Television was black and white back then, but my memories of that time are colourful. My very first memory of TV is Lassie, when I came to Wellington in the school holidays sometime in the early sixties and stayed at Houghton Bay with my cousins and their neighbour had a TV. I briefly caught a flash of dog and screen, barely a minute or so, but I do know it was a very snowy picture. And then I had a friend called Janice in my hometown whose father I think, had the very first TV set in Richmond. He was receiving pictures from Australia – well at least I think he was. There was no Kim Dotcom back then, so he must have had his own satellite dish even then.
We lived at No.43 and my best friend Liz who lived at No. 53, had a TV. On Wednesday nights I would walk to her house to watch Dick Van Dyke and Peyton Place – practically the double-feature. I loved when Dick Van Dyke fell predictably on the split level floor (how flash, a split level floor), and of course, we adored Mary Tyler Moore. As for Peyton Place – well even back then I found Mia Farrow aka Alison McKenzie, tedious with her long blonde hair, sitting on the swing, insipid and uninspiring – whereas Betty Anderson with her dark and dangerous smouldering – we loved her and so did Rodney Harrison (Ryan O’Neal) – and as for Dr Michael Rossi… we loved him even more. Oh, it was True Confessions in pictures and we couldn’t get enough. As for Constance Mackenzie; surely a cougar before they were invented.
Once, my friend Liz and I visited a friend whose father sold television sets. This was even before Liz’s family owned a television. We were invited as a special treat to watch TV and there were strict instructions about how to view television. The screen was covered with a blue filter that was supposed to lessen the glare of the snowy picture. But the father of our friend instructed us that we should look up and around the room while the advertisements were showing, to rest our eyes. And we still laugh about this – the strange sight of three young girls all glued to the television (the Patty Duke Show if I recall correctly) and whenever there was a commercial break, we would all obediently roll our eyes around the room, trying to avoid eye-strain, and desperately trying not to laugh.
But my fondest memory, in my early teens, is walking up the hill from our house to my Aunt’s to watch TV with her on a Saturday night, about a mile on a gradual incline. My grandmother had died, and my Aunt was one of those women from a certain era, the youngest of a big family, the only one with a secondary education and able to earn a good income, and so she ‘stayed home’ to look after her parents. My Aunty Del and I would watch the Andy Williams show together, sitting on her recently upholstered Sanderson floral chairs (the rose and peony pattern I think).
We would eat chocolate sultana pasties, and drink tea brewed strongly with plenty of milk so the tea turned tan. Grandma’s front room had been all rust and gold with autumnal Axminster carpet. When Grandma died, Aunty Del had recovered the floor with mushroom pile and a new Queen Anne glass cabinet through which to view her Lladro. I didn’t covet the Lladro but I drooled over the red and gold coffee set which my Uncle (the roguish lovable bachelor brother) had won with his race horse ‘Arrow Royal’ at the picnic race meeting one summer. When he died, in a lonely pensioner flat near the Wellington Zoo, and I went with her to clean his flat out, we found his jockey colours, a brilliant emerald green coat. He didn’t ride the horse, but he had kept the jockey’s colours. I remembered him most for the half a crown he would toss us, when he came home to Grandmas now and then for a weekend, from Wellington.
This week, I heard on the news that Andy Williams has died, and on the radio or the TV, I keep hearing his crooning version of ‘Moon River’. It’s taken me back to my Grandma’s house with the hydrangeas out front, to remembering those Saturday nights with my Aunt, when television was a novelty. When a man with a voice like Andy Williams was moonlight and pastel Sanderson all rolled into one. The TV station, from memory the only one, closed down at 11.00 pm I think. We waited until the very last moment, until the screen turned to snow…. and then my Aunt would slip a hot water bottle into her bed, put on her slippers and we’d cross the frosty front lawn together to her green Morris Minor. She’d drive me home under the inky canopy when even home fires couldn’t mar the star-filled skies. Mum would leave the porch-light on and I’d sneak into my room, and into bed, a hot water bottle already there waiting for me.