Wellingtonian Interview: Roger Gascoigne

Last updated 11:30 18/02/2013
Roger Gascoigne

Roger Gascoigne: "You cannot have more fun than with a busload of Aussies."

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Former radio and TV star Roger Gascoigne talks about living in Perth, working at Te Papa and Paul Holmes.

So you were a Blenheim boy.

Yes, class of 1948. I went to Marlborough High School. After one year they split the school into Marlborough Boys and Marlborough Girls. Not that it meant much to me then. I was too naive and shy.

And then on to Waitaki Boys. That must have been a shock.

It was. I went there in the fifth form, as a boarder. I was treated as if I was a third former, because I was new. I was lippy and stroppy and became quite literally the whipping boy. I made some good friends there, but I reflect grimly on my three years at Waitaki.

Your father was a lawyer. Was that where you headed?

Initially. My older brother had tried and failed, so I had a go. I studied law at Canterbury University for a year, but I didn't like university life. I was used to living my life according to bells and rules.

That was the 1960s. What music did you like?

It was the year of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I loved the Beatles, of course, but it was probably The Beach Boys who did the most for me. That wonderful, wistfully horny Wouldn't it be nice. I had a holiday job pruning and remember a group of us driving through the night to the next job singing Good Vibrations at the top of our voices.

Did radio beckon?

It did, especially once I moved to Western Australia. I went to broadcasting school in Perth, then got a radio job in a country town, Albany. It was quite an apprenticeship. Then I worked for the ABC in Perth, a three-hour show encompassing the wool report, the whaling report, music . . .

Did you do some TV over there, too?

Yes, I worked for TVW. I was doing TV and radio.

How long were you away?

Five years. It was good, hot, but good. It was the time of the iron ore boom. Guys in the newsroom were share millionaires one day, broke the next. A crazy time.

When you came back, you worked for Radio Windy.

Yes, I was in right at the start. I did about 18 months, the afternoon show. Then it was on to TV.

Doing what?

Everything, really. Voiceovers, advertisements, telethons, Ready to Roll, fronted an Olympics . . .

And you developed that famous wink.

I copied it from a woman in Perth, Trina. I saw how when she winked it linked her with her viewers. The wink became a trademark. I'd close the channel each evening and wink as I said goodnight.

I imagine you were a major celebrity back then.

There was no escaping us on TV. We didn't have 99 channels back then. We became extremely well known. It became difficult to go out for a meal. Constant interruptions. And because people had seen me on TV so much, they were very familiar with me and felt they knew me. Sometimes they'd talk about me in the third person - "He's not as tall as I thought". Stu [Dennison] and I would want to go to a movie, so we'd ring ahead, get the tickets sorted and rush in one minute before it started.

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Are you still recognised?

I'm sort of stuck with it. It's really lovely to be part of New Zealand's nostalgia. As John Clark said, you are a trigger to a fond place. It's manageable these days.

In the 1980s, weren't you a sort of precursor to Paul Holmes, doing TV and radio?

I was back on Radio Windy and was also fronting Today and Tonight after the TV network news.

What did you enjoy more?

My natural home is radio.

Speaking of Holmes, did you know him?

Yes, quite well. In my Radio Windy days he was on ZB. We'd phone each other and put each other on air. He was always looking to do something edgy. I liked Paul. He was the light and shade in all of us.

In the 1990s you got into marketing and public relations. Was that tedious?

Not at all. I was working for Telstra Clear, trying to explain the wonderful things that were about to happen - cable TV, mobile phones, the internet . . . It was a hard sell, though. You'd front up to a room full of Khandallah residents, angry because our company was ruining their views with ugly wires. I might have managed to mollify their rage slightly.

Now you're a tour guide at Te Papa. That's quite a leap.

Well, I got a good payout when I left Telstra Clear, and in 2005 I wanted to do something I enjoyed, but not too stressful. I love being a host at Te Papa. It's a bit like putting on a show. You get a tour group in and want them to enjoy their time at Te Papa. You set out to inform and entertain them.

So it's fun.

You cannot have more fun than with a busload of Aussies. You keep learning, about everything from Andy Warhol, to South American courtesans to Pacific migration. I love that stuff.

- The Wellingtonian


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