Ellery, Graham Clive Interview

Today is the 7th July, 2016. I’m interviewing Graham Ellery of Hastings. Graham is a retired Promotions Manager. Graham would you like to tell us something about the life and times of your family please?

Certainly. I was born in Greymouth, South Island in 1937 to Mavis and Don Ellery. I was the eldest of the family and we lived in Greymouth until 1952 and that’s when we came to the South [North] Island. My father was a builder as was his brother, and my grandfather who I remember quite clearly, he was a bricklayer.

Where did they come from to Greymouth originally?

They came from Australia. Grandad, Dad’s father, was a gold miner by profession and a bricklayer by necessity, and they came from Charters Towers. My grandad came over to chase the gold in the West Coast.

And had he become a builder at that stage?

No, Grandad was a bricklayer. Dad was a builder when he left school. He did a carpentry course. And just touching on that … the person that was his woodwork teacher when he was at primary school was my woodwork teacher when I went to school.

Well they didn’t move very far did they, those days?


So you always lived in Greymouth as a family?

Dad was a builder and he worked for the Education Board, and so he would travel around and build schools. And we went from Greymouth when I was about seven or eight, from Greymouth to Kakapotahi, which is about thirteen miles south of Ross, and we spent six months down there while Dad built the school, but that was the only time that we actually left Greymouth for any period of time.

So you and your brothers were all born in Greymouth?

Yes, that’s right. There was myself the eldest, then my brother, Raymond – he’s four years younger and then there was my sister, Linda. And when I was in my second year at High School at Greymouth we shifted to the North Island to Otane specifically.

That must have been quite a shift those days.

It was.

Because you actually moved from quite a big coastal town to a very small village really, wasn’t it? Otane?

Yes, that’s right, yes. And of course there wasn’t the – shall we say – I mean Otane only had a butcher’s shop and a baker’s and a hotel, whereas in Greymouth we had the port and the sea, and it’s a different lifestyle altogether.

Just coming back to Greymouth, Graham – what was it like growing up in Greymouth? Because you were there long enough to get a feel of it.

Yes, well it was like any sort of smallish provincial area … town. Everyone knew everyone. You know, if you went somewhere and they’d say “oh, who was your father? What was his name?” It was all a case of whanau as we say, you know … everyone needed to associate you with someone they knew.

Yes, of course if they could then you were okay.

Yes, that’s right. [Chuckle] It wasn’t what you knew it was who you knew, and I found that quite … as you got older, that was quite a thing. Not so much today. I think … people would go on a recommendation from someone that knew you, whereas today they want documentation all the time.

Just coming back to Greymouth …

Greymouth was the port. Not that I can remember much about it. I know that I used to go down with my grandfather and we’d whitebait by the wharf at Greymouth. There was coastal shipping but at that age when I sort of started to know what was going on – at that age you’re only interested in the weekends, school holidays and going away for holidays. Life was fairly confined to – not a broad spectrum. Used to play sport of course when I was at high school, but I only had eighteen months at high school on the West Coast. Primary school was good. I enjoyed school. I always found there was always a challenge of some description.

So then when you came over to Hawke’s Bay. Was there a High School at … Waipawa, you would’ve had to have gone to?

That’s right, yes. Well I went straight to Waipawa District High which at that stage was on the hill and we were only there six months I think, and then they transferred the high school down to the primary school, down the hill. But there was no … at the old school on the hill there was no grass so if you played football you had to go down to the football field.

So were any of the Bibby’s in control of the school in those days?


They came later I think.

Yes. Maloney was the Headmaster at the time.

So did you carry on with your sport?

Yes, when I came to Hastings, when I started work in 1954 at Roach’s, I played rugby football for Hastings High School Old Boys, because the man in charge of the men’s department and boy’s department – he was a coach, so consequently I played for one season and ended up with a haematoma on the left thigh. And of course in those days there was no Social Security, so when I wasn’t at work I wasn’t getting paid. So I decided that it was foolish to be an amateur sports person if you were going to have accidents. But then I used to do a bit of swimming but when I started work at Roach’s I was full on in trying to carve out a career for my future so all my effort and time went into honing my craft as a display artist.

