22 Apr 2024

Ginette 'Lynn of Tawa' McDonald celebrated with new collection

From Nights, 10:18 pm on 22 April 2024

Ginette McDonald is an actor, writer and TV producer best known as the comedic suburban heroine Lynn of Tawa.

NZ On Screen's new Ginette McDonald Collection celebrates McDonald's trailblazing career with videos of her comedy, production work and historic interviews.

Ginette McDonald

Ginette McDonald Photo: supplied

The release of a media collection honouring her career prompts a “myriad of emotions,” McDonald tells Nights.

“Because I didn't know, frankly, that they did it for people who were still alive so there's that. And then someone I know, vaguely associated with the thing, said ‘I'm not supposed to tell you but we're doing an anthology of you’.

“I said, ‘Am I dying?’ Because, you know, I'm given to the dramatic and I honestly became quite alarmed.”

McDonald’s first exposure to television was as a very young child in Wellington.

“We were a large family and Michael, my brother, who went on to write the Lynn of Tawa thing, he was four years older than me, I was seven or eight, but he came home and it was dark, I think it was winter. And he said ‘The Radio Doctor’s got TV in the shop.’

“We just dropped everything, and I remember my mother saying, ‘what about your supper?’, and Michael and I ran all the way up Moxham Avenue [Wellington] which is several miles, we ran all the way up to the shop, it wasn't a big shop, it was literally a radio and record player shop.

“And there was a TV on a shelf and all the neighbourhood kids were squashed in there, sitting on the floor.”

At the time, it didn’t really matter what was showing on TV, she says.

“All I remember about it were ducks or geese or something flying, in formation, across the sky in some dreary British landscape in black and white.

“But we were just entranced, absolutely blown away by this miracle. And we stayed there for ages, watching whatever it was. I was always attracted to anything beyond our shores and exciting.”

McDonald says she was encouraged to perform at home.

“Everybody performed in our house. My father had a practice, a medical practice. He was a GP, the most eccentric one in Wellington probably, there were only four of them.

“One of the doctors was Dr Diana Mason, who was very formidable woman with huge earrings and robust views about everything. But Dr Diana Mason was married to Bruce Mason, the playwright.”

It was through Mason that McDonald landed an apprenticeship at Wellington’s Downstage Theatre.

“I'd known Bruce Mason since I was born and when I was a lumpen, unhappy teenage girl in school, I was also apprenticing myself to Downstage Theatre and Bruce got me in a play. Because my mother was half French he mistakenly thought I spoke French.

“I was backstage, and Bruce was doing all these accents and I was joining in, he said ‘Ginette, Roger Hall and I are doing a Late Night Show and maybe you could do something and I said, ‘What could I do?’

“At that point, I was 16. I thought, I've got no personality of my own. I'm in my happy place in the theatre, where I can pretend to be other people. And I said, ‘what would I do?’ And he said 'Well, just think of a name of a character and Roger and I will help you help write your monologue for it'.”

And Lynn of Tawa was born.

Early in her career, McDonald says she was lucky to have mentors like Mason and legendary producer Ross Jennings who also opened doors for her.

“Not everyone is lucky enough to have mentors, but if I've got any advice to anyone in any industry really it's if you feel an affinity with someone who can help you, don't be afraid. Don't suck up to them but ask for their help, ask for their knowledge.”