Ripping and real - it's how we like to see ourselves

JANE CLIFTON
Last updated 11:57 30/07/2014

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By about a third of the way through Sunday's stirring docu-drama Pirates of the Airwaves, TV One, it became fairly obvious that this would have been better done as a movie.

Trouble is, it already has been - albeit fictionalised. Three Mile Limit, released in cinemas earlier this year, turns the original Radio Hauraki pioneers into made-up characters, but tells the same cracking story, of how some determined young men forced the protectionist government of the mid 60s to relent its state protectionism of radio broadcasting. If it's worth doing once, is it worth doing over again? Pirates came first but its screening was delayed because of the clash with the film.

Its great advantage was the access to glorious old photos and footage, and the accounts of all but one of the original radio pirates - who have aged well and spoke with great brio.

The disadvantage was that the dramatised bits, though lively and well-conceived, began to get a little irritating. The story was "narrated" through the character of Rick Grant, the pirate who tragically fell overboard at the 11th hour, when the rogue broadcast ship Tiri II was on the way home, the Hauraki team granted a broadcasting licence at last.

The character is glib, cocky, smart-alecky - as these guys undoubtedly had to be. But the to- camera smugness grated after a while. On the other hand, the dramatised bits told more effectively than an expository narration could have done the enormity of what the team was up against.

The government was highly authoritarian, state broadcasting arguably more so, with a penchant for banning and rationing popular music.

The broadcasting minister privately sympathised with the Hauraki pioneers, saying as a lifelong farmer, he would have become a pirate farmer had the state controlled his industry. But, he pleaded, you couldn't just turn around the massive tanker that was the Broadcasting Corporation. It needed time to adjust.

Today we'd find this risible. But that was an era of great paternalism.

What followed was a real-life ripping yarn, including tumultuous scenes of civil disobedience at the wharf the night the first Tiri set sail, and several nasty scrapes at sea.

The story was also imbued with "No 8 wire" ethos through to the hull, both the ships and the transmission equipment conjured from unpromising source material. The music was spirited in from overseas.

It's such an inspiring, classic story of New Zealand-as-we-like-to- think-of-ourselves that, on reflection, it is probably worth seeing two versions of it.

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- The Dominion Post

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