Keith Edward Brazier Interview

Today is the 26th day of March 2018. I’m interviewing Keith Brazier, a graphic artist who has now retired to the delightful suburb of Taradale. Tell us something about the life and times of your family, Keith.

Right. My father was the eldest of three brothers and his father’s family came from a little town of Southwick on the south coast of England near Brighton. I’ve actually been there and the graveyard is full of Braziers – interesting exercise. I didn’t spend a lot of time there because it was pouring with rain. Being the eldest of the three brothers, my father – whose father was a builder/plasterer by trade – they were determined that he should have a white-collar job – this is way back – father didn’t want him going into the building trade, and he got a job as a solicitor’s clerk in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London, and he and his wife and I and my elder brother were living in Camberwell I think it was, in London … I was very young, I have no recollection of it at all … moved out to a little place called Woodmansterne in Surrey which is south of London, right on the edge of the built-up London area. And so on one side it was all houses all the way to the centre of London; the other side was the green belt around London where my brother and I spent a large amount of time exploring and climbing trees as children do – we had a great childhood there. My father was a very keen gymnast and when we moved out to Woodmansterne he became chief instructor at the YMCA gymnasium in Croydon, which is now all part of London. And I think he must have gone there by bus to run the classes because he didn’t have a car at that stage.

I remember the war. We were living in Woodmansterne when the war started. And the day that happened I can still remember when war was declared, ‘cause my father had taken my brother and I – Derek was my brother – he’d taken us to the Epsom swimming baths, which was the nearest swimming baths to our place, in the little car which he then had, a Morris 8. We went there and on the way back from the pool – ‘cause he was teaching us to swim – on the way back from the pool we were stopped by police, which I can vaguely remember, and told to go into an air raid shelter ‘cause war had been declared. And we sat there for about an hour I think, and then they decided – well, they’re not going to actually attack us today, [chuckle] so we got back in the car and went home to our very relieved mother I would say. [Chuckle] ‘Cause there was no cellphone – we didn’t even have a telephone in those days of any sort, so she would have been worried sick because … she probably had the radio on, I don’t know.

Shortly after that my father volunteered for the Army Physical Training Corps, and finished up by the end of the war as a Sergeant Major. And during the war he was training troops. But later in the war they came to the realisation that troops from overseas were arriving in England – troops from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and so on – and by the time they got there they were relatively unfit from that cramped space on a troopship, so he volunteered as a physical trainer instructor on the troopships. And he went all over the World during the war – very risky, but he never had any problems, he didn’t get sunk. And in the course of that he came to New Zealand, [cough] but there was trouble with the ship and it had go into dry dock in Wellington, and he, along with all the rest of the ship’s crew and staff and so on, were all – there was some welfare organisation arranged for them all to go out to places around the country – and he finished up at Waimarama on the Belcher’s sheep station. I think he thought he’d died and gone to heaven, [chuckle] being in the middle of the war, and he decided that this was where he wanted to be, you know, this was the place for us to grow up.

So when the war ended he stayed on in the Army for a couple of years, and finally organised for us to come to New Zealand and he first of all … there was such a shortage of shipping after the war … he managed to get passage for us from San Francisco to Auckland on an unconverted troopship built by the Kaiser Company in America which was still in grey paint and great big holds with bunks in them – fairly primitive. And he then managed to get us passage to New York on the maiden voyage after the war of the ‘New Amsterdam’, a Dutch vessel that had been completed redecorated. I don’t think it was its maiden voyage, but it still smelt of new paint. [Chuckle] And it was a very big ship, and I can still remember, we were standing in the dockside shed and this gigantic black wall of steel went past the door [chuckle] – we looked up and saw this monstrous thing. And five days to New York, and we had a couple of days there, and then on a train to Chicago, changed trains and a train to Denver, changed trains and then from there through the Rocky Mountains to finish up in San Francisco where we all met up with the ‘Marine Phoenix’. Stopped at Fiji and Samoa – American Samoa because it was an American ship – and then landed in Auckland a couple of days before New Year 1948 – New Years Day 1948.

How old would you have been then?

I was fourteen. The trip was just brilliant – I can still remember lots of it.

We spent the New Year’s Eve and the following New Year’s Day morning on the train from Auckland – had our first experience of Maoris with their guitars on the train, they were [chuckle] singing and playing all night. And caught the train down to Palmerston then we changed trains, came up to Hastings and we were met by Mr Belcher with his farm truck, and Dad and my … oh, I didn’t even mention, I have a younger sister – she was born right at the end of the war, and I think she was about three when we got here. Mum and Dad and Jenny got in the cab, and my brother and I were on the back of the truck – no seat belts – [chuckle] with all our luggage which was all in tea chests, possibly a cabin trunk I think from memory. And New Year’s Day 1948 we went across the old Red Bridge over the Tuki Tuki River, which there’s been some argument about recently that they’re claiming it was built … that the new bridge was already there in those days, and it definitely wasn’t because I had never seen a bridge like the old Red Bridge. I had never seen a bridge like that before. In England they’re all built in brick and concrete and so on. It was quite an eye opener.

We had six weeks at Waimarama. My brother and I used to walk from Belchers’ place down to the beach and never got into any strife. There was no surf club [chuckle] – we would go for a swim and then walk back – explored around the farm and Peach Gully – explored all through there and the bush and so on – it was a great experience.

