25 years of Short­land Street:

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

re­flec­tions from six of the soap’s early stars

As our favourite TV soap, Short­land Street, cel­e­brates 25 years on screen, Nicola Rus­sell brings to­gether six early cast mem­bers for a nos­tal­gic re­union.

It’s 25 years since Short­land Street’s first ti­tle se­quence res­onated through liv­ing rooms around New Zealand and view­ers first met a string of core char­ac­ters who would be­come reg­u­lar 7pm com­pan­ions.

The early years of the show set in a fic­tional hospi­tal came with risk and ex­pec­ta­tion – would we like see­ing ver­sions of our­selves five nights a week on screen? Would we like hear­ing our ac­cents? But Short­land Street thrived and en­dured, and 25 years later is a sig­nif­i­cant part of New Zealand’s so­cial land­scape – giv­ing view­ers fa­mil­iar en­ter­tain­ment at teatime, while re­flect­ing our sto­ries back to us and pro­vid­ing a train­ing ground for some of the coun­try’s great­est tal­ent.

To cel­e­brate the mile­stone an­niver­sary, The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly brought to­gether six core cast mem­bers from those early years –Claire Chitham, Theresa Healey, Danielle Cor­mack, John Leigh, Lynette For­day and Peter El­liott – to rem­i­nisce about the de­but years of New Zealand’s long­est run­ning soap. We share their re­flec­tions on the show’s for­ti­tude and how their time in fic­tional Fern­dale has af­fected their lives.

Claire Chitham first ap­peared as Waver­ley Wil­son in 1994. It was meant to be a five-week gig but the bub­bly, med­dling Waver­ley be­came a pop­u­lar char­ac­ter and stayed on the show for six months. In 1998 she was writ­ten back in to the show and spent a fur­ther six years there. Waver­ley ran the cof­fee shop, then bar, and mar­ried Nick (Karl Bur­nett), with whom she had a daugh­ter. The pop­u­lar cou­ple re­turn to Fern­dale again this month to cel­e­brate the 25th an­niver­sary. “Waver­ley was Rachel McKenna’s [An­gela Bloom­field] cousin, a coun­try bump­kin who idolised Kirsty Knight [An­gela Dotchin] and went a lit­tle ‘sin­gle white fe­male’ on her, chopped off all her hair and went blonde. I still re­mem­ber sit­ting at the hair­dresser for eight hours while they tried to dye it. This was 1994 – the hair tech­nol­ogy was dif­fer­ent then!

Waver­ley was in love with Stu­art [Martin Hen­der­son] but de­cided she should sleep with Nick to get prac­tice for Stu­art – as you do! And that’s when the Waver­ley/ Nick combo kicked off. The ro­mance scenes were def­i­nitely awk­ward but

Waver­ley and Nick re­ally only had pecks. I don’t think any­one needed to see

Waver­ley do any­thing sex­ual.

When peo­ple do recog­nise me and want to talk to me about the show they get very warm and glowy. Some­one ac­tu­ally walked up to me in a store once and told me they had named their daugh­ter Waver­ley! It is re­ally nice for me that peo­ple do have fond mem­o­ries of her be­cause if you took some­one back they would re­mem­ber she was ac­tu­ally one of the most frus­trat­ing char­ac­ters – she would al­ways put her foot in her mouth and if you hoped a ro­mance was go­ing in a cer­tain di­rec­tion you could guar­an­tee Waver­ley would come in to mess it up!

She did a lot of talk­ing and I got

I don’t think any­one needed to see Waver­ley do any­thing sex­ual.

very good at learn­ing lines. I would sit in the make-up chair in the morn­ing and learn 15 scenes at once and we would shoot them all in a row.

When I turned up as a 16-year-old I re­mem­ber be­ing com­pletely in awe of the peo­ple I was about to see – Te­muera Mor­ri­son [Dr Ropata], An­gela Dotchin, Craig Parker [Guy Warner] and Theresa Healey [Car­men Roberts]. Ge­orge Henare played my grand­fa­ther and we did train­ing with Ray­mond Hawthorne. I was work­ing with peo­ple who have be­come some of New Zealand’s best ac­tors but also the el­der statesman of our the­atri­cal gen­er­a­tion. Since then I have watched crew mem­bers who started off as trainees on that show be­come the best prac­ti­tion­ers in our coun­try.

