremony, along with Governor General Anand Satyanand, politicians Trevor Mallard and John Key, and Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast. Ian Johnstone provides a knowledgeable and unobtrusive commentary that brings historical context to proceedings. The coverage is beautifully shot and thoughtfully directed by Ron Pledger.
The tagline runs: "The story of unemployment in New Zealand" and In A Land of Plenty is an exploration of just that; it takes as its starting point the consensus from The Depression onwards that Godzone economic policy should focus on achieving full employment, and explores how this was radically shifted by the 1984 Labour government. Director Alister Barry's perspective is clear, as he trains a humanist lens on ‘Rogernomics' to argue for the policy's negative effects on society, "as a new poverty-stricken underclass developed".
Children of Gallipoli offered viewers another angle on the Gallipoli story. Produced for TVNZ and Turkish television, the documentary focuses on four young people, two Turks and two New Zealanders. All are descended from men who fought at Gallipoli in 1915. Travelling to Turkey, the Kiwis explore the battle site and meet the other two participants. Together they gain an insight into the grim reality of what their ancestors experienced. Seeing it through their eyes charges the film with a strong emotional resonance. Anna Cottrell writes here about the challenges of directing it.
Naturalist Ramari Stewart never tires of the view from a subantarctic hut. "This is the only place I know where I can see a whale out my window and it’s never let me down." The documentary follows Stewart as she spends a summer and winter monitoring wildlife at remote Northwest Bay in Campbell Island. Southern right whales, Hooker's sea lions and elephant seals all feature. Stewart, who later became a whale expert, displays a jaw-dropping bond with the animals. At the end of the programme, the whales cause a stir when they play perilously close to Stewart's boat.
Someone Else’s Country looks critically at the radical economic changes implemented by the 1984 Labour Government - where privatisation of state assets was part of a wider agenda that sought to remake New Zealand as a model free market state. The trickle-down ‘Rogernomics’ rhetoric warned of no gain without pain, and here the theory is counterpointed by the social effects (redundant workers, Post Office closures). Made by Alister Barry in 1996 when the effects were raw, the film draws extensively on archive footage and interviews with key “witnesses to history”.
Something of an antipodean Seven Up! (a series of life-chronicling British documentaries) this documentary picks up on the stories of four young Māori — now middle-aged — 24 years after they moved to the Wellington as part of a Māori Affairs Department redeployment program. It makes liberal use of the original film to contrast the cowshed to cubicle journeys; and revisits Ripeka (now in Hamilton), Moana (Guam via Japan), Grace (Wellington), and Phillip (Brisbane), who reflect on the paths their lives have followed, and on their Māori culture and where 'home' is.
One shaggy dog, dozens of humans, and a smorgasbord of Kiwi scenery: viewers were glued to the screen for this TV One promotional campaign, which began screening in August 1991. The six-part promo followed a lovable sydney silky poodle cross travelling the country by car, train and paw. En route, roughly 50 Kiwis make blink and you'll miss it appearances: including sporting figures, local townspeople, and 20+ TV personalities (see backgrounder for more info, and clues on who is who). The popular promos were directed by Lee Tamahori, before he made Once Were Warriors.
This TVNZ production screened at the end of 1989, just before the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Filmed at Government House, presenter Ian Johnstone oversees passionate kōrero as a panel of youngsters, academics and Māori and Pākehā elders debate the place of New Zealand’s founding document. Don Selwyn and Angela D’Audney explore its history, and Sir Paul Reeves begins by musing on chief Te Kemara’s famous about-turn, when, after first opposing the Treaty, he turned to Hobson and said: “How d’ye do Mr Governor”.
Brian Brake is regarded as New Zealand's most successful international photographer. He worked for the Magnum cooperative, and snapped famous shots of Pablo Picasso at a bullfight and the Monsoon series for Life magazine. In this Inspiration documentary — made shortly before his 1988 death — Brake reviews his lifelong quest for “mastery over light”, from an Arthur’s Pass childhood to a fascination with Asia. He recalls time at the National Film Unit and is seen capturing waka huia, Egyptian tombs, and Castlepoint’s beach races (for a new version of book Gift of the Sea).
“It’s hard to imagine our way of life before the box turned up in our living rooms.” Newsreader Dougal Stevenson presents this condensed history of New Zealand television’s first 15 years: from 60s current affairs and commercials, to music shows and early attempts at drama. The first part of a two-part special, this charts the single channel days of the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation from its birth in 1960 until puberty in 1975, when it was split into two separate channels. Includes recollections from many of NZ TV’s formative reporters and presenters.
