The spirit of Country Calendar

Country Calendar producer Julian O'Brien is thrilled the show is moving to Sunday nights.

Country Calendar producer Julian O'Brien is thrilled the show is moving to Sunday nights.

Country Calendar returns to our screens this weekend in a new timeslot.

The local farming show, which traditionally screens on TVNZ 1 on Saturday nights, will now air on that channel on Sunday nights at 7pm.

One person who is particularly thrilled with the move is producer Julian O'Brien, whose relationship with Country Calendar began in 1985 when he started a nine-year stint as a director.

The late Frank Torley had a huge influence on Country Calendar.

The late Frank Torley had a huge influence on Country Calendar.

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"It's one of the prime slots of the week so I'm very chuffed that the programmers feel that we're up to it," he says.

"We will probably have a bigger audience on a Sunday night because it's a bigger viewing night.

"We have had a lot of people say over the years, 'Gosh. Why is your show on a Saturday night? If we're going out that night, we'll miss it'."

Country Calendar first went to air in March 1966. Last year it celebrated its 50th birthday and mourned the death of Frank Torley, a well-respected industry figure who had a long association with the show before resigning in early 2016. 

Torley, who was 75 when he died, knew the show inside out. His experience on Country Calendar included producing, reporting, directing and narrating.

"We miss him a lot," says O'Brien, who has been Country Calendar's producer since 2005.

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"He was such a lovely guy and he had a fantastic attitude to people and life. He was very interested in everyone. 

"You'd go away to something like a stock sale and someone would say, 'Oh gidday, Frank' and it would be someone he hadn't seen for 20 years. Frank would say, 'Oh I remember you talking about your eight-year old boy. So what's he up to these days?'

"He would have made a fantastic politician because he had that knack of remembering people and being interested in everyone and being able to draw their story out where appropriate when the camera was rolling. People just felt so relaxed around Frank. 

"He treated everyone with great respect, including the staff. He was just one of those people who made people feel good all the time. He was full of fun. Always a laugh, but very good at his job at the same time.

"That spirit of Frank, that way of working, we have tried to keep. It's kind of like that on air. I wouldn't say (Country Calendar is) light and frothy but it's never too serious and that's Frank. We think about him a lot.

"People in the office are always saying, 'Oh, if Frank was here he'd say this or that...' We've got lots of Frank jokes and sayings that we keep saying to each other."

Thanks to Country Calendar, O'Brien has seen much of New Zealand but has never visited Stewart Island. 

He recalls one South Island assignment where he was sent to do a story about Neroli Prouting, a high country station manager. But after bad weather set in, filming was postponed. 

"We did nothing for three days except sit around the kitchen table with Neroli," says O'Brien.

"We drank copious quantities of gin and played a lot of cards. We couldn't do anything on the farm either, the weather was appalling. But we had a lot of fun. There was a typical crew of camera, sound and director so there were three of us and Neroli, and she probably didn't get a lot of visitors.

"We had a very good time and didn't film anything. The weather was clearly not going improve so we abandoned it and went back to Wellington.

"(We) came back about a month later and had a wonderful shoot because by then we knew each other very well and enjoyed each other's company. It made a fantastic programme."

Country Calendar is New Zealand's longest-running show and continues do to well in the television ratings. 

O'Brien believes its success is down to several factors, including the affinity he believes many New Zealanders have with the land – even though most of the population lives in cities.

He also credits the show's high production values with its success.

"These days, a lot of people are trying to be a bit more inventive or maybe they're trying to cut corners financially. We stick to a lot of tradition about the way things are done," he says.

"People have learnt their jobs from older people who have preceded them and all that sort of stuff and I think that it shows in the programme."

Country Calendar, TVNZ 1, starts Sunday February 12, 7pm

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 - TV Guide


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