10 April 2014

TV flashback 1971


In an ever-expanding quest to tell the story of New Zealand TV-watching over the years, our next instalment of viewing summaries takes us to the night of Thursday, 15 April 1971. This takes us closer than ever to the birth of television in New Zealand - which, younger types should be reminded, only started in 1960. In 1971 New Zealand only had a single state-owned TV channel; TV2 did not emerge until 1975.

Moreover, the one channel being broadcast in 1971 was not a national network. For almost all of the first decade of TV broadcasting in New Zealand programming was delivered locally through four separate regional broadcasters (one in each of the four main centres) until the nationally networked New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC) was formed in 1969. Until then programming would often differ between regions, and when a programme was scheduled across all four regions it would generally be playing a different episode of the series in each region on the same night. Presumably New Zealand bought the rights to an overseas series once, and then each region would screen it in turns - the tape would be sent from Auckland to Wellington for the next week's broadcast, then on to Christchurch for the following week, and so on.

Part of the challenge of this piecemeal approach to broadcasting was that it was hard to respond to events of immediate national importance, like the 1971 guilty verdict for Arthur Allan Thomas, who was found guilty for the first time for the Crewe murders. (He would not be acquitted until 1979). One key example of considerable historical importance is the sinking of the Wahine on this day 46 years ago in 1968. Wikipedia reports that while the two North Island stations carried up-to-date footage of the transport disaster, the two South Island stations had to rely on distinctly unorthodox news-gathering methods:
The most notable example of the unlinked facilities was when the inter-island ferry TEV Wahine sank in Wellington Harbour on 10 April 1968 - newscasts of the disaster had to be transmitted over Post Office lines by WNTV1 to AKTV2 in Auckland. However, due to the storm disrupting both shipping and flights for a further 24 hours, the first video of the sinking crossed Cook Strait via regular transmissions from WNTV1 and was received on a privately owned television set in Blenheim, at the top of the South Island some 80 km line-of-sight distance from Wellington. A Blenheim based news reporter's film camera was pointed at the television, then the exposed film was rushed by road to Christchurch, developed and transmitted over CHTV3, concurrently sent further south to DNTV2 for transmission there via a coax cable link. Interestingly, this Blenheim film appears to be the only surviving footage of the first day, and it shows part of the television set that the camera was pointed at.
The edition of the Listener containing this week's TV listings (price: 12 cents) has a cover story on the financial woes affecting the farming sector, 'How are they doing down on the farm?' The editorial page contains an essay by Alexander MacLeod on overcrowding and poor conditions at the even-then antiquated Mt Eden Prison in Auckland, which argues that 'There are people in Mt Eden, and we debase our lives as well as theirs in keeping them in conditions that should not be tolerated by a society pleased to describe itself as prosperous and enlightened'.

The Listener's TV listings commence with a handy four by seven grid, showing the three key programmes on in primetime in each broadcasting region, for each night of the week. For Thursday 15 April the three main programmes are It Takes A Thief, Gallery and Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width. The schedules are also odd-looking to modern eyes because New Zealand TV had yet to work out a compromise between the length of New Zealand and British programmes and the shorter, advertising-packed American shows. Instead, primetime shows commenced at such hard-to-remember times as 8.16pm, 9.14pm and 10.36pm. But then I suppose part of the importance of consistent start and finish times for programmes is if you're hoping to switch between channels to maximise your viewing options; having only one channel means you're either watching the one channel, or you're not.

Let's examine the Thursday listings for Northern Television, Auckland's station, to get an idea of what was on offer in 1971. Broadcasts commenced at 2pm, and closedown was around midnight.

