New Zealand Days: Part 4 – Wellington

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We had been warned. We should not have been surprised when our bed sheets were torn from the clothes line and distributed down the gorse covered hillside behind our rented house in Karori, a windswept suburb of Wellington, capital city of New Zealand, in 1971, not long after we moved there.

In 1966 the New Zealand National Film Unit produced a documentary called “Toehold on a Harbour”, which, not without typical kiwi irony, will give you a fair idea of what we were up against, including the wind problem and the near perpendicular housing sprawl. (Stay with this film, it really does the job, even though we moved to Wellington five years after the film was released).

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Working for Auntie 1973 revisited (RIP Michael Dean)

Some time ago I wrote about my short-lived spell in the BBC2 Presentation Programmes Department in 1973, not long after the demise of Late Night Line-Up in 1972. Its predecessor “Line-up” had started out as a kind of early evening trailer when BBC2 first went on the air in 1964 but later that year it morphed into “Late Night Line-Up” featuring “open and candid discussion among invited guests”, transmitted live after the 9.00 p.m. watershed.

In my earlier post I mentioned Michael Dean, whom I got to know post Late Night Line-Up, as a friend and colleague, when I moved over from BBC2 programme directing to BBC1 Presentation Department as a Network Director (AKA Transmission Control and Trailers.) At that time Michael was working for Auntie as a continuity announcer prior to returning to his native New Zealand, and we used to chat and have a laugh or two in the tea room from time to time, often about NZ , whence I had just returned after a six-year stopover. At the time I knew Michael had worked on Late Night Line-Up, but did not fully realise that he had been a celeb as a “highbrow” arts and current affairs presenter and interviewer on the show, along with colleagues such as Denis Tuohy, Joan Bakewell, Tony Bilbow and Philip Jenkinson. Continue reading

New Zealand days – part 1

Warning: this post contains scary insects……..

Our rather sudden decision to emigrate to New Zealand in 1967 was really just an impulsive lark. It just seemed a good idea at the time. We were newlyweds and with my mediocre degree my prospects in the UK did not seem in any way promising. At the time commonwealth countries were making some tempting offers to teachers and nurses, so we fitted the bill.

Once the idea took hold, it was a Goldilocks’ porridge choice between Australia (too hot), Canada (too cold) and New Zealand (just right?). A choice based on stereotypes and skimpy research, and in my case influenced by the example of a boy at Fryent primary school who, years before, had beamed down in London NW9 one day from planet New Zealand. Actually I don’t think he remembered much about NZ, but I became so fascinated with this kid from a country on the other side of the world that I read up about it  in my second home, Wembley town hall library. (No internet then). The land of the long white cloud must have lodged itself in my young brain as a romantic aspiration; after all for us Brits it’s as far as you can go south without starting to come back.

And it has people called Maoris, covered in tattoos……… Continue reading

My window faces the South: Part 1

Coming into the BBC from New Zealand television in 1973, I quickly realised that my training and experience as a TV producer / director there did not fit well into the quasi civil service BBC job hierarchy, so at the time I had no choice but to settle for the assistant producer “rank” when I was hired to work as a network director (transmission controller) at the TV Centre in London, on a series of short-term contracts. The job was a means to an end; I wanted get back to making programmes as soon as possible.

In those days BBC Television didn’t normally hire programme directors. Instead they called them assistant producers. A fairly meaningless title really, as almost everyone on a production assists a producer. Also an insulting title, especially on live programmes, where the split second decisions of the programme director translate instantaneously into actions which dictate what the viewer sees and hears, independently of a producer. Continue reading

Thank you General de Gaulle (for my bubble car)

1965 was not a good year for me. As a student reading French I was required, not unreasonably, to spend a year teaching in France. This ought to have been a pleasure, but by and large it turned out not to be. However there was one unexpected consolation prize, thanks to General de Gaulle, then president of the republic.

For some unknown reason, that year he decided to pay an extra month’s wages to all those like me who had been engaged in the mostly futile task of teaching English to French schoolchildren. This inexplicable but welcome gesture enabled me to buy my first car – an Isetta bubble car.

From two wheeled hell to three wheeled heaven! Continue reading

Trolleybus blues, NZ 1972

How many people do you know who have been hurled into the air by a snapping trolleybus cable? And lived to tell the tale.

I can’t find anyone, apart from me; a few injuries and deaths caused by other trolley bus accidents, but nobody who managed to escape death-by-trolleybus without the presence of a trolleybus. Before I tell the tale, if, like my grandchildren you don’t know what a trolleybus is, or was, it’s like a tram without tramlines, powered by overhead electric cables. Trolleybuses replaced trams in various cities, including London, where I was dragged up, and, as it happens, in New Zealand, after the war. Let me set the scene. Continue reading

Working for Auntie: BBC, London: 1973 – 1974

Warning: this post contains anecdotes and shameless name dropping………

1973 was not a good year to be in Britain, let alone to return there after six years in New Zealand. Return we did though, with very little money, no home and two lovely kids. My immediate priority was to get a job.

The first bite I got from hawking my CV around was at Scottish television in Glasgow. I had a couple if interviews there, and the company were keen to take me on, but there was a problem with the ACTT union closed shop. No ticket-no-job but no-job-no-ticket. After some negotiation they did offer me a trainee post, which I had to turn down, mainly because we could not afford to live on the trainee salary. Pity really; I liked it there, they seemed a friendly bunch. I recall being introduced to a genial up-and-coming comedy performer by the name of Billy Connelly. Maybe I should have accepted that offer.

At the same time I was trying my luck at the BBC. Continue reading