Natty goatee a part of television history

By Claire Trevett

Long before the Paul Holmes, John Campbells and Susan Woods, there was life on New Zealand television.

Keith Bracey, resplendent with trademark goatee, was the first presenter of Town and Around, New Zealand's inaugural daily current affairs show.

Bracey, now 90, was at TVNZ headquarters in Hobson St, Auckland, last night with about 80 others to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1960s show, progenitor of today's Holmes and Close Up-style programmes.

Town and Around first screened in Auckland on April 18, 1966, and regional variations followed in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Those were the days before there was any need to worry about ratings or advertisers. There was only one channel, so everybody watched it, and the crew sometimes surrendered to whimsy.

As Bracey puts it, "Sometimes the news element was obscured by the embellishments."

He remembers a "very fastidious Englishman" interviewing a sewerage worker. "We saw him peering down a manhole at a bemused worker, complete with silver tea service. He served tea and cucumber sandwiches while he was interviewing him."

Bracey remains mum on the show's modern reincarnations. "Things have moved on since then. Like all events, they happen but once and then roll away into the past, never to be retrieved, but leaving a mark for ever."

Maurice Smyth - who arrived from Ulster to be one of New Zealand's first television news reporters in 1962 before moving to report for and produce Town and Around - recalls: "The most enduring tale was when Erin Sinclair persuaded a Waverley poultry farmer to fit out his turkey flock in gumboots to keep their feet from getting muddy."

A mix of light-hearted and serious topics, Town and Around featured Barry Crump doing "bush" stories and was an incubator for broadcasters including Brian Edwards, Des Monaghan, Rhys Jones, Barbara Magner, Mike Minehan and Judy Callingham.

Among those at the reunion were the show's founder, Allan Martin, who later became the ABC's head of current affairs and introduced the format in Australia, and its first producers, Kevan Moore and Bryan Easte, who went on to pioneer light entertainment programmes such as Happen Inn, C'mon and Touch of Country.

The reunion included speeches, clips of the show such as Barry Crump's "soup de jour" and many raisings of glasses.

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