Danny Down Under

Television, 1980 (Full Length)

Framed around a visit to New Zealand by Irish-born entertainer Danny La Rue, this all-singing all-dancing spectacular was recorded over three days in March 1980. The “fella in a frock” was famed for his drag acts and double entendres. Comedians Jon Gadsby and David McPhail provide local support as Marlene Dietrich visits a farm, Mae West visits the All Blacks changing room, and Margaret Thatcher meets Robert Muldoon (McPhail). Filmed at Avalon Studios, the revue was a co-production with London Weekend Television, made during the golden era of NZ TV variety shows.

Tonight with Cathy Saunders - Series One, Episode 12

Television, 1985 (Full Length Episode)

Merv Smith, Rob Campbell, Diamond Lil, and Mary Mountier are the guests on this 1980s chat show. Host Cathy Saunders talks to Smith about 20 years as Auckland’s number one radio host, before Smith takes over to interview Diamond Lil (aka female impersonator Marcus Craig), in a segment littered with innuendo. Campbell covers the contradictions of being a unionist on the BNZ board, and horse racing expert Mountier talks Kiwi thoroughbreds. Also appearing are Limbs Dance Company, Wellington band Hot Cafe, and 1985 Telequest winner Sharon Cunningham.

The Deep End - The Wrestler

Television, 1980 (Full Length)

TV series The Deep End saw reporter Bill Manson trying his hand at a variety of tasks, from female impersonator to Robinson Crusoe to captaining a navy frigate. In this episode, Manson is given six weeks to get in shape for a pro wrestling bout. To prepare himself for the dangerous job, 12 stone Manson hits the weights, grapples with wrestling legend Steve Rickard (On the Mat) and works with an acting tutor, barber and promoters on his onstage persona: ‘Doctor Mindbender’. “The thing that scares me," he says, "is just breaking my neck…”

Series

The Deep End

Television, 1980

American journalist George Plimpton was a pioneer of ‘participatory journalism’; writing stories describing his experiences trying on the shoes of boxer, comedian and trapeze artist. In Kiwi TV series The Deep End, reporter Bill Manson tested himself by taking turns as a professional wrestler, female impersonator, captain of a navy frigate, and so-called Mum to a family of 18 kids, among others. The globe-travelling journalist later said the show was one of the projects that remained dearest to his heart, despite — or because of — its mixture of joy and terror.  

Series

Tonight With Cathy Saunders

Television, 1985–1986

Tonight with Cathy Saunders saw host Saunders taking the reins solo, following short-lived talk show Saunders and Sinclair, which she co-presented with radio personality Geoff Sinclair. Both shows debuted in 1985. Among Saunders' guests were Māori activist Donna Awatere Huata, Australian actor Vince Martin, and female impersonator Marcus Craig (aka Diamond Lil). Saunders combined PR and marketing jobs with her television gigs— including time as a panelist on Selwyn Toogood's advice show Beauty and the Beast.

The Summer the Queen Came

Television, 1992 (Full Length)

Miles (Joel Tobeck) is 16. His family are falling apart and he's got a crush on his cousin. An imminent royal visit offends his mother's political sensibilities and his father is spending time with a female neighbour. Christmas is coming and the twins have murder on their minds. Director Niki (Whale Rider) Caro's survey of the everyday eccentricities of family was nominated for best TV drama scipt and director at the 1994 NZ Film and TV Awards. The film was one of three half-hour dramas commissioned by TVNZ under the series title Another Country. Producer Owen Hughes writes about it here.

Fish Skin Suit

Television, 2000 (Full Length)

While playing at the beach with their grandmother, two children witness an Elvis impersonator walk out of the sea. They believe he's the "fishman" lover of a female taniwha, Hine Tai. Magic realist mayhem — and tragedy — ensues as the stranger stirs up the life of their whanau in the quiet fishing village. The fable, written by Briar Grace-Smith and directed by Peter Burger, received six nominations at 2002 NZ TV Awards, winning Best Drama, and Camera. It screened on TV3 and features the Bic Runga song 'All Fall Down'.

Marcus Craig (Diamond Lil)

Entertainer, Actor

In the late 1970s actor and singer Marcus Craig ( aka Diamond Lil) popularised the glittering world of drag for mainstream New Zealand. His hit cabaret act featured talents like Billy T James and Tina Cross; his duet with Fred Dagg made the pop charts. His television credits include satirical series Something to Look Forward to, various guest slots and the role of co-host on variety show Top of the World

Bill Manson

Reporter, Presenter

After completing a BA in politics, English-born, Kiwi-raised Bill Manson joined Radio New Zealand, then reported for TV's Town and Around. By 1969 he was globetrotting  — it wouldn't be the last time — then hosting a radio show in Thailand. Back in New Zealand, he worked as a reporter for TVNZ from 1977 to 1981; in 1980 he won fame as presenter of The Deep End, having a go at everything from pro wrestling to female impersonator and naval commander. Now based in California after reporting everywhere from London to Eritrea, Manson has written for The Huffington Post, The Guardian and the cover of The San Diego Reader.

Richard O'Brien

Composer, Actor

Richard O’Brien made his mark in the history of musicals — and cult movies — after creating the tale of a sweet transvestite from Transylvania. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has played on cinema screens for decades. The stage show continues to win new fans. O’Brien has gone on to a wide range of projects, including movie Dark City and hosting New Zealand’s DNA Detectives and UK hit The Crystal Maze.