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Michèle A’Court’s life in TV (Image: Archi Banal)
Michèle A’Court’s life in TV (Image: Archi Banal)

Pop CultureJanuary 20, 2024

‘F*** I’m old’: Michèle A’Court remembers the ad for decimal currency

Michèle A’Court’s life in TV (Image: Archi Banal)
Michèle A’Court’s life in TV (Image: Archi Banal)

In the return of My Life in TV for 2024, the beloved comedian and actor opens up about some of her favourite television memories. 

Michèle A’Court’s first foray into television came at just six years old, when she was cast alongside her mum and brother in an ad for a local Manawatū bank. She remembers standing on a box, holding up her piggy bank, and saying down the camera lens: “I’m going to buy 1,000 ice creams.” 

“The rest is history, really,” she laughs. “I would go on to spend many more years standing on a box, or a stack of phone books, to be in the shot.”

Since that pint-sized debut, A’Court has become a household name. She began her TV career proper with as the host What Now in the late 1980s – a role she landed from playing a supporting role in her then-boyfriend’s audition tape – before moving to after school current affairs show Video Dispatch. As one of our most decorated stand-up comedians, she’s also been a regular guest on The Project NZ, comedy panel shows, and even in The Spinoff’s own webseries On the Rag

A’Court appears on 7 Days in 2023. Image: Youtube

We asked Michèle to regale us with her life in TV, including popcorn madness on the set of What Now, David Bowie teeth and an unforgettable role on Brokenwood Mysteries. 

My earliest TV memory is… Where I lived in Levin, we didn’t get a black and white TV in our house until 1966, and the thing that has always stuck in my head was the ad for decimal currency, which played from 1966 until 1967. We were still using pounds, shillings and pence back then, and I remember there was a cartoon of a dancing rolled up dollar bill who sang a jingle: “Don’t forget / we move to decimal currency / on the 10th of July / next year”. What was so fascinating to me was that in January of 1967, they changed the jingle to “don’t forget, we’re moving to decimal currency on the 10th of July this year.” That’s my earliest television memory, an ad for decimal currency. Fuck I’m old.

The show I would rush home from school to watch was… The Carol Burnett Show was huge for me. She had a variety show that was mostly sketch comedy, but there was always this bit in every episode where she would come out with just a stool and a microphone and say very funny things. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I wanted to do it. 

My earliest television crush was… David Cassidy from The Partridge Family. He had perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect teeth. This won’t make sense to anybody but me, but he had David Bowie teeth. You know how David Bowie had those really prominent eye teeth? David Cassidy had that too. So did Alan Rickman. I have a thing for David Bowie teeth. 

My favourite What Now memory is… The crazy production meetings on a Monday morning. One Monday morning I came in and said that I wanted to fill the studio with popcorn, as if we were going to make one saucepan of popcorn but it exploded and filled the whole studio. And the art department, Tim and Pat, just went “oh, OK”. It was just completely ridiculous. 

The other best bit about working on What Now was makeup artist Lenore Stewart, who not only turned me into a million comedy characters, but also made me feel fabulous every week. I could not have done it without her. She is still around in Christchurch, and a total queen who deserves much credit for many years of brilliant work on What Now.

The TV moment that haunts me is… I hosted Video Dispatch, which was a live current affairs programme that would air on a Wednesday afternoon, wrapping up the news of the week in a way that a 12-year-old could understand. There was this really horrible programme one day where everything went wrong. We hadn’t been able to rehearse the last segment of the show and I had no idea what was going on. There was some stuff scrolling on the autocue, and I didn’t know what it meant or what I was supposed to do with it, and I was alone in a studio looking down a camera and going “I don’t know what this is”.

A’Court on Video Dispatch. Image: TVNZ

My TV guilty pleasure is… Midsomer Murders, because it’s just all these people of privilege with no chins smacking each other over the head with a shovel because they want to inherit the manor. You can just enjoy the “whodunnit”-ness of it all without caring, because they’re all just really dreadful people.

My favourite TV moment of all time is… There’s an episode of Hacks – season one, episode eight – that I have watched over and over and over again. If anybody ever wants to know what it’s like to be a woman in the comedy industry, please watch it. Deborah Vance goes to this Sacramento comedy club and the MC for that night’s gig is this asshole in a pleather hoodie. He introduces her in this way that every female comedian has been introduced onstage – a way that makes them small, and somebody’s prey. And she claps back and wins, and just destroys him. It’s the most beautiful, horrible, satisfying episode, I think I watched it three times in a row when I first saw it and I watch it now every few months or so. 

My favourite TV character of all-time is… Pamela Adlon’s character in Better Things. She is funny as fuck, she is so flawed, she is a terrific parent and a also terrible parent, she drinks too much, and she has really close personal friends. That’s the thing that I find missing in so much TV – women appear not to have friends. I don’t know any women who don’t have friends. So yes, if I could be somebody, I would be Sam Fox in Better Things. 

The most stylish person on TV is…. Moira from Schitt’s Creek, without a doubt. She had a wall of wigs for that show, and I read somewhere that she had a name for every wig inspired by all her friends in real life. She’s so amazing. 

My most used streaming platform is… I’m not very good at knowing what platform a show is on, so I have this app called JustWatch on my phone. It’s free to download and you just set it to New Zealand and tell it what platforms you’ve got. Then you can search for whatever show you want and it will tell you if you’ve got the right platform for it. It notifies you as well if there’s a show you want to watch that arrives on one of your platforms, everyone should know about it. 

My favourite TV project you’ve ever been involved with is… I have two. One is On the Rag. When we took that podcast into the studio it had that same vibe to me as What Now in terms of people saying “what do you want to do” and we’d say “an episode about boobs” and they say “OK”. The other is recently being on The Brokenwood Mysteries, because I love that show. It was so amazing for me, to the point where I had great difficulty remembering whether I should be calling Fern [Sutherland] by her real name or by Kristin. I would love to do more drama now.

The TV show I wish I was involved in is… After the Party. I loved it so, so, so much and I wish that I had been able to be in a crowd scene, just in the background in the kitchen. It was so good to see women my age on television. I loved it how when Robyn Malcolm’s character does live modelling at the start, her body is just so delicious and beautiful because she’s comfortable and happy. And by the last episode, when she has broken, you can see the difference in her whole body. You can see the difference between how a woman holds herself when she feels good about who she is, and how she holds herself when she is destroyed by the world. 

Peter Mullan as Phil and Robyn Malcolm as Penny in After the Party (Image: Supplied)

My most watched TV show is… I would never have missed an episode of Mash, Friends or The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That last one in particular is a really important show for me because it had a single, professional woman at the centre of it. 

My controversial TV opinion is… I don’t think the news should be allowed on TV anymore. TV news is driven by visuals, and visuals favour the worst possible moments of disaster, mayhem and chaos. We still need to know about terrible things that are going on in the world, but I just think the news should only be on the radio because then people have to really explain it. Take the news off television and just have it on the radio. 

The TV show out there that I will never watch is… I’ve never seen Breaking Bad and I feel like it’s too late. I can’t catch up, it’s too much of my life. I’m not there, I’m not part of that, but I’m OK with that. I’ll do yoga instead. 

The last thing I watched on TV is… The Beautiful Lie with Sarah Snook from Succession. It’s an Australian drama from 2015 that’s a remake of the story of Anna Karenina. It’s got this incredible mix of tragedy and comedy, the script has an elevated formality to it. Sarah Snook is a bit younger and has this vulnerability that you don’t see in Succession. It’s quite haunting, the characters are incredible, and it’s just a fucking beautiful show. 

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