I never thought there would be any recog­ni­tion for fame from it be­cause my role was sup­posed to be so lit­tle. I still re­mem­ber the first time I was recog­nised at a food court – it was very strange and con­fronting. I re­mem­ber nod­ding and smil­ing and not know­ing what to say re­ally.

The Short­land Street build­ing works in a very dif­fer­ent way to any other TV show, it al­ways has – it was a leader of its time around the world be­cause of its speed. Most shows film a whole scene, then the cam­era moves po­si­tion and they shoot that whole scene again, but Short­land Street has three cam­eras on wheels and a con­trol room that cuts be­tween the cam­eras as they are record­ing.

I think there were prob­a­bly lots of teething prob­lems but when I re­turned [on­screen] in 1998, it felt like a show that was on its feet and it was a bit more like a fac­tory – there were cogs in the wheel it had to turn and ev­ery­body knew their roles.

The sto­ry­lin­ers be­came fa­mous for their abil­ity to al­most sec­ond-guess what was go­ing on in so­ci­ety. Like the nurses’ strike. They had writ­ten and shot a sto­ry­line about nurses at Short­land Street Hospi­tal go­ing on strike and lit­er­ally as the show went to air the Auck­land Hospi­tal nurses went on a mas­sive strike. That is not the first and only time that hap­pened. It re­ally is the only place we have con­tin­ued to see our­selves put on screen – they are our sto­ries and the writ­ers work re­ally hard to keep them rel­e­vant.

It is all the lit­tle things that stand out – the funny things. It’s ter­ri­ble, but I smoked in 1994 and then you could smoke in your dress­ing rooms! So I would have all these scenes in a row and I would go out to shoot one, then go back to change my cos­tume, light a ciggy, smoke two puffs, go back out, then come back and light the same cig­gie – it was dis­gust­ing! You could smoke in all the rooms ex­cept the make-up room and the stu­dio.

I left in 2004 and I didn’t think I’d be hired on New Zealand TV for a while, so I be­came a Pilates teacher, but grate­fully I did get hired again. I did a cou­ple of TV shows and a play that year and then Out­ra­geous For­tune came along the fol­low­ing year.

Com­ing back this time, I re­ally wanted to hon­our the mem­ory of Nick and Waver­ley. I worked hard to make sure we were giv­ing the au­di­ence what they loved about those char­ac­ters. The big­gest thing for me when I got those scripts was that they were funny and I think the essence of those char­ac­ters was on the page. It was cool to be asked be­cause I guess that means those char­ac­ters were pop­u­lar enough that peo­ple want to see them again, and that’s a re­ally nice feel­ing.”

Theresa Healey played Nurse Car­men Roberts from 1993-1995, a well-loved char­ac­ter who had baby Tues­day with her beloved part­ner Guy Warner. She died of a brain aneurysm af­ter three years on the show and the death went down in Short­land Street his­tory as one of its most shock­ing. Theresa most re­cently starred in Agent Anna and Filthy Rich.

“When Short­land Street started, Craig Parker and I were per­form­ing in Mac­beth at the Aotea Cen­tre in Auck­land. They had a TV in the green room and we would get dressed each night, do our warm-up, then sneak off and watch Short­land Street. It would end and as we were about to go on stage we would say to each other, ‘We need to be on that show.’ Fast-for­ward two months and we both were.

It had been go­ing for about six months when we ar­rived on set; it had def­i­nitely hit its straps with the pub­lic. Go­ing to the su­per­mar­ket was never the same again.

Be­ing on­screen five days a week

Go­ing to the su­per­mar­ket was never the same again.

meant the level of recog­ni­tion was in­tense, and the pub­lic loved hav­ing local ac­tors they recog­nised as TV stars. It was a nov­elty for about a week [for the ac­tors] then it was like, ‘How do we cope with this?’ None of us had ex­pe­ri­enced be­ing ‘fa­mous’ be­fore. We stuck to­gether for sup­port and were work­ing in­cred­i­bly long hours and do­ing pub­lic­ity gigs every week­end – school fairs, grad­u­a­tions, petrol sta­tion open­ings!