And that was the year of the polio epidemic so I didn’t start school – well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Dad went into Hastings, and my mother as well … I think we went in once to have a look at the town. And my father used to go in because Mr Belcher went every week – I think he’d go with him, look around the place and see what job opportunities there were. And the old Wireless Service Company had a shop selling musical instruments and music, and they had a grand piano in there. Dad was a very good pianist, and he went in and asked if he could play it, because he was missing his piano, and they finished up offering him a job. And my brother got a job in the Bank of New Zealand as a junior. And we moved into … Dad and Mum bought a section which had a little brick bach on it with a cellar underneath it. Goodness knows why [chuckle] it was ever built or what the purpose of it was. And they bought a caravan, and my brother and I were in the little brick shed – it was our bedroom – Mum and Dad and my sister were in the caravan, and we ate and lived in the caravan.

And I eventually, once school started that year, I was in fifth form at Boys’ High. And that was in WAG Penlington’s day. And Mr Floyd, the Science master, who insisted in calling me Brassiere. [Chuckle] And I one day had the temerity [chuckle] to stand up and tell them how my name was pronounced. [Chuckle]

Now. Oh, I got a paper round at the local paper shop in Havelock, going right up to the top of Kopanga Road to the Chambers. That was a tough round [chuckle] I tell you, with a bike load of papers, and also dangerous because the last half mile of the road to Chambers – there were no other residents – I had to deliver the paper to their gate, but the Chambers, Mrs Chambers in particular, I was told tended to treat it as her private road. [Chuckle] If I was there on my bike I had to look out – some very sharp corners on it. And I did that for oh, did the two years that I was at high school.

Missed School C [Certificate] on the first attempt, but passed on the second with – I got eighty-one per cent I think, for art, and eighteen per cent for arithmetic. [Chuckle] But my English – I was always good at that, so I got a good mark there too, and it got me through, just.

And my father had been hunting around for a job for me – as I said, my brother was already in the bank – and somebody mentioned Pictorial Publications to him, [traffic noise] and he went down and saw them and they said to bring me in for an interview. And I took my school work along … my stuff that I’d done … and Colin Wilkinson was the resident artist there at the time – partner in the company – and they took me on. A [an] absolute gentleman Colin Wilkinson – a very, very nice man, and taught me a lot, and I was very happy doing what I did. But – the company diversified slightly and as well as getting stuff printed and then selling it … postcards and calendars and so on which they specialised in … they started in on actually making the colour plates that the illustrations and everything were printed from. And they needed somebody there who was very handy with a paintbrush and good eye for detail to do retouching work on the colour separations … the four colours of printing – magenta, cyan, yellow and black – which give you the full range of colours. And whilst the technical aspects gave a pretty good representation they could always be slightly improved. And I spent some years breathing in lacquer thinner fumes all day which destroyed my sense of smell. Well that’s what I blame it on. And I was not happy doing what I was doing – there was nothing creative about it, just … it needed a lot of accuracy and very good eyesight, which I had. And I got sick of this, and Mr Wilson who was the Managing Director was not the easiest man to get on with.

And I was picking up art work in my spare time from Noel Wilson at Cliff Press on the side. He was no friend of my boss, Mr Wilson … no relation I don’t think. But he was giving me work and I was picking up the odd bit here and there too. And one day I was … we weren’t allowed to use the telephone – lowlier members of the staff. So … by this time I had two children, one of whom was not at all well, and I wanted to ring my wife to see how things were going so I had to walk up the road to the nearest phone box and on the way there I passed the old Morrison building – they’d since moved out of there and there was a little sign in the window by the door, at the bottom – PROCESS SIGNS – SILK SCREEN PRINTING. And I’d heard of silk screen printing but I had no idea how it was done – I’d never seen it done. So I thought ‘I’ll go in and have a look’. So I walked in and I wandered around this empty building and eventually found Process Signs upstairs at the end of a long passage, and met Peter Single who was the owner – one guy … one apprentice working for him … and introduced myself and asked if I could learn. He said “oh, crikey!” He said “I’ve been trying to get in touch with you”, he said “do you want a job?” [Chuckle] So I became Art Director at Process Signs overnight. It was you know, just sheer accident – if I’d been allowed to use the phone I’d probably would’ve never got the job.

Then you were able to find out how they did the processing?

He showed me round, showed me what they did – it’s a very simple process but very effective for certain types of work. ‘Course I had the skills for cutting the stencils which you have to use. And then I started designing stuff for customers and I was well away … I was very happy. I’d been fifteen years at Pictorial and I then spent fifteen years with Peter.

But going back a bit if I may, for a moment, I’ve just remembered something that I felt I should record. A couple of years after we arrived here my father needed to go to the dentist for some attention, and he asked people at work “Who’s a good dentist?” They said “Mr Whyte, at Whyte, Fitzgerald and Wilson”, who you’d probably remember. And he used to swear a lot too, while he was doing it – he was renowned for it. Anyway my father went along … made an appointment, went to see Mr Whyte. He walked in and sat in the chair, and it was probably Miss Lincoln who put the cloth round his neck. And Mr Whyte walked in, and … “Afternoon” … and he looked at Dad and he said “I know you”. And Dad said “oh, I don’t think so”. He said “yes I do. You’re the bastard that chased me round the deck of that bloody troopship!” [Chuckle]

When he was the Phys Ed man? [Chuckle]

Yeah. He’d come to New Zealand, picked up the troops and kept them fit all the way to Egypt. [Chuckle] And dentist or no dentist, officer or no officer, they had to do what they were … yes, so they had a great old laugh.

They used to grow asparagus and other crops, and he was really a very good farmer as well as being a dentist.

Oh, I didn’t know that.

But he was a gentleman, but he did tend to use the adjectives quite [chuckle] profusely.

I can remember my father coming home and telling us “those words were not used in our house”. [Chuckle]

No, no. You did your apprenticeship and then where did you meet Peggy?

