Farewell to this sporting life

NO REGRETS: Sports journalist Kevin Tutty says he would do it all again.
NO REGRETS: Sports journalist Kevin Tutty says he would do it all again.

Long-serving Press sports writer Kevin Tutty, who retires today, reflects on a lifetime covering sport in Canterbury and New Zealand with Tony Smith.

Loyal Press scribe Kevin Tutty only had to glance across the office to be reminded how much the sporting landscape has changed in the past 44 years.

His first reporting job as a callow cadet in Ashburton in 1968 was to cover a two-day cricket match between Mid-Canterbury and Fiji. It was a potentially tricky assignment – his older brother Brian was playing for Mid-Canterbury. So was Dave Isherwood.

How time has flown. Tutty has been working alongside Isherwood's grandson, racing reporter Matt Markham.

Kevin Tutty was the longest-serving editorial staff member on The Press. Until yesterday, when the keen cricket buff declared his long innings closed. His 44 years six months service is unlikely to be bettered in the rapidly changing media industry. When talk turns to "platforms" in modern newsrooms, journalists automatically start chirping about digital websites or social media outlets.

But platforms were just as important to Tutty and his colleagues in the 60s – they had to run to them to get their copy on the rail car to Christchurch.

Tutty paused this week to reflect on the giddy technological changes since he first joined the Press branch office in his Ashburton hometown.

It was January 1968, Keith Holyoake was still prime minister. Brian Lochore was All Blacks captain. The decimal currency system was just six months old. Tutty, 18, had just left Ashburton College with a burning desire to become a sports reporter.

"But they told me I'd have to do a year or two in Ashburton first to learn the trade. There were no journalism schools then. It was sink or swim. Reporters learned from observing and aping experienced colleagues."

Tutty had to teach himself the most basic journalism skill.

"I had no typing experience, it wasn't like you had computers at home in those days. So I went to the school commercial room where they were throwing out a pile of text books and asked for one which showed you how to touch-type.

"The Press gave me an old typewriter from the Ashburton office and I spent a bit of time over the holidays learning how to type."

He bashed his first stories out on a big clunky office typewriter but saved up his pay – then "$33 net" per week – and bought a portable Olivetti.

"I only got rid of it a couple of years ago. It was still working, I just had no use for it in the end."

The Ashburton reporters wrote furiously to meet a key deadline – "then we rushed five blocks down to the railway station by 6pm to put our stories on the Invercargill to Christchurch train. The night messenger at The Press would have to go down to the railway station to pick it up. We had a teleprinter in the office to send any late-night copy."

Tutty regards those two years as a general news cadet in Ashburton as an ideal training ground. His contemporaries in the Christchurch office "didn't get to do much hands-on reporting; they had to go get fish and chips for the subs [sub-editors]."

But Tutty was soon pitched into magistrates court reporting, the police beat and covering borough and county council meetings. His biggest story was a climbing accident "up the back of the Rakaia Gorge".

In March 1970, Tutty got the call to go to Christchurch. He joined a sports department led by legendary sports editor Dick Brittenden, arguably the best sports writer in The Press' 126-year history. Brittenden was assisted by the equally erudite John Brooks. The sports staff – an all-male domain then – included Kevin McMenamin, John Coffey, Rod Dew and Ray Cairns. Bob Schumacher joined soon after, and Tim Dunbar and David Leggat came aboard in the mid-70s.

A strong esprit de corps prevailed. Sport was almost exclusively confined to Saturdays, so The Press crew found time on Sundays to play social soccer or cricket, including annual clashes with their Christchurch Star counterparts.

"Often, it was just an excuse to run around for an hour or two and then have a few beers," Tutty quipped.

A former sports staffer recalled "Tutts" donating his family's old fridge to the sports department to cool beer acquired from donors by the entrepreneurial Cairns. These were imbibed with great gusto at the regular Friday night social hour where the sporting world was put to rights.

In 1970, Tutty was very much the junior member in a strict pecking order. Brittenden covered cricket in his expressive, elegant style. Brooks wrote engagingly on rugby and tennis.

Tutty was assigned swimming and promptly covered a farewell meet at Wharenui Pool for New Zealand's 1970 Commonwealth Games team where "12 or 15 short-course national records were broken".

He'd played hockey to a high level at school so assisted colourful Canterbury hockey identity CV Walter with club reports.

Tutty covered his first national hockey tournament in 1971 and reported the Hockey World Cup in Bombay (now Mumbai) a decade later, sharing a hotel room with radio commentator Bryan Waddle.

"I lost a few kilos there, mainly because I was too scared to eat. In a lot of cases the team had a lot of those two-minute noodles, we pretty much lived on those for a week and a half."

He covered a women's World Cup in 1982 and a New Zealand men's tour on secondment to the New Zealand Press Association. He derived great satisfaction from covering the triumphant return of New Zealand's gold medal-winning hockey team from the 1976 Olympics. He'd played hockey at Ashburton College with team member Paul Ackerley.

But Tutty's greatest sporting association has been with the Commonwealth Games. He's covered six editions, starting with the 1974 Games in Christchurch, when the city "became a melting pot" of diverse races and cultures for 10 days.