Luck­ily most of the ac­tors my age and older had come from years of work­ing in the theatre and we knew how to work hard and not let the ‘fame’ change us in any way. We knew we could be back in the dole queue any minute and just rev­elled in hav­ing a full-time job for 52 weeks of the year. It was un­heard of in our in­dus­try.

My first nurse’s uni­form was a hand-me-down from Jackie Manu [played by Nancy Brun­ning]. I was five foot eight and she was five foot two, so it never fit­ted right.

I loved Fri­day morn­ings – they were bed scenes on the Toroa (Car­men and Guy’s house­boat). I’d come to work, get back in my py­ja­mas and get into bed with the funniest man in the world.

I only left be­cause no one had talked to me about stay­ing. My con­tract was to end on a cer­tain date and af­ter two-and-a-half years I had had enough so I booked a trip over­seas. When the pro­duc­ers found out they went, ‘NOOO you can’t go,’ and I said, ‘Whoops, I have or­gan­ised and paid for it,’ so they de­cided to kill her off on Christ­mas Eve. It was strange to be told your char­ac­ter will die, but it was the best thing for me; it meant I would not be tempted to come back. I still meet peo­ple who say, ‘I stopped watch­ing af­ter you died.’

My funeral day was weird – I stayed at the stu­dio while ev­ery­one else went to the church. When they ar­rived back we all left to­gether to go to a gar­den party at Gov­ern­ment House where we had been in­vited to meet the Queen... the day just kept get­ting weirder! Craig was telling funny sad sto­ries of cry­ing over my cof­fin with snot com­ing out and Dame Cath Tizard in­tro­duced each of our char­ac­ters with a brief break­down to the Queen. Cath was a real fan. The Queen had such beau­ti­ful skin.

When we started there were very few other TV drama shows be­ing made so we got the cream of the crop of writ­ers, and this con­tin­ues today. It was never merely a soap – they love the char­ac­ters and care about the sto­ries, and this shows. They have more than one fin­ger on the pulse of what’s hap­pen­ing in our world and they are not afraid to be con­tro­ver­sial and break new ground. Also our crews are the best in the world. It wouldn’t be so suc­cess­ful with­out them!

I would have car­ried on be­ing an ac­tor with or with­out Short­land Street but it made me a house­hold name for a while and peo­ple still recog­nise me from it. That can be a bit an­noy­ing con­sid­er­ing I have done so much other work, but I loved work­ing on it and can­not deny that hav­ing that pro­file has opened doors. I am still so proud of the show and the great work ev­ery­one does on it. Long may it last.”

Danielle Cor­mack played Ali­son Raynor from Short­land Street’s in­cep­tion in 1992 un­til 1993. Ali­son was a shy coun­try girl who was the ob­ject of bad boy Chris Warner’s (Michael Galvin) af­fec­tions. Danielle left Short­land Street af­ter a year on the show to pur­sue a suc­cess­ful ca­reer abroad and is best known for her award-win­ning lead role in hard­hit­ting drama Went­worth.

“We were film­ing for quite some time be­fore Short­land Street was first re­leased, and so it was with great an­tic­i­pa­tion that we waited to see how it would be re­ceived. Back then there were only two or three TV sta­tions so there was a great ex­pec­ta­tion around our show. With great ex­pec­ta­tion comes great judge­ment as well, and I think peo­ple were pretty quick to have an opinion about the show. There was a huge heart for it, though, and peo­ple bonded with it quite quickly.

That first year left an in­deli­ble etch on peo­ple mem­o­ries. Over time there have been lots of char­ac­ters, but in­tially there re­ally only was that core group. I met some­one the other day whose name was Raynor, named af­ter Ali­son.

