Monday, August 20, 2012


I first met Dale Wrightson in 1964, he was just 20 and I was 24. I was selling my car, a sporty Renault; beautiful looking with metallic paint, but in reality was mechanically shot to bits. I advertised the Renault and got a positive response from a chap called Dale Wrightson.

Dale and I met in Thorndon Quay, near the Wellington Railway station and there he inspected my fine looking car. All went well until Dale drove it a few metres and noticed the heavy smoke coming from the exhaust. “It looks good but it’s a load of crap,” said Dale; and that was that. Goodbye Dale.

Dale Wrightson (above) and John McCready (below) 1960's

Forward a few years later to 1969; I’m now Sales Manager for Phonogram  Records and manage the marketing and advertising budget.

As a division of Philips we used their advertising agency, J Inglis Wright. However, their account executives were not on my “wave length” and in my view had no idea how to market music. They treated a recording as they would a TV, a radio or a washing machine and didn’t understand the emotive power of music nor how important music was in many people’s lives. After I had forced several changes in executives “handling” our business I received a call from Laurie Enting, boss of J Inglis Wright, who invited me to lunch. Laurie was concerned that I was burning through his account managers and could see that I was not a happy camper. He made me a deal; he wanted me to go with a new young advertising “gun”. If would give this guy a fair go over a few months and if it did not work out, he would be OK about my seeking a new agency. I agreed.

A few days later Laurie introduced me to his new “young gun”. It’s Dale Wrightson, the guy who obviously knew more about cars than I did. It turns out Dale is also lead guitarist in The Corvairs band, which also included my bass playing cousin George Watson. I had already produced a couple of singles with the band’s vocalist Alex Neill, so Dale and I had much in common and instantly established a rapport.

So began a business partnership and a friendship that has lasted over 40 years.

THE CORVAIRS, Left to right, George Watson (back), David Leith (front), Andy Anderson, Dale Wrightson, Alex Neill.
Dale Wrightson
THE CORVAIRS, Left to right; Dale Wrightson, Andy Anderson, Dave Leith, George Watson
Dale worked directly with me on creative and we were totally “in sync”. When I briefed Dale with what I had in mind to promote an artist and their music I sometimes didn’t even have to finish a sentence as he had already “got it”.
Eventually Dale, tired of working in a large advertising agency, started his own creative shop JANUARY PRODUCTIONS. 

When I was appointed Manager of Phonogram and started the 20 SOLID GOLD HITS series of albums it was Dale and his new company I called on for creative help. It was originally proposed it be named 20 GOLD HITS, but at a meeting with Dale and our Marketing Manager, Brian Pitts, I said I didn’t like the title, finding it “not solid enough”. “Why don’t we call it 20 SOLID GOLD HITS then”, said Dale. And so it was.

20 SOLID GOLD HITS sold over 90,000 copies and continued as a series for years, turning what was the smallest division at Philips into its most profitable. Dale not only supervised the sleeve design but also created the TV advert. Dale was the only person I knew that could, in a 30 second advert, capture the essence of a 20-song album. Dale had an instinctive grasp on what song hooks to use, for how long and in what order. Genius really.

Sometimes our enthusiasm for what we were doing got in the way of common sense and “rules”.

Our TV Marketing rivals K-Tel were also being quite creative and coming up with good concepts and selling lots of albums. One day K-Tel hit the market with a compilation LP called 20 TOWN AND COUNTRY HITS, which was well received. Bugger them I thought, we have better songs in our catalogue so let’s release our own version. I briefed Brian Pitts on what sort of songs and artists I wanted on the album and Dale on the TV advert, album sleeve and title, 20 COUNTRY AND TOWN HITS.

We had the album promoted on TV and in record shops within a week and outsold the K-Tel album. Good stuff. NO, not so good: K-Tel takes out an injunction to stop us producing and selling on the basis of market confusion and “passing off”. I meet with our lawyers and on hearing my view we decide to defend the action in court.

