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Jennie and Judy: Pioneers unite

The iconic news presenters are making history

Judy: Mother of the Nation

They were never on air together, yet Judy Bailey and Jennie Goodwin still make quite a team.

Judy – affectionately known as the “Mother of the Nation” – and pioneering Jennie, the first female newsreader in the British Commonwealth, are among the nation’s most iconic broadcasters.

The good friends have finally paired up for TVNZ’s I Was There. The show takes viewers through the biggest moments in Kiwi history during the decades the women were on air.

The pair sat down to talk exclusively with the Weekly about those events that shaped New Zealand and their careers.

Judy: Mother of the Nation

“I remember Jennie as an immaculately presented, thoroughly professional newsreader,” says Judy, who will present the 1990s episodes of the four-week series. “I admired her as one of the trailblazers for women in our industry.”

“Judy was in the newsroom when I came across to TVNZ in 1980,” adds Jennie, who began her radio and television career in 1966, and will front the 1970s episodes.

“She was presenting Top Half with John Hawkesby!”

The women have more than 70 years’ journalism experience between them, yet it’s not hard to recall the stories that hit hardest.

“The Air New Zealand Erebus crash was the most emotionally difficult story to present,” Jennie remembers.

“I will never forget how upsetting it was to read out the names of the deceased passengers and crew. All of New Zealand was grief-stricken and shell-shocked. Everyone seemed to know someone on that fateful flight.”

While Jennie wasn’t a mum when she read the news – she welcomed a long-awaited daughter, Virginia, in 1985 when she was living with her then-husband in Singapore – Judy was. And grim stories dealing with child abuse and neglect were most challenging.

“I found it difficult to deliver those stories without thinking about my children,” she says.

Jennie: Female newsreading pioneer

“It led me to become involved with the Brainwave Trust, an organisation promoting neuroscience research.”

Of course there were positives for both women, none of which stick out more in Judy’s mind than the 1995 America’s Cup.

“It was edge of the seat stuff,” she says, smiling. “The entire nation was gathered around the telly, sporting red socks and cheering our guys on. It was magic to be a part of.”

There were also times when it all went horribly wrong. Live television can be unforgiving.

“I will never forget (and many viewers would still remember, I’m sure!) the night the six o’clock news finished abruptly, 10 minutes early,” Jennie recalls.

“Weather throughout the country was stormy, and we had a lot of difficulty obtaining links to the other main centres.

“Furthermore, with just about every news item I introduced, a different clip would come up on screen. There were gremlins in the works that night! I spent most of the bulletin apologising. A Herald reporter was on the phone directly after and wondered if I had walked out in frustration or anger! But it just wasn’t our night.“

For each of the women, a career in journalism was inevitable. Options in the 1960s were scarce – not that it stopped Jennie. Judy’s career was, in part, made possible by Jennie’s bold decision to force her way into the “man’s world” of TV and radio.

“There were limited choices, but two years after I started at the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation as a shorthand typist, I was behind a radio microphone and in front of

a camera,” says Jennie.

“I always wanted to write,” adds Judy. “That’s why I became a journalist. Now I’m continuing to write and thoroughly enjoying combining my love of travel with a love of the written word.”

During her time fronting One Network News, Judy was paired mostly with Richard Long, creating one of the warmest, most enduring TV partnerships in New Zealand history.

“He was a dream to work with. We had fun together and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company – we still get together whenever possible. The camera never lies!”

Television has changed, even since Judy hung up her blazer in 2005. “It’s a rapidly evolving beast,” says Judy. “It’s instant and therefore incredibly challenging.”

“I believe diction and grammar have slipped,” adds Jennie. “I don’t expect us to return to the BBC-type delivery required of all broadcasters in the 60s and 70s.

“But for me, it’s grating to hear supposedly intelligent and professional journalists mispronounce words!”

I Was There, also presented by Dougal Stevenson and Tom Bradley, is on TVNZ Heartland, weekdays at 7pm, from June 3.

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