Weekend Rewind: NZ TV's Class of '81

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A second season of TV3’s Westside launches tomorrow night. This series of the show is set in 1981 New Zealand, prompting NZ On Screen’s Nicky Harrop to revisit some of the popular local TV shows of the time.
Host Chic Littlewood with puppet Nowcy the Dog.
Host Chic Littlewood with puppet Nowcy the Dog.

A Dog's Show, 1981

A Dog's Show - 1981 Final

While 1981 represented a tumultuous year in New Zealand history, things were booming on screen. From children's sci-fi, to rural shows, to 24-hour viewing marathons - local television took on a number of shapes and forms.

Man. Dog. Sheep - an unlikely yet potent formula for Kiwi TV gold. 1981 saw A Dog's Show hitting its stride, in the early throws of what would become a 15-year run in primetime. Featuring sheep-dog trials from around New Zealand, the mix of smart dogs, rough and ready farmers and high country tension proved a winning combination.

Further evidence of the show's cool factor was the choice of Flowers on the Wall as its theme tune - nearly 20 years before Quentin Tarantino would select the song for the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction.

University Challenge, 1981

Quiz shows were also in vogue in the early 80s, with Mastermind, It's in the Bag and The W Three Show all in full flight.

Leading the charge for the tertiary set was a local version of University Challenge, pitting four-member teams from the country's universities against each other.

University Challenge - 28 Nov 1981

This 1981 semi-final sees students from Victoria and Canterbury facing off for prizes of calculators and encyclopedia sets, with subjects ranging from The Decalogue to Dire Straits.

On the Mat, 1981

On the Mat - 17 March 1981

Face-offs of a more physical kind were happening each week on On the Mat.

The legendary wrestling series featured matches between larger-than-life local and US professionals, accompanied by commentary from the late Steve Rickard, Ernie Leonard, and later, Barry Holland.

This episode sees local star Johnny Garcia and Samoan Joe battling it out.

Under the Mountain - The Alien World Below, 1981

Under the Mountain - The Alien World Below (Episode Four)

Equally as brutal were the Wilberforces - the slug-like villains of Under the Mountain.

Based on the Maurice Gee novel, the sci-fi kids' series first screened in 1981, following red-headed twins Rachel and Theo in their quest to stop alien evil from destroying the world.

Chic Chat, 1981

Chic Chat - 1981 Episode

Children's entertainment of a less terrifying kind could be found after school each day on Chic Chat.

Hosted by the late Chic Littlewood, the show saw him co-star with a range of puppet sidekicks, most notably Nowcy the Dog and wayward mouse wee Willie McNabb.

Telethon, 1981

Telethon - 1981 show

And what 80s TV round up would be complete without a nod to Telethon - 24 hours of live fundraising and high jinks, all set to the tune of Thank You Very Much for Your Kind Donation.

Highlights from the 1981 Wellington event include Bob Parker, Selwyn Toogood, Ian Johnstone and host Peter Sinclair getting goofy amongst smurfs, bagpipes, and the ever-popular talking belly buttons.

- NZ Herald

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