But I also had a bent for entertainment and when I was in Greymouth at primary school I put on a puppet show for Standard 5. And it was only for the class, but in the end all the Standards came into our room and we ended up giving a concert to the school – that was with the puppets. And that was little glove puppets which I made and then I graduated from that to ventriloquism so I made my first ventriloquist doll out of wood and then … it was rimu I think, it was as heavy as hell … and then I managed to get some kaiwaka which was a lighter wood and made one out of that, and then from that I made a papermache one.

Now just coming back to your window dressing, were you self taught?

Well the display and advertising manager at Roach’s was a man called John Bailey and he was my mentor and teacher. So you sort of started off dismantling the windows and putting the props away, vacuuming the floor and taking the pins out of the ceiling and all that sort of thing. And then you would … that was at the beginning of the week you’d do the windows, and then towards the end of the week you were preparing for the next week’s windows. The display manager always had a meeting with the Manager and they decided what was going to be advertised and what was going to be put in the windows.

At least in the shop window, if you want it you only had to go through the door and buy it, but when you see it in the paper there’s a bit of effort required.

Yes, that’s right. And it’s difficult to convey some things with words. It’s like – when people used to say, you know “what are you going to do for the window?” Well it’s very difficult to express in words what you are going to do in another medium, because you can’t talk about the atmosphere you’re going to create with a window, especially for Christmas, with all the glitter and glamour and lights. It’s easier to do it than try and describe it in words.

But learning the craft at Roach’s was good because we did everything. We made the props for the window … we decided how we were going to promote the particular thing, so if it was for autumn, what props we’d use to create the autumn atmosphere in the windows; then you’d find out what stock was going in whether it was suits or frocks or fabrics or shoes, and then you devised your window, and then went out and made the props to put the stock on or surround it to get the atmosphere. And then of course, you had to … if the windows were successful and someone walked along the street, which was the whole idea of it, and they stopped and saw something they liked they would go in, and then that was right on twenty five past five when you were knocking off at half past five, so you had to strip a model and redress it before you went home.

Because that was the only frock you had?

Yeah, that’s right. And it was a rule that you never left a model naked in the window, you know – if you took something out – and of course the staff were on death row if they went into a window and helped themselves, because they were often displayed in such a way that it required quite a bit of skill to undo all the pins and the cotton that was holding things up. And then you could replace it.

And you had to be careful putting the garments on the models because they were different sizes. It might be a size 16 frock and you had to put it on a size 12, which meant it all had to be pinned in carefully, and you had to be careful with the pinning that you didn’t leave pin marks on the back of the frocks. It wasn’t just dressing the window and making it look good, it had to be practical. You had to get the stuff out of the window for someone that wanted it, and the whole idea of putting things in the window was to sell them. So if someone came in and wanted something out at … you know, on the eleventh hour before you knocked off, you had to make that effort to get it out carefully and hand it to the sales assistant so they could buy it because that was the whole idea of putting it in the window was to sell it. Although it was frustrating.

Because Roach’s had several departments, did you do anything with the grocery displays?

Yes I did. They had a thing in the old shop – there was a window on the left of one door and a window on the right and I remember once putting in a display of canned tropical fruits. And I had a model, and one of the swimsuit firms had a promotion for a bikini, and it had a little grass skirt about twelve inches deep. And so I made a bra for the top and put this on, and I think I put pants on the model and then the skirt, and then put all the canned fruit and everything around and made it look like an island setting. I got a fan from … I don’t know where I got it from … put that at the bottom and the fan was an oscillating one and it blew and of course it made the skirt move in the breeze. And the number of people – if you stood in the window and looked out ‘cause they didn’t have a back to the grocery windows – you could see the people coming along, and especially the men, their eyes would turn to the right [chuckle] to see what was happening ‘cause there was a glimpse of thigh every so often. So no, that gave an opportunity to be a little bit more imaginative in the displays as opposed to you know, garments. Although I remember once I wanted something different in the windows and thought I would like some stuffed animals. You know – taxidermy things. So they didn’t have much in Napier at the museum there, so I contacted the Dominion Museum in Wellington and spoke to Dr Falla who ran it. And I took the firm’s vehicle down, a Bedford delivery van, down to Wellington and loaded it up with the different stuffed animals and brought them back and put those in the window. Well that caused quite a stir because there was no place in Hawke’s Bay that had any great display of taxidermy. You have to be innovative and just think outside the square. And of course the other thing – ever since I was … as long as I can remember – if I set my mind to something I stuck to it till I achieved it. ‘Cause I believe that nothing’s impossible if you set your mind to it.

