Revisiting New Zealand in 1976 (the Listener) #4

After a little break, filled with television watching of world tour cycling and the live feed of the Supreme Court in London, it’s back once again to 1976. This time we are with the listener in the first week of October of 1976, and some heavy duty international politics. There is an editorial about the legacy of Mao Tse-Tung in communist China, and an interesting article about Spain after the death of the fascist dictator Franco. The author, John Sligo, suggests that it is the communist party that will have to play a key role in Spain, being the least tied to the corruption within the system. The guest editorial, by Bill Willmott, is more idealistic, and unrealistic, given that Mao now has a different name.

But the Communist Party still controls the State apparatus in China, and presides over a hybrid form of capitalism that has the Pacific region under its sway. This is not just due to foreign aid, but also the infiltration of the Australasian society with political operatives. We recently had a candidate for the Australian Liberal Party, which is very right wing now, being exposed as a member of United Front organisations. After denying it publicly there has been something of a row over this recently elected MP from Melbourne. We actually have a similar situation in New Zealand’s conservative party, known as National, having a list MP, Jian Yang, who is known to have doctored his CV to make him look like a former university lecturer in China. In fact, he was involved in their spy school, but he won’t front for any kind of interview with the tame New Zealand media. Nor was it widely reported that his National Party leader, the hapless Simon Bridges, was recently in China to maintain links with the regime. This after it emerged that Chinese nationals were donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to his party.

Back in 1976 the National Party was led by an authoritarian, R.D. Muldoon, who used his security services to get dirt on his opponents, and alleged communist fellow travellers in the trade union movement. The listener’s cover story is on the leader of the trade union movement, called the Federation of Labour, Tom Skinner. Skinner had just received a knighthood and was presiding over the most militant period of strike action since the 1950s. This was in a period when compulsory unionism – yes it was compulsory to actually join a trade union – meant there was a strong base of industrial power. But it was also a time of economic stress, and argubaly long term decline. Skinner was the last of the old guard, and being knighted suggested he was part of the establishment. The article by Geoff Chappell makes it clear that he did not read any of the leftist literature.

Now on to the cultural front, but not leaving behind politics. The Labour Party was born on the West Coast of the South Island, in the mines, but an earlier Prime Minister known as King Dick also eminated from that region. Mary Seddon, Richard’s grandaughter, reviews a book called Miners and Militants, a collection of essays based on MA theses supervised at Canterbury University. She concludes: “right from the beginning the West Coast has been inhabited by far too many mean little men with grabby hands, ready to leave the gaunt wreck of empty tailings or burnt-out forest in their wake…” A visual equivalent of this point was made in the 1960s by photographer Les Cleveland, in The Silent Land, a long photo-essay that captures the colonial mentality. Other reviews suggest that literary publishing in the South Island, especially in Dunedin, was still strong. Meanwhile, Ray Columbus writes about the classic band Split Enz, which has just gone to London to re-record their first LP, known as Mental Notes, with Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music. It will now appear on the Chrysalis label, if not in the local charts yet.

Nothing new in local television this week, though that will be about to change. The listener in fact runs an article on the programme Upstairs, Downstairs, with photos of Gordon Jackson and other serious looking cast members, with some some social history. The series runs on Tuesdays at 7.30pm, opposite The Sweeney on TV1, with that listing showing a serious looking John Thaw with gun in hand. On Wednesday night there is a promotion of The Brothers, this time with a photo of Patrick O’Connell as Edward Hammond, who replaced Glyn Owen in that role. Owen will soon appear in a later episode of Survivors, which this week has the ‘Corn Dolly’ episode playing, being the first script by Jack Ronder in the series. This episode has a short quote from a new character, Charles Vaughan, played by Denis Lill, about making sure there is a next generation of survivors.

I was not going to write about Jack Ronder’s scripts for Survivors, mainly to focus on what Terry Nation had intended to do. Ronder and the show’s producer, Terrence Dudley, seem to have got control of the series at some point, and took it in the wrong direction. Nonetheless, Ronder did have some interesting ideas, and the Charles Vaughan character proved to be essential to the ongoing survival of the porgamme, being the key character by the third series. In this first appearance he has something of a cult leader type of role, or just that of a harem figurehead. Vaughan was an architect who also ran a hobby farm with his wife, and now wants to lead a self-supporting community. But while he is off surveying the wider district with a female companion, most of his community have been poisoned by fish, apparently. After discovering the trio of Abby, Jenny and Greg, he returns to find his people dying, and then it gets a bit odd. It emerges that at least four of the women were pregnant, and Abby is being lined up as the next candidate. She is having none of it, and once Jenny decides to leave the trio is off again, with a classic long camera shot at the end of the episode. This leaves Charles with just two pregnant companions.

It was the idea of a set of two trios, both with one man and two women, that could have been developed here. And the problem for the series, conceptually, is that Abby and Jenny realise that if they are going to have a self-supporting rural commune they need someone like Charles who actually knows how to grow food. It could have worked to have contrasting trios trying to survive, even if they were not directly linked in a settlement. By the time this happens, at the start of the second series, Abby was written out of the programme, and Charles is in a monogamous relationship with a woman Pet, played by Lorna Lewis. Jenny was by this stage pregnant with Greg’s baby, as Lucy Fleming was in real life, so the interesting idea of the trio with two women was gone.

 

 

 

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