You could say broadcasting is in Pamela Meekings-Stewart‘s blood; she is daughter of Sir Lance Cross, who was Head of Sport for the NZ Broadcasting Council from 1952 to 1978, and a member of the International Olympic Committee.
As a child Meekings-Stewart was an avid reader, with an urge for discovery. In a 2017 interview with website Deliciously Older, she explained why she left New Zealand at age 21. "I married young and disastrously and escaped by running away to London. I think my goal in life was to follow my passion for travel and be happy. So armed with very useful skills for travelling — typing, shorthand — I was away.”
In London, she landed a job as a personal assistant at Associated British Pictures, owners of Elstree Studios and many cinemas. Typing up script assessments and distribution deals, she learned more about the screen industry. When the travel bug bit again, she immigrated to Canada. Her secretarial skills were in hot demand, and she used London contacts to secure a secretarial job with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. But her eye was on a more exciting opportunity; having talked her way into a spot as a television production trainee, she knew she'd found her niche.
She got training across all TV disciplines — including research, scripting, editing, floor managing and directing for the studio and the field. She covered live sports broadcasts, and produced single camera dramas and documentaries across Canada and the United States. It was the early 1970s; in the eight years she'd been away she retrained, married again and became pregnant. Her new husband was also a Kiwi, and they decided to return home.
Meekings-Stewart was shocked to find the Kiwi television industry still well and truly dominated by men. “There were no women producers or directors, and the highest status a woman could achieve was that of a researcher or the fronting of afternoon television programmes”.
To "learn the ropes" of state television, she got a job as a production secretary. Word was going around that a multi-camera studio director was needed for On Camera, an afternoon ‘women's show'. Meekings-Stewart pitched for the job, and her training and experience got her the position. She made sure to employ as many women as she could in production roles; the show proved a "perfect forum" for the rise of liberated female voices in New Zealand society. "The bosses didn’t pay too much attention to what was happening on the ‘womens’ programmes..."
Meekings-Stewart went on to produce and/or direct This Afternoon, current affairs show Seven Days and Today At One (1976), a high-rating magazine style show presented by Sharon Crosbie, which covered market reports and consumer affairs.
Having earned her stripes, the next move was into state television's Documentary Department. Meekings-Stewart was there for 16 years, producing and directing social documentaries and dramatised documentary series. In 1979 she was appointed Executive Producer of TV One's Documentaries Department in Wellington (there was another in Auckland).
Among the shows she is proudest of is Pioneer Women, which she conceived, directed and produced. It won the 1984 Feltex Award for Best Drama. Chronicling the lives of six women who helped shape New Zealand, the series was a considered reply to male-dominated drama series like The Governor. Series one included sexual health pioneer Ettie Rout, Waikato leader Princess Te Puea Herangi and Hera Ngoungou, a Pākehā who was raised as a Māori (for which Ginette McDonald won a Feltex Best Actress award). Three more Pioneer Women episodes screened in 1990. Meekings-Stewart says plans for another three were scuttled, after TVNZ executives told her they were yet to be convinced that women were interesting.
Her love of dramatised documentary led her to direct two episodes of historical series Legacy, about New Zealand's immigrant history. The series won a Pater Award from the Australasian Academy of Broadcast Arts and Sciences.
Another pick from this fruitful period was The Beginner's Guide to... The documentary series explored everything from visiting a marae to being sent to prison. In the later episode, reporter Ian Johnstone did some time in prison, and found it difficult to accept the popular idea that New Zealand prisons were ‘too soft’.
Expressions of Sexuality (1987) contained many themes Meekings–Stewart had been drawn to in her work as a communicator. The series examined how the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s affected a variety of New Zealanders. But TVNZ considered the show "too provocative". Meekings-Stewart and director Allison Webber had to wait two years before the award-winning series was given the go-ahead to screen.
By now Meekings-Stewart had producer and executive producer credits on a long list of high-rating programmes. In 1989 TVNZ faced a large scale restructure, and she decided to go freelance. “The accountants were taking over public television and we were fast losing creative control of what we did, and how we did it”.
Life had evolved in other ways. Her marriage had ended, and she was exploring the idea of creating a nature retreat for stressed professionals She was approached to use her storytelling and production skills as a consultant for a range of businesses. In the mid-1990s, she joined forces with fellow producers Di Oliver and Amanda Evans to form Pinnacle Productions. In 1992 she directed and produced one-off documentary A Cat Among the Pigeons, which followed Māori artist Shona Rapira Davis as she battled local government over her design for an inner city Wellington park. In 1996 she was a producer on art shows For Arts Sake and The Write Stuff. She also did 14 years lecturing at the Avalon Film and Television School, and lectures for the NZ Broadcasting School in Christchurch.
From the late 1990s on, Meekings-Stewart has drawn on her production and communication skills to work as a training provider, workshop facilitator and career management consultant across a range of organisations in local and central government and the private sector. After the turn of the millenium she produced in-house documentaries for Telecom and international training organisations, while continuing to produce the occasional documentary for TVNZ.
She has served on multiple Boards, including NZ On Air (1994-2000), The Film and Literature Board of Review (1995- 2003), and the NZ Broadcasting School (1996-2000).
Meekings-Stewart has cultivated a holistic approach to life and career. These days she owns and facilitates the Woolshed Health Retreat in Pukerua Bay, near Wellington. She says: "Often when I’m asked ‘who are you?’ or ‘what do you do?’ I’ll answer with ‘how long have you got?’ I do rather a lot of things for a living...”
Profile written by Gabe McDonnell; published on 30 October 2018
The Woolshed website. Accessed 30 October 2018
Robert Boyd-Bell, New Zealand Television- The First 25 Years (Auckland: Reed Methuen Publishers, 1985)
Anna Letitia Cook, 'HerStory —Pamela Meekings-Stewart: Often When I'm Asked..' (Interview) Deliciously Older website. Loaded 6 October 2017. Accessed 30 October 2018
Clive Morris, How To Bust Viewer Rating Records' in TV Personality Parade (Wellington: Television One/INL Print, 1976), page 52
Pioneer Women (Television Series) Producer Pamela Meekings-Stewart (TVNZ, 1983, 1990)
The Beginner's Guide to.. (Television Series) Multiple producers (TVNZ, 1983 - 1986)