If director and producer Peter Coates was a superhero, he’d surely be ‘Renaissance Man’. His contribution to championing the arts on television is arguably heroic, and his career multi-faceted. From 1971 to 2004 Coates produced, directed or scripted hundreds of TV productions covering a smorgasbord of topics, from operas to soap operas, and from portraits of New Zealand artists to rugby coaching films.
The production of Die Fledermaus by Peter Coates was an artistic triumph. It was brilliantly conceived for the television medium, and throughly faithful to the story and spirit of this delightful comic opera. NZ Herald music critic LCM Saunders, on a 1984 TVNZ production of Die Fledermaus
Men of the Silver Fern was a four-part celebration of all things All Black, made in 1992 for the centenary of the NZRFU (now known as New Zealand Rugby). This first episode covers the early period from when Charles Monro kicked off the sport in NZ in Nelson on 14 May 1870, through the establishment of rules, provincial unions and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. The programme surveys the front-running international tours — from the 1884 Flaxlanders to the 1888 Natives, 1905 Originals and 1924 Invincibles — where the All Blacks’ "winning reputation" was forged.
This final edition of the 1992 celebration of New Zealand Rugby runs from grand slam success to the cusp of the professional era. But in-between, rugby and politics combusted. When the Springboks, representing apartheid South Africa, toured NZ in 1981, barbed wire, flour bombs and riot police were match fixtures. Kiwis were either for or against. The tour’s aftermath and public disillusionment with the sport found relief in 1987, when the All Blacks won the first Rugby World Cup; three undefeated years followed. Three NZRFU centennial tests close the series.
This third episode of Men of the Silver Fern follows the fortunes of the All Blacks from 1956 to 1978. In 1956 the All Blacks had beaten the Springboks by playing a conservative ’10-man’ game, but they faced criticism for their dour pragmatism. A decade later the backs were back: coach Fred ‘The Needle’ Allen based his triumphant turn at the helm of the All Blacks on expressive, running rugby. This episode follows the All Blacks’ ongoing mission to win a series in South Africa, and achieve a ‘grand slam’ of victories over the home unions on a tour of the UK.
The second episode of this 1992 celebration of New Zealand rugby looks at the period from 1925 - 1956, as depression and war affected the national game. Scrum rules changed — outlawing the wing forward position, pioneered by the Kiwis — and NZ found itself chasing the pack: the no-longer-invincible All Blacks regularly came out losers playing against South Africa. The Springbok was finally felled in a series by the Kiwis in 1956 (played at home in front of huge, manic crowds). All Black Peter Jones famously summed it up the achievement post match: “I’m absolutely buggered”.
The timeline for building Barcelona cathedral La Sagrada Família spans decades. Architect Antoni Gaudí died in 1926, when it was less than a quarter complete. In 1992 arts show Sunday talked to Kiwi Mark Burry, a longtime principal architect on the famed basilica. Burry talks about being won over by Gaudí at university — when Gaudí was out of vogue — working on the project remotely, and trying to understand Gaudí's intentions for a design that has evolved with time. Meanwhile narrator Ray Henwood waxes lyrical over images of the cathedral and other Gaudí creations.
Sunday was one of a number of magazine-style shows to screen on TVNZ, in a weekend morning slot. It was hosted by Radio New Zealand presenter Kathryn Asare, who the previous year had been drafted in to present a similar show, 10AM. Liz Gunn (Breakfast) later took over the reins. Many of the items on Sunday had an arts bent, including pieces on designer/producer Logan Brewer, and La Sagrada Família architect Mark Burry. Sunday is not to be confused with the long-running TVNZ current affairs show of the same name.
This 1991 story from magazine show Sunday profiles Logan Brewer: production designer on Kiwi TV classics (C’Mon, Hunter’s Gold), and producer of Terry and the Gunrunners and live ‘spectaculars’ like the 1990 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. He talks through his career: learning about performing at England's National Theatre, and selling Aotearoa as “the last paradise” for Expo '92 in Seville — for which he is shown wrangling an extended shot of Kiri Te Kanawa and the NZ Symphony Orchestra, promoting fibreglass pohutukawa, and working with designer Grant Major.
