The late AK (Alan Keith) Grant was a lawyer turned writer, who helped bring New Zealand comedy to the television masses.
Born in Wanganui, Grant studied law at Canterbury University, and apart from three years in London, rarely strayed from the province again. Grant spent just over a decade working as a barrister, before turning over all his energies to writing and script editing.
In 1971 he wrote the first of many humorous books, the satiric Kiwi history Land Uprooted High: New Zealand's Rise to International Significance. The book was later updated and retitled as The Paua and the Glory. A paua-titled sequel also appeared.
In 1977 Grant became part of the writing team on topical satire show A Week of It, which showcased the talents of Christchurch-based comedians David McPhail and Jon Gadsby. The show debuted in a graveyard after 10pm slot, but its popularity soon ensured a move to prime time, making it one of a handful of Kiwi comedy shows to command a solid audience in that decade.
Daring for its period, the Feltex award-winning show mixed political satire with potshots at Kiwi culture and sport. Some sketches would become iconic, including the pub chats that ended in a group cry of ‘Jeez Wayne', and McPhail's iconic impression of prime minister Robert Muldoon.
"They were called satirical shows, but in the true sense of satire, they never put the knife between the ribs," McPhail said of A Week of It and McPhail and Gadsby. " We didn't want people sitting there saying, ‘ooh, that's true.' We wanted them to laugh."
The writing team of McPhail, Gadsby and A.K. Grant would prove central to creating and writing a run of comedy shows, with A.K. Grant the unseen third partner: among them were award-winning skit series Issues, McPhail and Gadsby and the Barry Crump-style yarns of Letter to Blanchy. The trio also wrote for the Billy T. James sitcom, in which James played a DJ.
McPhail and Gadsby lasted seven seasons, and in 1983 won a Feltex Award for best entertainment show. In the 90s, Grant re-teamed with McPhail and Gadsby to write for Issues, a skit based comedy series which weathered a number of variations of channel, title and ensemble cast.
With Letter to Blanchy in 1994, the McPhail/Gadsby/Grant team finally left the pressured deadlines of a weekly skit show, to work on a different style of Kiwi comedy, which saw the characters out in the environment, and often coming off the worse for wear. McPhail plays a straight-laced accountant who befriends two more down to earth mates, played by Gadsby and Peter Rowley. Various jet-boat accidents, breakdowns and arguments ensue.
Unusual for a New Zealand TV comedy in so much of it being shot on location, Blanchy won solid audiences across a wide range of age groups. The Grant/McPhail/Gadsby team won a NZ best comedy script award in 1996 for their Blanchy episode 'Stir Crazy', which would later inspire a touring play. Both the McPhail and Gadsby and Blanchy series also spawned spin-off books written by the trio.
Grant also wrote scripts with fellow Listener contributor Tom Scott. They worked together on 80s TV series Press for Service, based on the inhabitants of a parliamentary press gallery, and collaborated on an early draft of Scott's movie Separation City.
Outside of his screen work, Grant's comic writing encompassed The Dictionary of Wimps, comic verse (including Sam Hunt verse reimagined by Rudyard Kipling), and a satirical column in The Listener that ran for fifteen years. He also wrote the lyrics for a successful musical based on Murray Ball's Footrot Flats.
In 1998 Grant made a rare on-screen appearance, when Gary McCormick travelled to talk to him for an episode of talk show McCormick (Grant appears in programme 12 of the second series). Grant passed away in 2000, the year that saw the publication of his final book Parodies Regained, which collected up many of his comic poems.
AK Grant died on 29 June 2016. he was 59. In an obituary written for The NZ Herald, Jon Gadsby described him as "a thinking, gifted, generous man, and not without the demons that inevitably accompany talent. As a devotee of the written word, it says much that he is the sole New Zealand writer (I think) to be included in Frank Muir's Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Prose, and was probably the most bewildered subject ever of This Is Your Life."
Jon Gadsby, 'Obituary: A. K. Grant' - The NZ Herald, 30 June 2000
Roger Robinson, 'Grant, A.K' (Profile) NZ Book Council website. Accessed June 2009
NZPA Writer, 'Satirical writer, erudite man dies' - The NZ Herald, 30 June 2000