When Napier film historian David Turnbull and I published The Reel Story: Napier and Hastings Cinemas 1896–1996 in 2008, I was introduced to Nyree Dawn Porter (1936–2001) through David's section on Napier cinemas.

(The Napier-born actress changed her first name to Nyree from Ngaire when she moved to England in 1958, so the English could pronounce it.)

Nyree's first love was ballet, at which she excelled and she became an accomplished dance teacher.

Her move into theatre occurred when she successfully auditioned for the part of Azuri in the Napier Operatic Society's 1955 production of The Desert Song.


One reviewer wrote "one member of the big cast shone for her brilliant acting, she is Ngaire Porter, to whom was allotted the difficult task of portraying Azuri, the native dancing girl. Not only a fine dancer, but a polished actress as well".

In 1957, she became a professional actress when she successfully auditioned for Richard and Edith Campion's New Zealand Players' production of The Solid Gold Cadillac. They required an "attractive blonde with a good figure – and brains" – and Nyree fitted the bill perfectly.

The next year she was on her way to England after winning the "Search for a Star" competition, to attend a screen test, which was in reality a promotional gimmick.

However, she stayed on in England, and soon gained parts in theatrical productions.

Napier was proud of its favourite daughter and when she appeared in a low-budget film called Part Time Wife (1961), local manager of the Emerson St Mayfair Theatre (now closed), Alan Shepherd, secured the world premiere there on January 11, 1962.

(It appears, however, that the film was released in the United Kingdom in December 1961).

Alan Shepherd was one of the greatest promoters and showmen of movies Hawke's Bay had seen.

On the night of the premiere he arranged for pipe bands and marching girls to lead a procession to the Mayfair Theatre from the baths (now Ocean Spa) and radio station 2ZC to broadcast from the Mayfair Theatre.


An autograph book capable of containing 10,000 signatures would be placed in the theatre's foyer and sent "to our Ngaire at her studios as a personal gesture of goodwill from the citizens of Hawke's Bay and her own beautiful city of Napier, New Zealand".

On the night of the premiere, 4000 people turned out to watch the parade, and such were the crowds in Emerson St that police had to clear a path to allow the bands through the street.

The marching girls carried a banner exclaiming in bold red and black colours "We are Proud of Nyree".

Signing the autograph book became difficult when crowds pushed through the foyer to get to their theatre seats as others thronged to sign.

Nyree didn't attend the premiere, but instead sent a recording from London especially for the event, in which she passed on her best wishes.

Her mother and sister Merle attended on her behalf.

A small star was fastened to the theatre screen curtains, and manager Alan Shepherd explained to the guests "that the star symbolised Miss Porter, and when the curtain rose, her star would also".

Deputy mayor W L Atherfold declared the premiere open and said "This is a special night for us, the whole city is delighted with Nyree's success".

Nyree would later gain notoriety for her performance as Irene in the 26-episode series of the Forsyte Saga in 1967, which made her a household name in many countries.

Such was her fame that astronaut Neil Armstrong reportedly had asked to visit her during a visit to the British PM at Downing St, England.

Nyree died in 2001 and is buried in England.

Nyree Dawn Porter From Local Stage to Global Stardom MTG is an exhibition at MTG Hawke's Bay until September 2.

I agree with calls to have a memorial to Nyree. Napier people (and the wider Hawke's Bay) were extremely proud of her.

Perhaps a part of the Napier Municipal Theatre could be renamed the "Nyree Dawn Porter Dress Circle", with a plaque offering a short bio, or a public art work could symbolise the actress.

If you have any suggestions, or would like to be involved, please email me below. I'll reply after Easter.

• Michael Fowler (mfhistory@gmail.com) is a writer and speaker of Hawke's Bay's history.