Phil Gifford has certainly put in the hours: 25 years of getting up at early for breakfast radio slots; three decades of writing weekly columns; and more than 17 books. Along the way Gifford has accumulated 14 radio awards, and a rare double win as Sports Journalist of the year.
In 1973 Gifford began writing newspaper columns and books under the name of his satirical alter-ego, the rugby-obsessed Loosehead Len. Gifford has reported from three Commonwealth Games and every Rugby World Cup to date, and claims to have seen every local test match played by the All Blacks since 1977.
Gifford’s time on radio has seen him hosting or co-hosting top-rating shows in Auckland, Christchurch and Australia. Gifford spent 11 years co-hosting top-rating breakfast radio alongside What Now? presenter Simon Barnett. After five years the two were headhunted by rival Christchurch station 92 More FM. Gifford left to join current channel Radio Sport in 2003.
In the 80s Gifford segued into television, as both a writer and presenter. Asked to interview Billy T James for a 1981 Listener cover story, he discovered the two shared a similar sense of humour. At interview’s end Billy asked him if he wanted to join the writing team on his new self-titled television show. Gifford would go on to contribute scripts over three seasons.
(Billy) “was extraordinarily likeable and had a huge amount of warmth and natural friendliness,” Gifford says. He argues that this likability enabled Billy to make jokes about the Treaty of Waitangi at a time when such subjects were deemed less acceptable, helping “put the Treaty into mainstream New Zealand”.
Gifford also joined Communicado boss Neil Roberts as one of the hosts of late 80s programme That’s Fairly Interesting. A celebration of quirk and Kiwiana, the show's title was a homespun send-up of American show That’s Incredible! He was also called in to script 1989‘s The Good, The Bad and The Rugby. Made by ex-TVNZ sports presenter Ric Salizzo and All Black John Kirwan, the video provided a light-hearted behind the scenes glimpse into an All Blacks tour of Wales and Ireland. After selling more than 40,000 copies, it won a local award for 1990‘s bestselling sell-thru video.
That same year, he was asked to come on stage and introduce Billy T, for legendary post-transplant concert Billy T Live. In 2011 Gifford would work with director Ian Mune on the script for documentary Billy T: Te Movie, an acclaimed big-screen celebration of Billy’s life and comedy.
Over the years Gifford has brought his wit and expertise to a run of sports shows, including Sky’s Press Box, quiz show Game of Two Halves, and Chasing the Lions, an Irish documentary about the 2005 Lions’ tour of NZ. In 2001 he won a celebrity quiz on the Kiwi version of The Weakest Link.
Gifford's career as an author can be divided into two parts, comedic and otherwise. While a columnist for newspaper 8 O'Clock in the 70s he began publishing a series of comedy books, supposedly written by the DB-swilling, rugby-mad 'Loosehead' Len Lacey. As the series climaxed, with 1983's Tokoroa, Mon Amour, Gifford was authoring or co-authoring the first of many biographies of rugby legends — subjects have since included Todd Blackadder, Joe Stanley and Mike Brewer — plus one or two non-sporting titles besides. 2006 book Cadillac Dreams followed a two-month trip through the United States. His most successful title to date is Alex Wyllie bio Grizz: the Legend. The life of the ex-All Black coach and player was one of the biggest-selling local books of the 90s.
In 2010 Phil Gifford was awarded the SPARC award for Lifetime Services to Sports Journalism. Since then he has hosted a Saturday morning rugby show on Radio Sport, been a regular speaker at events around the country, and has written for the Sunday Star-Times.
‘Phil Gifford’ (Profile) Speakers New Zealand website. Accessed 20 March 2015
'Loosehead' Len Lacey (Illustrations by Darryl Kirby), Tokoroa, Mon Amour (Loosehead Enterprises Auckland, 1978)
Adam Dudding and Kate Mead, ‘Billy T: The Te Legacy’ - Sunday Star-Times, 14 August 2011
Matt Elliott, Billy T - The Life and Times of Billy T James (Auckland, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2009)
Katherine Forbes, ‘The best of Billy T’ - Sunday News, 14 August 2011
Phil Gifford, ‘Time we pulled the collective finger’ - Sunday Star-Times, 1 January 2009