OPINION: There's been too much eulogising about Paul Holmes in recent days.
Knowing Holmes, he might have enjoyed it, but he doesn't need it. His reputation as a broadcast journalist is secure.
As a radio broadcaster he ranks up with Colin Scrimgeour ("Uncle Scrim"), Maud Basham ("Aunt Daisy"), Winston McCarthy, Brian Edwards, Kim Hill and very few others as pioneers who mastered the medium and informed and entertained New Zealanders.
As a television personality he sits alongside Keith Quinn, Edwards again, Jim Hickey and the emerging John Campbell as broadcasters who took their craft to new levels.
It doesn't mean we all enjoyed listening to them or watching them. But they made us sit up and take notice.
Holmes dealt with a variety of subjects, but this is a sports column, so that's our focus. I wrote scathingly of him after his 1989 interview with Dennis Conner, which launched his television current affairs programme.
It seemed appalling that he would engineer a situation hoping that for dramatic effect his subject would storm out. I still feel the same.
I got to know him during the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and to admire him for his work ethic.
He sweated as much as anyone in the 45-plus degree Celsius temperatures, and never stopped hunting stories.
With Holmes you never quite knew if he was being serious or playing a private joke.
At a well-attended press conference for basketball superstar Michael Jordan, he stood up and asked Jordan about his sponsor Nike, pronouncing it "Neekay".
Sports journalists looked at the little bloke from New Zealand, wondering what he was on about. That seemed to be just the reaction Holmes wanted.
Also at Barcelona, he was part of a small New Zealand pack of journos who chased David Tua around the outside of the boxing stadium. We were looking for a quiet place to interview our newest Olympic medallist. Finally, everyone got ready, setting up tripods, cameras and microphones.
Tua looked up startled, reached into his duffle bag for his small Instamatic camera and said: "Can someone take a photo of me and Mr Holmes." Even Holmes had the decency to look embarrassed about that.
I shared a car with Holmes to the last day of the three-day event in Barcelona.
We arrived just in time to see Spinning Rhombus knock down nearly every fence and cost New Zealand the gold medal.
While I was still trying to grasp the situation, Holmes was in there with his arm around rider Andrew Nicholson, getting the "story behind the story".
We clashed quite often. He was a staunch supporter of Paralympians and Special Olympians, long before it became trendy or even acceptable.
I argued with him about it one time on television, saying what they did was commendable, but not really top sport.
Later he said: "You're not right, you know. One day you'll realise it." He was correct. It's just that he was a decade ahead of me.
We had a much bigger argument one time in the Green Room at TVNZ. In hindsight it doesn't seem that important, but at the time we were both steamed up enough to clear out the room. Murray Deaker and Judy Bailey went scuttling out as voices got higher and the quality of the language got lower. He was never one to hold a grudge.
Another time I asked him why he was so rude to some guests. He explained: "Here's the problem. Your producer gets in your ear and tells you you've got 30 seconds left in an interview with Jim Bolger. "Do you play for time or ask another question?
"So you ask him a question, hoping for a short, snappy answer and he says, 'Paul, let me take you back to the beginning . . .' It's a nightmare and you have to cut him off."
I thought he got softer as time went on. Even his tough questions were asked with a half-smile.
The Mark Todd interview in 2000 was a case in point. He let Todd get away with, "That's a curly one", after asking him about the cocaine snorting and gay sex allegations.
Holmes was having none of it. "I got the interview. What did you get?" he replied.
At his peak, he had tremendous influence. I saw that when I wrote The Judas Game, about the state of New Zealand rugby.
The book was released to no great fanfare, but an interview on his television programme, to 600,000 viewers, gave it a massive kick along. He used his position and power well, and even in sport, not the area he was most comfortable with, a Holmes interview was always worth checking out.
Joseph Romanos is a Wellington sports writer and broadcaster.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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