Before Simon Morris became resident film reviewer and arts presenter for Radio New Zealand, he had a freelance television career encompassing scriptwriting, reporting and directing. He wrote for high-rating soaps like Close to Home, City Life and Shortland Street, directed classic music videos and was a key part of the Radio with Pictures team.
You can do anything on radio. Unlike TV, where everything is so expensive and there are so many people, you can just have one person producing a radio show. Simon Morris compares radio and television, The Residents website, 24 May 2017
Funny As traces the history of New Zealand comedy through archive footage, and extensive interviews with local comedy talent. Debuting on TVNZ 1 in July 2019, the five-part series explores how Kiwis "have used comedy to navigate decades of profound cultural change". Funny As touches on everything from live and musical comedy, to pioneers of Kiwi screen humour (e.g. Fred Dagg, Lynn of Tawa) and the hit exports of later years (Flight of the Conchords, Rose Matafeo). The series was made by production/creative agency Augusto, and produced by comedy veteran Paul Horan.
Numero Bruno is a warts and all biography of widely popular actor, musician and counter-cultural hero Bruno Lawrence. Lawrence's intense, charismatic screen presence was key to ground-breaking Kiwi films, Smash Palace, The Quiet Earth and Utu. Directed by Steve La Hood (the veteran director’s TV swansong), this documentary features interviews with family and friends, and liberal excerpts from Lawrence's film and musical work, including performances by 70s alternative Aotearoa icons Blerta and clips showcasing his seminal collaborations with Geoff Murphy.
City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.
City Life screened from 1996 to 1998 and made a direct appeal to New Zealand's Gen X apartment-dwelling demographic. Following the lives of a tight-knit group of friends, and featuring racy shots of Auckland's K-Road and nightlife set to contemporary Kiwi pop music, the show was Aotearoa's answer to Melrose Place. In this excerpt from the first episode, the friends are thrown into conflict when one of their own (played by Kevin Smith) decides to marry outside the circle. Complications ensue when Smith shares a brief, but notorious, screen kiss with Charles Mesure.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.
Gibson Group production Public Eye was inspired by the British series, Spitting Image. Latex puppets caricature topical personalities, mostly drawn from the world of politics (Ruth Richardson, Helen Clark, Winston Peters etc). Their foibles are duly skewered in fast-moving comic skits such as the 'Ruatoria Rasta' segment, 'The White Way' and 'Honky Tanga'. The wickedly grotesque puppets were based on drawings by cartoonist Trace Hodgson, and built by a team headed by future Weta FX maestro, Richard Taylor.
Richard Driver files this 1988 Radio with Pictures report from a Waitemata Stadium concert cobbled together after the failure of music festival Neon Picnic. He interviews The Chills, Graham Brazier and Live Aid legend Bob Geldof. Geldof, along with Tim Shadbolt and Phil Warren, had come to the aid of music fans by organising the consolation gig at the last minute. Geldof rates Neon Picnic’s demise as an international embarrassment. But he praises the local music community for rallying behind the replacement gig, and admits he enjoyed the rush of helping organise it.
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was New Zealand's first urban cop show. Devised by Graeme Tetley (Ruby and Rata), it portrayed a unit policing inner city Wellington, under the guidance of Inspector Brian 'Sharkie' Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, the show followed the character-based storytelling of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first season marked one of the last in-house productions for TVNZ's drama department. The next two series were made independently by The Gibson Group.
Peppermint Twist’s pastel-tinted portrait of 60s puberty floated onto New Zealand television screens in 1987. Despite winning a solid teen following, it only lasted for one series. Set amongst a group of teens in small town Roseville (in reality the outdoors set on the edge of Wellington, originally used for Country GP), the show’s stylised look and sound had few Kiwi precedents — though its links to American perennial Happy Days are clear. Peppermint made liberal, and increasingly confident use of period music, with each episode named after a pop song of the day.
Hamilton hard rockers Knightshade produced a run of sweaty, riff-heavy 80s anthems. This live performance of ‘Out for the Count’ comes from a 13 May 1987 show at The Galaxy in Auckland, which was recorded for both a 1987 album and a Radio with Pictures special. The other featured band was Stonehenge. Knightshade vocalist Wayne Elliott is joined by Gael Ludlow (then better-known as presenter of nature show Our World). The live album Out For The Night Live! made it to 37 on the Kiwi charts. ‘Out for the Count’ had previously got to number 26 on the singles charts in November 1986.
English singer/songwriter Billy Bragg chats with Richard Driver in this interview, shot in a pre-bus lane Manners Mall in Wellington, for TVNZ’s hippest music show. They have unlikely company in the form of Alice, an elderly passerby, and the affable Bard of Barking happily includes her in the conversation. With a rare Top 10 hit single on his hands, Bragg discusses commercialism, his brief army career, and writing both love songs and political songs. A pre-concert performance of his track ‘Days like These’, recorded at Victoria University, bookends the interview.
