‘Robbie’ comes to end of long, cheerful road
Powell Montagu Robinson more affectionately and widely known simply as Robbie the motoring man, died on Sunday in his 83rd year.
To thousands of radio listeners over a remarkable broadcasting career spanning four decades, Robbie became a popular and welcome guest in households from Kaitaia to Bluff.
From 1949, Saturday-morning listeners began hearing a cheery “hello and welcome to this week’s motoring magazine” as Robbie passed on service and driving tips, replied to readers’ letters and finished off the show with his traditional, and anticipated, “and now this week’s story.”
Robbie, who had lived in Napier after arriving from Gisborne in 1957, became a much-loved broadcasting and motoring personality who represented gentler, less complicated times.
Later in his broadcasting career, his easy-going, comfortable and friendly nature made him the ideal partner for Wayne Mowat and the Nostalgia Show which broadcast across the nation.
Robbie played his favourites from the 30s and 40s and Mr Mowat focused on his era of the 50s and 60s.
With his trademark wide grin, Robbie once remarked that his Saturday morning show (which originally ran for 15 minutes but was later cut back to six) was aimed at do-it-yourselfers who, with a bit of advice, could work on their cars “without doing too much damage.”
Born in Gisborne in 1920, he started his working life as a messenger boy with what was then the Post and Telegraph.
At that time of his life his nickname was Monty…not Robbie.
It was only after being asked to take a bicycle with bad brakes to the P and T’s workshop that he decided that was the place to work.
So he swapped departments and entered the motor trade, although his career there was interrupted by war when he was sent off to serve in the Solomons.
On his return home he married Alwyn, whom he had met before leaving for war.
He took up work as a vehicle inspector with the Ministry of Transport … then in the late 1940s “just for a look-about” wandered into the studios of station 2XG.
“Fancy doing a voice test?” the station manager asked (as part of the small station’s policy was to employ part-timers to make up the numbers.)
Robbie, slightly amused, gave it a shot and said the manager later told him he was “fair to lousy … but with a bit of voice training would be okay.”
He did two or three nights a week, then after a local garage suggested it would be good to have a motoring session they could advertise with, the wheels of Robbie’s career began to roll.
It was the station manager who came up with “Robbie”. He reckoned Motoring with Monty didn’t sound right.
The show grew into national syndication and Robbie became a household name. He broadcast from the Napier studios of 2ZC after the family moved here in 1957 after Robbie had received promotion to the position of senior vehicle inspector with the MOT – working closely with police in accident investigations.
For his work within the motoring industry he received the Queen’s Service Medal in 1986.
“That was something he was very proud of,” daughter Pam said.
Through the years he owned something like 38 cars … his first being a 1930 Rugby Four which he bought in 1947. He bought his first Japanese car in 1970, and said once that while they were fine cars they effectively signalled the end of the do-it-yourselfer.
By 1990 he figured the original concept of the show had disappeared under the complexity of modern cars, so decided to call it quits.
While he greatly enjoyed his radio work he reckoned the printed word was what gave him particular pleasure and his syndicated columns and car tests resulted in responses from as far as Australia and Fiji.
Robbie loved his music, and after retiring from the MOT in 1980, and a decade later from his motoring broadcasts, he simply took it easy, pottered about a bit, and just enjoyed the music he once enjoyed sharing with his many thousands of happy listeners.
As he would have cheerfully said himself, “that’s it from Robbie…happy motoring everyone.”
Photo caption – ROBBIE: Characteristic smile.