My congratulations to everyone named in today’s New Year Honours, but in particular to Paul Holmes. His knighthood is richly deserved. I first got to know Paul in the early 1970s. I think he was a radio announcer in Christchurch at the time or he may have come to Wellington to work on 2ZB. I was then the Labour candidate for Miramar. I was also ‘the star’ of The Brian Edwards Travelling Road Show, a stage review dreamed up by Roger Hall and consisting of comedy sketches and music. We toured the country to ever-diminishing audiences. The ‘we’ were Roger, Fay and Grant Tilly, Michael Noonan, singer Jenny Parkinson, Yours Truly and a new name and face to me – Paul Holmes. Paul was a delight on and off stage.
He was kind, warm and funny. His ‘flea race’, in which the radio commentator has a lot of money on one flea and systematically eliminates the others by squashing them with his thumb, was a highlight of the show. There were many such highlights. Less successful was the ‘star’ himself. I have always suffered from performance nerves but never more so than during the Travelling Road Show. My monologues were deadly and my attempts at humour dire. Only my harmonica playing (Summertime) at the very end of the show, was rewarded with scattered applause. On one occasion Roger took me aside and, by way of encouragement, told me how much he admired me. ‘You go out there every night and die a thousand deaths, but you still go out again the next night. That shows real courage.’ Thanks! Paul was ever sympathetic and encouraging, the ingénue cheering up the old hand.
Though it never occurred to me that he would one day be the country’s foremost radio and television interviewer, I did recognise his extraordinary talent. Indeed, after one of his performances on the show, I committed the cardinal sin of singling him out from the rest of the cast. ‘Paul Holmes, ladies and gentlemen! One day that young man will be a star.’ I was quite properly rebuked by the producer. Well, the rest really is history. Paul would become a seminal influence in New Zealand broadcasting. He would change the landscape. Though many fine broadcasters preceded him, he was our first real ‘star’. And, in that sense of the word that suggests Hollywood and glittering lights and show dancers and theme music and Emmys and Oscars and your name on the pavement of.
Hollywood Boulevard, he may well be only real star that our small nation has as yet produced. As the inevitable corollary perhaps, he has also been our most controversial broadcaster, a polariser of public opinion. In a sense his very fame may have served on occasion to deny him the respect that his intellect, his extraordinary talent, his humanity and generosity required. He was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit some years ago, but the truth of the matter is that most Kiwis have very little idea of what our New Zealand awards mean. Paul’s knighthood changes all that. It is the ultimate expression of the country’s respect for a truly great broadcaster and communicator. One must be careful not to write in the past tense. This is the guy who holds the New Zealand record for near-death experiences. To all today’s accolades, add ‘survivor’.