So off to court we go. Dale and myself are Phonogram’s defence witnesses and I’m confident we will win. Waiting in the court lobby for our case to be called our lawyer casually says to Dale, “On what basis did you design the album cover? To me it does look a lot like theirs”. Dale says, “Well John said to get as close to their one as we could, so I did”. Oops. Off our lawyer went to find K-Tel’s and after a quick conversation a settlement was agreed. Lesson learned.

Whilst Dale, via January Productions, produced remarkable advertising for us, he and his brother Craig continued their musical passion by making regular appearances as a duo singing and playing in the Wellington coffee bars and on advertising jingles. Later, Dale’s musical talent became very important to Phonogram and me.

 Dale and his brother Craig Walsh-Wrightson        

In 1972, alerted to her talent by TV producer Chris Bourne, I signed Shona Laing to a recording and song-writing contract with Phonogram. Shona’s talent was huge, both as a writer and a singer. Whilst Shona and I got on well I realised to her, the idealistic songwriter, I was a “suit” and that I needed to put her together with a producer she could musically respect. Dale, with his incredible musical ability and commercial advertising success was the right person to give me the hit records I wanted. 

Dale at work
Shona and Dale
With Dale, Shona went into the studio to create the album WHISPERING AFRAID. Not only did Dale produce the album, he played guitar, bass and synth and supervised the cover design. WHISPERING AFRAID was a hit, as were three singles from the album; 1905, Show Your Love and Masquerade. Masquerade also won the YAMAHA song-writing contest in Japan. Shona won RECORDING ARTIST OF THE YEAR 1973 and Dale’s creative contribution was a major factor in her success.
Shona Laing and John McCready (Manager Phonogram Records) New Zealand Music Awards 1973

In 1973 Princess Anne was getting married to Mark Phillips. I get a call from Dale; he wants me to hear a comedy single he has produced with comedian/satirist John Clarke (Fred Dagg). Dale arrives and plays me THE ROYAL WEDDING STAKES. I nearly fall off my chair laughing. We release the song and have a hit with what was Fred Dagg’s first record.

At the end of 1973 I’m promoted to Phonogram UK, returning to New Zealand late 1976.

During my three years away Dale and Craig join forces with fellow advertising gurus Terry Christie and Tony Preston and form a full-service advertising agency, CAMPAIGN. In 1976 Campaign open an office in Auckland and Dale travels between Wellington, Auckland and Sydney for the production of adverts. Dale is still looking after my old company Phonogram and when they relocate to Auckland in 1977, Dale, with his family, moves too and he continues to create Phonogram’s advertising.

Late 1976, arriving back in Wellington from the UK with a contract to represent VIRGIN RECORDS in New Zealand, I form the Record and Tape Company of New Zealand (RTC), with Warwick Woodward as my partner. It was decided to base the company in Auckland and I then moved north. We also brought in Brian Pitts, my former Marketing Manager at Phonogram, as a third partner. By late 1977 I have moved on from RTC, having been invited to set up CBS Records in New Zealand.

Once again Dale and I are working together.

Our first likely hit artist at CBS was Meatloaf with his BAT OUT OF HELL album. I thought it had huge potential but we just couldn’t get any radio station to play it. In fact the Programme Director at Radio Hauraki said to me “If this is the type of rubbish CBS are going to release the company is doomed here.”

I commissioned Dale to make us a 60 second advert to play on those same radio stations. Dale produced an absolute beaut; the advert featured an old woman talking to a bikie saying how much she liked the BAT OUT OF HELL music, which was playing in the background. We purchased airtime on the main radio stations and after just a few plays, sales of Meatloaf’s album soared. Those same radio stations were then forced to add the Meatloaf songs to their playlists and sales continued to grow and to take the LP to number one.

In 1979 we had a similar problem with Michael Jackson’s OFF THE WALL album. The major radio stations would not play his first single DON’T STOP TILL YOU GET ENOUGH, saying, “It didn’t suit their format”. Again we purchased airtime, Dale produced a great advert and the album went to number one, selling over 100,000 copies.

About the same time as we finally tasted success with Michael Jackson we received an album from our UK company; WAR OF THE WORLDS, Jeff Wayne’s musical version of the H G Wells novel. I thought it just unbelievably good and excited with the albums’ sales prospects I wanted it to have a special marketing campaign.

