Kiwi television as we once knew it (Part one)

Chris Bourn

In 1962 I returned to NZ after two years O.E. to being constantly confronted with the question, “did you know we now have Television?”

And what did we have?

In rural areas flickering grey black and white images seen through snow: hired 17” and 23” TV sets all sporting collapsible (frequently) rabbit ears: commuters glued to Tisco’s and LV Martin’s shop windows as they made their way home totally absorbed by this new miracle: families sitting in darkened rooms with their neighbours sometimes with blue cellophane covering the screen so as not to absorb harmful rays!!

So compelling was this fascinating new Broadcasting media that grown men would switch on their (hired) sets at 4.45pm to watch the pre-transmission test pattern and to grapple with technical jargon like “horizontal hold” and the always puzzling “contrast.”

Exasperated housewives constantly had to change their husbands settings back to what they were originally when he had left for work. At least with only one channel there weren’t fights over who controlled the remote.

5pm and transmission began with an opening graphic followed by a severely coiffed female continuity  announcer and then for kids, “Clutch Cargo with Spinner and Paddlefoot”. Mesmerising programming not for quality but because the kids were quiet and absorbed for once  whilst Mum prepared tea.

Elizabeth Andrews – at 19, the youngest NZBC continuity announcer.

There were 4 separate Channels, AKTV 2, WNTV 1. CHTV 3 and DNTV 2. (DN refused to have 4 after its name as it indicated last place!)They all had their favourite continuity announcers who were elevated to absolute stardom. These announcers (all from radio) bridged the gaps between programmes and became household names. What they wore and what they said provided endless discussion at morning tea the next day. WNTV 1 had Clare Mazengarb, Norma Horsley and Stephanie Till then in 1964 newer and younger announcers Relda Familton, Ros Walker and Judy Callingham were introduced plus the youngest female ever, 19-year-old Elizabeth Andrews, whose on screen career lasted till daytime announcers finished in 1988.

Then at 7.30pm, The News. Preceded by a separate weather announcer seen pushing hinged flat boards away with paper hand-drawn maps pinned to them. HIGH TECH!!

WNTV 1 had a number of outstanding radio newsreaders rostered to present the TV News. Peter Brian (the newsreader on the night of the Wahine disaster), Bill Toft, Brian Hudson and the new boy on the block who became the most popular of them all – Dunedin’s Dougal Stevenson. They read the 70% spoken items from flimsy typed pages with no rehearsal (the channel’s Presentation Director directed the weather then vacated the hot seat in the control room for the News Director).

Always on the News set desk the ominous black telephone that rang live on air when the film was out of running order, upside down or in some cases not there at all. The Academy Award acting skills of the newsreaders was brilliant as they disguised the panic coming down the phone line from the control room behind them.

Programmes were trafficked daily from and to each channel so for example Coronation Street screened in Auckland on Monday, travelled to Wellington next morning and on to Dunedin for Thursday. Bad weather or cancelled flights were never considered!!

Mentioning Coronation Street reminds me of the biggest sin of all in those heady days of Television, even incurring questions in Parliament – playing the wrong episode of Coro!! Heads would roll.  Television Executives were paranoid about incurring the wrath or attention of politicians. I remember two incidents with the then Prime Minister Keith Holyoake. I was in the station manager’s office when a call came through from the PM’s office. He stood to take the call! On the occasion he was to be interviewed another senior station executive was deputised to lay on the studio floor beside the desk and directed an electric fan on to Holyoake’s face to ensure no beads of sweat broke out on the privileged top lip.

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Chris Bourn

Chris joined WNTV1 as a Presentation Officer 1964 and became the channel’s first Sports Producer. He went on to become Entertainment Producer and Director and then for 12 years was Head of Presentation, Promotion and Publicity. Other positions included Head of Entertainment, and Director of Opera in the Park, Christmas in the Park and Symphony in the Park for 20 years. Chris retired in 2002, and was awarded the Golden Disc from the NZ Recording Industry for services to Entertainment, and the NBOA Award for service to Television.