No, well there’s no such word as ‘no’ or ‘can’t’ is there?

No, that’s right.

So those were the days of Miss Bott in the office?

Oh yes. Poor old Nora. She was a very efficient office administrator and I had a lot of time for Nora. Not that I called her Nora, it was always Miss Bott. She taught me a lot about writing business letters, because if you had to write a letter to a firm to enquire about something you wrote it out in a book and you gave it to her, and she would authorise one of her staff to type it. You would go back to get it and it would be different, and she’d say “I’ve done it now. When you write a letter you want to do this and do this …” So when I look back now I always think of Nora, because I got to know her a little bit better when I’d left and she was well retired. I used to run across her when I was up in Parkvale. She lived around the corner from there, and I’d see her in the car and we’d stop and have a bit of a chat about Roach’s.

Yes, ‘cause those days you had Roach’s, you had Hunts’ across the road, and you sort of wandered your way down … Bairds’ and Westermans, and Millar & Giorgi’s, and Bon Marche and you sort of wonder … our city was only half the size those days. And of course Blackmores.

Well you know, most people in Hastings, you know, worked either for Watties, Birds Eye, Roach’s or Westermans or the Hawke’s Bay Farmers. At some stage you had some connection with those firms. Being a small town and not that many sort of full time display artists, or window dressers, you know, you got to know them. And when Alan McCormick was at the Farmers’ they never had anyone at Westerman’s, and a chap started there by the name of Paul Franko. And I made myself known to him and you know, welcomed him to town and that I was a window dresser at Roach’s and so on, and we built up a long friendship over those years.

That’s wonderful, yes.

And of course Alan McCormick lived round the back of us in Murdoch Road. He was renowned for his floats and our daughter used to go round and play with his daughter although she was much older.

So at what stage did you start becoming involved with the floats then? Were you married at that stage?


Okay, well we’d better go back then and talk about when you met Rossie.

Yes. Well I started work at Roach’s in 1954 and I had two years at Roach’s and then because Dad’s sister lived in Australia I decided I’d go back with her – ’cause she came across on the boat, I think it was the ‘Dominion Monarch’, or one of the boats. And so I just made a decision to go back with her in the February. So I went to Australia for twelve months and worked in a firm called Allan & Stark which was the sort of ‘Kirkcaldies’ of Brisbane. There was David Jones, and McWhirters – which later became Myer – and Allan & Starks. So after I had experience there – and incidentally when I arrived in Brisbane I stayed with relations … cousins who I’d never met before. Then I went up town the next day to apply for a job. Well I spent the day walking round Brisbane city and I went into Allan & Starks for a job. They didn’t have anything but the staff manager, Frank Coogan, was very good. He said “I’ll talk to the manager.” Now there were six hundred on the staff then, so then he said “oh, come back later.” So I went down the road to David Jones – I went in there and told them who I was, and they said “oh yes, we could probably fit you in.” I said “oh, well I’m just going down further.” So I went down The Valley, which was called The Valley – it’s still The Valley – and went to McWhirters, and they said “oh, you can start tomorrow.” So I [chuckle] had virtually three jobs in about four hours. So I went back to Allan & Starks in the afternoon, and Frank said “I like you”, he said. ”You’re a nice young chap”, and I thought [chuckle] ‘oh, well something’s worked anyway’. He said “our General Manager had a lot to do with New Zealanders during the war’. Frank Weedman his name was, so he said “I’ve organised for you to go and see him.” So he took me up to Frank Weedman’s office which had a huge office for his secretary, and then he had like a boardroom for his office. So we sat there and talked and he said “oh no”, he said “I’d like you to work for us.” So he gets on the phone and he phones up, and he says “Mr Raseby”… and he was the Display Manager. And then “would you come up to my office, Mr Raseby?” And of course they ran [chuckle]. And then he rang up a Mr Short who was the Advertising Manager, and he had them both in the office with me and said “now we want to give this young chap a job – he’s got talent going by his references.” Mr Short couldn’t fit me in to advertising, but Eddie Raseby said “oh, yes I’ve got a vacancy.” Well I don’t know if he did have a vacancy, but the way Mr Weedman put it [chuckle] – he said “find a job for this young chap.”