Well, that goes back again to my father. I was quite a good gymnast too in my younger days, but I never got to anywhere near the level that he did. And he worked up .. I just did … I was terrible when I was a child. [Chuckle] He did all the work and tossed me around, and I did handstands on top of him and so on … various things. And he then from somewhere found a horizontal bar … pretty rusty, but it had been laying around somewhere since before the war, I think. And he … I don’t know whether he bought it or was given it or what, but he took it home, cleaned it all up and set it up on the lawn and started teaching me a few bits on the … simple stuff … on the horizontal bar. Oh no – before we actually got that bar we were doing this – just a balancing act – I was the top man and he was the bottom man. And Greater Hastings decided that the City needed an operatic society or something, which they’d had before the war, and they put on a show called ‘Holiday Cruise’, which was devised and directed by Ivena Pothan who had her own ballet studio, and had been involved in the theatre for years. And they asked Dad and I because we’d been around sort of entertaining at The Orphans’ club and various functions … asked us to do an act in the show as part of it. ‘Holiday Cruise’ was a cruise around the world to different countries and so on, so we were disguised as Chinese, doing a Chinese acrobatic act. And that was where it all began, the association with the theatre.

And then the next year, Nigel Neilson who was a local man who’d been to London and been quite a successful actor there – he came back to Hawke’s Bay to visit his family I think, and while he was here devised and directed the first show for the newly formed Musical Comedy Company … Hastings Musical Comedy. My father and I were foundation members, and for that show we performed on the horizontal bar which he’d then acquired. That’s the first time I ever saw Jack Baxter, who was renowned as a comic. And I think Nigel Neilson probably brought the script back from England – it must’ve been a show that he had been in. It was a very clever script of twisted trials of famous people, and it had Guy Fawkes being prosecuted for not blowing up the Houses of Parliament, and Christopher Columbus for discovering America. [Chuckle] And Jack Baxter was the judge. And I have never seen anything funnier, I don’t think. And Arch Barclay who used to be a radio announcer here, he played Christopher Columbus and he was chewing gum the whole time, and Jack said to him “what are you chewing? What are you chewing – take that out of your mouth!” And so Arch takes the chewing gum out of his mouth, gives it to Jack Baxter who put it down, and of course it was still on his finger … picked up a bit of paper. [Chuckle] He had bits of paper all stuck to … it was absolutely hilarious, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. And I’d stand in the wings every night and watch him, and think ‘oh, this is magic!’ [Chuckle]

Then in the meantime I had, because of my artistic ability developed a lightning sketch act which I’d done at one or two places – the Orphans’ Club I think, was about my first one, because my father had joined the Orphans’ Club, and I was asked if I would do this in the third show, which I did. And I think that was the first time that I ever painted any scenery too, because I volunteered my services for that third show I think. I really know very little about it – practically nothing, but I learnt on the job. And did the lightning sketch act which went down quite well, and I finished by drawing Winston Churchill upside down and turned him over at the end.

And that got me into considerable trouble later in life, because the show was devised and directed by Charlie O’Donnell who played guitar and had been a professional entertainer. And he had a nursery in Hastings. He sold that and became licensee at the Waitara Pub. And a friend and I went away for a holiday one Christmas in our old car – said “oh, we’ll go through Waitara and see old Charlie”, ’cause that was a fellow member of the Comedy Company. So we called into Waitara Pub and Charlie was delighted to see us. And the Waitara Pub was just down the road from the freezing works, and at lunch time you’d hear this roar of boots galloping down the road … the freezing workers ran from the Works to the Waitara Pub to have a couple of beers before they went back to work. Well all these guys in the bar, and Charlie yells for silence, sticks me in front of a blackboard, gives me some chalk and says “do your Winston Churchill drawing” [chuckle] “for the patrons”. And what Charlie didn’t know, when I … I used to do it on paper on the board and I had it drawn out very lightly in pencil beforehand, and then I would do it in thick black crayon and then turn it upside down. But of course I was [chuckle] faced with a blank blackboard and some chalk. [Chuckle] But I had a stab at it and it didn’t come out too bad – I would’ve liked it a wee bit better – turned it upside down, and then a smattering of applause and they carried on drinking. Charlie’s wife went mad! “Do you know what that cost us in lost sales?” [Chuckle] So never go on the stage unless you’re well rehearsed, I learned from that.

Anyway, from there I started off in the chorus of the next show which was a Jerome Kern musical, ‘Sunny’, and – I’m not quite sure how it happened, I honestly cannot remember – but I finished up having the comedy role of Constantino Alexander Rich Nicholas Fedor Gabor … it’s amazing what you can remember that you learnt at the age of seventeen. [Chuckle] [If] somebody said that to me now I wouldn’t be able to remember the start of it by the time I got to the end of it. But I was playing Constantino, who was a deposed duke from some principality in Europe working as a waiter in New York, and had great fun in that. That was directed by Queenie Hamilton, who was the wife of a farmer somewhere around Hawke’s Bay, and quite a character. And I must have done reasonably well as a first effort, because the next show was ‘No, No, Nanette’, and I got the comedy role in that. And then after that, Hardboiled Herman in ‘Rosemarie’. ‘Naughty Marietta’ was directed by Jack Baxter. I had the lead role … the comedy lead in that, and I was Silas Slick, the Pirate.

I had by this time met Peggy, who joined the company in the third show that they did. And I can to this day remember the first time I saw her ’cause she was in the ballet, who rehearsed separately until the whole show was put together. And I saw her walk in that night … I thought ‘oh, she looks very nice … haven’t seen her before”. And over the years we got to know each other and became engaged and got married.

Where was Peggy from?

