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Peter Sharp


Christchurch-raised Peter Sharp originally dreamed of working in radio, but in 1961 he was offered a job at new television station CHTV3 instead. The station had begun transmitting from Christchurch the same year. Sharp began by writing continuity links, and compiling transmission logs.

In 1970 Sharp passed the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation Producers and Directors Training Course, and began making programmes whose subjects ranged from ballroom dancing (Let's Dance), science (In the Nature of Things), current affairs (The South Tonight, presented by Rodney Bryant and Bryan Allpress), to ballet (comic ballet Pineapple Poll).

Two orchestral concerts from this period were personal standouts for Sharp: an NZSO concert led by English composer Stanley Black, and a live telecast of the Bath Festival Orchestra, featuring brother and sister Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin.

The NZBC was reincarnated as Television One and Television Two in 1975. The new second channel quickly morphed into South Pacific Television; and when John McRae returned from England to launch a new drama department, Sharp discovered that directing drama was what he loved most. 

Initially Sharp worked as a ring-in director on short-lived Auckland soap opera A Going Concern. Until the late 80s, as the channels changed names again, Sharp worked on most of the drama series of the time, including Radio WavesBoth Sides of the FenceCountry GP, and Gloss. His work on acclaimed police show Mortimer's Patch led to Sharp's only stab at directing a feature film (though a number of his TV projects have been refashioned into tele-movies): Trespasses, featuring Prisoner import Patrick McGoohan and Vigil's Frank Whitten

Sharp's fondest memories are of a series of 'kidult' dramas. He began in style with 1979's multi award-winning Children of Fire Mountain, a period piece set near Mount Tarawera (though shot largely round Auckland's West Coast beaches). 

Maurice Gee tale The Fire-Raiser marked the first of a number of collaborations with producer Ginette McDonald. During an on-set interview with Onfilm, McDonald called Sharp "the master of the kidult drama - he's not embarrassed by it. He fully embraces the concept of well-made, superior family drama."

Fire-Raiser's story of an arsonist running amok in a small town starred Peter Hayden and dancer Jon Trimmer. The show sold well internationally, and won awards in Australia and the United States. Locally it walked away with GOFTA awards for director, best drama, best children's programme and best script. 

In 1988 Sharp began working on Maurice Gee's The Champion, which turned out to be the last drama made before TVNZ closed down its in-house drama department. The Champion was the story of a young American GI billeted with an eccentric Kiwi family during World War Two. Sharp remembers it as "the best of them all, but a story that slipped into obscurity through bad timing, no publicity, and the lack of awards that year".

In between the two Maurice Gee adaptations, Sharp directed possibly his most ambitious and legally contentious production. Erebus: The Aftermath focused on the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Erebus disaster, headed by Justice Peter Mahon (played by British actor Frank Finlay). With speaking parts for 600 actors, the show's four episodes played on consecutive nights to glowing reviews, and high ratings. Erebus won LIFTA awards for best drama, Sharp's directing, and Greg McGee's script. Sharp followed Erebus with six-part Margaret Mahy tale Strangers, which featured teen actors Joel Tobeck and Martin Henderson - the latter making his screen debut. 

In the 90s Sharp worked extensively as a freelance director. The dramas included Street Legal, ten episodes of Marlin Bay, six of City Life; the family fare balanced local productions (horse story Star Runner) with shows produced for an international audience (The Enid Blyton Adventure Series, a TV retooling of The Black Stallion.) Sharp also reteamed with Ginette McDonald on an adaptation of Robert Lord play Joyful and Triumphant, plus another show which saw her acting in front of the cameras: the Fiona Samuel scripted Her New Life (one of five monologues directed by Sharp under the Face Value banner).

Sharp started doing work stints in Australia in the 80s. He has been entrusted with episodes of a number of Australian perennials - including Sons and Daughters, the pilot of All Saints, and more than 20 episodes of police show Blue Heelers (including the final episode). 

Sharp can also occasionally be spotted on screen: he cameos as Father Christmas in Gaylene Preston comedy Ruby and Rata, and appeared in one of Country Calendar's infamous spoofs as an ex-Queen Street hairdresser who has turned to sheep farming.

Sources include
Peter Sharp
Shelley Clement, 'Last of the In-House Heroes' - Onfilm, June 1989, Page 33 (Voume 6, No 4)
Robert Boyd-Bell, New Zealand Television - The First 25 Years (Auckland: Reed Methuen Publishers, 1985)