Bob Parker was born in Christchurch in 1953. The son of a plumber, he grew up in the Christchurch suburbs of Heathcote Valley and Somerfield, and later attended Cashmere High School.
Intending to become a pharmacist, he began studying chemistry at the University of Canterbury. After nine months, he withdrew from the course and spent time working as a labourer, factory worker and wine waiter.
Inspired by Brian Edwards, he decided he wanted to work in television — but not in front of camera. With hopes of becoming a natural history cameraman, Parker unsuccessfully applied for jobs with broadcasters and production houses throughout Australasia. A friend suggested he try radio and, after two auditions, he was accepted as a radio announcer by the NZBC in Christchurch in 1973.
His career took him to Wellington and Auckland. Parker began in television as a continuity announcer, telling viewers what was due to screen, and reading the news in off-peak periods. He went on to become one of TVNZ's most visible presenters with appearances on the Benson and Hedges Fashion Design Awards and Telethon . For his first Telethon appearance, Parker practised the previous weekend by staying up overnight on Saturday night. He argues that part of the show's appeal was that after extended time on air, "things would get crazier and crazier; people would get very relaxed, very human". In 1985, he hosted a three hour entertainment showcase celebrating 25 years of TVNZ.
He also began fronting the annual Skellerup Young Farmer of the Year contest. Initially, he confessed, he expected to encounter "a pile of country bumpkins", but instead found "hard working business people" who were "more aware than the average city person about things like political matters, economic trends, overseas market potential". No doubt it helped that he was a self-described 'Hollywood farmer', having bought "a tiny 10 acre block out the back of Wellington"— even if he did build "fences sheep are able to jump through".
By the end of 1984 Parker had left TVNZ, and bought the New Zealand rights to American series This is Your Life. For the next 12 years, he was the show's host — the guardian of the big red book — and also a researcher and writer. He began researching the first show, on equestrian Mark Todd, after gambling that Todd was about to win gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The costly show was rushed to air just a couple of weeks after Todd triumphed. "The show rated; it was massive. It was timely ... and it really launched a new phase for my career."
Some of New Zealand's "most extraordinary people" were ambushed by Parker, book in hand, and taken to a studio to have their lives laid out, complete with reunions with long lost figures from their past. The series had its critics, with some suggesting it presented too rosy a picture of its subjects. Parker was unrepentant, telling the Listener in 1990 "This Is Your Life is not a muck-raking programme; it is not an investigative current-affairs programme; it is a neutral, gentle, happy, celebration of a person's life".
When Sonja Davies expressed surprise that the show had ignored her peace movement, trade union and childcare work, Parker countered that he hoped they'd corrected an impression some people might have had of her as an "extremely left-wing type of political thinker, even a darned communist". Instead she had been portrayed as "just another Kiwi who had a personal philosophy and who set out to improve the lot of her country's women".
Actor Barbara Ewing was also a reluctant participant. She told Parker, when confronted outside New Zealand House in London, that "I had vowed never to appear on this show, that it contained some of the most puke-making programmes I have ever seen". Parker's consummate people skills had won her over by the end of the show.
In the mid-80s he did a number of years as co-host (with Cathy Strong) of This Is New Zealand — a weekly cable television series produced for North American audiences by fledgling private broadcaster Northern Television. Eventually the show's producers were won over by a deal to shoot the series out of studios in Melbourne.
Parker was acutely aware that the public perception of his presenter's job was that it was "lightweight" rather than demanding. He was unconcerned, telling the Listener in 1985 that "I don't need people to pay me a huge deal of respect as long as I respect myself".
By the mid-90s Parker's relationship with TVNZ was becoming strained. The network declined to broadcast live a This Is Your Life episode featuring Sir Peter Blake; and then, in 1997, TVNZ made it clear that they wanted a fresh approach to the show. They felt it could be overly formal and needed a more contemporary look. Without a broadcaster, Parker had no choice but to sell his rights to Touchdown Productions, and Paul Holmes became the new host of This Is Your Life.
Parker had moved back to Christchurch in 1992; and he now concentrated his energies on his advertising and marketing business. The chemistry dropout was also seen in a chemist's white smock fronting a series of TV commercials for a pharmacy chain.
Parker had childhood ties to Akaroa. He had holidayed there in a small cottage and regarded it as his "spiritual spring". He was elected Mayor of Banks Peninsular in 2001, and served two terms until amalgamation with Christchurch in 2006 (when he became a city councillor).
In 2007, he successfully contested the Christchurch mayoralty; he was re-elected for another three year term in 2010 — shortly after the September earthquake, when he was often seen as the public face of the city. In November 2012 Parker published book Ripped Apart - A City in Chaos, a personal account of the Christchurch quakes, and the political tousles which followed. Two years later he was named a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for 'Services to Local Body Affairs and the Community'.
These days Parker has a number of business interests, and does public speaking on disaster preparedness and business partnerships with companies in China.
'Bob Parker: On his life as a television presenter' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 21 November 2016. Accessed 21 November 2016
Graham Ford, 'Frontman in the Backblocks' - The Listener, 13 July 1985, page 14
Noel O'Hare, 'This Is Your Life', The Listener, 3 Sptember 1990, page 33
'Sir Bob Parker' LinkedIn website. Accessed 29 July 2016