Revisiting New Zealand in 1976 (the Listener) #3

Well it’s the end of September in 1976, and the cover of the listener has a publicity shot for a new New Zealand TV drama, Hunter’s Gold. This is a young adult costume drama, set in the goldfields of Otago, in the South Island, in the nineteenth century. It was written by an ex-pat, Roger Simpson, but still marks the revitalisation of the TV and film industry in this period, and the interest in historical dramas set in colonial times.

The other cover story involves the plight of a native bird, a flightless parrot called the Kakapo. Written by Anna Kenna, the story of the likely extinction of the Kakapo focusses on the lack of knowledge of the bird up to that point, given that there had been no confirmed identification of any females for many years. There has now been a breeding programme for some time, but there are still less than 200 Kakapo alive. But, other female activists are highlighted in the listener this week, after a mention last week: Elsie Locke writes about education, and Sue Kedgley is interviewed in the Persons column.

In this week’s Rock column Gordon Campbell reviews a Motown LP called The Bitch is Back, by Yvonne Fair. Not the one by Elton John. Elton and Kiki Dee are still top of the singles chart, holding out against two Abba songs, and Henry Gross. Neil Diamond is still top of the Albums chart (with Beautiful Noise), and has Hot August Night enter at number 15. The album storming into the top 10 is Frampton Comes Alive, at number 9, just below the Seekers, and just above the Dark Side of the Moon. The other big mover is Joe Walsh with You Can’t Argue with a Sick Mind at number 19, just below Olivia Newton-John.

On to the Wednesday night TV listings, and the write ups of the prime time British shows. On TV 1 there is a photo of Erin Geraghty and Fiona Fullerton in their nurses uniforms for Angels. And on TV2 there is a somewhat poorly reproduced publicity shot of Gabrielle Drake playing croquet, in a very long dress, with the caption “Gabrielle with the nice brown hair.” It’s hard to tell if she has brown hair, due to the black and white shot, but we are assured she does have brown hair, and was only wearing a blonde wig in The Brothers.

At 8.30 pm on TV1 we see the third episode of Survivors, called ‘Gone Away’, written by Terry Nation. Gone Away begins with a long scene in which Tom Price, played by Talfryn Thomas, comes across a deserted farm, and decides to take a shot gun, before catching a glimpse of a boy in a kitchen mirror. Tom Price is a key character for Terry Nation, a kind of rover with a habit of talking his way out of situations, what we would call a bit of a bullshit artist. In Nation’s book Tom Price is the last one left, the ultimate survivor, but in the TV series he initially appears to be not more than a tramp with a habit of lying. It seems that Talfryn may not have been a very pleasant fellow, but the man could act.

The Tom Price character tends to pop up at odd times in the first few episodes as a minor one, but becomes more endearing with repeated viewings on DVD, even adding a hint of humour at times. In the first episode he is asleep in a makeshift shelter on a hill when Jenny comes across him, and they have a brief conversation. By the second episode Jenny is desperate for some company when she encounters Price again, coming out of a mens store wearing a new suit, and about to get in a Rolls Royce. Tom’s brief joy ride in the Roller is the only light bit of the second episode, but he continues to keep his distance from Jenny, and prefers to roam around completely aimlessly, avoiding other people.

The Tom Price character stands out because he is the only one that appears to get dirty; even though the other characters are also sleeping rough, they always appear to be clean. This indicated some of the problems with continuity that Survivors had, and also that only some aspects of the story were realistic. Of course it’s all about class. The criticism of Survivors was that it lacked diversity, all of the characters were middle class, except Tom Price. I would have thought that was the point in a way: all these middle class people that have secure lives or useful functions in the old society find themselves ill-equipped to survive the post-plague world. This was even more the case with the female characters, all are very safe in a way, and none are grubby little liars like Tom Price.

One of the only things that Price says in Gone Away that was true, is that he came across the young boy in a dispute over a chicken. This was just before he found Abby Grant’s new settlement in an abandoned church, with her knickers on a makeshift washing line, and he decided to help himself to some food and then have a kip. In the meantime, Abby, Jenny and Greg Preston have gone away to get some more fuel for the Volvo, and to scavenge for food at an out of the way store. There they encounter rats, a dead body with a ‘looter’ sign hanging from it, and a trio of men with guns. They are led by Dave Long (played by Brian Peck who is also in The Brothers), who are part of Arthur Wormley’s militia. After a stand-off, and the trio holding up our heroes at gun-point, Jenny grabs one of the guns from the character in a suit and tie (played by Robert Gillespie). Abby takes the keys from their jeep, Preston shoots out a tyre, and the heroes are off in the Volvo. After some soul searching on a river footbridge, Abby realises that there will be many men with guns, and no co-operative effort to re-build society as she had assumed.

When the Volvo gets back to the church the trio come across Tom Price, they build a fire, then decide that the young boy Price tells them about might be Abby’s son. Off the trio go into the woods as darkness falls. This is when we get the quote that provides the blurb for the TV listing for Gone Away. Greg Preston feels the need to tell Abby it might not be her son Peter who is holed up with the man in the woods. And by the time they get there both the man and the boy have died of a secondary illness. And so the trio of survivors press on, looking for the lost schoolboy, but only after Dave Long’s trio return to bust up their settlement. Tom Price then decides to go with them, not to be seen again for the following three episodes, and the next two being penned by Jack Ronder, with no guns.


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