Keen to preserve the stories of those who went to war, filmmaker David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) teamed up with RSA historian Patricia Stroud. The result is Memories of Service, a series of interviews with veterans from World War II, Vietnam and Korea. They recall comradeship, high risk bombing runs over Europe, blackmailing guards at prisoner of war camps (Ernest Davenport), and 16-hour days working the infamous Burma Railway (James Easton). Inbetween arranging further interviews, Blyth also put together compilation reels, culled from the conversations.
Introduced by a pilot called High Country, Jocko was an early 80s attempt by TVNZ to build a series around a travelling swagman character. Jocko (Bruce Allpress) is a maverick musterer and rural jack-of-all-trades in the tradition of the Australian swagman and the American cowboy. But the setting is a contemporary one: in the South Island high country where old and new methods of farming are coming into conflict. Two series were made, written by Julian Dickon (Pukemanu), and co-starring Desmond Kelly as Jocko’s off-sider and travelling companion, China.
Doves of War is a political thriller revolving around a group of ex-Kiwi soldiers and their involvement in a war crime committed 10 years prior. A discovery of a mass grave in Bosnia forces ex-SAS Sergeant Lucas Crichton (Aussie actor Andrew Rodoreda) to revisit a past he and his comrades would rather bury. Also on the trail is ambitious Hague prosecutor Sophie Morgan. Action travels from Europe to upmarket Auckland, Wellington nightclubs, West Coast bush, and central Otago. Written by Greg McGee (Fallout, Erebus), it screened for one season on TV3.
Christchurch based Paua Productions set out to document the effects of the city’s 4 September earthquake in 2010 but found themselves overtaken by the tragic events of 22 February 22. Their focus is the experiences of everyday people coping with the destruction of large tracts of their city, significant injuries and major loss of life as liquefaction, ruined homes and thousands of aftershocks prolong the initial trauma. A number of the interviewees were followed over a year, as they struggled to come to terms with what had happened and move on.
This 16 episode, 30 minute series from Jam TV (This Town, Intrepid Journeys) gave “courageous, honest, heroic and inspirational Kiwis a chance to tell their tale.” Subjects ranged from broadcaster Mark Staufer to Christchurch Student Volunteer Army founder Sam Johnson, Gisborne mayor Meng Foon, and Northland doctor Lance O’Sullivan. The first episode explored irrepressible former C4 presenter Helena McAlpine’s experiences with terminal breast cancer. Listener critic Diana Wichtel praised the TVNZ show as “an increasingly vital corrective to the rest of prime time".
National treasures The Topp Twins (aka twins Lynda and Jools Topp) have performed as a country-music singing and yodelling comedy duo for more than 25 years. In the late 90s they created their own TV series which ran for three seasons and showcased their iconic cast of Kiwi characters, including Camp Mother, the Bowling Ladies and cross-dressing Ken and Ken. The series, travelling from a Highland Games to a Tauranga triathlon, won the twins - out-and-proud lesbians - several gongs at the NZ Film and TV Awards and screened on the ABC and Foxtel in Australia.
Five-part series The New Zealand Wars took a new look at the history of Māori vs Pākehā armed conflict. It was presented by historian James Belich, who with his arm-waving zeal proved a persuasive on-screen presence: "we don't need to look overseas for our Robin Hood, our Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, or Gandhi". The popular series reframed NZ history, and its stories of Hōne Heke, Governor Grey, Tītokowaru, Te Whiti, Von Tempsky and Te Kooti, easily affirmed Belich's conviction. The New Zealand Wars was judged Best Documentary at the 1998 Qantas Media Awards.