In 2016, to celebrate Country Calendar turning the big 5-0, Calum Henderson took a look at five of the show’s famous spoofs on NZ On Screen – and one which seemed like a spoof but was totally real.
You don’t see a lot of spoofs these days. We’ve got parodies galore, we’re up to our eyeballs in mockumentaries, but there’s something about a good old-fashioned spoof that just can’t be beat. “Spoofs are damned hard to make,” Country Calendar host Jim Hickey claims in the show’s 1999 ‘Spoofs Special’ (click here to watch), and he should know what he’s talking about – the seemingly dry-as-a-bone farming show has produced some pioneering comedic moments over the years. Here are five of the best.
1. The one with the remote-controlled dog
The imagination behind many of Country Calendar’s greatest spoofs belonged to writer Burton Silver, and he stars in this one as Dr Ross Duncan, inventor of the world’s first radio-controlled dog. While it sounds silly on paper, viewers found this spoof “a little too real” according to Jim Hickey, and the show got in “a bit of trouble” as a result. Silver’s performance is the key – his aloof, dismissive doctor is reminiscent of Matt Holness’ cameo as the IT guy in The Office. “It’s not a toy,” he scolds a farmer trialling the prototype. “He could pull a muscle.”
2. The one with the non-stress sheep farmers
Here we meet Dominic and Brian, a couple of progressive Auckland hairdressers who struck upon a new method of sheep farming “which has more than tripled their wool receipts”. It’s all about reducing your livestock’s stress levels – “the more stressed the sheep, the poorer the quality of the fleece.” In a spoof that wouldn’t look out of place on a show like Portlandia today, they picnic with their flock, play them classical music on specially-designed headphones, and herd them by chanting meditation mantras. “The aggressive bark of the huntaway has no place here.”
3. The one with the bloke playing the fence
The first Country Calendar spoof, dating back to 1978, and in several respects still the best. The image of a farmer playing his fence as a kind of giant banjo is forever burned into the national memory, but the remarkably subtle and pitch-perfect writing is what stands out almost 40 years on. “It’s windy here today… perhaps the sound wasn’t so good,” frets the farmer’s wife, who accompanies him on piano. She gazes out over the paddock. “On a calm summer’s day it’s really quite beautiful.” Chris Morris-esque.
4. The one with the 24-hour farm
A late-era Country Calendar spoof – and perhaps its most high-concept – this one looked into 24-hour farming, an idea that “promises to totally revolutionise New Zealand farming, and perhaps the entire nation’s way of life.” Some of it turned out to be kind of prescient, but most was pure nonsense – putting sleeping masks on sheep to try and get them to sleep during the day, and the unforeseen difficulties of night farming (eye dogs are useless). Watch right to the end for an M Night Shyamalan-worthy twist in the tale.
5. The one with the rural fashion show
A look at the ingenious innovations of rural fashion designer Garnet Nelson. You’ve got a hat that grows cress, a hat that holds your cigarette for you, and inflatable trousers for sitting on all those hard rocks when you’re out doing your herding. At least one of the innovations – armpit zips on a jacket – has since been adopted into real-life fashion design. (click here to watch the episode in full)
Honourable mention: Daggy & The Dickheads
This 1982 report has all the makings of a classic Country Calendar spoof, but there really was a band of shearers in the Rangitikei District, they really were called Daggy & The Dickheads, and what’s more they were one of Newshub sports reporter Hamish Mackay’s favourite bands. “The romantic notion they’d be dagging fat woolly romneys by day and on stage at night was somehow appealing,” he told the Manawatu Standard in 2014.