Dougal Stevenson: The voice of authority

THE EARLY DAYS: Dougal Stevenson in the 60s.
THE EARLY DAYS: Dougal Stevenson in the 60s.

Jane Bowron of the Dominion Post once wrote of Dougal Stevenson: "His voice is authoritative. If there is an end-of-the-world broadcast kept in readiness for the final moments on Earth, I hope TVNZ has chosen Dougal to announce it."

The quote raises a hearty laugh from the man who did, indeed, become a voice of authority for a generation of Kiwi TV news viewers until the 1980s - so much so that Stevenson was an obvious choice to co-host I Was There, a Heartland TV series that reviews many of New Zealand history's defining moments in four decades since the 1960s.

Stevenson starts the series with the decade in which his broadcasting career began - the 1960s. (Other decade retrospectives will be fronted by Jennie Goodwin, Tom Bradley and Judy Bailey.)

"If I had a time at all, I imagine it was more in the 70s," says Stevenson. "But I'm very happy and privileged in a way to present this."

Stevenson's decade has disasters looming large in the roll call, including the Strongman Mine explosion, the NAC air crash, the MV Kaitawa sinking, the Inangahua earthquake and the Wahine disaster.

Not much has changed in the news there then. But there were many other stories that defined the 1960s for Kiwis - sports successes such as Bob Charles, Peter Snell and Denny Hulme; the rise of pop culture and the end of the  "six o'clock swill" - the original Kiwi binge-drinking habit.

"I think that people today will be astonished when they hear of the six o'clock swill and see what it was," says Stevenson.

"It was pretty incredible. I remember as a student, we were lining up the jugs at 10 to six and scoffing them down by 10 or 12 minutes past six when you were basically evicted."

But Stevenson also recalls the very different dynamic that existed between TV news and those who were in authority.

"I will say that the country took a while to acknowledge that people in television, particularly, could ask the representatives of the public - i.e. councillors or politicians and heads of various departments - direct questions," he says.

"As a very young announcer I fronted up to some executive in a power company once and, of course, I had to present a list of questions.

"They spent an hour going over them while I stood and shivered in the rain outside with the cameraman. And then they invited us in and told us which questions they would respond to and which they wouldn't."

It is difficult to imagine any public figure treating Dougal Stevenson, QSM, that way in this day and age. But does Stevenson wish he could be entering the business today?

"Only when I see examples of the sorts of things that I was told not to do," he says.

Asked for examples, Dougal runs off a list of common grammatical and pronunciation errors that he hears constantly, finishing off with the disappearing 't' that is steadily being replaced with a 'd'.

Dougal laments: "We're all going on to bedder things."

I Was There: Heartland TV Monday

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VETERAN: Dougal Stevenson is still the voice of authority.
VETERAN: Dougal Stevenson is still the voice of authority.

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