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Jane Galletly


The English winter of 1963 was bitterly cold. Jane Galletly, her husband and her son were shipbound for New Zealand, but their bones “didn’t thaw out till half-way”. At 35, Galletly was relocating her family, and joining her mother and sister, who had already settled in New Zealand. 

Galletly was born in a mining town near Sheffield. Later, she spent eight years working for the Labour Party as an election agent (who oversee political campaigns and polling), before she began work for a union in New Zealand. Both jobs provided inspiration for her TV characters. Her family “have always been activists...there’s five generations of us”. 

Having spent time in dramatic societies in England, she brought her love of theatre downunder. Galletly began directing “amateur things” while briefly based in Taupo, then the family moved down to Wellington, where she found a job at the Public Services Association. It was here a new career began. PSA colleague Earle Spencer had done a creative writing course, and asked Galletly if she would critique a script for him. They decided to join forces, and submit a story idea to Television One’s drama department. 

“Earle was a bit more brash than I was in those days…in the cover letter he wrote ‘we will be free to meet with you on Wednesday afternoon at three o’clock’ or some such - very specific, very confident. I really didn’t expect we’d be taken up. Then they rang and said yes, we will meet with you on Wednesday afternoon.”

Television One were keen. Galletly recalls an early meeting with executive producer Douglas Drury who asked the two if they could write up the format for the new project. “We didn’t have a clue. Drury leant down into a drawer and got out these battered bits of paper. He said well, maybe go along with that”.

Previously Galletly had submitted an idea for a bureaucratic comedy set in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster. “Everyone was in heaven, but heaven couldn’t cope with the workload…Years later I found it in a file at TVNZ. Someone had written on it ‘the person who wrote this has a very peculiar mind’ ”.

Galletly’s collaboration with Earle Spencer became the series Moynihan. The role of Leo Moynihan, carpenters’ union secretary was played by rising star Ian Mune, amidst a mid-70s Wellington abuzz with building sites, leather jackets and frequent references to ‘Trades Hall’. The series captured a time when unions were still a potent force in New Zealand, and backroom wheeling and dealing was allowed colourful, colloquial expression. Galletly was now officially a television scriptwriter, in an industry still dominated by men. 

Moynihan marked New Zealand television’s first trans-Tasman co-production with the ABC. The second episode won Feltex Awards for best drama, and for Mune’s performance. 

The show’s success saw Galletly and Spencer being offered in-house writing positions at TV1. New Zealand’s homegrown soap Close to Home was about to hit Kiwi screens. Galletly joined a small group of writers and story-liners, including series instigator Michael Noonan. Close to Home became a slow-burning hit, with Galletly expanding the shows’ original middle-class family line-up to include "fun, colourful" lower income state house family, the Houghtons.

In a 1982 Listener interview, Galletly emphasised the team effort it took to make the show — and just how small that team was. She called it a miracle it got made, when the team behind each week's two episodes consisted of just a series writer, an editor and a dialogue writer. "That might sound a lot, but compared to overseas programmes it's nothing."

Amidst her Close to Home work, Galletly was invited to Australia by Crawfords, after mailing the company a Moynihan script; she jokes at being the only scriptwriter around to win a gig by parcel post. After writing three episodes for hit soap The Sullivans, Galletly returned to New Zealand and created Open File (1981) a drama series based on an ombudsman and the cases he deals with. Future casting legend Di Rowan played one of the investigators. Again the series drew on Galletly's PSA background. Open File episode ‘Cry Wolf’ won her a Feltex award for best script.

Galletly would explore the lives of largely unsung female changemakers across two seasons of Pioneer Women. Producer Pamela Meekings-Stewart was keen to make viewers aware of the role women played in the creation of modern NZ society. Galletly wrote nine episodes, telling the life-stories of women like WWI safe sex campaigner Ettie Rout, and Hera Ngoungou, a Pākehā kidnapped and raised by a Māori tribe. These potted biographies appealed to her love of research and reading.

To help story-line mid-80s drama series Country GP, Galletly drew inspiration from her own son, now a doctor. She travelled around South Island towns with producer Stephen McElrea, talking to local GPs and getting a flavour for small-town life. The  immediate post-WW2 period also provided rich subject matter — a time when people “returned home, and couldn’t talk about their war experiences.”

Country GP launched the career of Lani Tupu, playing the debonair doctor David Miller. In the space of 18 months, 66 episodes were produced. 

For the remainder of the 80s, Galletly freelanced. The breakneck nature of writing to tight timeframes continued through multiple seasons of the Ian Johnstone-presented Crime Watch, which she returned to between other projects. Galletly and fellow writer Michael Noonan would travel to police stations to research and write the script, more often than not at the station itself, ready for broadcast the following week.

There were overseas offers of work too. While holidaying in England, Galletly was offered work on nursing drama Angels, but it wasn’t to be. Later she script-edited (and occasionally wrote for) legendary British soap EastEnders, but found the long hours trying. In the early 90s, a final trip to the UK saw her join the script-writing team for much anticipated soap El Dorado, about a group of expats in a Spanish town. She knew right away it was a dud.

“It was supposed to be was the BBC, very prestigious,all guns firing. I got over there and they showed me the first one..I thought, oh dear”. El Dorado was a notorious UK failure, although a new producer brought about some improvements. By then Galletly had been around sets and union offices long enough to know that sometimes a job is just a job. 

She felt ready to retire after this last overseas fling; the TV world seemed to ‘have all moved to Auckland’ and Galletly was happy to wave it goodbye. Today she writes the odd bit of ‘doggerel’ poetry, mainly ‘to amuse my family’ and remains as sharp-witted as ever.

Profile written by Gabe McDonnell
Published on 19 April 2016

Sources include
Jane Galletly
Robert Boyd-Bell, Robert  NZ Television- The First 50 Years (Auckland: Reed Methuen Publishers, 1985)
Lynn Bryan, 'No place like 'Home'' - The Listener, 20 February 1982, page 17
Ian Pryor, 'Michael Noonan' NZ On Screen website. Accessed 24 June 2016
Paul Stanley Ward, 'Close to Home' NZ On Screen website. Accessed 24 June 2016
'Moynihan - You Can't Win 'Em All (Episode Two)' (Television Drama) Director Brian Bell (Television One, 1976)