For three decades Peter Sinclair was one of New Zealand’s leading TV presenters. A radio announcer by training, he was the face of music television, fronting Let’s Go, C’mon and Happen Inn from 1964 to 1973. He reinvented himself as a quiz show host with Mastermind — and hosted telethons and beauty contests until the mid 90s. Sinclair returned to radio and wrote an online column until his death in August 2001.
Grace under fire, grace under pressure, that's Peter Sinclair. Did you ever see him sweat? Never. Paul Holmes in The Dominion, 9 August 2001
On 27 July 1965, Auckland fish’n’chip shop owners Sam and Shirley Ann Lawson became parents of a boy — Samuel — and four girls — Deborah, Lisa, Shirlene and Selina. The birth made world headlines as the first set of quintuplets conceived using hormone treatment. But out of the public eye it wasn't happy families: Sam and Ann split up when the quins were six and in 1982 their mother was murdered by her abusive second husband. Director Mark Everton’s award-winning doco regathers the quins, who discuss the ‘quin bond’, tragedy, resilience and their tumultuous lives.
Having made a comeback after heart surgery in 1990, legendary entertainer Billy T James passed away in August 1991. Four years later that anniversary was commemorated with Billy T James - A Celebration. Hosted by Pio Terei, the special highlights some of Billy’s best moments of both comedy gold, and his vast talents as musician. Interviews with Billy T and his colleagues (including showband veteran Robbie Ratana, comedian Peter Rowley, and screen wife Ilona Rodgers) offer insight into the real man behind arguably New Zealand’s most beloved entertainer.
In the grand final of the fifteenth and penultimate series of TVNZ's premier quiz show, host Peter Sinclair grills contestants on general knowledge and a specialist subject: the life and works of AA Milne and David Bowie, TV's Fawlty Towers and battleships since 1906. First prize is a 14-day trip to London and the coveted chair. Contestants include the year's youngest entrant: Wheel of Fortune winner and future film critic, sports historian and writer Hamish McDouall. The show's first champion, 1976 winner Patrick Bowles, presents the prizes.
Canterbury and Waikato compete in the 1988 final of TVNZ’s student quiz show, with host Peter Sinclair testing the breadth of a tertiary education (the Billy Joel lyrics round is a rare nod to pop culture). Writer Jolisa Gracewood captains Canterbury; her colleague Tony Smith is the show’s MVP (atoning for his cavalier attitude to shirt buttons); and retired Russian lecturer and PhD-student Alex Lojkine is the oldest competitor to be on the show (defying its unstated premise as an undergrad joust). The prize pack offers insight into domestic computing of the day.
Future Labour MP Charles Chauvel joins the ‘academic-quiz-show-as-kindergarten-for-aspiring-politicians’ tradition (see: Lockwood Smith hosting W Three) in this 1987 University Challenge final. An ever youthful Peter Sinclair (C’mon, Mastermind) presides, with Waikato and Auckland universities competing for bragging rights (and 80s personal computers). Subjects cover the arts and sciences, with each correct starter earning bonus questions. Chauvel captains Auckland, and sagely stays away from undergraduate humour in his intro — unlike his fellow contestants.
Peppermint Twist’s pastel-tinted portrait of 60s puberty floated onto NZ screens in 1987 and despite winning a solid teen following, only screened for one series. Set amongst a group of teens in small town Roseville (in reality the outdoors set originally used for Country GP), the show’s stylised look and sound had few Kiwi precedents - though its links to US TV perennial Happy Days are clear. Peppermint made liberal, and increasingly confident use of period music, with each episode named after a pop song of the day.
Peppermint Twist’s colourful, stylised portrait of 60s puberty floated onto NZ screens in 1987, winning a solid teenage following. Something of a homegrown homage to US sitcom Happy Days, Peppermint was set amongst a group of teens in small town Roseville, and made liberal use of period songs and arrangements. This episode involves mounting rivalries over a typically pressing issue: an upcoming limbo contest. Further nostalgia value is provided by real-life 60s music show host Peter Sinclair, who makes a cameo as compere of the contest.
No television special would be complete without a bloopers reel. 1985 marked the 25th anniversary of television in New Zealand, and one of the events celebrating it was a variety show at the Michael Fowler Centre. In this short excerpt, host Roger Gascoigne introduces a montage of humorous TV moments from across the years, some planned and others probably not — from turkeys in gumboots, Bill McCarthy’s exploding piano, and Relda Familton being judo-flipped, to Tom Bradley losing his script, and presenter Peter Sinclair disappearing in dry ice at the 1983 Feltex Awards.