She was from Hastings – lived in Murdoch Road. You probably knew her brother, Maurie, the hairdresser.

Yes.

She had four brothers and a sister, all older than her. Her father died … she was only about five, I think … left her mother with six children, so she had not had it easy. We got to know each other. She was in the shows every year.

I was talking about ‘Naughty Marietta’, because she was involved in this story. At rehearsal one night which was on a Thursday night, which was late night for anybody who worked in a beauty salon, Dorothy Dowler was playing the Mother Superior right at the start of the show, and she had to walk on with all the novice nuns behind her, who were all the girls from the ballet. And they all had to walk across the stage their hands in prayer, behind the Mother Superior. Well, because the Mother Superior wasn’t there – she was at work – she would arrive later in the evening when she finished work, but this was right at the start of rehearsal. They were having great difficulty timing it, ‘cause from recollection this was the first dress rehearsal and they were having great trouble timing their walk around the stage and their exit. And they did it I think twice, and without the Mother Superior it was difficult. Well I was standing in the wings where they went on, with a big black hat on with a feather round it, the long black cloak, knee britches with sword and a big moustache, [chuckle] and the girls, including Peggy, urged me to go on as the Mother Superior. So I got my hat, tucked my thumbs into it and pulled it down round here … big wide brimmed hat, pulled that down here … and a long black cloak. I did look a bit like a Mother Superior except for the big moustache. [Chuckle] And I walked on with the girls behind me, and they all thought this was a great joke. I was a bit perturbed that Jack Baxter who was directing it, might not be, but we went on anyway. And Jack was standing at the back of the stalls – well he came racing down the centre aisle to right behind Mary Bell who was sitting at the piano, and he roared! [Chuckle] I’ve never had such a telling off in my life before – oh, God, he ripped a strip off me. And the girls were all standing there quaking with fear. And we left the stage and they tried it again, and we carried on with the rehearsal. Next night before another rehearsal the following night, I think it was – before rehearsal I went up to Jack and apologised profusely to him for what I’d done the night before. And … a real twinkle in his eye, he said “don’t worry son, I used to do things like that when I was your age”. [Chuckle] And we were best of friends from then on. He used to on occasion give me free seats to the pictures when he was when we were young marrieds and he was managing the State Theatre, and a couple of times he said “no, go on – in you go”. [Chuckle]

I did a lot more painting, took on the designing. Hec Spence, who was the manager in the theatre, and his brother Ralph – that’s Joy Sleeman’s father – Ralph was the head flyman, and helped with all the construction with his brother. And I picked up bits from them, and information – I read books and got better at what I was doing and did – oh, I think the first really big one I did was ‘The Student Prince”, which was a massive task.

Where was your original playhouse?

We had no headquarters originally. We rehearsed in the Red Cross rooms which were up above … oh, about where Garlands the jewellers used to be. We rehearsed up there. Then we were in the Apple & Pear Board buildings in King Street … think it was – one of the coldest possible places you can be in Hastings [in] winter – it was freezing! And we were there when we were rehearsing the show where Dad and I had the horizontal bar, and he set the bar up down there in the Apple & Pear Board and we would do out bit on that.

And some of the young guys in the chorus were quite interested to have a swing and so on, and my father … they said you know, “why don’t you start a club or something?” So he started the Hastings Gymnastic Club in the Wesley Hall, which was just across the road from the theatre and was there for some years. We used to have a [an] annual competition which I won a couple of times, with nothing like what one sees in the Olympics these days – far removed from what I could do. But then I got much more interested in the theatre than carrying on with the gymnastics, ‘cause gymnastics was men only, but you got to meet girls at the Comedy Company. And I was at that age, and as I say, met Peggy there.

We got married, lived in a little bach in Copeland Road when we first started – bought a section there, and … had a little bach on it. Then bought a PTY home … I think they were first kitset buildings. We were there for oh, about thirty years I think, in that house, before we moved. Well, we moved over here when we retired – no, it would’ve been more than thirty years. About thirty-five, I think. And we established a lovely garden there ‘cause we were both interested in it.

So what road was that on?

On Copeland Road.

That’s where you had a sign up?

Outside the house? I can’t think.

Yes, right on the fence, on the outside. You were closer to Lumsden Road corner, weren’t you?

No. We were closer to Park Road – we were just round the corner from Park Road. I don’t remember having a sign – perhaps I did. Don’t remember that at all.

Our two children were born there, and our daughter went to … well, they both went to Central School, then our daughter went to Karamu and our boy went to Boys’ High.

What are their names?

John and Tracey. John was a coeliac and allergic to gluten, which back in those days was not easy. There were no gluten-free foods available in the supermarkets. I had to go down to the hospital to get gluten-free flour, which I had to buy from the hospital, and Peggy had to make bread for him. And oh, she had a very rough time with him, with constant diarrhoea and …

Did he ever grow out of it?

He seems to have done. But he had a reasonably successful career as an actor, the highlight of which was – did you ever see the film ‘Scarfies’? About Dunedin students – John played the villain in that – he had a beautiful crop of marijuana growing in the cellar of this house that all these students were living in and the students discovered it and decided, ‘well this is a goldmine – we can market this.’ And then obviously my son was playing a criminal of some sort – he came back to harvest his crop [chuckle] and it had all gone. A very funny film in places, tragic in others. But he got the award for best supporting actor in a New Zealand movie. But after twenty-five years of living in penury even though he was fairly successful, he gave up and he’s now head gardener at a very expensive little hotel on Waiheke Island, and very happy. He’s always been a keen gardener.

He did take us there once for afternoon tea, because the boss was away and all the residents were out for the day, so he took us and we sat on the terrace and had tea and scones looking down on Oneroa Beach – that was a treat.

