| Tele­vi­sion Fiona Rae

The life and times of one of our most flam­boy­ant, high-pro­file lawyers are re­vealed in a new five-part se­ries.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By en­ter­tain­ment edi­tor FIONA RAE

Rap­scal­lion crim­i­nal lawyer Mike Bun­gay, who was in­volved in some of the coun­try’s most high-pro­file cases, is in the spot­light once again in Dear Mur­derer (TVNZ 1, Thurs­day, 8.30pm).

The five-episode bi­og­ra­phy is based on the book of the same name by his wife, Ronda, who worked with him in the last 10 years of his life.

Bun­gay, who came here from Eng­land with his first wife and chil­dren in 1961, tossed a coin in the reg­is­tra­tion line at uni­ver­sity to be­come a lawyer, rather than the coun­try’s most flam­boy­ant ac­coun­tant. As it turned out, he loved it, says the se­ries’ writer, John Banas.

Bun­gay would go on to ap­pear in more than 100 mur­der tri­als, and he fa­mously de­fended Wil­liam Sutch in 1975 in the coun­try’s first and only es­pi­onage trial. That ex­tra­or­di­nary event set Bun­gay up for the rest of his ca­reer, says Banas, but the se­ries isn’t just about his days in court. In­spired by Ronda’s book, he and di­rec­tor Ric­cardo Pel­lizzeri chose cases that high­light Bun­gay as a hu­man be­ing as well as a lawyer.

“The Sutch trial was a spring­board to the rest of his ca­reer, but it was also a trial about ego and hon­esty and tyranny, in a way, and th­ese were all things that he had been deal­ing with early in his life,” says Banas. Some of Bun­gay’s tough child­hood is de­picted and the se­ries is about re­demp­tion as much as a larger-than-life char­ac­ter who be­came leg­endary for his an­tics in and out of court.

“It is an ex­am­i­na­tion of the law and of jus­tice and how the two don’t al­ways nec­es­sar­ily in­ter­sect – and about a pas­sion­ate and car­ing and, yes, im­mensely flawed man.”

Bun­gay was an al­co­holic and “in­cor­ri­gi­ble wom­an­iser”

and of­ten in trou­ble with the Welling­ton Dis­trict Law So­ci­ety, says Banas, for of­fences rang­ing from his brown shoes (not al­lowed in court) to reg­is­ter­ing his car in dog’s name to avoid park­ing tick­ets.

The role was a gift for Mark Mitchin­son, who al­ready had a taste of the Bun­gay style when he de­picted him in How to Mur­der Your Wife, about Karori mur­derer Alf Ben­ning.

The se­ries’ ti­tle comes from a let­ter Bun­gay wrote af­ter the jailed Ben­ning had wished him a “long, lin­ger­ing and very painful death”. “Dear Mur­derer,” be­gan Bun­gay’s re­ply. “My friends and I are head­ing out to the beach shortly to en­joy a leisurely pic­nic. What are you do­ing?”

Dear Mur­derer, Thurs­day.

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