Dale, over the years for Phonogram and CBS, had produced many successful audio-visual product presentations. We decided to make an audio-visual presentation to introduce WAR OF THE WORLDS. The only problem was that we had little reference material, so I just left it to Dale to “figure it out”.

WAR OF THE WORLDS  was launched at the Auckland Observatory with an audio-visual presentation and spectacular dry ice effects. The audience consisted of leading radio and press people and the albums’ creator/producer Jeff Wayne. Scary.

Dale’s presentation was an overwhelming success. Jeff Wayne gave Dale the compliment of saying it was the best launch from any of the CBS companies worldwide. Dale Wrightson had created a winner once again.

Dale continued to produce great adverts and album covers for us, teaming up with graphic designer supreme, Peter Burt. Included were sleeve designs for our local artists Sharon O’Neill, John Stevens and Citizen Band.

For many years Dale had also looked after advertising for Warner Movies and similar to his work with music he was able to make movie advertising that touched a chord with the public. In 1978 Warner had a disaster movie featuring killer bees. THE SWARM was not doing well worldwide, despite the inclusion of some major stars, including Michael Caine. Warner’s New Zealand Manager, Brian Jamieson, thought the movie was awful, but a winner. Dale produced an advertising campaign to promote the movie with the catch phrase “THE SWARM IS THE BUZZ’. It certainly created a buzz, with queues down Queen Street and turned this killer bees movie into a box office hit.

In this era there were some great industry parties and none better than the ones hosted by Gillian and Dale Wrightson at their Arney Crescent home. 
Rock 'N Roll at The Wrightsons. L to R; Brian Pitts Virgin Records, John McCready CBS Records, Brian Jamieson Warner Movies, Glyn Tucker Mandrill Recording Studio, Stuart Rubin Phonogram Records and Gillian Wrightson

Whilst producing great advertising for his clients, Dale was, at this time, simultaneously involved in a major corporate manoeuvre. Leading advertising agency Dormer Beck Stuart Wearn were wanting the creative input of the “guns” at Campaign, the management skill of Campaign Chairman Terry Christie, plus Campaigns advertisers, which included Todd Motors, NZ Breweries, The Dairy Board and maybe even little CBS Records.

The Campaign team dominated this merger with the combined agency choosing Campaign as its name and Terry Christie later becoming Chairman. Campaign became the country’s fourth largest agency and when Saatchi and Saatchi entered the New Zealand market in 1985, they did so by acquiring Campaign.
Dale Wrightson at the Campaign office Parnell, 1978
A re-union of the original CAMPAIGN team that merged with Dormer Beck Stuart Wearn
L to R; Craig Walsh-Wrightson, Peter Burt, Terry Christie, Tony Preston, Phil Fiebig, Dale Wrightson
In 1981 I was promoted to CBS Records Australia as Managing Director, but for family reasons returned to New Zealand in 1982 and was appointed Managing Director of Radio Hauraki. Dale remained at Campaign until 1984; but not liking being back in the environment of a big and growing agency he left and retired, briefly.

Setting up again as a small agency, CALYPSO, it was not long before new success was Dale’s. CALYPSO picked up the international representation for Murray Ball (Footrot Flats) and Murray Thom’s series of music CD sets. Major Australian movie DVD distributor CEL wanted to establish a New Zealand business and Dale was the man chosen to establish this for them.

It was during this period, with me managing Radio Hauraki and Dale expanding Calypso, we fell into a new joint venture. Fell being an apt description. One Friday night over many drinks in a Parnell pub, Dale and I and a few other media executives were lamenting the lack of video shops that stocked the “art” movies we loved so well. We decided we would start our own to cater for this minority market.

Of course by Saturday morning I had forgotten about this conversation, as no doubt had all the other guys: all except Dale that is.

Late on Monday afternoon I’m busy at Radio Hauraki when Dale phones me. “I’ve got it”, says Dale. “Got what” I ask. “The premises for our new video shop in Parnell”, replies Dale.