The early 80s were the apex of the local beauty pageant — Lorraine Downes won Miss Universe in 1983, and more Kiwis watched the 1981 Miss New Zealand contest on TV than Charles and Di’s wedding. This 1984 Miss World New Zealand live telecast was legendary for host Peter Sinclair announcing the wrong winner (clip six). Miss Auckland Barbara McDowell’s runner up sash is swiftly swapped for a crown and she is (eventually) made the first part-Samoan Miss NZ. A retro delight is the beauties dancing to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ in an Oamaru quarry.
This episode of New Zealand's own office comedy sees John (Ross Jolly) concluding that a love of stamps makes the boss (Ken Blackburn) a natural fit for Mastermind — next thing, the stores branch staff are gathering around with imaginary cameras and desk lamps, to help him practise for the pressures of facing quiz master Peter Sinclair. Meanwhile the team try to score another victory by getting an astrological chart made for a racehorse. Roger Hall's sitcom about public servants was a bona fide hit, long before Rogernomics and Ricky Gervais in The Office.
This live TV spectacular documents an 18 October 1981 Royal Variety performance in front of the touring Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh. Performers in St James Theatre included Ray Columbus (in That's Country mode), Sir Howard Morrison and John Rowles. Dance is represented by Limbs and the Royal New Zealand Ballet, while McPhail and Gadsby and Billy T James deliver pre-PC gags. There’s a show stopping all-singing all-dancing finale, and what seems like the entire roster of NZ showbiz of the time lines up to greet the Queen, including Lyn of Tawa.
TVNZ's long running quiz show pitted four-member teams from the country’s universities against each other for egghead bragging rights. Host Peter Sinclair (C'mon, Happen Inn) poses the "starter for 10" and presides over this second semifinal from the fifth series. Sinclair is typically sharp — "Lake Taupō. A very hesitant answer to what I thought was a very easy question" — as teams from Victoria and Canterbury (eventual series winners) compete for a finals place. Subjects range from The Decalogue to Dire Straits. Calculators and encyclopedia are at stake.
Telethon was a widely popular 24-hour live television spectacular aimed at securing donations from viewers for a charitable cause. The feel-good vibe of Telethon was infectious, appealing to both adults, kids (who were allowed to stay up in front of the telly) and willing celebs. This selection covers highlights from the 1981 Wellington Telethon (for International Year of the Disabled). Bob Parker, Selwyn Toogood, Ian Johnstone and host Peter Sinclair get goofy amongst smurfs, bagpipes, and talking belly-buttons. "Thank you very much for your kind donation!"
This 1978 documentary casts a critical eye over a depressed NZ music industry, and asks what has changed since its 60s glory days of pop stars, screaming fans and C’mon. By the late 70s, few musicians are earning a living and chart hits have dwindled (although the recording industry is bullish). Ray Columbus waxes lyrical about ‘She’s a Mod’. Kevan Moore and Peter Sinclair are sanguine about TV’s role, a finger is pointed at radio airplay, and the careers of Craig Scott, Mark Williams, Sharon O’Neill and John Rowles are considered. The only thing not in short supply is blame.
Mastermind was big brother to W3 and University Challenge in the pantheon of TVNZ's 80s quiz shows. The format (based on its creator's experience of being interrogated by the Gestapo) was licensed from the BBC and an ice cold Peter Sinclair asked the questions (with none of the bonhomie he allowed himself on University Challenge). Contestants faced two minute rounds on general knowledge and an array of sometimes mind-boggling specialist subjects ranging from Shakespeare, opera and gastronomy, to Winnie the Pooh, tantric yoga and sulphuric acid production.
TVNZ’s long running quiz show was based on the BBC series which pitted four-member teams from the country’s universities against each other. Otago lecturer Charles Higham was the initial quizmaster but veteran frontman Peter Sinclair (C’mon, Happen Inn) took over a year later and remained with the series until it ended in 1989. Otago produced the most champion teams — winning on six occasions (followed by Canterbury who won three times); and members of winning teams included musician Bruce Russell, writer Jolisa Gracewood and MP Charles Chauvel.