In this 1987 Radio with Pictures excerpt, visiting English singer Billy Bragg performs a song in the Victoria University Student Union Hall. The Bard of Barking is intercut with Wellington street scenes: pensioners, punks, and pigeon feeding in a pre-bus lane Manners Mall. Taken from album Workers Playtime (1988), Bragg’s Valentine’s Day song is far from a Hallmark card, with droll rhyming couplets telling of a bruised, but defiant lover: “For the girl with the hour glass figure time runs out very fast / We used to want the same things but that's all in the past.”
Recorded at the Galaxy in Auckland for a Radio With Pictures special in May 1987, Hamilton rockers Knightshade perform ‘The Physical You’. The song made it to number 14 on the New Zealand charts as part of an EP of the same name. Soon after, the band signed an ill-fated deal with Australia's Mushroom Records, before finally releasing their self-titled debut album — featuring this song — in 1995. The band’s performance is archetypical 80s hard rock — which makes sense of their long list of support slots for acts including Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi and Jimmy Barnes.
Roving reporter Simon Morris talks to music movers and shakers in this special report from the 1980s cult music rock show. Auckland is on the cusp of the club boom and live music is waning. A youthful club promoter Russ Le Roq (aka Russell Crowe) flies the flag for the kids, Colin Hogg is unimpressed and a fresh faced Graeme Humphreys (aka Graeme Hill) fronts the Able Tasmans. Meanwhile, local acts are in short supply in Wellington. The live scene is healthier but radio certainly isn’t. The Pelicans (with a young Nick Bollinger) and Strikemaster perform.
"If you don't like the beat, don't play with the drum". Taken from Sharon O'Neill's 1983 album Foreign Affairs, the song chronicles "case 1352, a red and green tattoo". It was inspired by a prostitute who worked the streets of King's Cross. The clip starts with O'Neill hitting Auckland Airport. Look out for leopard skin tights and a dress straight off Logan's Run. Other highlights: a steamy sax solo, heavy eye shadow and backlit silhouettes in "rain-slicked avenues." Two clips for 'Maxine' exist: the Australian version won controversy for images of a fictional prostitute, shot in King's Cross.
Former Velvet Underground member John Cale’s first visit to New Zealand in 1983 is marked with this Radio with Pictures special. Indie legends Tall Dwarfs opened for Cale, and part of their performance is captured too. The venue is Christchurch's Hillsborough Tavern, where the cameras catch Cale's intense solo readings of classic songs including VU's ‘Waiting for the Man’, and Cale’s own ‘Leaving it up to You’. The Welshman also reflects briefly on his early years in New York, meeting Lou Reed, and his then most recent album, Music For a New Society.
This was the song that started it all for The Exponents. Instead of the usual TVNZ studio cheapie, the promo is a film clip, complete with fantasy 80s Christchurch night-life scenes. The song was inspired by Jordan Luck's onetime landlord, who was trapped in an abusive relationship. Locations include the Arts Centre and deco apartments opposite. Reaching number six, the song would prove to be the biggest hit on a debut studio album packed with classics. Luck later described it as "a strange song to pick as a first single"; but the right one.
A Texan stops by "One Day At The Coffee Bar", and confronted by kaftan wearing, pot smoking beatniks, tries to enjoy a cuppa. Silly costuming, delightful comic timing and hammy performances afford this clip legendary status amongst NZ's finest.
The Christchurch music scene of 1982 gets a once-over in this Radio With Pictures report. Rob White of The Star acts as critic and guide, describing what’s hot in the South Island’s biggest city. A young Richard Driver provides his insights into what makes Christchurch bands so good, while various out-of-towners marvel at the quality of the lighting and sound in the local live scene. Amongst the local bands in the spotlight are The Narcs, the short-lived Thanks to Llamas and the Dance Exponents, who less than four months before this appearance had released their debut single 'Victoria'.
This 1982 Radio with Pictures report surveys the Dunedin music scene, and the bands who are starting to be grouped together under the label ‘the Dunedin Sound’. Critic Roy Colbert discusses the influence of punk pioneers The Enemy and Toy Love, and the benefits of being outside fashion. A roster of future Flying Nun notables are interviewed, including David Kilgour, Shayne Carter, and Jeff Batts (The Stones). Martin Phillipps is psychedelic, and Chris Knox dissects the new bands’ guitar-playing style (without using the word "jangly"!). And then there’s Mother Goose.
“You get the impression that Wellington wants an audience but doesn’t want to be seen to be trying too hard to get one”. This report surveys 1982's local music scene, framing tensions between an energetic politically-conscious underground, and commercial rock and pop (i.e. Auckland). Not all is positive, with complaints about lack of venues and promotion, and violence at gigs. Interviewees include Mocker Andrew Fagan, Nino Birch (Beat Rhythm Fashion), Dennis O’Brien, Ian Morris, promoter Graeme Nesbitt (in Radio Windy sweatshirt) and punk singer Void (Riot 111).