The other guys, for genuine conflict of interest reasons, pulled out of the venture but Dale and I proceeded. In no time at all Dale has signed a lease, registered a company and designed a logo. MR VIDEO was born. We held the business for several years and our children, all of them now working in media, received a film education and made good pocket money working shifts. We only sold our little hobby when a developer wanted our shop’s lease to redevelop the site.

In 1989 Dale worked with the new TV3 on their adverts and marketing. Ironically at that time I was appointed to TVNZ as the manager responsible for promoting and marketing TVNZ’s programming to counter the new channel TV3.
Celebrating at Harbourside Restaurant 1993; Dale and Gillian Wrightson, John McCready and JT Taylor

Music TV had become popular worldwide and Dale had a driving passion to start a New Zealand music TV channel. In 1993, Dale with partners, set up MAX TV, a venture that had genuine street credibility.
Max TV launch party, Kevin Black, Daniel Wrightson and Dale Wrightson 

Despite the channel's success, all was not well with the partners and disputes arose. Undeterred, Dale left MAX in 1994 to set up his own music channel, JUICE TV. Meanwhile in 1995, as Max TV was folding, I had left New Zealand and TVNZ to work as Vice President of Programming for SBS TV Europe, based in London and Brussels.

Sky TV enticed me back from Europe in 1996 to head up Programming and to expand their number of channels on their new satellite delivered service. We needed a music channel and I contracted Dale and JUICE TV to provide us with a 24-hour music channel. Later JUICE provided Sky with a second channel, this one concentrating on music in the “classic hits” genre. It was thanks to Dale and Daniel Wrightson and JUICE that the New Zealand Music Awards returned to TV

Early in 1997 Dale helped the original Maori TV set up their transmission, housing them next to JUICE. Also in 1997, Murray Thom had won the rights to set up Personalised Plates in New Zealand and Dale created their launch advertising.

Dale and Stuart Rubin
Stuart Rubin, formerly Manager of Phonogram New Zealand, returned from Australia to take over BMG Records and appointed Dale and Calypso to look after BMG’s advertising. Dale and Stuart became a very successful team and among their successes was an album that most of the staff of BMG  thought was “a dog”. Both Stuart and Dale were enraptured with SUPERNATURAL from SANTANA and with a brilliant marketing campaign took the album to Number 1.

Another of Dale’s successes for Stuart and BMG was a concept album idea that Dale created. Jonah Lomu was our star All Black and was always seen before big rugby games relaxing by listening to music on headphones. Dale’s idea was, THE MUSIC THAT MOVES THE MAN and with Jonah’s involvement and support the album went GOLD.

Dale with Jonah Lomu at Gold Disc presentation
Over time and with a lot of hard work JUICE TV  became a well established and successful family business, with Gillian handling finances, son Daniel programming and daughter Katie managing operations. JUICE purchased its own building in Cheshire Street, Parnell.

Dale Wrightson retired from day-to-day business in 2007, with Gillian and he leaving JUICE TV in the capable hands of Daniel and Katie. After a two year battle with illness, Dale passed away on January 26th 2016.

Dale Wrightson: a wonderful career in advertising and music, leaving a legacy, particularly his contribution to New Zealand popular music

 The Wrightson Family; Gillian, Katie, Daniel and Dale


  1. Thank you John for a wonderful post . Don't forget you are also an inspiration to us all as well. Love your Memoirs xxx

  2. wow what a beautiful blog dedication to Dale's contribution to industry Great Job John!!

  3. Brilliant stuff John, good to read the career history in its entirety. Certainly things in there I didn't know!
    Great photos, love to get a copy of the one of dale working in the studio with his headphones! Katie x

  4. I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but
    your sites really nice, keep it up! I'll go ahead and bookmark your website
    to come back later on. Many thanks

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  5. I enjoyed reading this and learning more about the mark (or marks) he has left behind. What an amazing life. Thank you so much for this great description....sounds like he was quite a talented fella & a lot of fun to be around. RIP, Dale.

  6. Well done John... A beautiful encapsulation of Dales brilliant career!