13 April 2008

Pass the port

The recent death of Sir Geoffrey Cox, aged 97, reminds us that New Zealanders have made a significant contribution to journalism worldwide. Three years ago in the Independent, Hugo Manson wrote an affectionate tribute to long-serving Radio New Zealand news sub-editor Denis Phelps. From his wheelchair in Wellington, the brilliant Phelps trained journalists and broadcasters who went on to stellar careers internationally.

In Britain, Cox’s career received thorough obituaries in the Independent, the Telegraph and the Times. A panel on RNZ’s Sunday morning programme was informed and respectful, calling to mind a Kelburn post-prandial discussion over port and cigars.

To recap briefly, Cox left New Zealand in the 1930s as one of several talented Rhodes scholars. As a student, he filed reports from a holiday in Nazi Germany, and he then went on to cover the Spanish Civil War. During the Second World War, he served as chief intelligence officer in the New Zealand Army, and was later a diplomat in Washington. He represented New Zealand on the panel overseeing the war in the Pacific, with President Franklin Roosevelt in the chair; Cox was just 32. In the 1950s, he became a legendary pioneer of television journalism at Britain’s commercial service, ITN.

Not all expatriates cover themselves in such glory, however. A footnote in these obituaries was intriguing. The Independent wrote that Cox’s energy – and his team at ITN – meant they dominated television news in Britain until 1960 when “the BBC’s lacklustre editor of news, Tahu Hole, another New Zealander, was replaced.”

This unforgettable name was new to me. It appears that Hole (1918-1985) came from another great New Zealand tradition: the mediocre middle-manager. Tahu Ronald Charles Pearce Hole – the name gets better – was not, as it happens, Maori. He arrived in London in 1937 as the Sydney Morning Herald’s correspondent. In 1948, after a series of fortuitous resignations, he became news editor at the BBC.

He was known for his authoritarian, over-cautious approach, as Michael Tracey recalls in “The Strange Case of Tahu Hole and the Battle for News”, a chapter in his book The Decline and Fall of Public Service Broadcasting (OUP, 1998).

“Hole was widely and intensely disliked as an autocrat who had no more idea about the nature and role of news in the modern world than he had tact and consideration towards his brow-beaten employees whom he variously abused and appalled.”

Another reporter, Gerald Priestland, wrote that Hole “was a monster in every sense” who “took good care to make no operational decisions himself for which he might be blamed if things went wrong.”

Hole was awarded a CBE in 1956. Cox received his in 1959, and was knighted in 1966.

Songs sung blue

In a recent Sunday Star-Times feature, 50 New Zealanders shared their ideas on “How to Make NZ a Better Country”. The visionaries were those who had imagination, a sense of community and identity – and how we could make best use of them. And then there was Gray Bartlett, musician, aged 65.

“Replace the current government, because they’re the worst one in history. And we should think more positively and more individually; you can’t say ‘everyone else should’ – you have to do it yourself.”

Really? The worst government in history?

Gray Bartlett and Brendan Dugan serenade a previous prime minister in 1975.

Scarf and barf

Queenstown fish’n’chip shop PJ’s welcomes customers to its premises.

1 comment:

Simon said...

From Gray's current press release too:

'Celebrated guitarist, concert promoter, star-maker, musical director. Gray Bartlett has done it all and with two million album sales, one of the world’s biggest stars and legions of fans throughout the world to his credit, he’s celebrating 50 years of showbiz.'