In 1976 I was a young journalist, and along with a number of other environmentalists I was increasingly concerned that New Zealand politicians and the New Zealand Electricity Department were seriously looking at nuclear power as an electricity alternative. The history of nuclear has been rewritten to seem as though it was all based on a resistance to nuclear weapons. But the lobby against nuclear power lobby was far bigger in numbers.
In mid 1976 a group of environmental groups met together in Wellington. I was not associated with any of those groups particularly, except for the Values Party. The groups formed into a loose coalition: Campaign for Non Nuclear Futures.
On the side of that I formed another little group called Campaign Half Million. The wider coalition had resources (eg. knowledgeable scientists) that we could call on for their ability to speak on our Campaign's behalf.
My partner for the Campaign Half Million petition was Byrdie Mann (now Byrdie Ayres) and all around the country we formed little groups to carry out what we hoped would become New Zealand's largest petition. A petition is useful to show politicians, publicly, how many votes may be at stake over one issue. It was a massive undertaking, done by volunteers from all political persuasions.
Many people thought it was a Values Party thing but it wasn't. In fact it was as full of National Party people as Values or Labour. With hundreds of people all around the county eventually helping, we made it to a third of a million, or almost 10 per cent of the New Zealand population at that time. Up to then it was the largest petition gathered in New Zealand's history.
Where did Spike Milligan enter the frame? As a journalist and campaigner I could see the worth of 'celebrity endorsement' and when I heard that Spike Milligan was in town I had one of those epiphanies that you can possibly only have when you're in your unstoppable 20s: ask him to help us!
Spike was hugely popular courtesy of The Goon Show and 'On the Ning Nang Nong' etc, and had just released Badjelly the Witch, which was to become beloved by a generation of Kiwi children (and adults).
I was sure he would think as we did on the nuclear issue. I knew he was staying at the then White Heron Lodge, on his way south to stay with an old friend in Wellington. So I quickly typed a begging letter and drove up to try to see him - only to find out he'd left 10 minutes before for the airport. So I sped out to the airport where I was told that he had just got on the plane. I stood at the departure gate with the letter in my hand, not knowing what to do ... then I took a punt and asked a man boarding the plane if he could possibly find Spike Milligan and pass our request onto him. Which amazingly he did.
Meanwhile, I rang my friend Norm Smith, a fellow journo in Wellington and asked him if he would meet the plane and ask Spike Milligan what he thought about doing the ads. Norm obliged, and subsequently so did Spike. We were ecstatic. Enter third journo Phil Alpers [later of Fair Go fame] who quickly drafted a few pieces for Spike to riff off, gathered a crew around him, and went to shoot on a wind-swept Wellington hillside.
Our intention was to show them on TVNZ. But when I rolled up to make the booking, they blocked them, arguing that we couldn't use a celebrity to promote political causes. We counter-argued that at that stage Stratford Johns was promoting the police, so we should be able to use Spike for our cause.
So enlisting more of our fourth estate friends, a very visible public argument ensued. Out of that, TVNZ journalist Shaun Brown, decided that it was a newsworthy item. So the ads were shown in prime time TV, on the news, for nothing, in the context of: "here are the ads that TVNZ has banned."
This [March 2012] is the first time since then that they have been aired since, and sadly, with debate over a safe and green future still unresolved for the better, they are still apt viewing. As Spike says:
"Make a safe future for your kids. It's your responsibility. Do it today ... Just put up a windmill daddy!"