Sir Paul Holmes once said he had always known that he had a place in the history of New Zealand broadcasting, and that he planned to take it.
But more than take a place, Sir Paul took top billing as New Zealand’s greatest and most influential broadcaster.
From a DJ with an afro in the 1970s interviewed on Grunt Machine, Holmes commanded the radio airwaves for more than 40 years. He was the country’s top rating breakfast show host for more than 20 years on Newstalk ZB.
Sir Paul was also the king of television current affairs. He fronted the hugely influential Holmes show on TV One for 16 years. There was outrage, shock, horror even when the first episode aired in 1989 with the controversial Dennis Conner walkout. But Sir Paul created a loyal band of followers who whether they professed to love him, or hate him, watched him nightly.
Sir Paul led a revolution in broadcasting in New Zealand, away from the staid old ways where we emulated others. He helped give us our own voice and our own take on the world. His reach, his power was incredible and will not be repeated in these multi channel fragmented media days. The Holmes - 15th anniversary programme and interview with Sir Edmund Hillary highlighted his phenomenal range.
The Holmes' Christmas parties were legendary. They brought together a disparate group of people. But they were Holmes’ people and he bridged the gaps.
But Sir Paul was more than just the consummate broadcaster. He began as an actor appearing in one of our seminal early dramas Gone up North for A While. He also featured in the first New Zealand sitcom Buck House and made a cameo performance as a sax-playing boy from the Bay in Loose Enz - The Pumice Land.
He was a true broadcasting pioneer of drama, radio and television.
Nothing though showed Paul’s humanity, his wit, cheek and charm as much as the evening he literally gatecrashed the Today Live - Angela D’Audney interview. He strolled in as if walking into a studio during a live interview was the most natural thing in the world. I’ll never forget him asking Angela, who was battling the brain tumour that ultimately took her life, about her worst moments. She replied it was 4am. He told her to turn the light on. Sir Paul had already had his first brush with prostate cancer at that point.
Sir Paul never forgot his relatively humble upbringing and was a champion of the underdog. His support for his daughter Millie as she battled an addiction with methamphetamine, and his own battle with prostate cancer, brought those issues into the daylight and ultimately saved lives. His work to highlight Paralympics in Twelve Days of Glory and Triumph of the Human Spirit brought Paralympics into the mainstream.
His humour and curiosity were on display during his Yemen Intrepid Journey which highlighted his ability to connect with people despite cultural or language barriers.
Sir Paul was the ultimate people person: whether his subject was rich, poor, famous, or infamous he was interested and he cared. He loved people. And to him everyone had a story.
Many people have talked of finding the next Paul Holmes. But there will never be another like him. He was a man of intellect and curiosity with the compassion to match. He was the right man at the right time. When he spoke, we all listened.
His famous sign-off line from his nightly television show will echo through broadcasting history. Those were our people today. That’s Holmes tonight.
By Susan Wood
You sat behind that desk each night, at seven on the dot,
You told us what was when and why and who was doing what.
From Dennis Conner’s walkout to MPs' moans and groans,
You lit up all our living rooms, you made our house a Holmes.
You learnt to fly, you sang a song, you wrote your own memoirs,
And you really were a thriller on Dancing with the Stars.
Genuine and generous, you gave us all so much,
You lived a life of luxury, but you had the common touch.
But what I most respect you for, is not the media host,
It’s how you stood by Millie, when she needed you the most.
So rest in peace, Sir Paul, dear man, and may your soul take flight,
As the rest of us all shed a tear ... for there’ll be no more Holmes tonight.
One of Gunn's impersonations of Paul Holmes can be seen in the 1992 Son of a Gunn Show - Christmas Special (around 3:48 into the fourth clip).
By Jason Gunn