Auckland band The Screaming Meemees shared a 45 with The Newmatics before releasing this infectious ska-pop number which became an 80s classic. In August 1981 it was the first single to enter the NZ Top 20 at No.1 and they were rewarded with a breakneck trip to Wellington for a TVNZ video made at the Avalon Studios. More produced than many early 80s Avalon clips, it comes complete with masks, white roses, pooled water and a stained glass window (perhaps inspired by reports that the ex-Catholic school boys based their early songwriting on hymns).
This song is from New Zealand’s troubled winter of 1981. The Springbok Tour gave the term “riot squad” currency throughout the country — but the Auckland live music scene and the police were already enduring a very fraught relationship. This number from Auckland ska/soul band The Newmatics, released on the band’s Broadcast OR double 7" EP, was actually written about a 1980 police raid on XS Cafe in Airedale Street. The Keystone Cops music video is classic early 80s TVNZ Avalon and features actors Ross Jolly and Michael Wilson as two thirds of the 'blue shadow'.
In an age before Rogernomics, and well before The Office, there was the afternoon tea fund, Golden Kiwi, and four o'clock closing: welcome to the early 80s world of the New Zealand Public Service. Gliding On (1981 - 1985) was the first locally made sitcom to become a bona-fide classic. The series was inspired by Roger Hall's hit play Glide Time and satirised a paper-pushing working life then-familiar to many Kiwis. Gliding On won several Feltex Awards including best male and female actors and best entertainment.
Robin Morrison's photographic work was popular and accessible — he affectionately presented New Zealanders to themselves. The 1981 publication of The South Island of New Zealand from the Road cemented his reputation. The book featured ordinary New Zealanders in the environments they'd created. This documentary by Tony Hiles explores Morrison's earlier work: his gritty Bastion Point and Springbok tour series, and the projects which documented communities on the brink of change.
"Once a band has made it here in Godzone, the big question is: where to now?". As presenter Karyn Hay put it back in 1981, there was only one answer — Australia. RWP reporter Simon Morris headed to Sydney to meet Kiwi musos who'd made it (Marc Hunter, on hiatus from Dragon), and those trying (Sharon O’Neill, Dave McArtney, Mi-Sex's Kevin Stanton, Barry Saunders from The Tigers). Hunter muses on Sydney brashness versus NZ introspection, O’Neill shyly promotes 'Maybe' to Molly Meldrum, and expat music producer Peter Dawkins explains what makes a hit.
Punk rock was breaking and musical styles changing, but in New Zealand country music was appointment viewing at 7pm on Saturday. That's Country ran from 1980 to 1984. Hosted by one-time pop singer Ray Columbus, the show featured both local and international talent including Suzanne Prentice, Patsy Riggir, Emmylou Harris and George Hamilton IV. An American offer to buy the show and install a US presenter were resisted. Instead the show was sold to a Nashville cable TV network, in a New Zealand first; That's Country soon had an audience of 30 million in the States.
For a generation of music fans before the internet, show Radio with Pictures was a vital link to local and international music — and essential viewing before TV2's Sunday night horror movies. Following on from Grunt Machine in 1976, its presenters included Karyn Hay, Dr Rock (Barry Jenkin), Dick Driver Phil O'Brien. RWP's extended run coincided with the rise of MTV and the music video, and a burgeoning 1980s New Zealand music scene. Videos were a staple, but artist interviews also featured. The show also staged a number of Mainstreet concerts featuring leading local artists.
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.
In the early 80s Ready to Roll was NZ’s premier TV pop show. It emerged in the pre-music video boom mid-70s hosted by Roger Gascoigne (and later Stu Dennison) with bands and dancers live in the studio. By the early 80s it was a seamless video clip Top 20 countdown — introduced by the Commodores pumping ‘Machine Gun’ — and appointment Saturday evening viewing for music fans (and a regular in the week’s Top 10 rating shows). It then evolved into a brand, got retitled RTR Countdown, and spawned multiple RTR offshoots (Mega-Mix, Sounz and New Releases), before disappearing in the mid-90s.
Three young ski instructors head south for an end of season adventure on Mt Ruapehu and the Tasman Glacier. Michael Dennis and Anne Reid both competed for NZ in the 1968 Grenoble winter Olympics. They join Swiss-born heli-ski pioneer Herbie Bleuer on the slopes in this 1969 NFU short film, replete with slightly dated, “hip” voiceover. With not another soul in sight, the three begin on Mt Ruapehu, skiing down to examine the crater. Then it’s down to Queenstown and a ski-plane flight onto the top of the Tasman Glacier for a run down its 27 kilometre length.