Well Mr Weedman used to arrive by car, and there was a service lane between … it’s now a Myer shop … but the service lane ran up between the two blocks. And he’d get out of his car and walk in the back of the Queen Street shop and go out, have a look at the windows and then come back and go down Adelaide Street. And when I started work he’d do that you know, routinely every … once a week or something like that, and if he ever saw me in the shop he always stopped and said you know, “how are you getting on”, and “are you enjoying it?” So you know, he took an interest in the staff, and with a staff of say, over six hundred, you know I thought that was quite … and there’s a lot of people that I’ve worked with since could take a leaf out of that book – remembering staff and asking how they are.

So that was an experience, so I had nearly twelve months there and then I came back to Hastings and that was in ’57. ‘56 I went over, and ’57 when I … oh, I had to do my compulsory military training. So I had to register as soon as I landed back in the country, and then they sent me down to Taieri through the winter.

Well that was probably better than Linton in the winter.

Yeah, [chuckle] that’s right. So I had three months in the Air Force in Taieri, and I’d just got engaged after I came back from Australia, and my future wife worked at Roach’s, so we go back to there. We started going out a little bit, so then we got engaged, and then I did my military training. And when I came back in the August we made plans to get married in February, so we were married in 1958 on the 22nd February.

So where did Rossie come from then?

She came from Pahiatua, and she had a sister living in Hastings and she boarded with her. And as I say, when we got engaged and after I came back from camp, Rossie decided to find another job because we didn’t want to work in the same place and she worked for Botts, the electrical – he sold washing machines and sewing machines.

So all her schooling was in Pahiatua?

Yeah, that’s right, yes. Well she comes from a pioneering family in the Wairarapa, ‘cause there’s a street … her maiden name was Sedcole, and her great grandfather was one of the founders of Pahiatua. There’s a flag pole in the main street put up in his honour. And her mother’s side which were Hercocks, were people that founded parts of Pahiatua and gave land and property and things, so she came from a pioneering family of the Wairarapa.

So they were business people, or farming people?


Well you probably would be farming people those days in Pahiatua, ‘cause it wasn’t a big town.

No, it was a rural service town, wasn’t it?

Yes. So then you came back, she was at Botts and you were back at Roach’s?

Yes. So we got married in February, say ‘58, and we’ve have been married since then so it’s fifty-six-odd years … yeah, fifty-eight years I think it is. So we’re counting down the days to our sixtieth wedding anniversary.

And children?

We had two girls, Jeanine … we were married in ’58 – Jeanine was born in 1960 … and then there was a three year gap to our other daughter, so we only had the two girls, and my wife had caesarians so we didn’t try for a third ’cause they didn’t have the fancy surgery of bikini cuts in those days. So we’ve been very fortunate. The two girls have turned out to be wonderful mothers and we are really blessed with our family.

Are they local?

No, one’s living in Australia ‘cause her husband’s family moved over there, so they went to Brisbane. It was rather strange because when we decided to go to Australia in 1972 with our two girls, just before they started school at Intermediate, and being just down the road from Mum and Dad, they were terribly upset when we were taking the eldest grandchildren away. And then of course what happens to us? Our daughter had two children, one six I think, and four, and they did the same thing … went to Australia. And my brother used to say “well that’s justice now – you did that to Mum and Dad – now it’s happening to you”. [Chuckle]

But they’ve been there, and they’ve done well and they’re still there. And our other daughter … husband got killed, so she had two children, a girl and a boy. And the girl’s in Canada on a working holiday, and our grandson – he’s working for a television production company in Taradale.

Jeanine’s family … our eldest one … her eldest boy, he’s an engineer in Brisbane, and her daughter is now married – she went to university and met her husband. She became a marine biologist and then she met up with a tutor, and they got married and they went to England, and he was at Oxford. And she came back, and then she did a course when they came back to Australia. I think they were over there for twelve months, in England. She changed her career to a genetic counsellor – that’s to do with having children and the different genetics that are attached with that. He got a job at Monash in Melbourne, and he’s over now in Lincoln. But he doesn’t actually do any practical work – he’s a sort of a fund raiser, and he’s always touring round the world trying to raise money from different Foundations. And they’ve bought a house in Christchurch now and I think they’re settled. So that’s one granddaughter in Christchurch, a grandson in Brisbane, and one grandson in Hastings and one granddaughter in Canada, Vancouver. She went to University, Victoria, and then she’s having a gap year, but I think she’ll be back in a couple of years’ time.

