Keith Bracey was one of the best known faces (and voices) in the early days of New Zealand television.
Born in Waimamaku in North Auckland, Bracey studied marine engineering and served in the Pacific as a flight engineer-air gunner with No 6 Flying Boat Squadron, during World War ll.
After the war Bracey moved to Tauranga where he worked in a number of jobs (including running a concrete block business, and buying and selling cars). He joined the Repertory Society and took singing training and speech lessons which transformed his voice, which had been as "down home kiwi as the next guy's". Impeccable pronunciation and resonance would become his trademarks. His distinctive beard was a theatre legacy from this time — frustrated by the false beards required for a role, he grew his own goatee.
A job in radio followed. Bracey joined 1ZB in the mid-50s as an announcer and reporter on the light current affairs programme Daily Diary. Stories weren't always easy to find; more than once he resorted to finding road works and interviewing whoever was in the hole in the ground. After two years at 1ZB he took a working holiday in England - touring with the Argyle Theatre Company and making his first television appearances on a show fronted by expatriate New Zealander Michael Miles.
Back in New Zealand, Bracey returned to radio as Assistant Chief District Announcer in Auckland. He also began his involvement with the fledgling local television industry by doing interviews with theatrical personalities.
In 1966 Keith Bracey became the first presenter of the Auckland edition of Town and Around, New Zealand's inaugural daily current affairs show (network television was still several years away, and Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin had their own local versions.)
Town and Around was a watershed for local television, and Bracey quickly built up a devoted following. At least one school student named him as Prime Minister in an exam, and a woman wrote to the programme saying she could no longer undress in front of the television because she felt like he was watching her. His distinctive voice and appearance had him described variously as "the leprechaun with the Lenin beard", "vaguely Mephistophelean" and "comfortingly like a Spitfire pilot from Biggin Hill".
The Auckland presenting team for Town and Around included Tom Finlayson, Barbara Magner, Colin Hill and Barry Crump. Bracey anchored the programme, alternating between seriousness and an impish sense of humour as the stories required.
The programme had its light-hearted side; excursions into the field saw him serving tea and cucumber sandwiches while interviewing a sewerage worker and trying to convince passers-by in Albert Park that a farm spraying backpack was a jump jet kit that would allow them to fly. An interview with English jazz musician Acker Bilk ended with the pair standing back to back, both dressed in Bilk style (complete with clarinets), looking all but indistinguishable from each other. But Bracey also admitted that these embellishments did obscure the show's news element at times.
After Town and Around Bracey moved on to other roles — presenting Master of Arts, various current affairs shows and the weather report.
In 1976 he began an association with crime fighting show Police 5 which he researched, produced and fronted for 10 years. He said his time on Police 5 was the most satisfying of his career.
He was part of the team that set up and produced Auckland regional magazine show Top Half in 1980, with John Hawkesby and Judy Bailey (along with Norman Sievewright, Philip Alpers, Raf Irving, Chas Toogood, Mike Brockie, Dylan Taite, John Harris and Hunter Wells).
He remained on Police 5 until it was axed in 1986 (with possibilities suggested for a replacement programme including a national "crime watch" show). His removal was front page news (it came at the same time as Philip Sherry's departure was announced).
A clean break from broadcasting followed, apparently with no regrets. Bracey devoted himself to gardening, body surfing and ballroom dancing, and said he enjoyed having time without deadlines to do what he liked.
There was one return to the screen — to play a druid leader in an episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys in 1998.
Keith Bracey passed away in October 2010, at the age of 94. His last gig was as the public face of a campaign extolling the virtues of rest homes.
Robert Boyd-Bell, New Zealand Television - The First 25 Years (Auckland: Reed Methuen Publishers, 1985)