Ali­son car­ried two very strong re­la­tion­ships – one with her flat­mates in the nurse’s house and the other with Chris Warner. The ro­man­tic

Chris was a bit of a tyrant and Ali­son was at that time rea­son­ably vir­tu­ous.

re­la­tion­ships are al­ways of great in­ter­est to peo­ple in a soap and be­cause Chris was a bit of a tyrant and Ali­son was at that time rea­son­ably vir­tu­ous, it made for great drama. There was a huge pub­lic con­cern for Ali­son’s emo­tional wel­fare – I could re­count at least a dozen times when peo­ple would take it upon them­selves to coun­sel me in the su­per­mar­ket about leav­ing Chris Warner.

Back then it was re­ally ana­logue and the big old cam­eras looked like daleks. At that stage they were tap­ing over sec­ond-hand Gloss and Coun­try Cal­en­dar tapes, so if there was a drop-out some­one would come down from the edit­ing room and say, ‘We have to go again.’

Look­ing back, I go, ‘Well done on them for cast­ing right off a di­verse cast’ – some­thing that re­flected our true com­mu­nity – and I feel like that is some­thing they have re­mained con­sis­tent with. Ca­te­rina De Nave [Short­land Street’s pro­ducer] made a point of do­ing that.

The mem­ory I will al­ways cher­ish was our leav­ing present for Ca­te­rina. Af­ter a day shoot­ing, we snuck in with the crew and shot an R18 ver­sion – it was late-night Short­land Street and it was my favourite thing in the world! We tar­nished that set and we put a whole new spin on all of those char­ac­ters! Kirsty Knight gave birth on the re­cep­tion desk, Ali­son Raynor was drunk the whole time and Dr Ropata was stomp­ing around in Gu­atemalan

Army gear. For years it was locked in a vault be­cause they were so pet­ri­fied it would get out to the pub­lic – it would break the in­ter­net!

It’s the silly lit­tle things that stand out, the things that make your day pass while you wait for your scene. There was this lit­tle closet be­side the AD’s [as­sis­tant di­rec­tor’s] desk and An­drew Binns [Nurse Steve Mills] and I used to hide in there and jump out and scare them. It was so in­fan­tile but it was so much fun.

I re­mem­ber Tem was ter­ri­ble at learn­ing his lines and every time you picked up a file on the re­cep­tion desk it would have his lines in them! I am sure it is still the same; every med­i­cal folder you open has some­one’s script in there.

Short­land Street was way ahead of its time. It keeps push­ing the so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and so­ci­etal bound­aries that can keep a lot of those shows in a cer­tain place. We have a trans­gen­der sto­ry­line now, yet Neigh­bours has only re­cently in­tro­duced its first abo­rig­i­nal char­ac­ter.

I only have the fond­est of mem­o­ries of Short­land Street and an un­de­ni­able re­spect for it last­ing 25 years. I never felt like I didn’t want to be there, I just felt I had learnt what I could on the show and the char­ac­ter had come to its end. There is al­ways some­one who comes out of the wood­work and wants to rec­ol­lect the old days of Ali­son Raynor. I went through a pe­riod where I was pro­foundly an­noyed by that and I wanted to be recog­nised for other work, but now I am re­ally proud of it and I don’t mind it at all.”

John Leigh played the clumsy

Lionel Skeg­gins, who first ap­peared briefly in 1993 and re­turned in 1994 and took over the hospi­tal cof­fee shop con­tract. He be­came as well known for his colour­ful shirts as for his un­ex­pected ro­mance with the beau­ti­ful Kirsty Knight. Lionel’s fi­nal episode was in 1999. John starred in Out­ra­geous For­tune as Sparky and most re­cently on 800 Words.

“There wasn’t much New Zealand tele­vi­sion be­ing made at the time and so we were lucky be­cause we had the>>

Short­land Street got me on telly – and it led to other things.

best peo­ple writ­ing and work­ing with us – it was be­fore Her­cules and Xena started and be­fore shows like Out­ra­geous For­tune. All of those were pos­si­ble be­cause of Short­land Street

– just spend­ing time in front of a cam­era as an ac­tor was bril­liant.

