New Zealand's longest-running television programme has turned 50! Country Calendar debuted on 6 March 1966; and is still going strong on our Saturday nights telling us stories of rural life in NZ. This Spotlight collection features classic episodes from years gone by, and a ScreenTalk interview w...
Champion shearer Godfrey Bowen returns to Akers station at Opiki, Manawatu where he set a world record in 1953 by shearing 456 sheep in nine hours (shown in archive footage). He shows off his biceps (not far from the 23 inches they used to be) and explains the Bowen Technique which revolutionised shearing by reducing the number of blows required to remove a fleece. Bowen talks about how his life changed (travelling the world and an MBE) and there's footage of Agrodome with its trained sheep, which he opened in Rotorua, with his brother Ivan.
Ask Country Calendar viewers which shows they remember and inevitably the answer is "the spoofs" — satirical episodes that screened unannounced. Sometimes there was outrage but mostly the public enjoyed having the wool pulled over their eyes. Created by producer Tony Trotter and Bogor cartoonist Burton Silver, the first (in late 1977) was the fencing wire-playing farmer and his "rural music". This special episode collects the best of the spoofs, from the infamous radio-controlled dog, to the gay couple who ran a "stress-free" flock, and more malarkey besides.
Hosted by one-time mod Ray Columbus, That's Country was one of the highest rating shows of the early 80s. This 1982 episode features veteran Kiwi country performers (John Hore, Patsy Riggir) and trans-Tasman pop star Dinah Lee. The opening ensemble number features Canadian singer Glory-Anne Carriere and US duo the Gypsy Mountain Pickers, along with Australian Jade Hurley (who still bills himself as the King of Country Rock). Check out the rhinestone cowboys and girls as they belt out the theme song, then settle in for solo performances. Yee-ha!
Frank Whitten won probably his biggest audience when 10 million Brits saw him play an outrageous bastard in this primetime melodrama. This first episode sees Ceci (Glaswegian actor Valerie Gogan) arriving from England hoping for a better life, and instead finding herself trapped on a rundown farm with a rapist, a bitter old man and a simpleton. NZ producers Lloyd Phillips and Rob Whitehouse won finance from TVNZ, Westpac and the UK's Central Television for the six-part mini-series, written by Brit Elizabeth Gowans. There were 118 speaking parts, most of them Kiwi.
This Country Calendar episode profiles Billy Riddell, one of the few remaining drovers who was still moving herds the old fashioned way in the mid 1970s: “on the hoof” (the art of droving was being supplanted by rail and livestock trucks). The episode accompanies Riddell on a ‘drive’, as he moves a herd of cattle along the East Coast. Riddell’s narration recalls stampedes, river crossings, losing dogs and stock out to sea, the joys of butter, and why townies shouldn’t be on the roads: “the roads were there before cars were even blimmin' thought of”. He also reflects on a drover’s life.
Designer Garnet Nelson has a distinctive attitude to fashion for the rural sector, showcased in a range of clothes combining style and practicality - although the "after-five combinations" may be a step too far. This might be one of the celebrated Country Calendar spoof episodes, but the buy-in from models who could only be farmers and not actors is a sight to behold. And the fashion tips don't end there. Reporter (and long time Country Calendar producer) Frank Torley adds his own sartorial note with an unfeasibly long shirt collar that has a mind of its own.
Enjoying sex, drugs and rock'n'roll is difficult when you have to be up early to shear sheep. Country Calendar visited Rangitikei to investigate the Dickheads phenomenon, and found the Taihape band ready to mumble when it came to discussing the hazards of mixing music with farming. The Dickheads are seen rehearsing at Dickheadquarters, in the stockyards, and yarning at the New Taihape Hotel as they head for the big time: an afternoon slot at Sweetwaters, 1982. As a former shearer, TVNZ director Keith Slater identified with the Dickheads' dilemmas.
"Another adventure with Tim" is how one of Tim Wallis’ friends wryly puts it. The "adventure" came about when Wallis combined an “expensive toy” and a noxious pest: using helicopters to recover deer shot by hunters in inaccessible South Island backblocks. Live capture to stock deer farms followed and a multi-million dollar industry was born. At the peak of his operations, Wallis had a fleet of 35 helicopters. The aerial shots in and around Milford Sound are magnificent; and the stories he tells of his many crashes are 'she'll be right' Boy's Own classics.
The Country GP (Lani Tupu) takes a back seat in an episode set in the first week of 1950, which centres around the arrival in Mason’s Valley of the parents of local teacher Tim Bryant (Duncan Smith). The discovery that Tim’s father Sid (played by Vigil scriptwriter Graeme Tetley) is a unionist and paid up member of the Communist Party shatters the township’s apparently relaxed way of life. Sid has come to warn his son of difficult times ahead that could see him back in prison, but his presence inflames some of the locals and leads to a questioning of the true meaning of freedom.