By the way, I was to learn that Carr has a theory too. His theory is: Films don't get made. It's an interesting view, and not without merit. Paul Davis, one of the producers of We're Here To Help, once described the film industry in New Zealand as 'the opposite of a duck - frantic on the surface, not much happening below.'
I worked at TVNZ and asked Marvin Allen, the News & Current Affairs librarian, if she remembered Carr's columns. She did. She also remembered that Dave Henderson had written a book about his experiences, called Be Very Afraid. The library had a copy. Would I like to borrow it? Hell yes.
The story began with Dave's P. A. (and girlfriend at the time) Kath Cook, taking some material into the IRD's office in Cashel Street, Christchurch, in 1994, in pursuit of a tax refund. There she struck an obnoxious IRD officer who made some decidedly odd remarks about the length of her skirt and whether or not she was sleeping with Dave.
Kath went back to the office quite upset. Dave rang the IRD, got the officer concerned on the phone, and threatened to 'kick his fat arse up and down Cashel Street' if he ever spoke to one of his employees like that again.
A few days later Henderson received an audit notice. Three years and twenty-nine audits later he was bankrupt, had lost his relationship, his business and his house, was facing fraud charges, and owed the IRD nearly one million dollars.
Then a most unlikely champion turned up, a newly-elected Member of Parliament named Rodney Hide. Hide had had dealings with Henderson some years earlier when Dave was negotiating to buy the BBC World Service frequency in New Zealand, and Hide was acting for its then-owner, an Auckland squillionaire named Alan Gibbs. Hide heard about the trouble Dave was in and made contact. Dave talked him through his case and Hide offered to help.
Together Henderson and Hide fought the IRD and eventually prevailed. The Department paid the 1994 tax refund and cancelled the near-million dollar debt, the make-up of which they were never able to explain. The fraud charges had already been dropped but notification was sent to the wrong address.
The story had a three-act structure. An American writer called Sid Field has written a number of books on the screenwriting process. He thinks most successful films follow a similar structural pattern. They have what he calls inciting incidents, turning points, mid-points and a conclusion. I'm with Sid. His template fitted neatly over this story. Inciting incident? Dave threatens to kick the IRD officers fat arse up and down Cashel Street. First act turning point? Dave is interviewed by the police. Mid-point? Kath leaves. Second act turning point? Hide turns up. Conclusion? Dave gets his refund.
(As it turned out, there was a much better ending. In 2004, Dave, now back on his feet, bought the Cashel Street building on which the IRD had a seven year lease - and renamed it Henderson House. But that was in the future.)
At one point in the book Dave mentioned that he had begun openly taping his meetings and phone calls with the Department. That sounded interesting. There was a photo of Dave on the back cover. He looked a good sort. There was a love angle, black humour, pathos, and in the Inland Revenue Department, an ideal villain. Most people are vaguely resentful of the IRD, even its nominal boss. Rodney Hide, the MP, told me that when he first went to see The Honourable Bill Birch, who, as Minister of Finance and Revenue Minister, was Minister-In-Charge of the Department, about Dave's situation, Birch had taken him aside and said: "Don't take on the IRD - they will destroy you."
I thought there could be a film in it. Or a telefeature. Or a documentary perhaps. But I wasn't interested in making a doco and I wasn't particularly interested in making a telefeature. If a television drama is really really good... it might be shown twice. Whereas a film? Wealth and success beyond your wildest dreams. Possibly.