Mike Bungay's daughters speak out against Dear Murderer drama

Lawyer Mike Bungay, left, with Bill Sutch and his wife Shirley Smith.
STUFF/KEVIN STENT

Lawyer Mike Bungay, left, with Bill Sutch and his wife Shirley Smith.

A big-budget TVNZ drama about celebrated Wellington lawyer Mike Bungay has been slammed by his daughters for being inaccurate, "blatantly wrong" and making their father "look like a drunken clown".

Sisters Robyn and Sue Bungay said they weren't consulted by the makers of the five-part TVNZ drama Dear Murderer - now screening on Thursday nights - and weren't even aware it was being made until late last year. They say their mother, Bungay's first wife Rosemary Moss, who now lives in the UK, is still unlikely to even know about the programme.

When the sisters, now in their 50s, contacted the show's production company, Screentime, they were told Dear Murderer was already in the editing process.

Actors Sally Stockwell and Mark Mitchinson on the set of Dear Murderer with Ronda Bungay (centre). Stockwell plays Ronda ...
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Actors Sally Stockwell and Mark Mitchinson on the set of Dear Murderer with Ronda Bungay (centre). Stockwell plays Ronda while Mitchinson is in the lead role as the late criminal defence lawyer Mike Bungay.

"We want people to know that we had no part in the making of this," says Sue Bungay. "We weren't consulted in any way."

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Screentime CEO Philly de Lacey, a veteran television producer who has worked on TVNZ shows Police Ten 7 and Beyond The Darklands as well as numerous Sunday Theatre dramas, instead arranged for a private screening of the series for the Bungay sisters a fortnight before it went to air.

Mark Mitchinson as famed criminal defence lawyer Mike Bungay in the TVNZ drama series Dear Murderer.
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Mark Mitchinson as famed criminal defence lawyer Mike Bungay in the TVNZ drama series Dear Murderer.

"We came out of there shocked," recalls Sue Bungay. "We couldn't absorb it. Initially we were kind of laughing - you know, going, 'But that's just so wrong'.

"Afterwards I went for a two-hour walk, just thinking, 'My god, how do we get round this, this is so bad'.

"At the time we decided to not do anything, not say anything, because he's been dead 24 years - I'm actually still struggling to understand why they think there's public interest in it. A lot of people don't even know who he was."

But after the first episode of Dear Murderer screened last Thursday, both sisters felt they needed "to put the record straight".

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"My sister texted me and said you need to watch it again because there's so much we missed the first time around - we just couldn't take it all in," says Sue.

"It was just extremely upsetting actually. And a lot of people have contacted both my sister and I who knew Dad very intimately, especially in the earlier years, who were never contacted for comment or input."

"They're quite upset - there's a lot of pretty upset people out there at the moment, just about the inaccuracies of it. In fact they made him look like a drunken clown as far as we're concerned."

In a statement, de Lacey said Screentime's researchers "spent a lot of time accessing the court files of the cases Mike Bungay worked on".

"They also consulted a number of colleagues who worked with him, and others who knew him on a personal level. Mike was many things to many people. In a drama, it's up to our creative team to tell the best story that best reflects the measure of the man.
 
"We make it clear this is a dramatic account of Mike Bungay and his life. We say in the programme opening credits: 'This programme is based on real persons and events, however for dramatic purposes some characters, names and events have been altered'.
 
"We have done our best to ensure Mike Bungay is fairly portrayed with regard to his professional highs and lows and his personal liaisons. We are extremely proud of the series and we've received glowing feedback from many who knew him to say we got him right."

Dear Murderer is based on the book of the same name by Mike Bungay's widow Ronda, who has declared her support for the programme.

 - Stuff

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