Wellingtonian Interview: Geoff Robinson

Geoff Robinson: "People are very choosey who they go to bed with, and who they wake up with."
Geoff Robinson: "People are very choosey who they go to bed with, and who they wake up with."

Radio New Zealand presenter Geoff Robinson talks about Wellington in the 1960s, interviewing the Dalai Lama and broadcasting during the September 11 tragedy.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Twickenham and grew up along the road in Hampton.

Why did you move to New Zealand?

One friend of mine moved to Canada, another to Rhodesia and a third to Australia, so I thought I'd go somewhere different. I imagined I'd be away for two years, but after I'd been in New Zealand six months I didn't want to go back.

What was the attraction?

I'd commuted throughout my school years, so by the time I got to Wellington I'd done thousands of hours of commuting. Living in Mt Victoria, walking to work with the dawn breaking over the hills was wonderful.

Did you miss London?

I missed things like knowing I could go to the theatre every week. However, I signed up early on with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

What was Wellington like in the 1960s?

As we sailed into the harbour I was amazed by the different coloured roofs, the first time I'd seen that. There was 6 o'clock closing and the 6 o'clock swill, which was a shock. People would buy big jugs of beer and drink from little grasses. When I arrived I caught a taxi to my accommodation in Brougham St and gave the driver a tip, as I had in England. He said, "Here's your first lesson. We don't tip here," and gave me the money back.

Didn't you work in a bank?

Yes, the ANZ on Lambton Quay. There was a shortage of banking staff then and quite a few assisted immigrants were bankers. There were about six Poms in our ledger department.

Was there any concern about your accent?

The NZBC rather liked the southern England accent. It must have modified over the years. I tend to pick up what's around me. When I'm in Scotland I suddenly sound Scottish - very embarrassing.

When did you start on Morning Report?

In 1976. It ran for one hour, from 7am. It was mainly reporters' packages and we did about three live interviews a week. The longest interview was about three minutes.

What time do you start work?

I leave home at 4am. It's tough if you think about it, but you get into the habit. I've trained myself to sleep in on weekends, but after a couple of weeks on holiday I begin waking up early.

You never sound very combative on radio.

I'm a polite sort of person! You can always be polite, even when asking difficult questions.

What about when someone simply won't answer your question?

You ask a couple of times, then move on. If you persist, it's just showboating. The audience soon understands if someone is avoiding a question.

How many co-hosts have you had with you in the Morning Report studio?

More than 30.

Are they your friends?

We have a professional friendship. It's a bit like an arranged marriage. I don't spend time socially with them, but we get on well at work.

Are there any interview subjects you've particularly admired?

It was a little strange interviewing Jacques Cousteau, because he'd been a childhood hero.

You interviewed the Dalai Lama didn't you?

Yes, it was an outside broadcast at his hotel. I was under a table trying to put the phone jack in and as I crawled out, there was this smiling chap with his hand out welcoming me.

You must have interviewed a lot of Prime Ministers.

The first was Rowling. I remember interviewing Muldoon for Midday Report when he was leader of the Opposition. He left his caucus meeting to do a three- minute interview. I can't imagine that happening now.

Broadcasting on September 11 must have been an experience never to be forgotten.

It was. When I got in we were taking the CNN feed. Vicki [McKay] had done a great job on the all-nighter. We [Morning Report] began broadcasting early. Initially it was mainly the CNN feed, plus keeping listeners up-to- date. As time went on we did more and more interviews. Kim Hill was on Nine to Noon then and came in early to join us. Sean [Plunket] and I carried on till about 10am. It was an incredible story, but now and then you'd see tragic scenes on the television and the scale of the disaster would hit you.

You've also broadcast quite a few state funerals.

My daughter calls me "the voice of death". I grew up with Richard Dimbleby and watching the funerals of George VI and Queen Mary and the coronation. I've always felt it was a privilege to broadcast such occasions. My church background has helped - I know the different parts of the building.

Is that how you look upon your work - as a privilege?

Absolutely. People are very choosey who they go to bed with, and who they wake up with.

What do you do for a hobby? I hear you play golf.

I do a bit, purely for recreation. I'm not competitive at all. One hobby has been singing in choirs. I've always sung in church choirs and was the warden at St Peter's on Willis.

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