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Tony Currie


By the time Close to Home introduced the permanently gruff Don Hearte to the nation in 1975, Tony Currie had already racked up an impressive list of television credits.

In a few years, the former London policeman had gone from playing a NZ Land Wars foot soldier to portraying Richard 'King Dick' Seddon in a telefilm about the early New Zealand prime minister. Currie’s gentle Scottish accent proved handy in those colonial period roles. The historical dramas also led to Close to Home, with his lead character Don Hearte appearing in the show for all of its eight years on screen. 

The Scottish-born Currie migrated to New Zealand in the mid 1960s. He had been involved in amateur theatre since his teens, encouraged by his acting mother. But it wasn’t until he came to New Zealand — after a six year stint as a London 'Bobby', among other jobs — that he became a professional actor.

Initially, he found work on stage and radio — he wrote for both. and also did some journalism — before getting cast in a run of historical television dramas and docu-dramas.

One of his earliest screen credits was War in the North, a 1971 drama about the Land Wars; he played a British redcoat at the 1845 siege of Ruapekapeka pa. Currie provided a glimpse into this era of television in a radio account about the production; he described being “fair, fat and forty-nine, built for comfort rather than speed”, crashing around bush and streams, and doing one step forward, two steps back bayonet charges while listening for NZ Army-supplied explosives.

The Land Wars dramatization was directed by Currie’s friend Peter Coates and produced by Tony IsaacThey cast Currie in increasingly prominent roles in the following years, leading to his lead role in the Isaac-produced Close to Home.

In 1973’s Richard John Seddon – Premier, Currie played the charismatic Victorian prime minister, his commanding performance winning him the Feltex Award for best actor the following year. In 1973 he also appeared in West Coast gold mining docu-drama Hunt’s Duffer, again directed by Coates. 

In 1974 series The Longest Winter, he played a jeweller struggling to keep his business afloat and food on his family’s table as the Great Depression took hold. 

In May 1975 came the arrival of Currie as the cantankerous Don Hearte. His first scene in a pub with mate Pete Wallace (Robin Dene) introduced the matey bickering (see photo) that would be the trademark of the pair’s on-screen relationship for the following eight years.

At the beginning of the show, Hearte was a journalist, husband to Val and father of five children, and son of the show’s patriarch, Pop Hearte. But things moved fast for the character. “Within the first year I had lost the whole family,” he told an interviewer in 1985. 

Currie wrote nine episodes during Close to Home's run, having occasionally taken issue with the early scripts. “Some of the early ones were far too literary,” he told The Listener in 1977. “Writers tend to tub-thump, pushing their own views and actors don’t like being used as platforms.”

However, Currie’s own health was written into his character. His ailing eyesight became a problem for Don Hearte’s journalism career. “In fact I’ve had to act more blind than I actually am to heighten the drama”, he told The Auckland Star in 1977, before treatment gave his vision an eventual reprieve. Currie blamed the fast turnover of the show for other ailments. 

Two years after Close to Home’s final episode in August 1983, he told The Evening Post he was glad the soap ended when it did. “The pressures of working under that system, memorising up to 30 pages of dialogue a week in three days … it had its toll on me. Eventually I got angina and it’s always there and always will be.”

But he had relished his time on the series. “It was eight years out of my life that I wouldn’t have missed for all the tea in China — a tremendous experience in a field I have been in and out of all my life.”

Anthony James Forsyth Currie died in Wellington on 27 September 1988.


Sources include
Peter Coates
Merrill Coke, Interview with Tony Currie - The Evening Post, 8 January 1985
Tony Currie, 'There is no place like Home' - Truth, 8 June 1983
Tony Currie, 'With Hoofs of Steel' (Radio Script) 1971
Vernon Wright, 'Tony Currie (Don)' - The Listener, 12 March 1977, page 16
Unknown writer, Interview with Tony Currie - The Auckland Star, 6 July 1977