Episode 1: Primary Producer
March 12 at 7pm on TV ONE:
Country Calendar's first episode for 2011 marks a television milestone - it's a record-breaking 45 years since the show first went to air.
And after traipsing across thousands of other people's farms since 1966, this episode creates a first - it turns the camera on one of its own.
For 35 years Frank Torley has been known in rural communities as 'That bloke from Country Calendar', but he's recently found that no matter how many farms you film on, it still doesn't prepare you for the real thing.
Frank, now consultant producer on Country Calendar, farms his own small patch in the heart of the Rangitikei region, close to the farming town of Marton.
When he bought the land it was all in one block, so he had to build new fences.
"When I went to the local timber yard and asked for some posts I realised I had no idea what I was doing," Frank says. "They said, 'What sort of posts do you want?' and all I could say was, 'Round ones would look nice&'"
The farmer who gently laughs at himself on camera is a typical Country Calendar moment - but it wasn't always so.
When the first episode went to air on March 6, 1966, front-man Fred Barnes wore a suit, read out information about market prices and conducted an interview with the chairman of the Meat Board - all in the studio. Less than six minutes of the programme - a report on a Central Otago apricot orchard - was filmed in the field.
But when Frank arrived to work on Country Calendar 10 years later, the programme began to focus on a single topic each episode, going out into the field and putting farmers at the heart of the show.
Soon there was no front-man at all - just the farmers themselves - and no more interviews with experts and politicians. "We didn't need agriculture experts," Frank says. "The farmers were the experts - they told their own stories."
The formula worked so well that it carries on today - although plenty of other things have changed.
This year's series will be the first in high definition pictures, made possible with the support of a new sponsor - Hyundai New Zealand. To mark the change, the programme will also have new opening titles.
Producer Julian O'Brien says although the series will have a fresh look, its essence will remain the same. "We're very conscious of our long tradition," he says. "As far as we're aware, we're the second-longest continuously running series in the world after Coronation St, which started in 1960.
"As long as we keep telling authentic stories people on the land, I reckon the ratings will stay high for many years to come."
O'Brien took over as producer in 2006, but Frank Torley is still very involved in the show, as both consultant producer and a reporter in the field.
Being the subject of an episode is an odd feeling, he says. "I'm so used to reassuring other people about this - 'Don't worry, we'll be kind with our editing, you'll come across just fine' - but it's a bit different when you're on the receiving end," he says.
"I have to confess I deliberately haven't looked at the finished product - I'll see it when it goes to air."
Frank's wanted a place in the country for as long as he can remember. Straight out of school, he got a job on his uncle's farm at Kiwitea and then at the Feilding Saleyards, working his way up to become a stock agent.
The saleyards were a natural place for Country Calendar to take Frank during filming. "It's hallowed turf for me," Frank says, walking past the pens of lambs about to go under the hammer. "It was where I spent the best part of my youth, and it was right here that I first got offered a job in rural radio."
Radio led to television - and 35 years later, his broadcasting career's still going strong.
It's taken Frank from one end of the country to the other to meet all sorts of characters. "One story might see you mustering wild cattle with some East Coast cowboys, the next you're on a cray boat off Castle Point."
"I've often said I have the best job in New Zealand. I get
to travel the country, see some beautiful places and meet the sort
of people we'd all like to mix with. My job's got it all -
and that's the key to the success of the show, too."
Country Calendar credits - 2011 episode 1, 'Primary Producer'