For a small country from the edge of the world, achievements on the Olympic stage are badges — silver fern-on-black — of national pride: precious moments where we gained notice (even if it was Mum’s anthem playing on the dais). This legacy collection draws on archive footage, some rarely seen, to celebrate the stories behind Kiwis going for gold.
Billy Taitoko James is a Kiwi entertainment legend. His iconic ‘bro’ giggle was infectious and his gags universally beloved. This collection celebrates his screen legacy, life and inimitable brand of comedy: from the skits (Te News, Turangi Vice), to the show-stealing cameos (The Tainuia Kid), and the stories behind the yellow towel and black singlet.
Kim Hill interviews comedy legend John Clarke at his home in Melbourne. In this excerpt, Clarke talks about how easily humour travels and how Kiwis can be funny, and looks back at the birth of his iconic Fred Dagg character in the early 70s, with his black singlet, a hat given to Clarke by his sister, and some torn-off trousers from state television's wardrobe department. Clarke talks about New Zealand being far from alone in claiming to have a laconic, understated style of humour, and how he thinks the country is seen overseas.
This edition of the NFU’s long-running Weekly Review series firstly looks at making of apparel for the 1950 Empire Games, including singlets "dyed in the traditional black". Then it’s down to Wellington Zoo to meet their new elephant, Maharanee; and across the harbour to examine earthmoving efforts to alter the Hutt River's course and save Barton’s Bush from being swept away. Lastly, it’s up Mt Egmont (aka Mt Taranaki) to follow good keen rangers trapping possums and shooting goats — some hiding up trees — to protect the native forest and slopes from erosion.
Following the big-screen success of Topp Twins documentary Untouchable Girls came another chronicle of a Kiwi entertainment legend: sometime Taranaki bandito, giggling newsreader and crooner Billy T James. The film uses remastered footage and an impressive cast of interviews to capture his path from cabaret singer to fame, fan clubs and eventual financial and bodily collapse. Te Movie director Ian Mune originally cast James in the classic Came a Hot Friday, as the Māori-Mexican Tainuia Kid; Te Movie co-producer Tom Parkinson played a hand in making Billy T a TV star.
Billy T’s unique brand of humour is captured at its affable, non-PC best in this compilation of skits from his popular 1980s TV shows. There’s Te News (“somebody pinched all the toilet seats out of the Kaikohe Police Station...now the cops got nothing to go on!”) with Billy in iconic black singlet and yellow towel; a bro’s guide to home improvement; skits about first contact, and a take off of Miami Vice. No target is sacred (God, the IRA, the talking Japanese sketch) and there are classic advertising spoofs for Pixie Caramel’s “last requests” and Lands For Bags’ “where’d you get your bag”.
This energetic, good-natured clip takes hip hop to the farm, with King Kapisi donning a black singlet and making some dangerous moves both in the shearing shed, and with a lethal weapon constructed from a pair of jandals. The clip is loaded with cameos: aside from musical help from Che Fu, the first minute sees appearances by legendary All Blacks Michael Jones and Peter Fatialofa, while among the eel hunters are Oscar Kightley and Nathan Rarere. All this, and a bonus sequence where the crew attempt to freestyle on the theme of 'gidday'.
This NFU classic tells Peter Snell's story, up until just before his triumph at the Tokyo Olympics (he'd already won 800 metres gold in Rome, and beaten the world record for the mile). Snell's commentary — focused, candid — plays over footage of training and some of his key races. "It always gives a feeling of exhilaration to run in the New Zealand all black singlet." Snell offers insights into the marathon-style training of coach Arthur Lydiard (15 miles daily, 100 miles a week), and there's priceless footage of Snell running through bush and leaping fences in Auckland's Waiatarua hills.
Craig Hall's screen career kicked into gear when he played a proud Westie in 2000 big screen comedy Savage Honeymoon. Since then his CV has included telemovie Bloodlines and ongoing roles in The Strip, Outrageous Fortune and various Australian TV dramas. Amongst his movie roles are the cynical salesman in Anthony McCarten's Show of Hands, and starring as a commando in 2011 horror film The Devil's Rock.
Billy T James ranks as a key figure in the development of Kiwi comedy. Billy honed his talents as a singer and comedian on stages worldwide, then brought them to a local TV audience on throwback show Radio Times. His self-titled comedy show was a major ratings hit. His turn as the Tainuia kid in Came a Hot Friday is still fondly remembered — as is Billy T's infectious chuckle, black singlet and yellow towel.