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Pop CultureApril 13, 2024

‘The end of something very special’: A look back at nearly half a century of Fair Go


A look back at nearly 50 years of Fair Go championing the underdog.

This week TVNZ confirmed that, after 47 years on air, Fair Go will be ending in mid May. While the brand will live on in some form under news and current affairs, this decision marks the end of nearly half a century of Fair Go fighting for the underdog in prime time. “It’s a genuine honour and privilege to empower New Zealanders to expect better and to demand better,” executive producer Sophie Baird told us back in 2020. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get tired of complaining.” 

For nearly five decades, Fair Go has been that complaining saviour. It’s our second longest running TV show (after Country Calendar), promising that “if you’ve been ripped off, short-changed or given the runaround and nobody wants to know, we do!” It’s helped thousands of New Zealanders, giving a voice to victims like this water filter scam and the bloke who just wanted his landline to work. Their fearless reporters have righted consumer wrongs, confronted rascals and ratbags, and even worked out if our Weet-Bix is too soggy

While we sadly can’t find each and every one of the Fair Go stories that have been broadcast since 1977, we scoured the archives to unearth these highlights from 47 years of Fair Go. 

We complained in the 1970s as much as we do now

Fair Go began in April 1977 as a ground-breaking new consumer affairs show hosted by Brian Edwards and filmed in front of a live studio audience. Three decades later, Fair Go looked back on one of its earliest episodes, featuring a man fuming about the lack of colour in his new colour television set. “Over the past years, we’ve uncovered some major rip offs and some minor rip offs, and we’ve come to our own conclusions about who are the really dishonest groups in our society,” Edwards told us in the final episode of 1977 – and it was onwards and upwards from there (and all the way to NUTZAC). 

There was no issue too big…

Fair Go changed people’s lives for the better, and tackled thousands of cons, scams and dodgy companies on behalf of desperate and exhausted New Zealanders. They advocated to change insurance laws, pressured corporates to change their policies and front up to their mistakes, and even helped people get a roof over their head when nobody else would. They’re the show people turned to when their house started sinking or when they were the victim of identify theft. Nothing seemed to surprise Fair Go and or dissuade them from a challenge, not even this concrete conman that the show chased for 15 dramatic years. 

… and no issue too small

To Fair Go, the little wins were just as important as the big ones, whether it was investigating the shrinking size of marshmallow easter eggs, helping us open a jar, solving the mystery of fake pockets or wondering what the heck was happening with the iconic Animal biscuits. Host Pippa Wetzell revealed in 2022 that the show has investigated how many hokey pokey pieces were in the ice cream not once, not twice, but three times during the show’s first 45 years, while producer Sophie Baird recalled how one of those chilly challenges featured two women sitting in the studio audience, counting the hokey pokey pieces live on air. “Their fingers got very numb,” Baird told The Spinoff, but explained that Fair Go knew these small issues were important too. “You feel like you’re getting ripped off, and we value that.”  

The logo was a moveable feast

Much has changed since 1977, and the Fair Go logo is no exception. It began with a frankly terrifying cartoon featuring a turquoise “good guy” squaring off against two baddies (one has a beanie and the other a pimple on his nose), before the capitalised titles whacked you in the face. The next logo we could find was from the early 90s, a fetching mauve typewriter font in all lower case. The 2000s saw thrilling primitive 3D silver graphics, and a weird emo-inspired outing, before things settled into a more sedate plain white font (what was not sedate were the furious customers crossing their arms in the opening credits).  

The faces of Fair Go were many… 

Things began in the late 70s with Brian Edwards in an extremely wide tie that is 50 shades of brown, but the decades to come would see many more familiar faces step up to the Fair Go plate. Alison Mau, Greg Boyed, Kerre Woodham, Kim Hill, Sean Plunket, Simon Mercep and Carol Hirschfield have all popped up in various roles over the years, but perhaps no face is as familiar to Fair Go viewers as Kevin Milne. Serving from 1984 until 2010, Milne once told NZ On Screen “I’ve ended up the captain because I’ve been here the longest.” 

Whether that was true or not, it was a captaincy that gained Milne the coveted title of “most trusted New Zealander”. He is now one of the most vocal critics on the show’s end: “It’s the end of something very special in New Zealand that may not happen anywhere else in the world, in that you could walk into store, anywhere that you were getting a bad deal and say, ‘I’m going to Fair Go’,” he told Newshub in March. Appearing on the likes of RNZ’s The Panel and Newstalk ZB, Milne has again voiced his disappointment about the cancellation. 

As was the presence of concrete…

It wasn’t just concrete contractor Gordon Bayne who “cemented” himself in our screen history by ignoring Fair Go while eating a pie in 2017, ignoring Fair Go while holding his hand above his face in court in 2020, and ignoring Fair Go while slamming a car door in in 2013. Tim Shadbolt also needed a cup of concrete after being the target of three Fair Go stories in the early 2000s, all to do with a cracked water tank that he had promised to fix, despite also being the mayor of Invercargill at the time.

Fair Go forced Shadbolt to apologise, pay the $600 for the repairs, and even throw in some flowers and chocolates. “I got so caught up in being the mayor that I neglected my personal life,” Shadbolt said. 

Sorry for being a mayor. Image: TVNZ

And… stunt cats? 

We could not find video evidence of this, but Kerre Woodham once told Women’s Day that her favourite Fair Go story involved a team of “stunt cats” who were tasked with accessing a cat door positioned at the top of the door, rather than the bottom. Pics or it didn’t happen Kerre!

Sometimes things got really dodgy 

Being exposed to the nation as a ratbag tradie or dodgy businessman didn’t always go down well, and several Fair Go hosts found themselves in sticky situations over the years. In 2011, presenter Gordon Harcourt was assaulted by a Tauranga used-car dealer he was investigating, and was left with a bleeding nose, a black eye and a suspected concussion after being punched three times. It wasn’t the only time things got heated – this 45th anniversary video features one particularly irate chap chucking a ladder at Fair Go’s camera, while long-time host Kevin Milne told the New Zealand Herald that another nasty character threatened to bomb his house.

We couldn’t get enough of the annual Fair Go ad awards

Fair Go’s annual ad awards were one of the show’s top-rating episodes each year, and a chance for viewers to have their say about the ads they loved and loathed the most. In 2010, this Toyota flying fox ad took out the most popular ad gong, while a year earlier, this incredible Cadbury eyebrow ad had the honour of making both the most and least popular list. Schools could compete to make their own ads, while sometimes Fair Go team even got in on the action themselves.  

Fair Go airs Mondays 7.30pm on TVNZ1, or here on TVNZ+.

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