• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Newsreader Angela D'Audney's nipple ripple

Notes on a Scandal 

The headlines could well have read “Adult woman has fully developed breasts shock!” or “Television presenter is as other mature human females shock”, but most of them focused on the fact that it was newsreader Angela D’Audney appearing topless in one scene of a TV play, The Venus Touch. We couldn’t find any headlines connecting the incident to the popular 7pm magazine show of the time, Top Half. Perhaps those were more conservative times all round.

Born in London in 1944, D’Audney performed a variety of presenting roles on TV and radio, but her singular achievement was becoming the first woman employed to read the news on the telly. Hitherto, women had been confined to the handmaiden roles of continuity announcing and weather reporting. One of the reasons often given for not employing women as newsreaders was that it was believed by many they would not be able to control their emotions when dealing with reports on tragic events.

This was a time when the job of reading the news out loud was taken pretty seriously, especially as presenters did not have the luxury of enforced banter with co-hosts to pad out their time on air. So being the first of her sex to break the barrier – and being very good at it – should have been seen as D’Audney’s claim to fame.

And probably would have had she not set the nation reeling when, at the age of 38, she acted in the short one-off play, alongside veterans Grant Tilly and Bruno Lawrence, and was briefly seen sitting in bed with her breasts exposed. Or as Kenneth Williams might have said, “Flaunting ’erself, she was.”

Sexologist Dr Rufus Quirke (Grant Tilly) with his wife Virginia (Angela D’Audney) in The Venus Touch.

It topped a list of legendary TV moments – “the days when nipples still caused a ripple” – compiled by media gadfly Paul Casserly in 2013. It’s also fourth on the semi-official NZ On Screen’s list of “More legendary TV moments”. And Stuff, a couple of years back, tried to ramp up memories for how shocking it all was by claiming, “More than that [D’Audney] was THE news reader. The mother of the nation, a sacred truth teller, a font of wisdom and calm.” Well, if they say so. No one’s ever denied she was good at her job.

The Venus Touch was one of a series of plays under the heading Loose Enz and possibly it’s been galling to talents such as Greg McGee, Tom Scott, Grant Tilly and Davina Whitehouse that the only thing most people remember about the whole series is that it’s the one where the newsreader got them out.

In her memoir, called simply Angela, D’Audney treated the matter lightly: “fabulous opportunity... briefly topless… didn’t give it a second thought”. She claimed to be astonished at the “endless stream of complaints”, but said the “boxes and boxes of mail in support” made her think “they really do care about me”.

NZ On Screen begs to differ, claiming “the stigma followed her for many years” and, indulging its penchant for non sequiturs, explains the play gained notoriety for a scene of D’Audney “going topless, then donning a turquoise catsuit”.

In a regrettable footnote, at the time of D’Audney’s early death from cancer at 57, an unresolved claim against her estate was still going through the courts. Ex-partner Rob Webster had made the claim before her death, but it was not settled – in terms much less favourable than Webster sought – until a year after her demise. 

This article was first published in the July 2018 issue of North & South.