Putting on magic and Punch and Judy shows as a child led Michael Woolf to a career as a broadcaster and performer. After joining the NZ Broadcasting Service he became an announcer, presenting TV in Wellington in the 60s and performing the country’s first televised puppet show. As an actor he appeared in Goodbye Pork Pie, and played a villain in Rangi’s Catch.
Any fool can find out how to do a magic trick. You go and buy it in a shop or you go and buy a book and learn how to do it, and you can perform it… The only thing that’s important is how do you use it and your words to entertain. Michael Woolf on the importance of performance, in an interview with RNZ National, 11 January 2011
This 80s TV series sees real estate agent Selwyn, TV producer Nardia (early turns from Temuera Morrison and Jennifer Ward-Lealand) and art student Ben (Kerry McKay) as a trio of young Wellingtonions drawn together by a mysterious invitation. At an antique shop dinner they discover they share a colourful birth mother, before becoming players in a game for a legacy of $250,000. Conceived by Brian Bell, Seekers was one of a series of teen-orientated dramas made in the mid-80s (along with Heroes and Peppermint Twist). The 16 episodes screened from February 1986.
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.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years, middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977, nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series, which was co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac. They initially only agreed to make it on condition they got approval for The Governor. The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen; the demands of creating a regular show helped develop the skills of Kiwi actors and crew.
After being spotted performing for tourists in Rotorua, 11-year-old Temuera Morrison was given his very first starring role in this British TV series, shot downunder by expat Kiwi director Michael Forlong. In this clip, Rangi (Morrison) and co have adventures with sharks, crayfish and a stranded sheep near their remote South Island farm. Meanwhile two robbers (Ian Mune and Michael Woolf) sneak into the house. The scene is set for crims and and children to chase each other all the way to Rotorua. The series was seen in New Zealand cinemas in a shortened movie version.
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) followed the goings-on of a North Island timber town. The series was conceived by former forester Julian Dickon (who quit the series and was replaced by Listener critic Hamish Keith as writer). Producing two seasons of six episodes was a key step in industry professionalisation, and many of the cast became stars (Ginette McDonald, Ian Mune). It offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; and reviews praised its Swannie-clad authenticity.
This animated promo was one of a series that ran from 1966 to help communicate New Zealand’s shift to decimal currency. The existing imperial system divided pounds into 20 shillings and 240 pence, and required working out the fractions. In 1963 it was decided to ‘decimalise’ to make things simpler. ‘Mr Dollar’ was the icon of the change, and here, with the help of a Dad joke, he introduces the notes and coins, and the changeover date. Mr Dollar — plus 27 million banknotes and 165 million coins — officially marched into town on 10 July 1967.
A series of comical graphics introduce this 1966 National Film Unit diversion, in a style animator Terry Gilliam would soon make famous via British comedy shows Do Not Adjust Your Set and Monty Python's Flying Circus. The film itself follows a reporter (Michael Woolf) on a jaunt with an international 'veteran car rally' through Southern Lakes scenery, trying to make sense of it all. As he says, "there don’t seem to be any rules to this vintage motoring business". Directed by John King, the playful film features a dubbed soundtrack, complete with sheep baas and car horn sound effects.
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.