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Top 40 NZ TV Classics

Curated by NZ On Screen team

This collection of 40 classic Kiwi TV series offers up images spanning 50 years. The titles range from Gloss to Gliding On, from Olly Ohlson to Nice One Stu, from Ready to Roll to wrestlers. In this special backgrounder, Stuff's James Croot writes about favourite moments of Kiwi TV. The list is in rough chronological order of when each series debuted.


Colin McCahon: I Am

Television, 2004 (Excerpts)

This documentary looks at the life and work of New Zealand's most celebrated painter, Colin McCahon. The first excerpt looks at McCahon's beginnings in Timaru and Dunedin, and his explorations of modernist techniques in paintings that reconceived 'the promised land' in an endemic landscape. The second excerpt covers McCahon's time in Muriwai in the 60s and 70s, and the influence of the environment and Māori spirituality on his work. Sam Neill reads from McCahon's letters and writings. Directed by Paul Swadel, it won best documentary at the 2005 Qantas Awards. 

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Johnstone's Journey - A Century of Wendelkens

Television, 1978 (Full Length Episode)

In the third episode of Johnstone’s Journey, broadcaster Ian Johnstone meets three generations of the Wendelken family. The episode is framed around an interview with matriarch Elsie, 85, then living in Timaru — her daughter Rae and grandson Ivan farm nearby. Son John is a public servant in Wellington; granddaughter Anne is a mother in suburban Wellington. Topics span from world wars, depression, farming and inflation, to shifting values. Says Elsie: “There are two things that have been left completely out of today’s young people: one is obedience, and the other is discipline.”



Short Film, 1992 (Full Length)

Jack Lovelock won New Zealand’s first Olympic athletics gold medal. He did so in spectacular fashion, winning the 1500 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In front of Hitler and 110,000 spectators, the famous ‘Lovelock kick’ unfurled into NZ’s sporting and collective consciousness: from Timaru to Oxford, to Berlin triumph. Yet Lovelock was an enigmatic achiever. In this short film, the race — the supremely judged apex of a sporting career — is contrasted with his mysterious and tragic death, in front of a train on the New York subway in 1949.


Top Town - 1977 Final

Television, 1977 (Full Length Episode)

This long-running travelling TV game show pitted towns against each other in a series of physical challenges. Leveraging nostalgia for a fast-fading time when NZ's population (and identity) resided in rural hub towns, Top Town was Kiwi light-entertainment gold. This 1977 final, presented by Howard Morrison and radio host Paddy O'Donnell, features short shorts, jockettes, greasy poles, 'balloon baloney', and beautiful scorer Theresa. A large crowd at Okara Park watch Timaru, Greymouth, Waihi and Woodville compete for civic bragging rights in the sun.

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Dilemmas - 3 December 1993

Television, 1993 (Full Length Episode)

In 1993, advice show Dilemmas introduced a new host to replace Australian GP Kerryn Phelps. With Marcus Lush at the helm, this episode features panelists Ginette McDonald, Alice Worsley and George Balani. Among the troubles the group deal with are an anonymous phone call about an affair, and a self-professed "nice guy" who can’t hold a date. Lush gets briefly distracted by an abundance of pens on his desk, before the team touch on problem smoking in the office and George Balani, resplendent in novelty Bugs Bunny tie, suggests calling in the Mongrel Mob.

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Weekly Review No. 195 - New Zealand Celebrates VE Day

Short Film, 1945 (Full Length)

The war is Europe is over and New Zealanders take to the streets to celebrate in this NFU newsreel. The relief and excitement at the end of hostilities against Germany is clearly visible on the faces of the thousands who flood into New Zealand's towns and cities. But Deputy Prime Minister Walter Nash reminds the crowd the war is not over: Japan has yet to surrender. That doesn't stop wild celebrations following the National Declaration of Peace. Civilians and servicemen alike enjoy the party, many looking the worse for wear "in advanced stages of celebration".

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Born in New Zealand

Short Film, 1958 (Full Length)

This National Film Unit production was made to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Plunket Society. Plunket — aka ‘Karitane’ — nursing is a New Zealand system of ante-natal and post-natal care for mothers and infants, founded by Sir Truby King: “the man who saved the babies”. Featuring original nurse Joanne MacKinnon, the film follows Plunket from a time of high infant mortality to providing contemporary nursing to a New Zealand flush with postwar optimism: “a family country, where children grow happily in the fresh air and sunshine.”


Richard Pearse

Television, 1975 (Full Length)

Around 31 March 1903, eccentric farmer Richard Pearse climbed into a self-built monoplane and flew for about 140 metres, before crashing into a Waitohi gorse bush. The amount of control he maintained and exact date (before the Wright brothers?) has been oft-debated. This award-winning TV film (an early script for Hunter's Gold's Roger Simpson) dramatises the life of the reclusive young inventor and his flying machine, from his youth up until the flight itself. Actor Martyn Sanderson captures 'Mad Dick's' obsession in a Feltex-winning performance.

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Seven Rivers Walking - Haere Mārire

Film, 2017 (Trailer)

Seven Rivers Walking - Haere Mārire looks at the rivers that meander across and define the Canterbury Plains. With the cleanliness of Aotearoa's waterways being a contemporary talking point, the film looks at the impacts of farming and industry on the rivers that supply livelihoods and drinking water to the people of Canterbury. Co-directors Gaylene Barnes and Kathleen Gallagher follow a group of Cantabrians who hike and raft the length of the rivers, and talk to locals en route about the significance of the region's waterways. The film debuts at the 2017 Christchurch Film Festival.