Men of the Silver Fern was a four-part celebration of all things All Black, made in 1992 for the centenary of the NZRFU (now known as New Zealand Rugby). This first episode covers the early period from when Charles Monro kicked off the sport in NZ in Nelson on 14 May 1870, through the establishment of rules, provincial unions and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. The programme surveys the front-running international tours — from the 1884 Flaxlanders to the 1888 Natives, 1905 Originals and 1924 Invincibles — where the All Blacks’ "winning reputation" was forged.
There have been many royal visits since Prince Alfred first came to NZ in 1867 for pig hunting and picnicking. Made for TV (it screened in March 1970), this NFU title surveys tours from George V in 1901 to Queen Elizabeth II in 1963, via archive footage and photos. It also looks at NZ’s changing relationship to the “distant mother country”. Tours include the Prince of Wales in 1920 (he is said to have shaken 20,000 hands), the Duke and Duchess of York in 1927 (the footage is silent so there’s no speech from the future King George VI), and Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953-54 Coronation Tour.
This silent 16mm gem shows two legendary All Black teams in action. The film opens with a roll-call of the returning ‘Invincibles’, who — starring fullback George Nepia — were unbeaten on their international tour of 1924/5; and then features match highlights. The second clip opens with rare footage of the 1905 ‘Originals’; before returning to packed 1925 Twickenham for a test match, where the Invincibles perform “the famous Māori War Cry”, show off the Kiwi mascot (intended as a gift for the first team to beat them), meet the Prince of Wales, and defeat England.
In this episode of the archive-compiled history series, Bernard Kearns focuses on the Roaring Twenties. Soldiers returning from the First World War struggle to tame the land as commodity prices fall. The Labour Party, with miners as its backbone, gains a foothold on the political scene, and the Ratana Church emerges as an alternative to more distant Māori leaders. In Dunedin, the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition proves a huge success and members of the Royal Family are popular visitors to our shores. But the Great Depression looms.
Surveying All Blacks rugby from 1905 until 1967, this wide-ranging documentary is framed around the NZ Rugby Football Union’s 75th jubilee celebrations. The archival gold mine includes matches from the 1905 Originals and 1924 Invincibles tours, and clashes with Springboks, British Lions, Wallabies and French rivals. There's also footage of NZ schoolboy and NZ Māori clashes, and a jubilee match with Australia. Funded by Caltex NZ, the documentary was made by legendary Pacific Films co-founder John O’Shea. Press on the backgrounds tab for a list — in order — of all the matches.
In the second episode of this drama based on the 1888-89 tour of Great Britain by the NZ Natives rugby team, Pony — one of the side’s stars — is courted by society and invited to shoot with the Prince of Wales; and his Māori blood is also a novelty in the music halls. He’s hoping to renew his acquaintance with Charlotte — the granddaughter of a rugby loving Earl — but there are matches to be played in London. Locating his English father is far from heart warming, but his disappointment is more than compensated for as Charlotte follows him to the city.
If director and producer Peter Coates was a superhero, he’d surely be ‘Renaissance Man’. His contribution to championing the arts on television is arguably heroic, and his career multi-faceted. From 1971 to 2004 Coates produced, directed or scripted hundreds of TV productions covering a smorgasbord of topics, from operas to soap operas, and from portraits of New Zealand artists to rugby coaching films.