Made in an era before “coolest little capital” and Absolutely Positively Wellington, the title of this NFU promotional film — Promises, Promises — nods to the capricious charms of the harbour city. A reflective narration is scored by a saxophone soundtrack as the film tours from the stock market, school fair, and swimsuit shopping, to Trentham and up hillside goat-tracks. The opening of Parliament is cut together with a Lions versus France rugby match at Athletic Park, while Scorching Bay is jam-packed with sun-seekers (it must have been filmed on a good day).
Filmed at Kauwhata Marae in the Manawatu, The Beginner’s Guide to Visiting the Marae is a straightforward and respectful explanation of basic marae protocol, from the wero, to the karanga, pōwhiri, whaikōrero, waiata, koha and the hongi. The programme was made in 1984 when Pākehā were generally less familiar with visiting marae, so host Ian Johnstone presents the documentary from the perspective of a person rather more apprehensive about marae protocol than might be the case in 2011. That aside, the doco remains an effective primer for 21st Century marae novices.
Six days out from the 1984 snap election, PM Sir Robert Muldoon and Leader of the Opposition David Lange face off across a table in a TVNZ leaders’ debate chaired by Ian Johnstone. A tired Muldoon, on the back foot since calling the election two weeks earlier, attempts to claim the high ground of experience in office and on the international stage; but he is no match for Lange’s deftness and gravitas — his parting shot of "I love you, Mr Lange" is one of the more remarkable moments in NZ political history.
The Feltex-winning series Pioneer Women dramatised the lives of groundbreaking New Zealand women. This episode looks at the story of controversial safe-sex campaigner Ettie Rout. In World War I she travelled to Egypt to care for Kiwi soldiers; there she found venereal disease was rife, and recommended that prophylactic kits be issued and that brothels be inspected for hygiene. To the establishment her pioneering ideas on health, sex and gender were ‘immoral’ and received with hostility; while the RSA and some doctors considered her a “guardian angel of the ANZACs”.
The award-winning Pioneer Women series was producer Pamela Meekings-Stewart’s response to her perception that histories on NZ television, like The Governor, hadn’t adequately recognised the role played by women in shaping the nation. The initial series of six episodes focussed on the lives of Nurse Maude, Ettie Rout, Hera Ngoungou, Princess Te Puea, Elizabeth Colsenso and Ellen Hewett; it celebrated women who not only had to face hardship and deprivation but were charged with raising the next generation. A second series of three episodes screened in 1990.
Speakeasy was an early 80s chat show hosted by broadcaster Ian Johnstone. Each episode explored a theme and invited a trio of subjects “who could talk well about their own experiences and views” (as Johnstone put it in his 1998 memoir Stand and Deliver). Produced by David Baldock, the subjects were “New Zealand events and issues but not news and politics”, and ranged from sports leadership, to returning home from overseas, to race relationships in Aotearoa. Interviewees included cricketer Glenn Turner, singer Howard Morrison and actor Ellie Smith.
This second episode of the early 80s chat show sees host Ian Johnstone welcome Howard Morrison, Pita Sharples and Rosa Tamepo to talk about ‘breaking in’. Morrison and Sharples discuss being Māori ‘breaking in’ to a Pākehā world. Tamepo reflects on being a Pākehā married to a Māori. Sharples recalls being a Kahungungu boy from the backblocks at Auckland University; Morrison twists the theme to talk about growing up as a Te Arawa tama in Tūhoe country. Made by David Harry Baldock, the show was inspired by the relaxed style of English interviewer Michael Parkinson.
The Beginner's Guide... was a series of half-hour documentaries made for TV ONE, and hosted by reporters Ian Johnstone, Caroline McGrath, Judith Fyfe, John Gordon and Philip Alpers. Veteran broadcaster Johnstone described the programmes as going "into areas of life which intrigue, mystify or frighten us". Topics included visiting a marae, prisons, wealth, bankruptcy, GST, the Census, divorce, cancer and the Freemasons. Three series of six episodes and one special screened between 1983 and 1986.
Broadcaster Ian Johnstone was an intrepid explorer for TVNZ's 80s Beginner's Guide documentary series; the series embedded personal guides to lift the veil on everything from marae protocol to the Freemasons. This edition sees a crime (embezzlement of TVNZ money) pinned to 47-year-old Johnstone by the CIB and so begins his (fictional) experience of judicial process and imprisonment. A humbled Johnstone aims to convey what life behind bars is like, and bust some myths en route, from "they only serve half their time don’t they?" to "it's like a four star hotel".
