It was the good old days, the times when TVNZ was the only show in town, had a prodigious budget and could get away with all kinds of programmes without having to keep an eye on those pesky ratings.

Avalon, based in Lower Hutt, became the epicentre of television in New Zealand when the studio was set up in 1975, 15 years after the country first got television.

It was from Avalon that New Zealand got its first home-made soap opera, Close to Home, and historical drama about Governor George Grey, The Governor.

At the time it was the biggest television complex in the Southern Hemisphere - nine storeys with an adjoining 11-studio block on a 7ha site.

Tonight, about 200 former and present staff will celebrate the centre's 30th birthday at the Studio Club - a new bar replacing the legendary TV One Club.

While viewers remember the best of nostalgia - the madness, the moustaches, Philip Sherry, a grinning Lockwood Smith, Good Night Kiwi - those who worked there have very different recollections.

Fair Go journalist and presenter Kevin Milne worked at Avalon from 1976, first as a reporter for TV One's news, and then Fair Go from 1984 until it moved to Auckland in the late 1990s.

Life has got harder since.

"If you were on a show, you would have a wardrobe lady to do the ironing. Now, even if you're a huge star like myself, you have to do your own ironing. Did Walter Kronkite have to do his own ironing? Did Dan Rather? So that was the nice thing about Avalon back then. The ironing lady."

Then there was the studio garden.

"Dig This with Ian Scarrow used to have a lovely place to get away from the pressures of work. You'd wander in the garden and watch the cabbages grow."

He also has less wholesome memories of Avalon, where the best stories were those that didn't make the news - the ones from the TV One Club.

"It was the place to be. There was more going on, more fun, more people, more celebrities in that room than anywhere in town. We had strippers, dancers, transvestites."

It was a place where "feeling under the weather" took on a different meaning, given couples were reputed to have enjoyed the occasional encounter under the weather map.

Country Calendar executive producer Frank Torley has worked at Avalon for all its 30 years, most of them on that programme.

"Almost anything went. You'd come up with an idea and somehow the money was found to do it. It reached its zenith when there were 800 to 900 souls running around, to its sad demise in the late 1980s when they moved management up to Auckland and there were mass redundancies."

He recalls Peter Jackson using the studios to make splatter movie Brain Dead.

"You'd go to the cafeteria and there were all these guys with daggers hanging out of their backs, and eyes dangling down their faces. It was a good way to put you off your lunch."

Most of TVNZ is now based in Auckland. Avalon's studios are home to several production companies, and a few TVNZ programmes such as Country Calendar, Good Morning and Lotto. It was the venue for Dancing with the Stars and Test the Nation. But it is not doomed to irrelevance - Avalon still has the biggest studio for live audiences.