They’ve just done a big addition to this place, and John’s in charge of the gardens and thoroughly enjoyed it.

And your daughter, did she act?

Oh, she was in oh, two shows I think, as a child. She never was interested to pursue it – it appeals to some people and not to others, but….

Well at some stage then the Playhouse, or Hastings Musical Comedy, procured the …

Well they built the first playhouse in Davis Street. That was under … Bill Wilson was President I think, because we were rehearsing in the Hastings Tyre & Rubber Company at that stage, which was – on a cold winter’s night, much preferable to the old Apple & Pear Board sheds. I painted scenery in all sorts of places including an old shed that was at the back of Loo Kee’s grocery – remember that? Next to the Bank of New Zealand up the little alleyway. Ray Basher’s car painting business were in there.

Because the trouble was they were such big pieces of woodwork, weren’t they?

Yes – yeah. So the smaller stuff I painted some of it in there on a dirt floor. Bigger stuff had to be done in the theatre in those days, and all packed away because it might be needed for something else. But then when we got our own hall I did the painting in there and it took up half the hall if I had a backdrop to work on.

Because that was purpose-built, the hall, wasn’t it? And that really made it very, very smart.

Yes, yes. One of the earliest buildings done with laminated timber trusses too, which was quite interesting. We had quite a few years in there … I can’t remember how many … before it burnt down. The fire started in the kitchen – that was after it had been converted to a Little Theatre.

And I was in the very first show that we did in there, called ‘Move Over Mrs Markham’, which was a farce. And I was playing the husband of Dr Bostock’s wife, Elizabeth, [chuckle] which was a bit of a step up the social scale for me. [Chuckle] A very, very funny show. We had a great cast for that, including Paul Waring, who I’d never worked with before. We used to kid Paul endlessly about … he played the Red Shadow in Napier Operatic’s ‘Desert Song’, and we all had him on that he looked more like Father Christmas than the Red Shadow [chuckle] in his red suit. And he gave back as good as he got. I can remember Elizabeth Bostock saying to him one night, “never mind, Paul, we all love you just as much as you do”.

Yeah, great memories. I’ve met some great people over the years through the theatre, and had some great times there.

Going back to work … I think I blossomed when I went to Process Signs. I was full time artwork and getting to try all sorts of things that I hadn’t done before. I was there for fifteen years, but Peter, who was the Managing Director, became President of the Rotary Club and he was a City Councillor. And people were ringing up and wanting answers about things, and I didn’t know – I was just the Art Director. He wasn’t there, he was away at a meeting or something, and I thought ‘this is not going well’. Then he decided that he might sell the business and the guy who wanted to buy it I had no confidence in whatsoever. So I said to Peter “look, I’m sorry, but I’m going to leave”, you know … “I’m not happy to carry on”. So we dissolved the partnership, and I got rented rooms in Queen Street. And about a couple of weeks after I’d opened there a new advertising agency opened down the road. They didn’t have their own artist on the premises and in no time at all I got plenty of work from them. No – that was after I joined Process Signs, they opened up. But they had closed down I think, by the time I left Process Signs, and then a new advertising agency opened just after I left Process Signs. Ray Lousich … MacKinder Communications I think it was called. He came looking for me … somebody recommended me to him, and I eventually moved into an office next door to him because I was getting so much work from him and doing very well. And then I was getting work from Martin Print, Pryda, the building components company in Napier – did a huge amount of work for them.

But eventually Ray Lousich – when computers first started he got very excited about that and poured a lot of money into computers, and he was going to do all sorts of things. But then he started playing computer games most of the night and he’d arrive at work half asleep. I think he was one of the first computer games addicts. He eventually went broke owing me $10,000, which was a lot of money in those days. And I just worked and had … pretty lean period, but slowly built the business up again and I started doing work for Martin Print in Napier. I had some very good clients … Richmond Meats and so on. Kept myself busy up until a couple of years from retirement when computers really took hold. And the last couple of years were fairly lean, and as soon as I was eligible for the pension I retired.

So was Martin Print the company that …

Bob Boston.

… was a partner in?

Yeah. I’m trying to think of the big boss, his name … Jack … oh, can’t think of it. Terry Dunleavy was the Sales Manager. He now owns his own winery and restaurant on Waiheke Island. My son knows his daughter. He must be a fair age – he’s still the boss of his winery.

Coming back to the fire, that sort of was a stage in the Comedy Company that was quite disastrous for it, wasn’t it?

It was, yes. We did several shows in the Assembly Hall after that. I was in the very first one in there which was another farce by the same author as the first farce that we’d done when the original Playhouse opened. It was by the same author, and very, very funny. I was playing opposite Roy Shaw – we were partners in the business. Roy had played Doolittle in ‘My Fair Lady’, probably his most well-known role. He was perfect for the part … big man, and did it very, very well. Stamped his foot one night on the stage in Napier when we were performing there and it went through the floor. [Chuckle] Made headlines in the paper. [Chuckle]

And we were in there for a while, then there was an old bakery building which was where the Playhouse is at the moment. ‘Cause it’d been a bakery building and then a furniture showroom.

Was that Warren Street?

Yes. Corner Warren Street and Alexandra Street. They converted part of the building into a theatre. The rest of it, the upstairs, was all the wardrobe storage. But I’ve heard that they’ve had to move out of the upstairs portion because there was so much weight up there … massive collection of clothes, which they’ve got quite a good hireage service going for Art Deco and so on. I believe they’ve had to move it all downstairs which has created problems for them. But they’re still going strong … now called Theatre Hawke’s Bay instead of Hastings Musical Comedy, and they amalgamated with Group Theatre which had their own Little Theatre in Queen Street which was Ivena Pothan’s old studio, who directed our very first show. They all sort of tie up. And I’m now a life member and occasionally get over to see a show, but don’t get to all of them.