Screening as Goodbye Pork Pie packed cinemas and gave hope that Kiwi films were here to stay, this 1981 TV documentary attempts to combine history lesson with some crystal ball gazing on what might lie ahead for the newly reborn film industry. Host Ian Johnstone wonders if three local movies per year might be a "fairly ambitious" target; producer John Barnett argues for the upside of overseas filmmakers shooting downunder. Also interviewed: Pork Pie director Geoff Murphy, veteran producer John O'Shea, and the NZ Film Commission's first Chairman, Bill Sheat.
80s show Close Up had a similar brief to earlier current affairs show Compass: to present mini-documentaries on topical local issues. Stories in the primetime hour-long slot were wide-ranging, from hard news to human interest pieces, including a profile of 25-year-old foreign exchange dealer, future-Prime Minister, John Key. The show won Feltex Awards for most of the years that it was on air. Close Up is not related to the post-nightly news show of the same name, which was hosted by Mark Sainsbury until 2012.
Telethon was a widely popular 24-hour live television spectacular aimed at securing donations from viewers for a charitable cause. The feel-good vibe of Telethon was infectious, appealing to both adults, kids (who were allowed to stay up in front of the telly) and willing celebs. This selection covers highlights from the 1981 Wellington Telethon (for International Year of the Disabled). Bob Parker, Selwyn Toogood, Ian Johnstone and host Peter Sinclair get goofy amongst smurfs, bagpipes, and talking belly-buttons. "Thank you very much for your kind donation!"
This Feltex Award-winning documentary follows a 1977 expedition where Sir Edmund Hillary and crew (including son Peter) attempted to jet boat upriver from the mouth of the Ganges to its Himalayan heart, before making the first ascent of Akash Parbat. The adventure pilgrimage was a proof of concept for the Kiwi-invented boat, and a return to action for Ed after the death of his wife and daughter in a 1975 plane crash. The mission faces epic white water, altitude sickness and tigers. Director Michael Dillon revisited the trip for his 2019 big screen documentary Hillary: Ocean to Sky.
In this fifth episode from his personal examination of New Zealand at the end of the 70s, Ian Johnstone explores the then new suburb of Massey in West Auckland — the latest instalment in what seemed, at the time, like an unending march of urban sprawl (which had already produced seemingly far-flung suburbs like Otara and Porirua). For Johnstone, Massey is an "infestation of houses", bafflingly lacking in community amenities. By turns wry, considered and accusatory, this masterful performance would have made him few friends in town planning circles.
English-born broadcaster Ian Johnstone had been living in New Zealand for 17 years when TVNZ gave him the opportunity to take the pulse of his adoptive country, in a series of six half-hour documentaries. With a brief to provide his personal perspective on "what's changing, what's worth keeping", Johnstone's Journey saw him touring the country and talking to everyday people (rather than the expected experts) as he examined the Kiwi DIY ethic, Māori and Pākehā attitudes to the land, the family, rural community, the spread of the cities, and the New Zealand identity.
In the third episode of Johnstone’s Journey, broadcaster Ian Johnstone meets three generations of the Wendelken family. The episode is framed around an interview with matriarch Elsie, 85, then living in Timaru — her daughter Rae and grandson Ivan farm nearby. Son John is a public servant in Wellington; granddaughter Anne is a mother in suburban Wellington. Topics span from world wars, depression, farming and inflation, to shifting values. Says Elsie: “There are two things that have been left completely out of today’s young people: one is obedience, and the other is discipline.”
This documentary goes behind the scenes on New Zealand television's first historical blockbuster: 1977 George Grey biopic The Governor. Presenter Ian Johnstone looks at how the show reconstructed 19th Century Aotearoa, and handled large scale battle scenes. The footage provides a fascinating snapshot of a young industry. Also examined is The Governor's place in 1970s race politics and its revisionist ambitions. Key players interviewed include creators Keith Aberdein and Tony Isaac, and actors Don Selwyn, Corin Redgrave, Martyn Sanderson, and Terence Cooper.
In 1976 Ian Johnstone became the first NZ TV journalist to visit apartheid South Africa. For this Feltex Award-winning report (one of three for Seven Days) he and a small crew strove — under the regime's close eye — to show apartheid's impact on blacks. Shots of Soweto, human rights meetings, and interviews (Bishop Tutu, students, campaigner Hector Ncokazi), undercut PM Johannes Vorster's case for separatism. Seeing Johnstone being denied service at a burger bar (he was with a black) unsettled Kiwi viewers, weeks before the All Blacks left for South Africa in mid-1976.
For this lauded Seven Days assignment Ian Johnstone was the first NZ television reporter to travel to apartheid-era South Africa. In this episode (one of three) he finds a white minority clinging to power in the face of mounting violence and a sense of looming change. The limbo-like status of the mixed-race Coloureds stresses how untenable the regime’s policies have become; and demand for equality from black students is palpable. Interviewees include a defiant Prime Minister Vorster, author Alan Paton (Cry, the Beloved Country), journalist Donald Woods and activist Helen Suzman.