10AM was among the first of a run of magazine-style arts shows to screen in a morning weekend slot. Debuting on TV1 in mid 1990, it was hosted by Radio New Zealand veteran Kathryn Asare. 10AM mixed reports and studio interviews (conducted by Asare) on various topics involving the Kiwi arts scene. Producer Gil Barker felt Asare was a television natural, fighting pressure to give the role to an established “telestar”, or change Asare’s image. He also brought in writer Peter Hawes to help bring a lighter touch to the show than arts programmes from the past.
By the time she died in 1947 aged 78, expat Frances Hodgkins was recognised as a key figure in British art. Subtitled 'A Painter of Genius', this 1989 Kaleidoscope portrait mixes archival material with recreations of Hodgkins working in England in the 1940s, and being interviewed by Vogue. Her "gypsy" life ranges from a Dunedin upbringing, leaving New Zealand in 1901, to painting and teaching in Europe, and struggles with poverty and health. After embracing modernism in the 1920s, her art combined still life and landscape in original ways. TV veteran (and artist) Peter Coates directs.
Billed as "directors' essays on great New Zealand artists", TVNZ’s four part Inspiration documentary series profiled authors Margaret Mahy and Witi Ihimaera, photographer Brian Brake and potter James Greig (who died during production of his episode). In describing his inspiration for the series, director/producer Peter Coates told The Listener, "one of the great weaknesses we have in television is the lack of in-depth material on our artists". Coates made three of the programmes, while Keith Hunter produced and directed the Margaret Mahy episode.
This Inspiration edition profiles NZ’s pre-eminent children's author Margaret Mahy: from her childhood as "Mad Margaret", through her days as an unmarried mother and librarian to an internationally acclaimed writing career. The centrepiece is a specially commissioned – and typically zany – story about a story (complete with talking mail boxes, typewriters and bookshelves) where Mahy goes meta, and explores the role imagination plays in her work. Throughout the Keith Hunter-directed documentary there is vivid evidence of the remarkable bond Mahy shared with her readers.
Brian Brake is regarded as New Zealand's most successful international photographer. He worked for the Magnum cooperative, and snapped famous shots of Pablo Picasso at a bullfight and the Monsoon series for Life magazine. In this Inspiration documentary — made shortly before his 1988 death — Brake reviews his lifelong quest for “mastery over light”, from an Arthur’s Pass childhood to a fascination with Asia. He recalls time at the National Film Unit and is seen capturing waka huia, Egyptian tombs, and Castlepoint’s beach races (for a new version of book Gift of the Sea).
This edition of the 1987 Inspiration series on Kiwi artists looks at potter James (Jim) Greig, and his search for the “spark of life” found in clay. The Peter Coates-directed documentary visits Greig’s Wairarapa studio to interview him and his wife Rhondda, also an artist. Greig’s influences are surveyed: the work of Kiwi potter Len Castle, nature, orphanhood, and Japan (where his work achieved renown). The film captures the visceral process of making large works for a Wellington City Gallery exhibition. Greig died of a heart attack, aged 50, while this film was being made.
This item from arts show Kaleidoscope looks at pioneering Māori feature film Ngāti. There are interviews with director Barry Barclay, screenwriter Tama Poata, producer John O’Shea and actor Wi Kuki Kaa – who discuss the film’s kaupapa – and a visit to its premiere at Waipiro Bay Marae on the East Coast (where the film was shot). Barclay’s first dramatic feature, Ngāti also marked the first feature film to be written and directed by Māori. Many of the crew were enlisted via a scheme aimed at redressing the lack of young Māori working in the screen industry.
This documentary accompanies author Witi Ihimaera on a journey with his "townie" daughters to his marae in Waituhi on the East Coast, ahead of the publication of third novel The Matriarch. Ihimaera describes his writing as a type of "tangi to a people and to a life" he experienced growing up around Waituhi in the 1950s — a way of life symbolised by the tears of the toroa (albatross) said to be held deep in greenstone. Jim Moriarty is among those reading from Ihimaera's works. The film is directed by Peter Coates, from Inspiration, his series on New Zealand artists.