It doesn’t have the warmth of a theatre, like …

Not like the first Playhouse I don’t think – that really had character. The original Playhouse was very cramped for the customers, and I can still remember being in that very first production that went on in there, which was nerve racking from the actor’s point of view ’cause you were only six feet from the audience on the same level. But I felt better when Peter Liley, who was a very good artist, was sitting in the front row, and he laughed so much that he fell off his chair one night, [chuckle] in that first show. That’s never happened to me before or since.

So Rae Liley …

Yeah, that was his sister. Brian was the plumber; Peter … I think he was in the sixth form when I was in the fifth form at high school. Can’t think what he did for a living. Brian was in the same class as me at high school.

So did you move over here reasonably …

Well yes, shortly after we retired. We finished up with a very nice property in Copeland Road. When Peg’s mother died the house was sold, and she got enough money out of that for us to put a swimming pool in, and we had a very nice setup there. But, we had some of the worst neighbours in the world in a block of flats next door to us. One very nice Indian guy and his wife – he shall be nameless, but he did come over one night and ask if our daughter would consider marrying his nephew because he wanted to get citizenship. [Chuckle] We turned him down on our daughter’s behalf. [Chuckle] We still laugh about that. I mean he might have been a Maharajah for all we knew, but she wasn’t going to marry him. [Chuckle]

So you came over and developed all these lovely gardens around this house?

Yeah. This was the new subdivision when Knightsbridge was started. We bought this bare section – all that was growing on it was couch grass I think, when we bought it. And in the course building it I came over about once a month and sprayed the whole place from end to end where there wasn’t timber stacked up or something, and got rid of it all. And it’s still largely free of it and we established everything. My wife’s a keen gardener.

What did you do for relaxation?

Well, Theatre. [Chuckle] I’ve done a little bit of painting, that’s one of mine up there, and that one over there. We’ve done a bit of travelling. When I retired we had three and a half months overseas with another couple from the Comedy Company who lived in the same street as us – John and Ngaire Rohrs. They both died within a month of each other not that long after we got back – Ngaire had cancer, and then her husband survived, trying to finish the house that they were building on the back of the section where their house was … it was a very big section and they subdivided it and were building on the back. She got cancer and died before it was finished, and he carried on and had a stroke one night … there all on his own, fell down between the bed and the wall, couldn’t get up and wasn’t found for many hours afterwards. And he lived for about a week, but badly brain-damaged … and passed away a month after his wife.

We had a marvellous holiday with them, though. I’ve got a nephew – my sister’s son lives in the States. He was running a huge rental housing estate – I don’t know how many houses were on it, but they kept one vacant for directors of the company to use. So this was in Las Vegas, so we had nine days in Las Vegas for free. [Chuckle] We could have all fitted in the bathtub together, the four of us, but we never did but it was big enough. Yeah, we had a royal time there – my nephew had a vintage Chevrolet, took us out into the desert and right out to the Hoover Dam and … great time.

Probably when you look back over your working life and your involvement with Musical Comedy and other groups like that … wonder how you had time to do anything.

[Chuckle] It was a fairly busy life, but I’ve met some wonderful people through the theatre. Judy Cater … great friends with her, worked opposite her in two or three shows, and she [she’s an] absolutely brilliant girl … so talented. And she died far too young. Roy Shaw who I mentioned, we’re very good friends with him – did an overseas trip with him and his wife, and still great friends with her. As I say, Paul Waring – I only worked with him once, but we had so much fun, we really did. Jim Camp. And I designed the set for ‘Hello Dolly’ which Judy Cater had the lead in … she was absolutely brilliant. I played opposite her in ‘Oklahoma’ with my wife on the wardrobe. Then when I did ‘Godspell’ … I think it was the first show that she designed all the costumes for. And she did all the costumes for ‘The Boyfriend’ – she’d come up with the ideas, I’d draw them for her, and the team would go ahead and make them. The big one in that was the Black and White Ball … fancy dress ball … every costume was in black and white for that. She came up with some genius ideas for that.

Society is missing a lot of those live shows.

Mmm. Theatre Hawke’s Bay are still going. We went to see … the last one we went to was ‘Anything Goes’, which was a brilliant musical. They’ve got some great new talent in there, I was very impressed with that. So they’re still going.

Where do they operate from then?

They’re still in the Playhouse … Alexandra Street.

When we were kids the highlight of once a year was when the Frivs came to Havelock – it did all the right things, rang all the bells.

Yeah – lot of fun. Well when we retired here, Peter Hill, who you’ve probably seen in many a comedy role at the Playhouse – he played the lead in ‘The Bed-Sitting Room’ which I directed, written by Spike Milligan and I think I had more laughs out of that than any other shows that I’ve ever been involved in. There was a cast of about ten I think, in that. It was set after the end of world war three, and it was typical Spike Milligan lunacy, it really was.

Wasn’t he a funny man, though? Clever.

Oh! Some of the things that we had to do. I had a brilliant team of builders that … one thing which was absolutely perfect every night … Peter Hill, who was playing the lead role of Captain Cack, had to stand … we had a table on the stage … he had to stand with his leg against it there, and he’s talking. I can’t think what he was talking about now, but when he died he left a note on the piano, and he held out his hand like that, and a long pipe came – bonk! [Chuckle] He hit it with a hammer, said “Hey, Flat … my God, he must have suffered” … let go, and it swung back into the wings. Took us a whole evening to set that thing up for about ten seconds. And Peter just stood there like that, and … [chuckle]

It came straight across.

