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The Billy T James Collection

Curated by the NZ On Screen team
4th August 2011

 The Billy T James Collection

The Billy T James Collection

 NZ On Screen team

Curated by the NZ On Screen team


Billy T

Billy Taitoko James is a Kiwi entertainment legend. His iconic ‘bro’ giggle was infectious and his gags universally beloved. This collection celebrates his screen legacy, life and inimitable brand of comedy: from the skits (Te News, Turangi Vice), to the show-stealing cameos (The Tainuia Kid), and the stories behind the yellow towel and black singlet.


The Billy T James Collection

 The Best of The Billy T James Collection

Billy T’s unique brand of humour is captured here at its affable, non-PC best in these two compilations of skits from his popular 80s TV shows. There’s Te News, Turangi Vice, a bro’s guide to home improvement, the first contact skits, and the priceless (literally) Lands for Bags ad spoof.

 Came a Hot Friday

“The funniest, liveliest, most exuberant film ever made in New Zealand”. So said critic Nicholas Reid, of this award-loaded adaptation of a Ronald Hugh Morrieson novel. It became a local hit — in no small part due to Billy T’s rendition of a loony Mexican-Māori cowboy: the immortal Tainuia Kid.

 Radio Times - Series One, Episode Two

This was the launchpad for Billy T’s rise to TV superstar. Inspired by 30s radio extravaganzas, the show brought together a dancehall band, adventure serials, coconut shell sound effects and the Yandall Sisters; with Billy T as the oh-so-British compere, Dexter Fitzgibbons, glueing it all together.

 Billy T: Te Movie

This feature doco — released August 18th 2011 — uses interviews and remastered footage to capture Billy T’s path from cabaret singer to fame, fan-clubs and eventual financial and bodily collapse. Directed by Ian Mune, and co-produced by Tom Parkinson (who played a big hand in making Billy a TV star).

 Billy T Live

In April 1990, Billy T came back from ill health, and made a triumphant return to performing. It was a last hurrah (his transplanted heart gave out on him the following year), but it's a worthy swansong. He gives it everything (here, alongside Sir Howard Morrison) for a loudly appreciative audience.

 Koha - Billy T James

In this studio interview Billy T, at 34, is already one of NZ’s most prominent performers following two years of his own TV show and winning Entertainer of the Year. Wide-ranging topics include the unwitting role his teachers played in his mimicry, and whether his characters unfairly stereotype Māori.

 Loose Enz - The Protesters

Billy T (as a Marxist!) plays serious amongst a group of protestors in this important Loose Enz drama (the stellar cast also includes Jim Moriarty and Merata Mita). It explores issues surrounding race and land ownership in NZ in the aftermath of the Springbok Tour and Bastion Point occupation.

 Terry and the Gunrunners

This was a six-part children’s drama about the adventures of 12-year-old Terry Teo, based on the eponymous comic, and beloved by a generation of kids who grew up in the 80s. Former Goon Michael Bentine headed the cast, which featured Billy T as a bikie; he also performed the show’s theme song.

 The James Gang Rides Again

Billy T himself tells the story of his 1989 heart transplant operation at Greenlane Hospital, and his subsequent recovery. Entertaining as well as educational (he reenacts his operation from bed), the doco includes a number with Max Cryer dressed as a surgeon, joined in song by Billy and Don Selwyn.

 The Leading Edge

In this cult adventure sport classic from director Michael Firth, a bunch of extreme thrill-seekers throw themselves off volcanoes, glaciers, mountains and into an Iron Man with "get more go" abandon. The film is notable for its action sequences (set to an 80s pop soundtrack) and Billy T as a mad pilot.

 An Evening with Sir Howard Morrison

This is classic Sir Howard Morrision — in the year of his knighthood — blending cabaret, humour and Māori culture. He performs his most controversial song, ‘My Old Man’s An All Black’, with Billy T, and he has ex-All Black captain Buck Shelford up on stage to lead the haka alongside Temuera Morrison.

 Billy T James - A Daughter's Story

Cherie James pays tribute to her father, telling his story from a daughter’s perspective. Bandmates in The Maori Volcanics share their memories and family members reminisce about Billy's Waikato childhood. Cherie provides insight into the well-publicised arguments that occurred after his death.

 The Billy T James Show (Sitcom) - Excerpts

By 1990, Billy T was recovering from a heart transplant — and trying his hand as a sitcom actor. His career was based on one liners and gags, but this Billy T James Show was a series of 26 half hour family-based comedies with a clear debt to The Cosby Show. It was to be his last TV series: Billy T died in 1991.

 On the Mat: 29 July 1980

This episode of the legendary pro-wrestling show screened on 29 July 1980. Commentators Ernie Leonard and Steve Rickard compere the match-ups and introduce the grapplers at Canterbury Court Stadium. Billy T makes an appearance and comments on the authenticity of the in-the-ring proceedings

 Billy T James America's Cup Challenge

Billy T presents an intro to The America’s Cup as Team New Zealand bids for The Auld Mug for the first time, in Fremantle, Western Australia. Billy’s sense of humour is never far away but this is a largely-factual exercise from a time before The America’s Cup was (briefly) “New Zealand’s Cup”.

 Rabbiter's Rest - A Fair Cop

In this episode of the Jon Gadsby-written rural sitcom, the locals at the The Rabbiter’s Rest try to take an overzealous young constable down a peg or two. Billy T James is among the bar’s regulars. The humour is gentle and some of the jokes are shaggier than the local sheep flock at shearing time.

 The Early Bird Show - Excerpts

Russell Rooster and Suzy Cato bid viewers “doodle-doo” in this TV3 children’s show which combines local pieces with overseas cartoons. In this August 1991 compilation, “Bugman” Ruud Kleinpaste appears (with serious specimens), and Billy T is remembered with an excerpt from an appearance on the show.

 One of those Blighters

One of those Blighters is an offbeat doco on Taranaki novelist Ronald Hugh Morrieson. After interviews with many who knew him, it morphed into a semi-fictionalised tale of Morrieson’s mates reminiscing about his departure, interwoven with highlights from his tales of drunkards and con artists, Billy T amongst them.

Oscar Kightley on "the guiding star"

Oscar Kightley on

Kightley (bro’Town, Sione’s Wedding) reflects on the impact of NZ’s most loved man on his career, and on Kiwi consciousness. Read more >

The Swiss army knife of comedy

The Swiss army knife of comedy

Billy T biographer Matt Elliott pays tribute to the entertainer he argues should, “be considered one of our great New Zealanders”. Read more >


Many thanks to Oscar Kightley and Matt Elliott for their fine background pieces, and to the various rights' holders who’ve made this collection possible.