Profile image for Rosemary McLeod

Rosemary McLeod

Writer

Rosemary McLeod rose to prominence in the 1970s, when she was responsible for some of the most popular satirical cartoons of the period. She was a regular contributor to The Listener as both a writer and cartoonist, and wrote for Wellington's Dominion and Sunday Times.

As a child, McLeod "compulsively" drew. While in her last year at Onslow College in Wellington, she drew cartoons for her school's year book. During her time studying English literature at Victoria University, student magazine Salient refused to accept her cartoons "because I was a woman. So then I helped my boyfriend do some, which they used."

McLeod fell into journalism while working in public relations for the Post Office. Her boss read a piece she wrote for fun about a "weird weekend with hippies", and suggested she take it to the Sunday Times. They bought the article, asked for more, and later hired her. She left the paper to write for Eve magazine, where she also illustrated a fashion column.

Later she joined Wellington newspaper The Dominion as a feature writer. When she was 23, McLeod approached Listener editor Ian Cross to write and illustrate a fashion column. The column changed over time. "I wrote about how people were behaving and the points of view they were expressing. That hit a nerve with the bourgeois readership, which I intended it to do." This was the start of a long career of "always offending and annoying. It became my shtick."

Unable to see any women newspaper reporters in senior positions, McLeod moved to broadcasting at age 24. She started in radio, but wasn't allowed on air because she was told her deep voice would "make men think of bedrooms". A stint as a news reporter for new channel TV One led to to an offer to contract for the ABC in Sydney, and train as a sitcom writer and script editor.

McLeod wrote for two seasons of Who Do You Think You Are? — a sitcom originally devised as a training vehicle — and script edited the work of others. "It was the deep end, believe me," she said in this extended interview shot for 2019 series Funny As. "I look back in bewilderment and almost shame. I was editing scripts by top Australian playwrights. My god, the chutzpah, but I was just told to do it, so I did it." McLeod argued for a feminist angle for the sitcom, and was told it'd be on her head if the series failed.

Later, when McLeod worked on sitcom All Things Being Equal back in New Zealand, she was keen to ensure the lead female character had a more active role than was common in sitcoms of the time. "I created a lead character who had her own jokes and was an equal. There was a lot of resistance to that, as there had been in Australia."

McLeod was told that she was one of the first women in Australia to write a sitcom, as was the case in New Zealand. Years later McLeod returned to Australia for a TV writers convention, and found it an emotional experience to have women writers tell her she had been a role model for them, thanks to her work in television and print. Political cartoonist Sharon Murdoch has spoken of how McLeod's drawings influenced her: "...it was the first time I'd really seen a woman drawing cartoons and they went with the column that she wrote, and she had such a distinctive style as well."

Back in New Zealand, McLeod was a writer and commissioning editor on the second season of comedy Joe and Koro. Then she got to write the format for her own sitcom. All Things Being Equal satirised late 70s gender politics, and starred Ginette McDonald and Bruno Lawrence. The show was unusual in that it was broadcast live, in front of a studio audience (comedies are often filmed with an audience, but are usually edited before they go to air). McLeod recalls feeling angry after McDonald was asked to lose weight for the role. As she told Funny As: "There were no ideal men in it, I can tell you. No requests for a better hairstyle from Bruno Lawrence, for example. He wasn't asked to wear a toupee."

After two series of All Things Being Equal, McLeod wrote episodes of soap Close to Home. In the early 1980s she wrote for dramas Country GP and Seekers as a freelance writer. But her most notable role in the screen industry came as devisor, storyliner and main writer for Gloss, the iconic soap centred on the Redfern family and their publishing empire.

Impressed by the "acerbic wit" of her columns, Gloss producer Janice Finn contacted McLeod to get her involved. "She wrote the format," said Finn. "Having all the magazine background, of course, Rosemary was brilliant." McLeod has called Gloss "the best television work I ever did"; she laughs that her "finest hour" was bringing one character back from the dead. "It got great reviews...I'm proud of that work because it was more like grown up television." Gloss ran for three seasons, sold around the world and was awarded Best New Zealand TV Drama for 1989.

After Gloss McLeod worked briefly in advertising, before returning to journalism, via North and South magazine. For many years she also wrote a syndicated column for The Sunday Star-Times, and later, The Dominion Post.

McLeod is an avid collector of handcrafts. Her extensive collection of women's handcrafts has been the basis of a number of exhibitions and books, including Thrift to Fantasy: Home Textile Crafts of the 1930s-1950s, which won the history category in the 2006 Montana Book Awards, and With Bold Needle and Thread (2013).

Other awards McLeod has won include the Pen First Book of Prose (1976), the Jubilee Prize for Investigative Journalism, and Qantas Feature Writer of the Year (five times, in 1986 and 1990 - 1993). She has also written satirical novel A Girl Like I (1976), Thank You for Having Me (1979) and The Rosemary McLeod Bedside Book (1981). From 1995 to 2000 she was a member of the Broadcasting Standards Authority. 

Profile written by Natasha Harris; published on 28 November 2019

Sources include
'Rosemary McLeod - Funny As Interview' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Rupert Mackenzie. Loaded 9 October 2019. Accessed 28 November 2019
Rosemary McLeod, Penguin NZ website. Accessed 6 November 2019
Roger Booth, Bruno - The Bruno Lawrence Story (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 1999)
Joseph Romanos, 'The Wellingtonian interview: Rosemary McLeod' - The Wellingtonian, 3 June 2010
Paul Stanley Ward, 'Gloss - A Perspective' NZ On Screen website. Loaded 22 September 2008. Accessed 28 November 2019