Judy Callingham, CNZM, has appeared onscreen on everything from Town and Around and Beauty and the Beast to Fair Go. Behind the scenes she has done stints as a pioneering female scriptwriter, tutor in both journalism and scriptwriting, media advisor, and board member at NZ On Air.
Born to an air force photographer and his wife, Callingham grew up mostly in Hawkes Bay. She began her busy career in 1962, writing radio advertisements for the NZ Broadcasting Corporation. The following year she joined The Listener as a journalist, and over the next decade could be found in journalism and current affairs, ranging across TV, radio, and magazines — plus three years tutoring journalism at Wellington Polytechnic.
The television work included time reporting for Christchurch current affairs show Montage, and back in Wellington, the first season of 60s magazine show Town and Around — where she and reporter Mike Minehan were caught up in an off-screen battle over who could find the most terrifying locale to report from.
Initially it was not deemed appropriate for women to be either newsreaders or weather forecasters. Callingham spent time as a continuity announcer, a job that in the 70s briefly expanded to include the weather forecast. Into the 80s she continued to fill in on occasional weather forecasts. “The female announcers always seemed to be pregnant. We couldn’t turn sideways, or we blotted out the South Island!”
In 1974 Callingham moved into writing drama. Though her work would continue to include occasional onscreen stints (two years on Fair Go, where-are-they-now show Then Again), her main concentration for the next 25 years was on television drama — whether as scriptwriter, script editor, consultant or script doctor.
Like many others, Callingham learnt her craft on pioneering twice-weekly soap Close to Home. The show ran eight years. Judging by the mailbag, many Kiwis were shocked to hear their own accent on screen. In that time she scripted or story edited almost 200 episodes. Though the skeleton writing staff meant it was “unbelievably hard” work, Callingham relished the logistical challenges of adapting storylines to limited resources and locations. In 1978, after her first stint on Close to Home, she ventured across the ditch for a year at Crawford Productions in Melbourne.
In the 80s Callingham wrote for one of her favourite shows, “the wonderfully outrageous” Gloss, comfortable that the cast members were good enough to take anything that was thrown at them — including some nasty but wonderfully cathartic dialogue that she wrote for Maxine and Rex. Callingham also worked on Country GP and two shows whose innovations deserved more attention than they got: community house series Open House, and 60s-era confection Peppermint Twist.
Made in 1982, inter-generational tale Casualties of Peace was nominated for a Feltex award for best script. Inspired by Callingham’s own father, the three-hander was based around a university student (Michael Hurst in an early role) whose pacifism puts him into conflict with his war veteran father (Peter Vere-Jones). Feedback tended to compliment her on having nailed every generation but the viewer's own.
She is also proud to have devised live programme Missing. Screened 20 years before Missing Pieces, the show managed to reunite more than 400 people with relatives and lost friends, though many met off air. At that point (1989) children whose birth mothers had died had no legal means to access family information. Callingham approached then-minister Jonathan Hunt, who made it possible under the Official Information Act for siblings to be reunited.
In the 90s Callingham developed scripts and projects with a range of local production companies, including Communicado, Gibson Group, Isambard, Comedia, and an extended period at South Pacific Pictures. Along the way she shared scriptwriting duties with Michael Noonan on early TV3 drama series Homeward Bound — winning an NZ Television scriptwriting award in the process — and was nominated for Duggan and casino series Marlin Bay. She probably wrote for every local police show made in the 90s, and script edited and wrote for the sitcom version of The Billy T James Show.
By now Callingham had begun offering media training with husband Brian Edwards, which she continues today. They worked together on interview show Edwards at Large, and co-wrote 2001 guide How to Survive and Win with the Media.
A BA in Politics and Linguistics, and a Fellow of London’s Trinity College of Music (in Speech and Drama), Callingham spent six years on the board of NZ On Air, including four years as deputy chair. She was the country’s first Adjudicator of Liquor Advertising, approving what went to air and print, and spent two years chairing the NZ Academy of Film and Television Arts.
Callingham has also represented writers on many occasions: in the early 90s she spent three years as president and chair of the New Zealand Writers Guild, and was later voted in as first ever NZ representative on the policy and research arm of the 20,000 strong International Affiliation of Writers Guilds. In 2001 Callingham became the first president of the NZ Writers Foundation — the same year she was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to drama.
'Judy Callingham - writing our classics' (Video Interview). NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside (Uploaded 15 August 2011). Accessed 11 August 2011
Brian Edwards Media website. Accessed 11 August 2011