Erik Thomson, pictured left, who plays lead character George Turner in
and Tim Balme, a writer and storyliner on the show, were in a band together as teenagers in Tauranga. Balme lives in Auckland. Thomson lives in Port Willunga, near Adelaide. Both men are aged 50. ERIK/ I went and saw a production he acting in – I think it was 1983. It was the first time I ever saw him on stage. The following year I was head boy at Tauranga Boys’ College and he was head boy at Otumoetai College. Because of our positions of power and importance, we were invited to each other’s school functions. At the end of the year, me and few mates put a band together, The Gonads. We all knew and liked Tim and knew he was a pretty talented guy. We asked him if he’d join. That was the beginning of The Gonads, in the summer of 1984/85.
He was from the other side of the bridge. He didn’t really know us very well but he wanted to play in a band. I was lead singer even though Tim went on to be a lead singer in his own band in Wellington a few years later. Our common ground was the fact we’d just finished our seventh form. He was off to Victoria University in a couple of months’ time, I was off overseas.
It was a classic garage band; we were all white, middleclass boys trying to play punk music so it was a little bit tragic on one level. We had one little 25 watt amp and a 12” speaker cone that would sit on a plastic chair in the middle of the garage we practised in.
We had nine songs. Our first gig, we had two sets, so we played our nine songs twice. We had a bit of a cult following.
He was a very popular head prefect and he was one of those guys who was always fun to be around. He had a lot of courage to try different things in terms of his art and his music and whatever he was doing. He was one of those guys people enjoyed being with – I don’t think that’s changed.
All this time I’ve thought he’s got a natural talent, natural charisma, and it just seemed kinda easy for him. What I’ve realised over the years is he’s very focused, he’s an incredibly hard worker. To be a writer and meet deadlines – you can’t just be talented, you’ve actually got to be able to sit down at the computer and get things done.
Tim’s always been the kind of guy who considers what he says before he speaks, and he says what he means – it’s been put through a couple of filters and thought through. That said, he’s a great conversationalist. It’s not like he’s an introvert.
I always felt that my talents – whatever they may be – weren’t as natural as his and I probably had to work a little bit harder at feeling confident what I was doing was of value. Tim may just have been hiding it really well, but he seemed to be very content in his ability to express himself from a very young age. TIM/ We grew up in the same town. We went to different schools, but we ended up playing in a band together.
All the guys in the band were at the same school except me – and I got recruited as a rhythm guitar player, probably because I had a spare guitar. Erik was the lead singer and a rhythm guitarist as well.
I remember Erik as being very strong and clear about what he wanted. He was also a great surfer. I remember once we went surfing together – he was really good and I was really shit.
We played these semi-illegal gigs in a hall on the outskirts of town. We’d print tickets and people would turn up and have a big night. We were playing mainly 80s covers – a lot of Flying Nun. Creating something to do in Tauranga on a Saturday night in 1984... there weren’t a lot of options. Groups like us kind of had to make things happen.
We went to the same university, and also drama school. He was the year behind me. I went straight to Victoria University and he took a gap year and went to Scotland, I think.
Erik, after leaving drama school and working in the industry for a couple of years here, had the gumption to get up and go and set himself up in Australia. That’s not an easy thing to do, and I greatly admire that. He’s got a very admirable determination. It’s probably his Scottish heritage. They’ve had to survive those brutal winters in a godforsaken part of the world, and yet, they survive with determination. And whisky.
Occasionally Erik will shoot me an email and say he’s read a script that he liked, saying thanks. He’s very generous like that, ’cos he’s a busy guy, but he takes time out to acknowledge stuff like that. He knows, having been in the business for a long time, that writers are in the back rooms making the platforms for actors to stand on.
He’s a physically impressive guy. But he’s a great thinker, and that’s, I think, what’s made him a great actor. He’s worked really hard at it over the years and said: “This is what I do and this is what I’m going to do really well.” He cares deeply about his craft, and when you watch him on the show – 800 Words – he’s almost in every scene. He’s like the Atlas holding up that series. He makes it look effortless, and it’s not. And that’s the key to a good actor. The last thing you want to see is someone making hard work of it. 800 Words