Have you been to Vancouver?


If you ever have the opportunity Graham, it’s the most wonderful …

Yes, I’ve heard that.

… beautiful country. Vancouver was … beautiful city – beautiful, beautiful city. Oh, so how long will she be there then?

Oh well, she’s got a two year visa. But her brother, the one that’s with the television production, he’s going over next year – him and his mother. His mother will only stay … Tracey … will only stay for three weeks’ holiday, and then I think he’s going to stay and extend his training – I think that’s the idea of it, but it’s early days yet.

Now Graham, just referring back to some things you were interested in – ventriloquism and magic …

Lightning cartooning.

It’s mind-boggling. Also the development and building of these beautiful big floats that we used to have in the Blossom Parade prior to the 1960 riots.

That’s right, yes. It was a follow on from display I suppose, that I would perhaps do that. I used to do the blossom windows and then I did a lot of freelance window dressing. And then I got … John Mills was in charge of Parks & Reserves after Butcher. And I think Butcher, he approached me once – no, I know what it was – I used to do the animated Christmas caves at Roach’s with Wally Hastings – he was the electrician, and we’d get our heads together and I’d make all the things up and he’d help me animate them. There was a chap over the back of our place in Murdoch Road that was quite artistic, and so we got our heads together and we made up this animated … with little dolls about twelve inches high called ‘GJ’s World’, and we put it up underneath the Travelodge Motel when Kevin McGruddy had it. It wasn’t permanent – it was there for six months or twelve months, and we’d charge people and they’d come on the weekend and have a look at it, and we’d have to sit up there.

Anyway, Butcher was in charge of Parks & Reserves and someone must have said something to him, and he decided that he’d come and have a look. So the City Council bought it from me and put it into Fantasyland underneath the train track on the hill. I don’t know if it’s still there – I mean it’s not there, but I mean if the hill’s still there. But the train went round the top. So we set it up in there, and as a result of that connection with the Council I got offered the – you know, did I want to build – well it was John Mills that came to me and said would I build a float for them? So I did that for about four years … five years, and I’ve got you know, photographic evidence of all the things I did.

When I worked at the Daily Telegraph I did a few floats for the Napier City Council. Dave Prebensen – he came to me at the Telegraph and said “apparently you can build floats”. So I built two or three floats for the Napier City Council for their Christmas parade. After I’d built … I’m just trying to think of the sequence of events … when I was at the Telegraph I made these animated attractions which were twelve feet long in a big sort of case, and I used to hire those out to the shops. Hawke’s Bay Farmers had them and then they went to Palmerston and they went to New Plymouth. And I had a big trailer specially made, and cart two of these round the country and hire those out. Well when I did that, someone said “why don’t you approach Rainbows End in Auckland?” So I took off and up there with a movie I’d done of it, and as a result of that I got a contract with Rainbows End to build the animated Log Flume ride for them at Manakau. And Craig Heetley was the man I dealt with, and he was the one that started Sky Television. This was when I was at the Telegraph, so I spent eighteen months commuting back and forwards to Auckland and building this. And I bought a caravan – I lived in a caravan park – and made them down here and shipped them up and put them together up there. So that was a real marathon. So as a result of starting off at Roach’s dressing windows and doing a little Christmas cave, I managed to secure a real challenge.

Now somewhere in the middle of all of this you carried on with your magic and the other shows.

Yes, well used to do a lot of entertaining round Hastings in the time when Howard Morrison was just a – I was actually listed just under Howard Morrison at one of the concerts. And there were … they used to run Blossom Queen concerts at the Municipal Theatre, and Jack Jones and Jack Baxter were the two who used to run this. And then I used to entertain for twenty-firsts and concerts and things like that. And the doll I had I’d bought here in Hastings when I lived in Otane, but since then I’ve bought a real up-to-date one that winks and raises his eyebrows. But before, mine was just a simple mouth movement.

And you still have that doll?


 Do you still do any ..? 

