Puppets to rise from the ashes

DISTRAUGHT: Backbencher pub owner Alistair Boyce says the pub will reopen in about four weeks.
Fairfax NZ
DISTRAUGHT: Backbencher pub owner Alistair Boyce says the pub will reopen in about four weeks.

Puppets of Peter Dunne and Pita Sharples, charred in a fire at Wellington's politically themed Backbencher pub, may rise again.

Puppet maker Bryce Curtis thought he still had the moulds from the two puppets that were destroyed in a fire at the Thorndon pub early yesterday morning. Firefighters were called to the pub at 4.45am.

The fire, which caused the evacuation of the neighbouring Kate Sheppard apartments, had gutted the kitchen and seriously damaged much of the restaurant and bar area.

Mr Curtis has been making puppets of New Zealand's movers and shakers for the pub and restaurant since Jenny Shipley came to power in the late 1990s.

"I have had a great amount of pleasure from creating them because of their nature, and they are taking the piss out of politicians, and that is always going to make you feel good."

Each puppet took two to three weeks to finish – created from latex, foam and a wooden skeleton – and cost $3000 to $6000.

However, because he was likely to have the moulds for Mr Dunne and Dr Sharples they would be easier to re-create.

"They are not lost completely, though I'm sure some people would have liked that."

Mr Dunne said he had been to see his burnt puppet and hoped it could be replaced.

But he said the more pressing issue was whether the Backbencher could be repaired.

"When I go there I always try to sit under my puppet because it always gives people a laugh."

Dr Sharples was told yesterday about his puppet being destroyed.

"I will rise from the ashes," he said in response.

TVNZ7's Back Benches television show was scheduled to have its final three shows at the Backbencher pub, which host of five seasons Wallace Chapman described as its "turangawaewae". "Holy hell, for 4 1/2 years we were looking forward to our grand final and couldn't think of worse terms."

A red-carpet event with past MPs who had appeared in the show was planned. There had been suggestions that the final show could be filmed in Parliament's debating chamber but producer Caroline Hall Bruner confirmed the final three shows would take place at the Speights Ale House and Shepherds Arms Hotel on Tinakori Rd.

Backbencher owner Alistair Boyce said the restaurant and bar would be closed for about four weeks. The 40 to 45 staff would have their wages covered by insurance.

Kate Sheppard resident Oliver Tapper said people initially thought it might be a drill.

"All these fire trucks were out there and there was heavy big black smoke in the street from the Backbencher."

He said residents waited in the cold for about 20 minutes before going into the banquet hall of the Beehive for shelter.

Education Minister Hekia Parata was there with her two teenage daughters, he said.

"When we left the Beehive she came in and said `I hope you enjoyed your Beehive tour. We'll be leaving shortly'."

The Dominion Post