Mr Telly Feature Image
Before social media, you had to write a letter to a magazine to get them to notice you. A simpler time, a better time. (Image Design: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureFebruary 4, 2022

The best of Mr Telly, the TV Guide’s letters to the editor page

Mr Telly Feature Image
Before social media, you had to write a letter to a magazine to get them to notice you. A simpler time, a better time. (Image Design: Tina Tiller)

Before Facebook comments, there was TV Guide’s Mr Telly. And it’s still going strong.

Picture this: it’s the mid 90s. You want to watch TV but don’t know what’s on. You don’t have access to the internet, because not many people do. Your concept of a “streaming service” might be something to do with the local creek or river. But what you do have is a little magazine, the TV Guide, that comes out every week and can tell you what is on at any given hour, on any channel, for a very nominal fee.

Also inside that little magazine are interviews with celebs, simple crosswords, horoscopes and bite-sized reviews of whatever movies are screening that week. But the true crowning achievement of the TV Guide? Mr Telly, the magazine’s version of letters to the editor where readers write in to praise, rage, whine, muse or simply ask where the hell the new season of Antiques Roadshow has got to.

You don’t have to picture it, you can experience it. Because in 2022, the TV Guide is still with us – it’s a damn sight more convenient and easier to read than any free online guide – and Mr Telly is going strong too. And it’s as delightfully unhinged, surprisingly wholesome and predictably opinion-filled as any Facebook comments section.

I’ve pulled out some of my favourite letters from the past few months, with full respect to Mr Telly and the section he rules, because these gems deserve to be in the cloud forevermore.

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This is a classic of Mr Telly: people who hate NZ comedy but just can’t stop watching it! These letters are in response to Dale Dickinson of Auckland genuinely wanting to know if his perception of comedy is right or wrong, because at present he thinks it’s a bunch of people “having a great time, appearing to find everything each of them says to be funny”.

The response from the Mr Telly commentariat is that Dale Dickinson is right. The name David McPhail is invoked a hundred times, as are the names Billy T James, Jon Gadsby and somehow, The Two Ronnies. Thank gosh for the wisdom of KB: “If something makes you laugh, great. If it doesn’t my suggestion is not to worry about it and use your energy to find something that does.”

Another classic? People who think that we’re showing filth! Shortland Street? Filth! Bravo shows? Filth! Naked dating shows? Disgoostin’. Apologies to Kura Forrester, who has to serve as the face for Shortland Street’s debauchery.

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More staples: The “I can’t imagine someone even has this problem” letter, the “TV ads are too loud” letter and the genuinely poignant “why isn’t my show on any more” letter.

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My favourite Mr Telly letters are the ones that read like the internal monologues of people I would absolutely cross the street to avoid. “Back in the day I would never have thought to put tomato sauce on my Christmas fare table to spoil everything that I had made and if any of my little darlings had even suggested it, it would have been a big no-no” is a sentence that will haunt me the rest of my days. God bless you, Just Sayn [sic] (Dunedin).

These kinds of letters represent the bulk of Mr Telly content: unsolicited notes from people who have a deeply held belief that the people whom they write about are reading Mr Telly. The unsolicited notes generally range from pronunciation to volume to manner, and absolutely none of the subjects to whom these letters are addressed will ever read them. There is, pleasingly, no criticism of presenters talking in te reo (well, there’s one borderline case above), because even Mr Telly has had enough of that shit.

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But at its best? Mr Telly is a nice place for Jean Goodall (Matamata) to tell a nice story about meeting a nice man.

Keep going!