John Milligan has been a prolific maker of factual and documentary television. His credits include top-rating series Mucking In, Epitaph, and Shipwreck (which won a 2001 Qantas Media Award); and documentaries ranging from motor racing (Trio at the Top) to the Kiwi accent (New Zild) to Prussian adventurers down under (Von Tempsky's Ghost). Milligan is also a film and television armourer and firearms adviser.
I always enjoyed documentary making most when I was making programmes that celebrated New Zealand and being a New Zealander - A Summer Place, Trio at the Top, and New Zild, they all marked something or someone uniquely Kiwi. John Milligan
New Zealand's unique accent is often derided across the dutch for its vowel-mangling pronunciation ("sex fush'n'chups", anyone?) and being too fast-paced for tourists and Elton John to understand. In this documentary Jim Mora follows the evolution of New Zealand English, from the "colonial twang" to Billy T James. Linguist Elizabeth Gordon explains the infamous HRT (High Rising Terminal) at the end of sentences, and Mora interprets such phrases as "air gun" ("how are you going?"). Lynn of Tawa also features, in an accent face-off with Sam Neill and Judy Bailey.
Actor Robyn Malcolm visits the towns of Passchendaele and Ypres in Belgium. Both are near the cemetery where her great uncle, Private George Salmond, is buried. Salmond, an ANZAC signaler, was among the 18,500 New Zealand casualties of World War I. He was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, a victim of a battle recognised as a tragedy of poor planning and preparation. Local war experts pay tribute to the New Zealand soldiers' mettle, and Malcolm looks at the site and reflects on Uncle George and his sacrifice on foreign whenua.
Veteran weatherman Jim Hickey sums up A Flying Visit at the start of the first episode: “We’re going to be visiting some of the more unusual and out of the way places, and I’ll be chatting with the locals and they can tell me what makes their little place tick”. He touches his Cessna 182 down on NZ’s northernmost airstrip, meets a pig hunting nana, flies by the lighthouse and Ninety Mile Beach, then crosses to Russell to meet a boogie-boarding dog, a lawn-mowing goat, a uniquely-painted ute — and check out some history. Then it's a flying visit to giant kauri Tāne Mahuta and its kai cart.
Mike King presents the story of Gustavus Von Tempsky: swashbuckling colonial soldier of fortune, "flamboyant folk hero" and "our first pin up boy". The Prussian-born artist, self-promoter, romantic and adventurer, led an elite unit — the Forest Rangers — in the 1860s New Zealand Wars, garbed in trademark Garibaldi shirt, kilt and calvary sabre. His bush-fighting skill attracted respect from Māori foes, who named him "manu rau" (many birds); but also controversy after an infamous raid. He met his demise fighting guerilla leader Titokowaru.
This documentary uses archive footage and interviews to tell the story of motor-racing legends Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, and Chris Amon. The trio topped podiums in the sport's 'golden age' — one of those eras when unlikely Kiwi talent managed to dominate a truly global sport. The Team McLaren racing team that four times Grand Prix winner Bruce McLaren founded in 1966, has been the most successful in Formula One. That same year McLaren and Amon teamed up to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and in 1967 Hulme was Formula One world champion.
In each episode of this garden makeover show, Jim Mora and the Mucking In team rallied together locals to reward a community hero with a surprise garden. The long-running format was described by TV reviewer Trevor Agnew as "the caring face of reality TV". It won Best Lifestyle Programme at the 2004 Qantas Media Awards, and spawned a tie-in book in its final year. Said Mora: "You met the best people in New Zealand and all their nice mates. It was probably the nicest thing that anyone in television would ever have the chance to do."
This episode of Greenstone Pictures' documentary series about maritime misfortune recounts the fate of the Boyd — a shipwreck created by a bloody act of revenge. Presenter Paul Gittins travels to Whangaroa Harbour in the Far North where, in 1809, local Maori slaughtered more than 60 passengers and crew. This savagery — and the cannibalism that followed — severely strained early Maori-Pakeha relations for decades. Gittins carefully examines the lead-up to the attack and former Race Relations Conciliator, and local resident, Hiwi Tauroa provides further context.
On 7 February 1863, the worst maritime disaster in New Zealand history occurred. British warship HMS Orpheus ran aground on a notorious sandbar at Manukau Heads, with the loss of 189 of the 259 onboard. Directed by John Milligan (Trio at the Top), this documentary was part of a series examining the country’s worst wrecks. Presented by Paul Gittins, it discusses the disaster, its cause, and the consequent investigations. While the British admiralty laid blame on the harbourmaster, local Māori interpreted the wreck as utu, for a breach of tapu by a Pākehā settler the previous day.
In this series, epitaphs on gravestones provide the starting point for presenter Paul Gittins to unravel skeletons in cupboards, lovestruck suicide pacts, and fatal love letters. Combining documentary and reenactment, the show used compelling personal stories to retell New Zealand history. An actor and history enthusiast, Paul Gittins became a household name on Shortland Street (as Dr Michael McKenna) before devising this series for Greenstone. Epitaph ran for three seasons, and won Best Factual Series at the 1999 New Zealand Television Awards.
This beautifully shot documentary is a social and architectural history of the great NZ bach (or crib, for those south of the Waitaki). Maggie Barry tracks their evolution from workers’ cottages to a fully fledged icon in danger of extinction: as the blind eye turned by councils that made them possible becomes a thing of the past, and the coastline becomes too valuable to allow ‘just anyone’ to erect a shack on it. The Kiwi spirit that created the building is celebrated. The bach enthusiasts interviewed include Sam Hunt, Keri Hulme, Karl Stead and Rawiri Paratene.
Maggie's Garden Show (originally Palmers Garden Show) was a popular TV One series that ran from 1992 to 2003. Featuring ‘bug man’ Ruud Kleinpaste, gardening experts Bill Ward, Jack Hobbs, Gordon Collier and Professor John Walker, and of course, the nation’s most beloved ginger gardener, host Maggie Barry. The Ellerslie Flower Show special was a perennial favourite amongst viewers; a review from the Herald notes, “In an age where TV personalities grow to be larger than life, Maggie's Garden Show has stuck to its information-based roots.”
“For three days, Wellington, New Zealand will become the Monte Carlo of the South Pacific”. Monaco Monza Macao Wellington follows a champion saloon car team (BMW Schnitzer M3) racing in 1989's Nissan Mobil 500 Wellington street race. From their arrival from Macao, to crashes, dramatic victory and a Coromandel wind-down, the documentary goes behind the scenes of a race team on the international circuit. Features interviews with team manager Charlie Lamm, drivers (Emanuele Pirro, Roberto Ravaglia), and a young Jude Dobson as interviewer.
Magazine show Weekend dates from an era just before NZ television underwent major change: the series ended shortly before the finish of ad-free Sundays, and new competition from TV3 in 1989. The mainstay of each extended live show was journalist Gordon McLauchlan, who took the time to introduce items over a cup of tea, and handled studio interviews. Joining him at various points was Kerry Smith, Judy McIntosh, Terry Carter, and food/wine expert Vic Williams. Weekend won three Listener awards for Best Factual Series; in 1987 McLauchlan was named Best Presenter.