No, but I hope to do a bit just coming up, now we’ve retired into here, into town. And I’ve also got lots of puppets – I’ve got about eighty puppets stored out in the garage in containers so I’m not short of things to do. And I find that fascinating, especially with children. The puppets are beautiful puppets – I got them from America – I saw them on …

These are glove puppets?

Yeah, the big ones – you know, they’re not just little small ones. So when people say “have you got …?” My wife says “you need an interest.” [Chuckle] It’s just a case of time, but as I say, it’s just shifting into a whole … well, having a quarter acre section with a eight hundred square foot garage to work in – you know, studio – down to a town house it sort of restricted me a little bit. And it’s taken – it’s four years since, you know, we came here and I’m just starting to … And in between times, of course when I left the Daily Telegraph I started up the Chatham Island newspaper, so I had that for ten years … ten or twelve years.

Well that would have been interesting too.

Yes. So I went down a couple of times, and then it was all done through emails and faxes. And then a few years ago I sold it to a friend of mine – he was a journalist and he took it over.

Relating now to your other arts of magic – but I think you said you haven’t continued over the last few years.

No. I’ve done a little bit for … I got asked to go and entertain for a Probus group, and up to a few years ago I was doing a bit of entertaining for Lodge functions when we had a social evening. But what I want to do is to do a bit of busking up in the main street. And I’ve got a mobility scooter … bought when I had my hips done ’cause I couldn’t drive for a while. So I thought I could pack the back of that with the puppets and go up and sit up by the fountain and entertain because people don’t see that today. They don’t see those puppets and ventriloquism and things, so it’s a whole new avenue for entertainment. See television killed a lot of the theatre work.

Yes, the puppets almost came alive didn’t they, with their stories?

Yes. But that’s my plan, is to do a bit of busking. Get out and meet people and entertain the kids. But you know, I won’t be picking a cold winter’s day, that’s for sure.

And so what other interests – do you play any bowls and those sports?

No. I’ve never been a … since I gave up football I’ve never had any trouble entertaining myself and having something to do. Oh, I played a bit of indoor bowls a couple of years ago, but I didn’t want to be committed to playing every week. And I’ve never been on a golf course in my life … golf doesn’t interest me in the slightest. Maybe bowls might, but I don’t really need to worry about that and now that I’m really retired and my back’s a bit sore, I find I’m quite happy to sit down and read, which I never had time to do before – I always felt guilty if I got a book and sat down when there was so much to do, you know – quarter acre section, and I was always wanting to create new animated displays so, I’ll say I’ve never been bored.

Well that’s wonderful. Talk to some people and they’ve reached sixty-five years old, and it’s almost as if they’ve switched everything off.

Well you know, a couple of years ago I was talking to Peach from the Community Arts, and I managed to do some displays for him for around the streets – big artificial blossoms. But they put them up one year, and never put them up the next, so I’ve given up chasing them. And it was a paid job and it was quite good, it actually paid for my new armchair. So that was just a means to an end.

And does Rossie have any other interests?

No, she likes playing cards with her girlfriends. They have that once a fortnight. They play cards, and then they play rummy come another week. And then she does … ‘cause she’s so small and can’t buy clothes to suit her, she does a lot of dressmaking and knitting. She knits a lot of prem babies knitwear. So she got a nice letter from the hospital thanking her for all the work she’d done. So she always seems to have something to do especially with the sewing.

Well it certainly sounds as if you … as long as you keep letting your mind run free and do these things, you’ve got plenty to do in your retirement.


Is there anything else that we need to talk about?


I see this lovely … is that a Daimler you’ve got parked out there?

Yes, yes … that belonged originally to Duncan – chap Duncan that had Suvic Engineering in Napier – an old chap … well he was old. And then he sold it to Fred Liley, and I bought it from Fred Liley before he died. But unfortunately – it was all right when we were in Murdoch Road ‘cause it was in a garage, and of course since – it’s four years out there and the paintwork’s just deteriorated … quickly. It wasn’t perfect before but it was pretty good, but now you can see bare patches and …

It’s getting skinny.

Yeah, getting very skinny, and then you can’t polish it because there’s nothing to polish. It’s very good – we went round the South Island in it a couple of years ago and … it’s a pleasure to drive. There’s no comparison.

There isn’t. All right, well if that’s about it then I’d just like to say thank you, Graham, for allowing us to interview your life, and thank you very much.

It’s a pleasure.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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