Of course many of those peo­ple have gone on to do well in­ter­na­tion­ally – Martin Hen­der­son, Tem Mor­ri­son, and Mar­ton Csokas [Dr Leonard Dodds]. The cul­ture was pretty tight – I think we were all pretty fond of each other.

My ad­vice to my­self if I could go back would be: ‘Ex­pect the un­ex­pected – you will get fa­mous and we don’t earn enough money in this coun­try to shield your­self from that.’

I think be­cause it was our only New Zealand show on at the time it was pushed in more di­rec­tions than a soap nor­mally would be. They were at the fore­front break­ing ground – they had In­dian fam­i­lies, Maori fam­i­lies and they did quite a bit in Te Reo for a while too. Kieren Hutchi­son [Jonathon McKenna] and Karl Ur­ban [para­medic Jamie Forrest] did one of the first gay kisses on New Zealand tele­vi­sion, which doesn’t sound like a big deal now but it was then. Now the show has a trans­gen­der sto­ry­line – they are still break­ing ground.

It is dif­fi­cult af­ter­wards to get work be­cause you are so recog­nis­able – but I was rather lucky that a lot of Amer­i­can shows started com­ing down here, so I was able to do bits on those and sur­vive on that. Short­land Street got me on telly – I hadn’t done that be­fore and it led to other things.”

Lynette For­day played Grace Kwan from 1994 to 1997, a hard-work­ing, nat­u­rally flir­ta­tious doc­tor who had a num­ber of ro­mances, in­clud­ing a short-lived en­gage­ment to Lionel Skeg­gins. Grace left Fern­dale in 1997 to pur­sue a job in an Aus­tralian hospi­tal but re­turned in 2013 and made a plan with Chris Warner to have a baby, with no strings at­tached. Grace left Fern­dale and gave birth to her daugh­ter in Fiji. Chris tracked Grace down in 2014 and she re­turned to the show for a guest role. Lynette has re­cently ap­peared on 800 Words. “Af­ter all these decades peo­ple still say, ‘Oh my God, Short­land Street.’ It is a com­pli­ment but you also think, ‘Wow!’

As a Short­land Street ac­tor, you are recog­nised in the street and of course be­cause you are in peo­ple’s liv­ing rooms every sin­gle night, peo­ple feel like they know you. Even though it was re­ally em­bar­rass­ing to be yelled at in the street, the pub­lic were lovely, they liked us.

I was re­ally shy and in­tro­verted when I started, but the won­der­ful thing about the pub­lic con­stantly com­ing up to talk to me was it drew me out of my shell. I am still shy, but I know how to talk to peo­ple now.

The fast turn­around makes it re­ally hard work be­cause you are con­stantly try­ing to fo­cus on learn­ing your lines. You work all day, then go home and learn lines, then come back early the next morn­ing into make-up and try to re­mem­ber them – but spend­ing so much time in front of the cam­era as an ac­tor means you learn so much, so quickly. We were lucky.

It was so fast. I re­mem­ber Lionel propos­ing to Grace on a boat – we were ly­ing back and it was pour­ing with rain and I had to say a line like, ‘On a beau­ti­ful day like today…’ and you could hear the rain pelt­ing down! If you were shoot­ing some­thing like Mad Men they would say, ‘Let’s just stop un­til it’s a beau­ti­ful day,’ but we didn’t have time.

Short­land Street has stayed rel­e­vant be­cause it re­flects New Zealand. The fe­male char­ac­ters were so strong, and

“We strug­gle get­ting dif­fer­ent coloured faces on screen, par­tic­u­larly Asians.

Claire Chitham as Waver­ley on her wed­ding day to Nick, played by Karl Bur­nett.

BE­LOW: Lynette For­day (Grace Kwan) with Theresa Healey (Car­men Roberts). In­jured Car­men shortly be­fore the char­ac­ter died.

Ali­son and Chris’ ro­mance made for great drama.

Lionel and his bride Kirsty.

Lynette For­day cred­its Short­land Street with hav­ing strong fe­male char­ac­ters.

Kirsty and Lionel’s wed­ding was the 1994 sea­son fi­nale cliffhanger, with the ser­vice in­ter­rupted by Kirsty’s for­mer love, Stu­art.

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