While Westside has been on the air for just five years, it’s covered nearly two decades of New Zealand history. But how old are these Westies meant to be?
When Outrageous Fortune began way back in 2005, nobody could have anticipated that it would develop into what is now essentially a franchise, complete with a prequel series that is about to match it for number of seasons.
Another thing nobody could have anticipated is that Westside – which begins its sixth and final season tonight on Three – would become a vehicle for some of our favourite West characters to Forrest Gump their way through the 70s and 80s in New Zealand. John Walker beating Rod Dixon? Check. Springbok Tour? Check. New Zealand meeting Cheryl West? Check, recast, and check.
That’s a lot of history for the show to cover! More importantly? That’s a lot of time. The show, which kicked off with that Walker-Dixon race at the 1974 Commonwealth Games, opens tonight at the Commonwealth Games of 1990. That’s 16 years of history to cover. Westside has only been on the air for five years.
The pedant inside me can’t help wondering: How old are these people meant to be? Where the hell did the time go? And most importantly, where the hell can I get some of that West Auckland skincare because damn, everybody looks real good for whatever age they may or may not be.
My first port of call for determining the current age of the West family was James Griffin, the co-creator of Westside. Surely the person who had helped determine the timeline of the show as a whole would also have some sort of handle on the ages of the core characters.
No such luck. Griffin sent back a lengthy answer which started off thusly: “I have no idea how old the characters are meant to be in Westside. I probably should know but every time I try to think about it my brain hurts so I stop thinking about it.
“My brain hurts because when it comes to time in relation to actors in relation to the characters they portray on TV time is not measured in hours, days, weeks or years.”
With no official information to guide us, let’s look at the given facts. I turned to the Outrageous Fortune wikia, run by the devoted fans of the show, and to Westside’s own website.
After digging around, I can tell you a few things for sure:
At the start of season six of Westside, set in 1990, Ted West is 51. The above screenshot shows the actor who plays him, David de Lautour, in the first episode of season six. That is a truly enviable 51 that could almost pass for 37, given that is de Lautour’s actual age. (Also, between this image and Outrageous Fortune, de Lautour is meant to grow into the iconic, beloved Frank Whitten. I’d pay good money to see a show about those 15 years.)
Similarly, at the start of season six, Rita West is aged between 43 and 45. This is the evidence, according to the meticulous calculations of the Outrageous Fortune wikia:
“According to Rita’s character profile on the official Westside website, she met Ted when she was 16. In Series 2 Episode 5, set in 1981, they celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. This places her year of birth 36 years prior to 1981, in 1945. However, by Vern Gardiner’s account to Loretta in Outrageous Fortune, he was 14 and Rita was 18 when they first met, meaning she was 4 years older. Vern said he was 23 when he last saw her, which we see takes place in 1974 in Westside. This means Rita was 27 in 1974, placing her year of birth in or close to 1947.”
At any rate, Rita West is now older than Antonia Prebble, the 36-year-old actor who plays her. Prebble is a decade younger than Rita at the start of season six, and roughly a decade older than Rita in season one – which was set, remember, 16 years before season six. She also looks exactly like Loretta West from Outrageous Fortune, because she is played by the same actress who played Loretta West on Outrageous Fortune.
Cheryl West (nee Miller) is now 24 She has been played by two actors: Ashleigh Cummings and then Jessica Grace Smith. Not a lot to quibble with, age-wise, here! Ngaire and Lefty’s children, however, should be older than Cheryl West and simply are not.
Wolf West is 28. Two actors have played him on the show, Reon Bell and Reef Ireland. Ireland is 25, which makes him 11 years younger than the actor playing his mother, Rita West.
Pretty much everybody else on the show has been played by a single actor, and their ages are not available from the official website, the wikia, or the writers who created them. They are lost to time, or Post-its in the bottom of a basket in the writer’s room.
I’ll go back to James Griffin’s reply to my question. He talks about plausibility. Basically, do we buy that these characters are as old as they’re supposed to be? “Plausibility is a way of measuring time (and therefore age) that is entirely in the Eye of the Beholder. The first Beholders are those who cast the actors and go ‘yeah, we can get away with that’. The most important Beholders, though, are the audience, for if they fail to believe in the Plausibility then you are in big trouble.”
To read between the lines, it doesn’t really matter how old the characters are so long as the audience believes it and doesn’t ask dopey questions like me. If we’re invested in the characters, their trials and their tribulations, pesky little things like logic and timelines don’t actually matter.
And I mean… fair enough. Plausibility and logic are fairly low hurdles to jump over to ensure that Antonia Prebble is able to keep playing the lead role on your television show, even if she’s a good ten years too young to be doing so.
Even so, I’m a journalist with a mission, and there are two logical conclusions to draw from my investigation:
- Time is a malleable construct in West Auckland, and the West Family (plus associates) are able to bend the laws of time and space to their will. For some reason, they don’t use this ability to aid in their criminal activities.
- Antonia Prebble is a more powerful force in television than the laws of time and space, and is not to be trifled with.
The sixth season of Westside starts on Three tonight at 8:30pm.
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