And he had to be in exactly the right spot, with his hand there like that. [Chuckle] And he lives next door but one to me.

Is there anything else you can think about that you haven’t told me about?

Well, when Peggy and I retired here, we’d only been here a couple of years I suppose … Peter moved in just down the road … and three or four years later we found out he’d joined up with the Taradale RSA Concert Party, which I didn’t even know existed. They asked him to join up with them, and he was devising and producing shows for them, so he asked me if I would paint some scenery for them, so of course I said “yes” [chuckle] … pretty small beer compared with the things I’d been used to doing, just backdrops. They’ve got a small stage that they put up – metal framework and just a backdrop on the back and curtains on the side walls. They’d had some fairly amateurish efforts done in the past, although I think they mainly just used to work with the curtains, they didn’t have any scenery. But Peter got me involved, and the first one involved three cloths for the three sides – it was an old English pub scene, and there was a lot of work in that. I thoroughly enjoyed doing it so we carried on from there. And I did backdrops for them for about … well, I did last year’s too. But they cut down the size of stuff because they’re all getting too old to handle it.

[Chuckle] Yes, there comes a time, doesn’t there?

Yeah. And that’s their fiftieth anniversary. But after about two years of painting the scenery Peter said “well, how about joining up, and you and I’ll do a bit of comedy together?” So we did [a] couple of ‘Two Ronnies’ sketches. He got a video and … play a bit, write that down, play a bit more, write that down [chuckle] … and got the script off right and he and I did those. One … I don’t think it … probably was the ‘Two Ronnies’ … was a dead parrot – no, not a parrot, a duck – it was supposed to be an Argentinian racing pigeon. [Chuckle] It was a duck … very, very funny sketch. We did that, and in the chorus and so on we did a ‘Dad’s Army’ thing, and had a lot of fun – it was a very social group.

[Speaking together] So you’re still having some fun doing that?

Well, I’m still doing … I designed the programmes for then for years, and the posters … oh, must be about fifteen years now, and the scenery. But when Peggy got sick, oh, three or four years ago, I had to give up because I was sole caregiver for her. I mean she was in it as well, and she and Peter’s wife did a very good little act of the – instead of ‘The Biggest Aspidistra in the World’, it was ‘The Biggest Marijuana In the World’ … [chuckle] dressed as hippies. And as I say, we had a lot of fun with them – touring around too. We used to go away three times a year to different RSA Clubs around the country … bus trip away which was always great fun, and do say, two or three shows over a weekend – one Friday night, one Saturday night, one Sunday afternoon, then come home. They’re all getting pretty ancient although we’ve one or two new members. And some of them … I think one guy was over ninety and still singing. [Chuckle]

The chap who does my hairdressing has asked me many times to go along to the Orphans … Brian McFlynn.

I know the name.

Good Irish barber.

You’d have probably known Carl White then did you? The Orphans Club?

No. I never got to the Orphans Club. They invited me but I was never free. That’s an amazing picture, that. [Looking at photographs and discussing]

Yes, it is … one of the few publicity shots that were taken in colour. We usually used to use black and white.

‘Anything Goes’, which we just went to see recently. And of course Dave Pike – not sure what he was doing when he did that, but he went into Radio after that.

This girl, Janette Murray – do you remember Bob Murray? Beautiful tenor voice, that’s his daughter. She’s now a fairly big wheel in the … I’m not sure what its called – Welfare, Social Welfare Department I think. We still keep in touch with her.

One thing I never mentioned I don’t think, that I also did four shows for Hawke’s Bay Opera. Guy Wellwood is our lawyer and he was the Chairman. He’s only just recently retired, but he got me involved and I designed four operas for them and painted two of them I think. But I just didn’t have the time to paint the other two, I was too busy at work and they got other people in to do them. I did ‘La Bohême’, the Spanish one, the bullfighter, I can’t think of the name of it. It’s gone. [Sings softly] “Toreador da, da …”

‘The Pearl Fishers’ was I think my best one for them, from a scenery point of view. I was very proud of that. No, the memory is not what it was I’m afraid – for the early days yes, I can remember all sorts of things.

Okay, well I think we’ve probably pretty-well covered … anything else is covered in all that memorabilia and photos – the detail that will be attached to this will be wonderful.

Well when Peggy retired from dancing she got very involved in the wardrobe department – she’d always made her own clothes.

Actually, something I should have mentioned – you would remember Elizabeth Horne’s being the ladies’ shop where Peg worked when I met her. And Lizzie Horne – she was a great character – that was her maiden name. Yes, she was working there when I met her. After we’d had children she used to take in sewing for Smartway Drycleaners – had a little sideline of replacing zips and this sort of thing ‘cause they were only just down the road from us in Heretaunga Street. Peg used to do all their alterations, made all the children’s clothes. Then later on when the children were at high school, she went to work for the Bon Marche, and was second in command of the jean bar there.

I interviewed Richard Jones recently.

Oh yes. I was at school with him.

It’s a great story, the story of Bon Marche.

Oh, it is. You see those two wooden chairs there, when they closed down Peg was one of the … I think there was only eight of them left … the staff, on the last day. And they closed the doors and the eight of them left – all of their birthdays, so we go out to dinner. It used to be just the girls themselves, and then a couple of them died and they brought the husbands in. And we still go when we’re all well enough. Now I can’t drive they come over here and we have dinner in Taradale. Peg’s birthday, she was too sick, and another one of them was in hospital I think. No we’re all getting old, it sort of petered out a little bit.

