It’s been half a century since first TV Christmas
Fifty years ago Wellingtonians sang along at a party, rode out west to the gold rush, joined a safari to capture wild giraffes and met the world’s greatest liar while they celebrated their first Christmas night with television.
Less than six months after television came to Wellington, in July 1961, most homes did not yet have a set and the invitation to watch the black and white programmes on Monday, December 25, was definitely one for keeping up social appearances.
What may have been the highlight was Queen Elizabeth II delivering her Christmas message, with its theme of fighting prejudice by example.
With television programmes not yet networked, Wellington’s Channel One was the first to screen the queen’s speech that night.
There are two constants in half a century of Christmas viewing: the night-time news bulletin and little peak-hour content of New Zealand origin.
The Queen did not record a televised message in 1969 because she decided the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales and the Royal Family documentary had given her enough TV exposure for the year.
The tradition of watching her message on Christmas night resumed in 1970 and has continued uninterrupted ever since.
original Christmas transmission began at 6.30pm, when Armand and Michaela Denis took viewers On Safari, in an episode called ‘‘ Capturing Giraffe’’.
During the 1950s, the husband and wife explorers had become popular on British television, pioneering the filming of animals in their natural habitat.
Episode one of the American sitcom Fibber Mcgee and Molly followed the weather and news.
Molly’s familiar cry of ‘‘Tain’t funny, Mcgee!’’ was how American audiences had perceived the misadventures of the world’s greatest liar and his always truthful wife.
The famous radio show failed to click when transferred to television, and had lasted for only 13 episodes between 1959 and 1960.
Another series premiere was Probation Officer, one of Britain’s top- rating programmes between 1960 and 1962.
The drama focused on the problems facing probation officers working within the courts. John Paul, David Davies and Honor Blackman starred.
Party Time, a half- hour musical variety show, was the first programme of the night featuring local talent.
The popular Wellington saxophonist Tony Noorts introduced the show and its guests.
It was out west after the music with Richard Coogan as Marshall Matt Wayne in The Californians, a series set in San Francisco during the gold rush of the 1850s.
The episode screened was ‘‘ The Duel’’, in which vigilantes set out to prove that a survivor of several duels was really a calculating killer.
American audiences had seen the programme in February 1958.
Looking back on our first Christmas with television, there now seems little to remember the programmes for, other than being among the comparatively small audience that watched them.
Exploring Africa: Michaela and Armand Denis took viewers On Safari.
Out west: Richard Coogan starred as Marshall Matt Wayne in The Californians.