Whanganui Opera Week: The Illustrious Career of Opera School Audio Producer John Wansbrough
John Wansbrough has been involved with the New Zealand Opera School for 10 years. Photo/Lin Ferguson
Unless you know him, the inimitable John Wansbrough wouldn’t lecture you with the story of his illustrious theater and television career.
The New Zealand Opera School audio producer and photographer was born and raised in Whanganui, but left at 21 to take up a job as a sound engineer in Auckland with New Zealand’s premier label, TANZA, which included commercials radio and television.
But on a trip to London in the 1960s, he was offered the role of stage manager and producer for the memorable Black and White Minstrel Show in the West End, completely upending his holiday plans. There were two shows a night, at 6:15 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., not counting daytime rehearsals.
“It was always exciting, always busy, and I was right in the middle of London in the 60s… Carnaby St and all that,” Wansbrough said.
Although he had no desire to return to New Zealand, he knew he had television work to come back to.
From 1966, just four years after the start of television in New Zealand, Wansbrough worked for 25 years at TVNZ as stage manager, producer, director and head of entertainment programmes.
He remembers working with the NZ Symphony Orchestra, famous jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, James Galway, Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth, as well as producing the TVNZ telethons and other productions including It’s in the Bag and Beauty and the Beast. Its list of directors grows, including top-notch shows and classics like A Week of It and the McPhail and Gadsby programs.
Wansbrough has worked with Sir David Frost in Frost Over New Zealand, Warren Mitchell (Alf Garnett), Kenny Rogers, Dudley Moore and Sir Harry Secombe.
“It’s a name that drops to a spectacular level,” he said.
After his television days, Wansbrough became Dean of Arts and Media at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, established the Television Production Unit at the Southern Institute of Technology, and now owns his own audio production company.
“And I was a total failure at school because I spent most of my free time learning stagecraft and management at the Royal Whanganui Opera House.”
He spent 10 years at the New Zealand Opera School.
He had read about the school and, being a friend of the Trott family, contacted Executive Director Donald Trott and asked if he could help.
Wansbrough believes you have to do what you have to do to achieve your ambitions (not your dreams).
“Work around the obstacles…never say no to any opportunity.”