Yeah, the girls just used to go out to lunch originally, and then they thought ‘well, we’re getting a bit lean on the ground – we’ll bring the husbands in too’. And … got to know each other and we very pleasant evenings.

Those two chairs came out of the office, and we were told that these scratches on the back there – that was old Mr Jones who always sat in his office with his braces – that was the clip on the back of braces scratched the back of the chair. That’s another bit of history. Yeah, they said to Peg, “is there anything you’d like?” And she said “oh, I’d love those two chairs”. And we’ve had them ever since.

Well thank you, Keith. I think that’s been a lovely chat about all the interesting things you’ve done. And you know, I think Hawke’s Bay has been richer for the contribution you and your wife and your friends and family have put into it.

Well, I would like to think so. We still are, because I still do the odd bit for the Concert Party here. And I’m patron of that now … a life member of the Comedy Company.

I remember you doing this tumbling …

Do you really?

Yes.

We had the horizontal bar when the Gymnastic Club entered a float in the Blossom Parade for a couple of years.

That was interesting [chuckle] on a moving vehicle. Thank goodness it didn’t go very fast. That was my father’s idea because he once took part in the Lord Mayor’s Show as a gymnast in London. He was always interested in the theatre … I think we were taken to see pantomimes – not during the war where life was a bit bleak. That’s one thing I’ve never really touched on.

Tell me about it.

Had an Anderson air raid shelter in the back garden, and it was not very close to the house. Yeah, my mother’s parents lived in Brixton, right in the heart of London. Soon after war was declared – Dad was away in the Army – they came to live with us. My grandmother was crippled – she could only walk around by hanging on to the furniture … don’t actually know what was wrong with her. And my grandfather – I think I heard him speak twice [chuckle] in the years – he was a very dour old man. Didn’t particularly like children I don’t think, but they had the spare room upstairs – I think a three bedroomed house. And he died of natural causes during the war … during the blitz … because all the planes from Germany flew over the top of our place to get to London. And … sirens would go and Mum would get us up out of bed, and dressing gowns and blankets, and traipse down the garden to the little Anderson shelter, which you could only sit up in – you couldn’t lay down. And there was Mum with my brother and I and our Grandparents sitting in there until the ‘All Clear’ went, and come back to bed.

Were you ever bombed – your area?

I was only ever really scared once. As we were going from the house – the silly thing was the controller for the air raid sirens was about twenty miles past our house, [chuckles] and the sirens would go when the planes were flying over us. [Chuckle] It was an administrative error that crept in somewhere. And we were being hustled down the garden by our mother when obviously the anti-aircraft fire got a bit much for [the] Germans, and they dumped their bombs and turned round and headed for home. And one landed just round the corner from us.

So it was real?

Yeah. Most almighty bang, and it blew one house to bits. A few days later I went around that street which was only just round the corner from us. It was the only time I remember being really frightened. But as kids, you didn’t sort of realise how awful it was, you know. I would only have been – what – six or seven when that was going on, and it must have been absolutely terrifying for my mother. But then the Americans arrived, and me and my mates used to regularly bike over to where they were billeted in private houses … great big two storey mansion sort of places … all been requisitioned by the Government for the work. And we all used to go “got any gum, chum?” New invention, chewing gum. And how my mother managed the rationing and so on … but she did.

Well there was no option was there?

No. But I think it was probably the war that was to blame for my parents splitting up not that long after we got to New Zealand. Things were a bit ropey there.

We were evacuated twice during the war – not by the Government. Dad was stationed out in the country … well he was at Aldershot, which is well out of London. And he found us an empty cottage when the blitz was on – this is after this bomb had dropped – to a little place called Kingston-Bagpuize.

Fascinating, the names …

And we were involved [enrolled] at the village school, which was a bit of a shock after what we’d been used to where we came from. And the cottage we were in had an outside loo at the bottom of the garden, and a well in the garden that water had to be drawn … it was an old farm labourer’s cottage, but it was sitting there empty. It was weatherproof, and Dad found it somehow or other, found the owner and got us permission to live there.

And then when the flying bombs [started] he found us a place in North Warnborough, which is very near Farnborough. And while we were there I can remember seeing the first jet plane, which was the Meteor … Gloucester Meteor. We thought it was on fire – there was smoke coming out the back. That had come from Farnborough, flew over the top … my brother and I – “God, it’s on fire!”

Had a trout stream – that was a slightly better class of cottage. It did at least have indoor plumbing, and a very nice stream just across the grass, with trout in it which we used to try and tickle [chuckle] … part of our education.

It had it’s times, I guess?

But the theatre’s been my passion, and I was very lucky in that I had a talent that I could use. Goodness – if I hadn’t had the art ability I don’t know what I would have done.

And you know, it led to meeting your wife, your son taking it up, and at eighty-four you’re still helping the RSA with some designs.

Mmm. No, it’s been a good life.

Did I tell you about Guilin?

No.

When the Hastings City Council organised it would become a sister city [to] Guilin in China, I was doing work for the Council occasionally. And I got a request to design a programme cover … a menu cover sort of thing for a dinner and meeting that they were having with a delegation from Guilin. Well I knew that Guilin had these weird islands – rock formations and so on – I’d seen that in the paper, so I rung up the Council because I wanted to get some pictures of them. And I got some young fellow I think had started work there the week before, and I told him that I was looking for some pictures of Guilin because I’d got to design this cover. And there was a long silence, and he said “well you should ring the Auckland Council I think, not us”. [Chuckle] He thought I’d said Grey Lynn. [Chuckle] He’d never heard of Guilin.

[Shows designs] That is the logo for the City Council I designed.

Original digital file

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Additional information

Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

Accession number

2049/45809

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