NORTHERN TELEVISION - 15 April 1971

2.00pm Headline News
2.30pm On Camera
2.46pm Cheyenne (Western, 1955-63, 108 episodes, s05e03 'Road to Three Graves' from 1960)
3.33pm Bewitched (Comedy, 1964-72, 254 episodes, s05e18 'Samantha the Bard' from Jan 1969)
3.58pm Cesar's World ('Travel: The jungle stronghold of New Guinea's newly discovered Stone Age warriors', hosted by Cesar Romero)
4.26pm The Wooden Tops (BBC puppet show, 1955-57, 48 episodes)
4.40pm Peter (Cartoon: 'Peter & the Robot Dog')
4.45pm The Space Varmint (Cartoon, perhaps from The Deputy Dawg Show?)
4.50pm The Roadrunner Show (Cartoon: Featuring the Roadrunner, Tweety, and Moustaken Identity')
5.11pm Zorro (Adventure, 1957-59, 82 episodes, s01e36 'The Sergeant Regrets' from 1958)
5.39pm Headline News & Weather
5.42pm This Week in Britain
5.47pm The Johnny Cash Show (Variety, 1969-71, 58 episodes, s01e15 'With guests Phil Harris, Bobbi Martin, Roy Orbison, the Creedence Clearwater Revival' - clip from this 1969 episode of Martin singing 'Your Cheatin' Heart')
6.40pm Gardening ('With Reg Chibnall')
7.00pm Network News
7.20pm Weather (and) This Day
7.46pm Coronation Street
8.16pm It Takes A Thief (Adventure, 1968-70, 65 episodes, s03e21 'The Suzie Simone Caper' from Mar 1970, featuring Robert Wagner & Susan Saint James. Plot: 'A Nazi diary reveals that a painting by Matisse has a hidden list of Nazi war criminals. Wally calls Al to steal the painting, which is protected by a sophisticated security system')
9.12pm Newsbrief
9.14pm Gallery (Current Affairs)
9.42pm Ironside (Detective, 1967-75, 199 episodes, s01e27 'The Due Process of the Law' from Mar 1968, with Raymond Burr, plus David Carradine as Pogo Weems)
10.36pm Never Mind The Quality - Feel The Width (ITV comedy, 1967-71, 41 episodes, s02e05 'Hello Mother, Hello Father' from Sept 1968 - 'Jewish Manny Cohen and Catholic Patrick Kelly run a small tailoring establishment in London's East End, and are always arguing about religion')
11.50pm Late News & Weather

The relative importance of television and radio in 1971 is notable in the space afforded to radio programme guides in the Listener, with two full pages devoted to each day's audio broadcasts, and separate listings for the National Programme, the YC Programme (classical music) and the commercial networks like Wellington's 2ZB (on 980kHz).

Contemporary music gets a look-in in a small singles chart feature, the 'Pop-o-meter', with the complicated reminder to 'Listen to Peter Sinclair's "Hit Wave!" on Thursday, April 15, at 7.2pm, on 1ZB, 2ZB, 3ZB, 4ZB, 1ZH, 1ZN, 1ZC, 1ZD, 2ZC, 2ZA, 2ZG, 2ZP, 2ZW, 3ZC and 4ZA. Saturday, April 16 [sic.] at 7.2pm, on 2ZN and 2ZD'. Here for posterity are the top 20 singles in New Zealand broadcast on 1 April 1971 - with only one (number 16) by a New Zealand artist. My favourite is definitely number 20 - with George running a close second!


  1. Lynn Anderson - Rose Garden
  2. Mixtures - Pushbike Song
  3. Hollies - Too Young To Be Married
  4. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Have You Seen The Rain
  5. Clive Dunn - Grandad
  6. Kinks - Apeman
  7. Mike Curb Congregation - Burning Bridges
  8. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Mr Bojangles
  9. Judy Collins - Amazing Grace
  10. Tom Jones - She's A Lady
  11. Freda Payne - Band of Gold
  12. George Harrison - What is Life
  13. Ray Stevens - Bridget the Midget
  14. Dawn - Knock Three Times
  15. Dusk - Angel Baby
  16. Hogsnort Rupert - Aunty Alice
  17. Osmonds - One Bad Apple
  18. Carpenters - For All We Know
  19. Johnny Johnson & the Bandwagon - Blame It on the Pony Express
  20. Mike Nesmith & the First National Band - Silver Moon 

Finally, there's not many garish photo-laden articles in this Listener, which was a text-heavy production back in 1971. But there is a stunning fashion offering near the back for 'Nightwear with flair' - three spiffing Bri-Nylon nightgowns. Settle, gentlemen!

See also:
TV: Flashback 1976, 1981, 1986, 1991
History: 1971 in New Zealand
Music: Neil Young 1971 (BBC 28 min live set)
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