Revisiting New Zealand in 1976 (the Listener) #2

This week the listener cover story (18 September) features a preview of a radio programme titled ‘Ladies, a plate please’. For those that don’t know what this means, it refers to the cultural practice whereby, when inviting a couple to a social event, the female was to bring a plate, preferably with something appetising on it (usually home baking). The cover features prominent cook Alison Holst, opera singer Kiri te Kanawa, and a young Marilyn Waring, who had just been elected to Parliament aged about 23.

The article is titled ‘Feminism: the wave rolls on’, and features veteran campaigner Elsie Locke, Rosslyn Noonan, the NZ organiser for International Women’s Year 1975, and Susan Kedgley, described as ‘a spokesperson for women’s lib in New Zealand in the early 70s’. Kedgley is ‘back here on leave from New York’, without mentioning her job at the U.N., where she apparently dated Kofi Annan. Sue Kedgley would later become a Green Party MP, along with Keith Locke (son of Elsie), who was targeted by security services.

Anyway back to the listener. There is a particularly interesting article on abstract art by Wystan Curnow. This includes photographs of paintings by Gordon Walters and Gretchen Albrecht which are probably worth a small fortune now. Ray Columbus writes the rock column this week, firstly introducing the readers to a German band named Kraan, which don’t fit into the Krautrock genre. Meanwhile, Joe Walsh has released You Can’t Argue with a Sick Mind, ably assisted by the other Eagles. The Eagles Greatest Hits moves up one place on the charts, Dark Side of the Moon moves down two, Hideaway by America comes in at 14, and Santana’s Amigos makes a rapid rise to reach number 17.

Moving to the Wednesday evening TV listings. Both The Brothers and Survivors are promoted with photos of the stars and a write up on the page. Brother David Hammond is played by Robin Chadwick, and he is seen kneeling in front of his Kendo equipment. Apparently Chadwick is a New Zealander, born in Whakatane, and he did all the usual Kiwi lurks, ‘like working on the wharves and in the woolsheds at night’. Meanwhile, on the TV1 page we see a photo of Carolyn Seymour, shivering in the winter cold, with a caption ‘Survivor?’. Her character, Abby Grant, is quoted as saying that “we’re less practical than Iron Age men,” without the ability to make and maintain all the complex systems of modern living. Apparently the real question in Survivors, according to the write up, is whether our ‘shaky pyramid’ of unstable globalism is re-created, or a new civilisation is formed with ‘the tiller of the soil recognised for his skills and where nuclear fission is only used peacefully’.

Of course Survivors was known for philosophical discussions of the big picture, the future of mankind, that kind of thing. But mostly by male characters with something of a messianic complex. The Abby Grant quote comes from a conversation with the character Arthur Wormley, played by George Baker, who leads what turns out to be an all male militia in a country house. Abby is attracted to the veneer of normality, and the sight of the power being on and a cooked dinner. But after repeating her spiel about civilisation she realises that Wormley, a former trade union hard man, actually leads a vigilante type of outfit. In his own meandering speech, and his tie and tweed jacket, Wormley declares that he is the one with the organisation skills to re-create a government, and also to allocate the remaining food supplies. He also executes his main rival, an ex military man who may have owned the house they are occupying, over Mrs Grant’s objections.

This second episode, ‘Genesis’, introduces the third character in the trio of survivors, Greg Preston. Preston makes a rather grand entrance, flying a helicopter back from the Netherlands, where he has been working as an engineer. Preston is able to land right beside his small cottage in the countryside and finds his wife dead, something that does not seem to bother him that much. He then drives off in his nifty MG car, looking to exercise his new found freedom. It is not too long, though, before he runs into a woman, Anne, flagging him down on the road. She is living in a shed in an abandoned quarry, with a man who has just had an accident and is pinned under a tractor. Preston proves his practicality by getting Vic out from underneath the tractor, but then begins to realise that Anne expects him to stay with them, and their impressive stock of collected goodies.

The quarry is both a metaphor for the prevailing econmic system, and a good place to hide out, at risk only of complete boredom. Anne herself turns out to be an aristocrat that is rather mercurial, at times almost pathetic, and at others rather strident in her ambition for commandeering as much stuff as she can. The parallel with Wormley is interesting, as the story cuts between the two scenes at the quarry and the country house that Wormley’s men occupy. Anne realises that any kind of accident could prove fatal, so she wants to live it up a bit; and, ironically perhaps, she also knows that money itself is no longer the main currency, it will be the control of the goods. There’s “an abundance of everything” according to Anne, as long as she has a man to look after her like Preston.

There is another quote from Anne that was chosen for the TV listing for the ‘Genesis’ episode. As one of the new rich, and holder of ‘things’, Anne expects that other people can do the work for them in return for a warm coat, and things like that. Preston is sceptical, and after trying to attend to Vic’s injuries, heads off in the morning not expecting to return. But, after raiding a pharmacy in town, and picking Lucy Fleming’s character (Jenny), he returns down the road to the quarry. There he meets Anne walking up in her fur coat and with a bag. She announces that Vic has died, and the trio head off to find another shelter. But Jenny and Preston end up with Abby, and leave Anne behind. So the actual story will be the trio, but it would have been better with just Abby and Jenny. Certainly, in Terry Nation’s book Anne, whom he calls Sarah, tries (unsuccessfully) to seduce Greg Preston; but in the TV series, Vic survives to seek revenge on Anne.

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