Tutty and Brooks covered the swimming at the newly-built QEII Pool, watching races from "a gondola up behind the stand".

"You had to lean over to get a good view of the pool. Brooks reckoned I just about fell out of the thing because I was jumping up and down screaming when [Canterbury swimmers] Mark Treffers and Jaynie Parkhouse won their gold medals. I think I was a wee bit more subdued than that, but I was cheering. The whole house was in an uproar."

Tutty says watching hometown sportspeople achieve Commonwealth Games glory, Dick Tayler's 10,000m gold medal and Treffers and Parkhouse's swimming crowns on the "first couple of days of competition" set up a successful 1974 Games.

"That was the good old days when you weren't stopped at the entrance and had to tip out your typewriter," Tutty says. "Nobody got searched, all you had to do was display your pass around your collar and you were right."

Security was much more stringent in Melbourne in 2006, Tutty's last Commonwealth Games assignment after tours of duty at Brisbane 1982, Edinburgh 1986, Auckland 1990 and Victoria, Canada 1994.

The security landscape changed at major sporting events after the 2001 Twin Towers terrorist attacks.

So did Kevin Tutty's means of getting his copy back to Christchurch.

"In 1982 and 1986, Rod Dew and I typed out our stories and gave them to a telegraph operator. In '86, if I had to phone the office, I had to dial in 25 numbers to get through passwords and codes to reach Christchurch.

"In 1990 at Auckland, we had laptops, and we sent our copy through them [via phone lines]. But they still had to be printed out and pasted up and sent down to the printers for processing. There wasn't direct editorial input until '94 in Victoria."

One of Tutty's most vivid Commonwealth Games memories was the 1986 boxing heavyweight final between Aucklander Jimmy Peau and Scotland's Dougie Young.

There wasn't much hush in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh.

"The crowd was basically all Scots, they all had their blue and white scarves on," Tutty says. "The crowd was screaming `Scotland, Scotland', they had their scarves going left and right with Young well ahead on points in the third round. I had a look up at the clock above the ring. There were 30 seconds to go, I said to myself, `looks like you've had it, Jimmy'."

"But Young, instead of just walking backward, kept going in after Jimmy. He got Jimmy on the ropes and went in a bit low and Jimmy just saw an opening. His punch travelled maybe nine inches, the guy was gone. I looked at the clock and I think it was 15 seconds to go. The place went dead silent.

"I saw the Scottish guy in the foyer three-quarters of an hour later and he still looked groggy."

Tutty would have written a straight account of that fight, peppered with Peau quotes. The sports writing style is different now, he says.

"When I started, you virtually had to get permission to do a comment piece. Now, there's so much comment about sport, particularly on radio. I guess they have to, or no-one would ring their talkback shows."

Tutty remembers being moved to pen a strongly-worded comment piece in the late 1970s after a gymnastics official carped about a lack of gymnasts on an Olympic team.

"He said, `how can we get experience if we don't go to the Olympics?"' Tutty felt strongly that the Olympics were for elite athletes. "I wrote, `you don't go to an Olympics to get experience'."

"I got a lot of criticism from gymnastic circles; people were upset. Even the editor at the time, Binney Lock, had a crack at me for stating my opinion.

"I went to watch the England B-New Zealand football match at English Park and [New Zealand Olympic team chef de mission] Ron Scott said to me, `you stirred up a hornets' nest the other day'."

Thirty-four years later, Tutty says editors are more likely to be upset if sports writers do NOT state an opinion.

Reporters' access to athletes and coaches is also different now.

"Back then, you just picked up the phone and rang the likes of Grizz Wyllie or Anna Simcic direct. Now, you have to go through media liaison people, particularly in rugby and cricket. I guess it changed when professionalism came in in the 1990s."

Tutty's career is too long to chronicle in its entirety. He became deputy sports editor under Rod Dew around 20 years ago and was sports editor for three years between 2008 and 2011 before stepping back to reporting duties.

He's also been a Halberg Awards judging panel member for many years in recognition of his all-round sporting knowledge.

Tutty was at his desk in The Press building when the big quake struck in February 2011. It was a wrench to see a building he'd worked in for 41 years dissolve around him and to discover an administration colleague lost her life.

Since then, he's worked in a portacabin at the printing plant near Christchurch Airport, covering a diverse range of sports including swimming, golf, hockey and bowls and writing The Press' popular Youth Sport page.

Tutty says he has retired with "no regrets" at choosing sports journalism as a career and would do it all again. He was once offered the job of sports editor at the New Zealand Press Association in Wellington but turned it down because he didn't want to uproot his family, including daughter Katrina in her School Certificate year.

That was no surprise to his sports department colleagues. Tutty and his wife, Sandra (a former Press editorial employee herself), have been respected by workmates for their unshakeable commitment to family. Their complete devotion to younger son Daniel, who was born profoundly disabled, has never wavered.

After working weekends for almost half a century, Kevin Tutty now can spend more time with Daniel and his grandchildren, play some golf and critique the Crusaders from the couch.

An era has ended. The last of "Dick Brittenden's Boys" has left The Press portals.