'Stellar highs and cheeky lows'

Manawatu man remembers Sir Paul

Last updated 14:50 01/02/2013

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Dave Mahoney is a former broadcasting colleague of Sir Paul Holmes and a former Manawatu Standard journalist.

In January 2004 I wasn't surprised to hear Paul Holmes had crash-landed his vintage Boeing Spearman biplane near Turangi, but, prior to that, I was astonished to learn he'd even learned to fly. I was surprised with that news because, when I first made Paul's acquaintance, I discovered he had a fear of heights and suffered from vertigo.

It was during an outside broadcast on 2ZM in Wellington in 1970 that Paul and I, a couple of trainee radio announcers in the employ of the then NZBC, leapt aboard a ferris-wheel at the Wellington Show Buildings to do a live-cross to our studio inside. When the wheel was stationary and our seat was at the top of the ride I started to rock it back and forth, as you do. This brought a scream and a plea to "stop" from a very pale Holmes, who told me he was terrified of heights. So when I learned he'd gained his pilot licence my eyebrows were raised somewhat.

Holmes and I were reunited in 1976 when I hosted the Tonight Show on Radio New Zealand's commercial network and Paul followed at midnight with the Coca Cola All Nighter. Paul's show was deliciously irreverent. I and thousands of others around the country delighted in his wacky sense of humour. He had his partying listeners carry out some outrageous stunts for a few cans of the sponsor's product.

One group celebrating the New Year in the country tied two houses together, which were a paddock apart, with sheets and towels. Another crowd was encouraged to round up some sheep, herd them through the streets and tie them up on the town hall steps. (I think that happened in Timaru.) Holmes commentaries and interviews with the perpetrators were priceless.

However, Holmes notoriety was cemented when he was fired after a Happy New Year call to Donald Coggan the Archbishop of Canterbury. He exhorted the curate who answered Paul's call to "put down the sherry bottle" and ask his boss if he could have a bit-of-a-chat with a colonial. The curate came back on line and told Paul if he called back in ten minutes his Grace would be happy to talk. True to his word Coggan chatted with Holmes and discussed various aspects of modern life, the television comedy, All Gas and Gaiters, and did he and the Pope exchange Christmas cards? It was wonderful radio.

A couple of days later a mortified Holmes called me and said he'd been informed by a not amused Jim Hartstonge, the Director General of Broadcasting, that Paul was fired! That night, after my shift wrapped, I joined a devastated Holmes in his Wellington flat where we made a severe hole in a bottle of something and composed and sent off a "reply-paid telegram" to his Grace asking if he was in any way offended by the phone interview?

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The reply from the Archbishop assured Paul the questions were not at all offensive and he had thoroughly enjoyed the chat. However, despite this assurance from Lambeth Palace, Paul's dismissal was final and he left the country with the words "you'll never work in radio in this country again" ringing in his ears.

A Brisbane radio station, 4BK, read about Paul's infamy and immediately offered him their breakfast slot. It didn't work out and Paul ended up selling oranges at a roadside stall he set up on the outskirts of Brisbane. Disenchanted, after being threatened by other fruit-stall holders, he headed to Britain and Europe.

After a stint in Wales he put in two years broadcasting away from live radio in Holland, which included a brilliant 12 part series on old Dutch towns. But Holmes opted for live radio again and that took him to Vienna and an English language station run by the Austrian Broadcasting Service.

There, strangely, they discouraged personality radio and he found himself on an "interesting roster of programmes". So he happily indulged himself in his passion for history and improving his French and German "and forgetting my Dutch".

In 1981, while I was running Breakfast on Wellington's Radio Windy, I received a call from Paul, who just returned to New Zealand for a three month break. I sold my bosses on the idea of running the first tandem commercial breakfast show in the country with Paul as my partner and they agreed. So, for ten weeks "Mahoney and Holmes" ran riot.

According to Holmes our radio philosophy was: "Wherever we can smell the pungent odour of hypocrisy, bureaucracy, stupidity and injustice, we will be there in our white frocks!"

Off air I discovered in Paul a man who had an insatiable thirst for knowledge, a curiosity that would put a cat to shame and an angled, quick and wicked sense of mischief and fun. He also had the gift of a "photographic memory" for the written and spoken word.

One morning a news item informed the listeners to our "moderately popular breakfast show" as Holmes described it, that prostitutes were causing traffic hold ups on the lengthy drive into Paris' Orly airport. This was because the girls were soliciting prospective clients as they drove to and from the terminals and their cars were blocking the carriage ways and causing problems.

We called the airport and were put through to the man quoted in the news story. Paul conducted the interview in fluent French and kept up a humorous running commentary for our listeners.

The multi-talented Holmes leaves in his wake a rich broadcasting legacy that pushed boundaries, reached stellar highs and cheeky lows and set a lofty target for others in the field to hit.

- Manawatu Standard

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