A self taught stargazer, Peter Read’s passion for astronomy coincided with a budding television industry and the beginning of manned spaceflight. His programme, Night Sky, played in primetime from 1964; and his avuncular style inspired New Zealanders to look at the stars. It was the country’s longest running TV show when it was cancelled in 1974, and he was the longest serving presenter. Peter Read died in 1981.
In a way, perhaps, astronomy is a thing that one doesn't go all out for great discoveries and contributions. I think just to be there; just to be working in it is the only important thing. Peter Read, in documentary Take Three Passions
By 1973, Night Sky had been a familiar presence on New Zealand screens for 10 years; with astronomer Peter Read a knowledgeable, no-nonsense interpreter of developments in the space race and the stars. In this episode, Read reflects on the show’s first decade, from its first outing in June 1963 (when it was briefly called The Sky This Month). Read revisits highlights including the total solar eclipse in 1965, interviews with visiting astronauts, the first moon landing in 1969, and a visit to the United States to witness the launch of Apollo 15.
Tony Williams recognised that passion makes for compelling human interest whatever the subject and came up with the idea of a “pub battle” where three people from very different fields, but united by a common dedication to their respective callings, would be brought together to debate their obsessions. The subjects — choirmaster Maxwell Fernie, astronomer Peter (Night Sky) Read, and sports journalist Terry ‘TP’ McLean — are also filmed separately at work; shots of Fernie working with his choir are particularly notable in the scrum of sport, art and science.
Nightly magazine-style show Town and Around played on New Zealand screens during the second half of the 60s. Hosted by Peter Read, this end-of-1968 special from the Wellington edition showcases highlights from over 500 items that year. The concentration is on lighter material, most famously a hoax piece on a farmer who puts gumboots on his turkeys. In another piece reporter John Shrapnell discovers that locked cars in the city tend to be the exception. Also featured: an interview with entertainer Rolf Harris, and an impromptu Kiwi street-Hamlet.
In this episode of his long running series about the stars, astronomer Peter Read visits Matauri Bay on the East Coast to view preparations to monitor the only total solar eclipse visible in New Zealand in the 20th century. Read is shown a revolutionary camera that will be used to photograph the eclipse and he talks to an American expert about rockets that will be fired into the ionosphere to record it. Weather concerns are allayed and footage of the corona effect, when the moon is completely in front of the sun, is impressive even in black and white.
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.
New Zealand TV and the space race grew up hand in hand. For 11 years, self-taught astronomer and enthusiast Peter Read explained each new development and talked about what could be seen in the heavens on his monthly show Night Sky. A commercial artist by training, Read painted the set’s early backdrops. He made several trips to the USA to witness launches, interviewed visiting astronauts and, with models in hand, broadcast live on the night of the first moon landing. When it was cancelled in 1974, Night Sky was the country’s longest running show.
This half-hour film from 1958 documents New Zealanders in Antarctica: researching International Geophysical Year, and supporting the Trans-Antarctic Expedition by laying supply depots for Vivian Fuchs’ overland crossing. National Film Unit cameraman Derek Wright films Edmund Hillary's team, capturing the drama of their (in)famous dash to the South Pole as they roll precariously forward in converted Ferguson tractors — “the best crevasse detectors ever invented” as Hillary notes. Hillary's team got to the South Pole on 4 January 1958, 82 days after leaving Scott Base.
This NFU documentary chronicles a major milestone in NZ's presence in Antarctica: the building of Scott Base. Members of the Commonwealth Polar Expedition leave Wellington in December 1956, and sail through storms and pack ice. Led by Sir Edmund Hillary, they construct Scott Base, meet some local wildlife and begin preparations to support a British team led by Doctor Vivian Fuchs. After wintering over, Hillary would, in January 1958, controversially reach the South Pole before Fuchs — only the third party after Scott and Amundsen to do so overland.