The English - Michael Hurst | HERE TO STAY | TV ONE | [an error occurred while processing this directive]
The English - Michael Hurst
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On my second day of school in New Zealand I walked home singing at the top of my voice. I was so happy. I'd been running around, playing rugby, and my knees were dirty, my clothes filthy. I'd had a great time. And I'd never been able to do that before.

I'd just arrived in suburban Christchurch from the north of England, where my school grounds were paved in concrete; the high brick fences topped with glass. I knew then that the rest of my life would be very different from those first eight years spent as a working class lad in Lancashire. And I was ecstatic.

Sure, I still had to fit in. I was small, with a broad Lancashire accent (something that took me but six months to lose!), so I told everyone that I was a leprechaun. That went down well, but the pretence lasted only until the afternoon of my first day when a girl asked the teacher if it was true. Cover blown.

It was 1966 and it had taken us three days in a DC8 to make it to New Zealand. But we knew we'd reached a great place.

New Zealand in the 1960s, of course, was very different from how those tens of thousands of early English settlers would've found it.

(The black and white photo above is Micheal Hurst as a very young Lancashire lad before he moved to New Zealand.)

We've all seen the black and white photos of settler men in burlap shirts, leaning against huge kauri trees, their saws in their hands, knee deep in mud. But doing "Here to Stay" really brought home to me the rigours those first English immigrants faced, and how much the agents misinformed prospective settlers. I mean, they out and out lied!

But for me, New Zealand was the utopia my countrymen and women had battled the sandflies, manuka and swamp to create.

New Zealand has always allowed English people to do things they'd never be able to do back "home." For my glazier dad, that meant singing semi-professionally in a band. For me it meant swimming all summer long until my body was brown and my hair was chlorine blond.

For the settlers it meant owning land, going hunting, playing bowls, having access to a classical education - eating meat every day, or with every meal. The New Zealand Utopia meant that lower class people could take part in upper class pursuits.

And all with the traditions of Mother England picked up and transplanted to New Zealand - roses, roasts, rugby, racing, religion.

Doing "Here to Stay" afforded me the opportunity to do things I'd never done before too - presenting a documentary being one of them. Punting was another. Punting is ridiculously difficult, and what made it into the programme is only the tip of the iceberg!

And then there was the Mini Cooper. The tiniest of English cars, the mini formed its very own migration wave to New Zealand in the 1960s. But the mini I drove was a racing mini, stripped of everything that makes driving a comfortable experience. The motor was so hot it would make a boy racer glow with pride, and the seat was just strapped to the chassis.

I drove fast - for me, anyway - but suddenly I realised I was being lapped. Those guys were really flooring it!

But they only had to drive. Me, I had to drive AND talk to the camera, which was precariously strapped to the car's bonnet, AND try to stay on the track. It was hardly the level playing field that us Kiwis hold so dear!

Going hunting was also a great experience - a great Kiwi experience. The hunter who took me was as Kiwi as a man can get, yet we were drinking tea (billy tea, admittedly) and talking about very English things.

These days I don't think about being English. Okay, unless I'm in a pantomime or musical theatre and then it all comes out - I'm back in it like a duck to water.

But, if I'm travelling and am asked where I'm from, I'm a Kiwi with a New Zealand passport to prove it.

Doing the programme gave me a chance to relive those joyous childhood memories of coming to, and living in, New Zealand. And it made me realise how grateful I was that my parents made the decision to come here. If we'd stayed in the grim north, things would've been very, very different.

I'll take my two sons to England soon. They've never been there, but want to visit the castles. We definitely talk about England, but only when they ask. They don't have much of a connection. They're the new generation; they're looking forward, not back.

We'll visit Lancashire, and my childhood accent will return. But that's purely for the convenience of being understood, you understand, as I order my fush 'n' chups!


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