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Judy Bailey - interview

The beloved newsreader is back on our screens presenting Prime’s Decades in Colour, a series featuring 30 years of home movie footage.

Judy Bailey
Judy Bailey.

Were you pleased or insulted to be asked to narrate a series about the 50s, 60s and 70s?

I’m of an age where I’m just delighted to be asked to do anything really! It’s such fun. When they said it was going to be based on people’s home movies, I thought, ‘hm, that will be “interesting”’, you know, thinking about my own home movies and how incredibly dull they are to other people, but actually it’s just been the most wonderful project to be involved in, it’s a real slice of New Zealand’s social history, and it’s amazing what comes out in people’s home videos.

Is it a problem that home movies are like looking at people’s photographs – they’re always of happy times?

There are some really poignant moments in the stories, for instance in the 50s, it was very much a post-war decade and it revolved a lot around the men coming home from the war, going on to rehab farms, creating news lives for themselves and some of them were so traumatised that they couldn’t create new lives. Families split up because of what had gone on during the war and one of the stories particularly reflects that – a young girl who had masses of footage taken of her because her dad only saw her on the odd weekend. I think also the 1950s episode captured our isolation at the time and how we were very much thrown back on self-reliance for all sorts of things, like leisure activities – you made your own fun and things were very basic.

The first episode makes you realise how many skills we don’t have any more – I didn’t know everyone got their mates together to build each other’s houses on the weekend.

Yes, and if their car broke down they fixed it. Nowadays if your car breaks down it’s a complete disaster because it’s all computer-driven and you wouldn’t know where to start. All those things that we’ve lost, it made me quite nostalgic really for the more simple times. Maybe that’s old age.

Those 1950s dresses were pretty neat – you can see why the retro movement is so popular.

They were fabulous weren’t they? Your parents made all those things, I can remember making clothes for my kids back in the 70s, but I wouldn’t know where to start now.

Was there something that stood out in the series?

It is an interesting social history and it shows how rapidly things have changed from the 60s, when all that change really began to happen – when we of the baby boomer generation began to make our presence felt and stand up and demand change and refuse to do things the way they’d always been done. As New Zealanders began to travel more they came home with ideas about the way things ought to be, and they may not have been the best changes, but things changed incredibly rapidly.

The 50s to the 70s is such a short time span, but it’s a huge cultural shift.

A huge shift. You had that whole drift of Maori to the urban areas in the 60s and you had the protest movements of the 70s and the whole breaking of ties with Mother England and being comfortable in our own nationhood. We grew up really quickly.

We were so cut off then.

We were, and we all craved to be more connected as young people. I can remember lying in my little bed at boarding school listening to Radio Hauraki under the blankets, which was strictly forbidden, just because they were playing fabulous music and they were a bunch of renegades. Life has just change immeasurably and I wonder if we’re that first generation to experience such a social shift. It would be interesting to talk to our grandparents whether they felt the same thing.

What do you think colour does for those stories?

I think it makes it more real. We’re so used to colour, it just makes it feel more real.

You’re also presenting some documentaries on the Rialto channel – do they also have a human interest theme?

They do – I’ve always been drawn to people stories and Walking the Camino is particularly poignant for me, because a dear friend of ours walked it and just loved it and then very soon afterwards died. He told us about doing the journey and how wonderful and transforming it was.

You don’t fancy doing that yourself?

We do, Chris and I were watching it together and we both almost at the same time said wouldn’t it be great to do that. The whole thing is a pilgrimage, and a lot of people who are religious do it, but it’s also an adventure challenge, it’s a long way, 800k across the top of Spain and it’s a bit of a life journey as well, and people change when they do this walk in all sorts of ways.

It stands out, because the others are all issue-based.

The other one I really related to was The War on Kids, which looks at how they’ve pretty much turned American schools into prisons, in fact worse than prisons in a lot of cases, because they’re so terrified of guns and violence. It also takes a very interesting turn when it talks about the prescribing of drugs to kids to keep them quiet and how incredibly dangerous these drugs can be to the developing brain.

This is where a lot of documentaries are now isn’t it – in theatres and on movie channels?

It’s been such a joy to watch some quality television. There’s Burn as well, which is a really beautiful study into camaraderie and dedication and battling against the odds. They’re very human tales.

DECADES IN COLOUR, Prime, Sunday April 3, 8.30pm.

Judy also presents Rialto (Sky 039) documentaries WALKING THE CAMINO: SIX WAYS TO SANTIAGO (April 6); BURN (April 13); WHO TOOK JOHNNY (April 20); and THE WAR ON KIDS (April 27).

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