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.
Telethon was a 24-hour live television spectacular aimed at securing donations from viewers for a charitable cause. The first, in 1975, launched the second channel (TV2) and raised over half a million dollars for St John's Ambulance. By 1981 Telethon had hit the $5 million mark. Along with willing local celebrities, volunteers and a receptive public, it attracted overseas stars: Basil Brush, Entertainment Tonight's Leeza Gibbons and Coronation Street's Christopher Quinton (who famously got together after the 1988 show). "Thank you very much for your kind donation!"
Seven Days was designed by producer Des Monaghan to bridge the current affairs gap between the NZBC and TV One. As well as putting the heat on local politicians, it turned its attention to major international events. Major stories included Ian Fraser’s trip to Vietnam to cover the last days before the fall of Saigon and Ian Johnstone’s three-part look at apartheid-era South Africa ahead of the 1976 All Back tour. For its third and final year, the focus changed to observational documentaries and laid the groundwork for TVNZ’s in-house documentary unit.
This classic 70s series saw film crews follow Sir Edmund Hillary and an A-Team of mates (Dingle, Wilson, Gill, Jones, son Peter et al) on missions into the wild. The concept was dreamt up by Bob Harvey. The Kaipo Wall — an expedition to ascend for the first time Fiordland's remote Kaipo Wall — was the first, directed by Roger Donaldson. An ensuing Everest trip was unproduced. Mike Gill and Hillary then went DIY and produced two editions: a climb of the The Needles, a rock stack off Great Barrier; and Gold River, a Kawarau and Clutha river jet-boat dash.
Aotearoa's place as an adventure sport mecca is vividly captured in this classic 70s documentary, directed by Roger Donaldson (Smash Palace). Sir Edmund Hillary leads an A-Team of mates to tackle Fiordland's unclimbed Kaipo Wall. In part one, they set out to kayak and raft down the Hollyford River's white water rapids for the first time (they're soon overturned, bashed and wet). At Lake McKerrow they build a DIY sailboat with a tent fly and branches (Bear Grylls take note), then tramp along windswept sands and through thick bush to reach the imposing wall.
This Roger Donaldson-directed documenary follows Sir Edmund Hillary, as he leads an A-Team of mates on an epic expedition to climb Fiordland's Kaipo Wall. In part two Murray Jones and Graeme Dingle attack the imposing 1000 metre face, and tackle icy rocks and vertical overhangs. Hillary's supply team skirts around towards a peak rendezvous, meeting friendly kea and unfriendly weather en route. When the climbers unite there's a celebratory beer before a blizzard traps them in a snowcave and tents. Awesome cinematography captures the old school thrill of adventure.
In the one channel days of the early 1970s, the Survey slot was the place to find local documentaries. Topics ranged across the board, from social issues (alcoholism, runaway children) to the potentially humdrum (an AGM meeting) to the surprisingly experimental (music film The Unbelievable Glory of the Human Voice). After extended campaigning by producer John O’Shea, emerging independent filmmakers, including Tony Williams and Roger Donaldson, joined the party — bringing fresh creativity and new techniques to the traditional gentle, narration-heavy doco format.
In 1968 eight Japanese teenagers won an art competition; their prize was a week long visit to the country they'd imagined on canvas. It's a busy itinerary — the students land in Wellington and take an obligatory cable car ride before visiting Parliament and the museum. The steamy wonderland of Rotorua is next, a dairy farm visit is a big success and Sir Edmund Hillary joins the teens for an authentic Kiwi barbeque. Shy smiles abound when one student meets her Kiwi pen pal for the first time. This is a rare example of a New Zealand television documentary from the 1960s.
Made six years after local TV broadcasting began, this wide-ranging 1966 documentary looks at the past and future of television in NZ. Political science lecturer Reg Harrison examines local content, a second channel, private enterprise, transmission challenges, editorial independence, sports coverage, and how TV’s expansion has affected other pursuits, and children. The doco includes interviews with privacy-keen Gordon Dryden and film legend Rudall Hayward, and MPs. Director Gordon Bick later argued that the NZBC had allowed "a good deal of criticism against itself" on screen.
Town and Around was a nightly magazine show, covering everything from current affairs and studio interviews to slapstick to stunts; including a notorious spoof on a farmer who shod his turkeys in gumboots. A popular and wide-ranging regional series, it ran for five years from 1965, and was the training ground for a generation of industry professionals (Brian Edwards, David McPhail, and Des Monaghan amongst many others). Town and Around was made prior to a national network link, and editions came out of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
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.