In 1988 I was a young, inappropriately dressed reporter on the Southland Times. When not making cop calls, wrangling unionists and dozing off at Southland Education Board meetings, I wrote soft and smart-assed colour pieces. Today, unexpectedly – since most of my paper archives met a mouldy end during the quake times– I found some clippings…
It’s Invercargill. It’s the 80s. Internet dating has not been invented. And a reporter – who would subsequently fix changes made by subeditors to her precious copy, in biro – is at the town’s hottest club as Southlanders make … a love connection.
Love Connection goes live
by BRIGID KELLY
In the smoke and dazzle of a sweaty Lazers Cabaret, eight hopefuls are looking for a shipboard romance.
The DJ’s booth is now the wheelhouse of a luxury liner.
On the back wall an orange sun sinks dreamily behind a cluster of palms.
The bar staff sport crisp nautical uniforms. And on deck, our hosts are reading the rules of the ship.
“Anybody who is not drunk by 10.30 will be thrown over the side!”
Welcome to the Love Boat and to Lazers’ Love Connection.
It’s Wednesday, May 15 and a restless nightclub has packed the small nightclub, eager to see the first episode of Invercargill’s newest dating game.
Afternoon telly fans know the format – contestant A chooses from three potential mates (with help from the audience), goes on a date and then returns to tell them all about it.
Tonight’s crowd won’t hear any gory details, but they do get to help the contestants along, laugh at their mates, and maybe strike it lucky themselves.
The dance floor clears as MC Dave Connors calls forth Misses A, B and C to the stage.
It’s early yet and they hang their heads and giggle. A screen is lowered and we are introduced to Mr X, whose data sheet claims he looks like Mel Gibson.
He too is placed on a stool on the stage, after Dave and sidekick Alan Davis raise the screen just high enough for him to view the misses’ legs (“Whooeer! Should’ve worn a shorter skirt!”)
Mel and the misses are separated by a second screen, the “blind date” approach adding spice to the proceedings.
Unfortunately, Miss A has caught sight of Mel and doesn’t like the look of him. She gives calculated passion-killer answers to all his questions.
“What do you consider the role of a man to be?”
A mentions dog collars and bank accounts and B refuses to answer. Miss C, a demure but sincere sort of woman, replies, “Himself.”
Rapturous applause. Mel is keen but is intrigued by the evasive Miss A. However, that tentative attraction wins through and Mel and Miss C, who will dine romantically at “Highlights” as part of their sponsored date, meet at last.
Neither quite knows what to do. They separate for the safety of friends as soon as they reach the audience.
The lads brush down their acid-wash jackets. straighten Dad’s best tie and leer hopefully around the dance floor.
“Have you ever made lurve in the back seat of a car?” drools a frustrated singer over cowbells and disco beat.
They look embarrassed.
“The next batch will be better,” Dave Connors confides during the break. “They’ll have warmed up more.”
Contestants fill out a personal data sheet which details hobbies and interests as well as vital statistics. The contest organizers try to match “picker” and “pickees” on the basi of what is on these forms.
The next batch is better. This time Miss X is to choose from a bevy of boys, and they are all much more relaxed.
Except Mr B.
Miss X is in this for laughs – she reveals that friends bet her she wouldn’t – but she asks some tough questions.
Mr A, a compulsive giggler, hopes to meet someone nice.
Tense young Mr B, who immediately wins the audience’s sympathy, is on the lookout for “a relationship”.
The affable Mr C has also entered to have a good time and a bit of a laugh.
“How would you feel about meeting a girl’s family and friends?” asks Miss X.
“I wouldn’t mind, so long as they weren’t girls,” says the motorbike-rider in the line-up.
The audience roars for Mr B, who looks close to fainting.
But tonight the “Cs” have it and the jokers are united, shy but brave.
All the contestants win flowers, smellies, passes to Lazers and suntan vouchers for their trouble.
And tonight’s pairs return for the second time in three weeks’ time to discuss their dates.
Later Miss X is seen dancing with Mr A. But Mr C is handing her her flowers and sitting with her friends.
Will attraction bloom for awkward Mel and Miss C among the candles at the Kelvin Hotel?
Will Miss X and Mr C leave off joking and find true love at Lazers? Or will Miss X run off with Mr A?
Tune in next time….