Dear Murderer tells the tale of our most flamboyant lawyers

by Fiona Rae / 06 September, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Television1

Mark Mitchinson as Mike Bungay in Dear Murderer.

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

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, September 7, 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?”

This article was first published in the September 2, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Murder on the Orient Express – movie review
83575 2017-11-23 00:00:00Z Movies

Murder on the Orient Express – movie review

by James Robins

It’s elegant and star-studded, but this update on Agatha Christie’s rail tale lacks puff.

Read more
Gloss: the TV programme about Auckland city wankers
82695 2017-11-23 00:00:00Z Television

Gloss: the TV programme about Auckland city wanker…

by Gemma Gracewood

The inside story of New Zealand’s bitchiest, best-looking and most audaciously Auckland television series, Gloss.

Read more
How Otara became the new fashion capital
83474 2017-11-23 00:00:00Z Style

How Otara became the new fashion capital

by Katie May Ruscoe

Meet the talented designers making their mark at the Pacific Fusion Fashion show in Ōtara.

Read more
Why Auckland's Cross Street Market is proving a hit
83549 2017-11-23 00:00:00Z Style

Why Auckland's Cross Street Market is proving a hi…

by Johanna Thornton

Offering wands, ceramics and other interesting wares, the Cross Street Market off K' Rd is taking off.

Read more
How to create safer streets with the Vision Zero approach
83595 2017-11-23 00:00:00Z Urbanism

How to create safer streets with the Vision Zero a…

by Vomle Springford

How to create safer streets with the Vision Zero approach

Read more
Win tickets to Laneway Festival!
83570 2017-11-22 14:44:29Z Win

Win tickets to Laneway Festival!

by Paperboy

Be in it to win it: Paperboy has two ‘friends and family’ passes to St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival to give away, valued at over $300.

Read more
DJ TOKiMONSTA's incredible recovery
These 2017 AUT rookie fashion designers' collections are incredible
83523 2017-11-22 11:25:19Z Style

These 2017 AUT rookie fashion designers' collectio…

by Johanna Thornton

The latest crop of AUT final year fashion design students put on an impressive show.

Read more