One of Bill Stalker's earliest screen roles was played a biker in 1971 TV drama Pukemanu. Masterton-born Stalker spent time touring with multi-media sensation Blerta (he provided the spoken part for Blerta hit ‘Dance Around the World’), then began an ongoing role on pioneering Kiwi soap Close to Home. He went on to a successful television career in Australia, playing security man turned detective Peter Fanelli on both Skyways and Cop Shop. Stalker was killed in a motorbike crash in Melbourne on 28 November 1981; he was 33. A dedication featured on his final episode of Cop Shop.
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 co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac (who had initially only agreed to make the show on the condition they would get to make The Governor). The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen, and the output demands were foundational in developing industry talent.
New Zealand’s economy is in serious trouble in the first episode of this award-winning drama series about The Great Depression. An ailing Prime Minister and a weak government seem powerless in the face of a downward spiral caused by rising unemployment and falling export prices. Meanwhile, the plight of a boot maker seeking work while people are being laid off all around him, and a jeweller struggling to keep his business afloat and food on his family’s table bring home the human cost and social divisiveness being caused by the worsening crisis.
Wild Man is the missing link between 1970s musical legends Blerta, and the burgeoning of Blerta trumpeter Geoff Murphy as a director whose talents knew few bounds. The Blerta ensemble relocated to the mud-soaked West Coast to create this tale of pioneer con men and silent movie style pratfalls. Bruno Lawrence and Ian Watkin arrange a fight — and betting — in each town they arrive in, while Bruno channels his inner wild man from under a leopard skin. Wild Man was released in cinemas alongside John Clarke and Geoff Murphy’s Fred Dagg comedy Dagg Day Afternoon.
This feelgood classic was written in Wanaka on the first Blerta tour, for the group's kids' shows. The hope was that a children’s show would win over local audiences when Blerta's busload of merry pranksters rolled into a new town. The song's concept was inspired by a Margaret Mahy story, reshaped by Geoff Murphy. Corben Simpson composed the music, and actor Bill Stalker narrates. It became a top 20 single, but a video was never made. This clip — combining new scenes, and old footage of the Blerta bus and varied escapades — was created for 'best of' film Blerta Revisited.
If a single word could sum up the free-wheeling flavour of alternative music and comedy in Aotearoa during the 1970s, that word would surely be ... Blerta. The 'Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition' included foundation members of the NZ screen industry (Lawrence, Geoff Murphy, Alun Bollinger) plus other merry pranksters. Drawing on the Blerta TV series and beyond, Blerta Revisited (aka Blerta - The Return Trip) is an anarchic collection of comedy skits, musical interludes and films culled from the Blerta archives. Costa Botes writes about Blerta here.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years (until August 1983) 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 co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac. This first episode sees the family gathering for Grandfather’s 78th birthday. Vivian (Ilona Rodgers) moans to Tom (John Bach): “you’ve drunk all my cooking sherry”, then tenderises the beef with the empty bottle.
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) was set in a North Island timber town. Its portrait of the town’s folk offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; viewers and reviewers praised its Swannie-clad authenticity. This first episode sees a culture clash as a motorcycle gang (including a young Bruno Lawrence) comes to town and causes trouble, running Ray (Geoff Murphy) off the road; and stranded townie Diana (Ginette McDonald) falls in love with a local axeman while hunting.
One of NZ’s most experienced and prolific TV producers, Ross Jennings cut his teeth at Avalon in the late 1970s on dramas like Close to Home and Moynihan. After stints as Head of Drama at TVNZ and at Crawfords in Melbourne, he began a long association with Screentime Communicado where he created early reality TV series Middlemore, and Police 10-7. Jennings passed away on 25 March 2016.