Telethon was a 24-hour live television spectacular aimed at securing donations from viewers for a charitable cause. The first, in 1975, launched the second channel (TV2) and raised over half a million dollars for St John's Ambulance. By 1981 Telethon had hit the $5 million mark. Along with willing local celebrities, volunteers and a receptive public, it attracted overseas stars: Basil Brush, Entertainment Tonight's Leeza Gibbons and Coronation Street's Christopher Quinton (who famously got together after the 1988 show). "Thank you very much for your kind donation!"
It was the summer of 1970, six months after Woodstock; local media hyped this Phil Warren-promoted two-day music festival as New Zealand’s version. Despite promises of revolution, it was more low-key with 1500 music fans bussing out to the Swanson holiday park for — as MC Peter Sinclair introduced it — “36 hours of non stop top pops of New Zealand’s top bands”, from psych-rock to gospel. The big star was sometime Bee Gee Robin Gibb, whose high pitch was infamously welcomed with a thrown tomato. This footage was captured for TV by the NZ Broadcasting Corporation.
‘Rain and Tears’ was inspired by a reworking of Pachelbel’s ‘Canon in D Major’ by Greek prog rockers Aphrodite’s Child (featuring Vangelis and Demis Roussos). Auckland band The Hi-Revving Tongues had their biggest hit with their version, which topped the New Zealand singles chart in 1969. This footage is from the Loxene Golden Disc contest, where they won the group award, and were nominated for best song. It’s a restrained performance which gives little hint of the band’s more psychedelic sound — or their enthusiasm for onstage pyrotechnics.
'Saint Paul' was one of the biggest hits by a NZ artist in the late 60s. Written about Paul McCartney by American producer Terry Knight, it borrowed liberally from Beatles songs (eventually with their publisher's permission) and played an early part in the "Paul is dead" conspiracy theories. Shane’s version went to number one and was the 1969 winner of the Loxene Golden Disc for local song of the year. This footage from the awards show comes complete with interview by host Peter Sinclair and as many groovy special effects as TV could muster at the time.
This is the final episode in the first series of New Zealand's classic 60s pop show. Host Peter Sinclair seems to have no idea that the show will return for another two years. Meanwhile Mr Lee Grant, Sandy Edmonds, Herma Keil, Bobby Davis, Tommy Adderley, a rocking Ray Woolf and the Chicks run through the big hits of 1967, managing to compress 21 songs into a frenetic half hour. Sinclair promises "big sounds, fun sounds, wild sounds" as the show ranges from blues-rock through ballads and 'Edelweiss', to a nod to the children watching with 'Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead'.
The NZBC's premier 60s music show was the ultimate pop confection, complete with hip presenter Peter Sinclair, hyperactive go-go dancers, pop art set and breathless pace. In one of two surviving episodes, regulars Mr Lee Grant, Herma Keil and Billy Karaitiana cover the hits of the day, with help from guests The Gremlins (previewing the psychedelic pop of their song 'Blast Off 1970'), 50s rock'n'roll pioneer Bob Paris, and "southern songbird" Bronwyn Neil. The show is rounded out with a medley of nostalgia favourites — including a cameo from Sinclair.
C’mon brought the hits of the day into New Zealand living rooms for three years in a tightly scripted, black and white frenzy of special effects, pop art sets, go-go girls and choreographed musicians while host Pete Sinclair kept the pace cracking with breathless hipster charm. Most of the stars of the day appeared at one time or another but sadly only two episodes have survived. As the 60s finished C’mon fell victim to the fragmenting of the music world and the arrival of darker music that the show could no longer turn into family friendly viewing.
Thanks to You topped the New Zealand music charts three weeks after its release in 1967, and earned Mr Lee Grant the Loxene Golden Disc Award. In this performance on C’mon, introduced by the legendary Peter Sinclair, he performs the hit in a distinctive three piece suit against a changing psychedelic backdrop. Mr Lee Grant’s Kiwi tour was split between shows for his sometimes hysterical teenage fans, and cabaret shows for the adults. The combination made him one of the country’s most popular acts, and saw him named 1967’s Entertainer of the Year at the NEBOA awards.
In the heady days of Beatlemania, Let's Go was the first viable successor to In The Groove (NZ's first TV pop music show in 1962). It was devised and produced by Kevan Moore — with DJ Peter Sinclair in his first big presenting role. Recorded in Wellington at the NZBC's Waring Taylor Street studio (with its notorious sloping floor a challenge for the big cameras), it featured a resident band — first The Librettos and then the Pleasers. Let's Go only lasted two years, but in 1967 Moore and Sinclair teamed up again for the hugely successful C'mon.