When colleagues are asked to describe Ron Pledger, words like calm, organised and gentleman tend to float to the top. Christine Brown, who assisted him on a run of live broadcasts in the 80s, remembers Pledger “as well-organised, a real gentleman and an absolute pleasure to work with”. Sound operator Andrew Stewart argues Pledger leaves nothing to chance. Stewart often crews on Praise Be, the show Pledger has produced for two decades; he argues that, “when Ron is the producer/director on a live production, apart from being great to work with, you have confidence it will go well”.
Pledger refuses to take all the credit; he is one of the few people profiled by this website to include an extended list of mentors as part of his career summary — a list that begins with his wife Gay.
Pledger has coordinated coverage of live events of every variety, from awards shows and This is Your Life, to a run of big concerts and official events. Music remains a constant theme, right from his first radio job in 1959, through to his two decades directing and producing the "wonderful" Praise Be, the religious show which showcases performances by choral groups.
Like live events legend Malcolm Kemp, who passed the mantle of live television coverage to Pledger in the 80s after moving into management, Pledger’s love of music predated, then fed into his broadcasting career. Pledger has been a musician and or band manager in the Territorials for most of the half century he has worked in broadcasting; in 1992 he was awarded an MBE for his time as player, conductor and master of the Seventh Wellington and Hawkes Bay Battalion Band (he speculates that his work on Top Town may have also played a part in gaining the honour). The musical and organisational skills learnt working alongside various bandmembers have proven invaluable in his television work.
Pledger’s love of music began early. Growing up in Wellington, he learnt saxophone partly through busking and jamming with jazz groups. Fresh out of technical college he walked into a two-year-long job at state station Radio 2ZB; there he began boning up on recording techniques, including how to best record musical ensembles.
Television hit New Zealand in 1960, initially in Auckland. By the time a Wellington channel launched the following year, Pledger had managed to get a transfer out of radio; he was a sound operator on 1 July 1961, WNTV1’s opening night. After three years learning about lights, cameras and sound, he set off to North America on his OE, scoring a job as a sound operator on Moment of Truth, a shortlived soap for NBC shot in Toronto.
By 1966 Pledger was back in Wellington. The next 13 years saw him doing time as a cameraman, sound operator, and technical director, which involved manually cueing up the night's programming. Later, as a technical producer, he handled the technical and lighting elements of the growing slate of entertainment programmes produced by the state broadcaster.
Keen to do more production, he took an in-house director’s course in 1979, with an emphasis on directing with multiple cameras. After a year making video clips for Ready to Roll and Radio with Pictures, Pledger began to specialise in shows that either screened live, or were largely recorded live: everything from jazz and music slots to four summers out and about with Top Town. Treasure Hunt involved presenter Nick Tansley in a helicopter, taking commands from studio contestants; while on This is Your Life (for which he won an award for this Grant Fox episode) secrecy proved the key challenge.
In the 90s TVNZ relocated much of its production to Auckland, from its Avalon studio base on the edge of Wellington. Pledger continued at Avalon, where he found himself directing an increasing diet of Grundy-derived game shows, including four seasons of hit Wheel of Fortune, often shooting five episodes in one session. Pledger came up with some shows himself: he developed game show Credit Card, hosted by Roger Gascoigne, and live talent show Telequest, which played primetime on Sundays. The competitive Top Dance came about thanks to contacts Pledger and his wife, a onetime championship dancer, had in the ballroom dance world. Each of these shows ran to three seasons.
By now Pledger had amassed multiple credits on the type of productions he found most satisfying: live telecasts, where good preparation and camera positioning, and a well briefed crew helped ensure good results.
The live work included everything from two hour papal masses to John Rowles concerts, to the Wearable Art Awards and five Telethons. Pledger won his first GOFTA gong back in 1987 for live coverage of the Benson and Hedges Fashion Design Awards. Ironically he was knee deep in trying to get acceptable images on air when his name was read out: the event was the infamous 1987 Gofta awards ceremony where thanks “to very bad event organisation”, many of those present were intoxicated and out of control. Ever the planner, and tipped off that he had won an award, Pledger had prearranged to leave his director’s chair to receive his gong, then "went back into the OB (Outside Broadcast) van to try and salvage the rest of the show".
Pledger’s CV also includes live coverage of 19 Anzac wreathlaying ceremonies. A three hour live special marking the arrival in Wellington of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior saw him commanding 21 cameras. Kiri’s Homecoming, a special featuring Kiri Te Kanawa and the NZ Symphony Orchestra was nominated for international award the Golden Rose of Montreux, and like the Unknown Warrior, released on DVD. His coverage of Sir Edmund Hillary’s state funeral was included on a special DVD released in 2008.
Pledger retired from the military in 2001, and these days manages and plays alto sax in both The Liberty Swing Band and the X7’s Dance Band. He continues to work on Praise Be, and has put his hand up to direct further Anzac broadcasts.
Robert Boyd-Bell, New Zealand Television - The First 25 Years (Auckland: Reed Methuen Publishers, 1985)