In this 1985 Kaleidoscope edition, reporter Terry Carter meets many of those behind Auckland's 80s construction boom, and examines a cityscape where old landmarks are rapidly being demolished and replaced by mirror glass high-rises. Interviewees include property developers of the day like Mainzeal and Chase Corporation’s Seph Glew; a councillor who argues that commercial interests are dominating; and architect Ivan Mercep and interior designer Peter Bromhead, who critique the buildings’ architectural and civic qualities and their “Dallas TV set” aesthetics.
When long-running current affairs show Newsmakers ended its run in the Sunday night slot in 1983, Sunday took its place. The new current affairs programme continued the interview format of Newsmakers, and included renowned Newsmakers interviewer Ian Fraser. Also taking turns as Sunday host or co-host were David Beatson and Lindsay Perigo. Among those reporting for the show were Rod Vaughan, John Keir (director of documentary Flight 901 - The Erebus Disaster), Kevin Isherwood and Rodney Bryant.
In 1982 renowned Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy toured New Zealand. With the combined support of TVNZ, Radio New Zealand and the NZ Symphony Orchestra, a one-off televised concert was arranged. Ashkenazy plays two pieces backed by the NZSO at the Auckland Town Hall, after an interview by Ian Fraser, in which the pianist praises the NZSO's ability to handle a piece he describes as "almost unplayable in parts". In the second clip, he plays Béla Bartók’s Second Concerto, and in the third clip — which appears never to have gone to air — César Franck’s Symphonic Variations.
Kaleidoscope was a magazine-style arts series which ran from 30 July 1976 until 1989. Running for many years in a 90 minute format, the show tried varied approaches over its run, from an initial mix of local and international items — including live performances — to episodes which focused on a single artist or topic. In the early 80s Kaleidoscope collected three Feltex awards for Speciality Programme. Hosts over the years included initial presenter Jeremy Payne, newsreader Angela D'Audney, future Auckland music professor Heath Lees, and Warratahs fiddler Nic Brown.
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.
This 1973 TV drama is inspired by events which led to a major riot on the West Coast during the 1860s gold rush. After prospector Albert Hunt (Ron Burt) registers a gold claim near Ōkārito, he finds himself accompanied by hundreds of fellow miners — who refuse to let Hunt out of their sights, as he returns to the site via water-logged forests and beaches. The darkly poetic tale of what men can do after they smell gold was partly shot on location on the West Coast. The opening features Sam Neill and Close to Home veteran Tony Curran, among Hunt's fireside colleagues.
This 1973 film sees poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell explore the history of Kāpiti Island — from being a stronghold for Māori chief Te Rauparaha, to whaling station and its present form as a bird sanctuary. The film chronicles Campbell’s first visit to the legendary motu, where he feeds a kākā parrot a date from his mouth, and witnesses a remarkable scene where a weka kills a Norway rat. With impressionistic sequences set to verse, director Peter Coates’ ‘poetic realisation’ of the island was called “a remarkable contribution to NZ television” by Listener critic David Weatherall.
In the early 1960s two North Island schools — Oruaiti and Hay Park — experimented with an innovative method of practical education. This episode of Survey sees principal Elwyn Richardson revisiting Oruaiti, and reminiscing on how the two schools functioned. He offers his views on traditional textbook learning — the more “American” system, as he calls it. Ex students reflect on their time at the school, and how an education based on arts, building and play shaped the people they’ve become. Modern schooling in Aotearoa now follows the example set in those early days.
Director Peter Coates pays tribute to the intelligence and wit of the world’s only mountain parrot in this Survey documentary; as a Christchurch Star review put it, "they must be the least camera-shy birds in creation". The kea’s antics are aided by Ian McDonald’s playful score, plus interviews with expert Dick Jackson, lecturer Les Cleveland, climber John Pascoe, a ranger, a tramper, and a farmer who describes hunting kea — now threatened and protected, but once the subject of a bounty after the opportunistic birds developed a taste for sheep sashimi.
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.