After growing up in the small Canterbury town of Darfield, Alan Henderson began his screen career in the 1980s as a camera operator at TVNZ's Christchurch studios. It was during his time working on After School that he was hired to voice and puppeteer a brand new character for the kids show.
And thus Thingee was born in 1987 — quite literally, when he emerged from a large, mysterious egg on an episode of After School. Henderson brought a quirky, dry wit to the wobbly-eyed puppet that was a hit with audiences, and Thingee went from strength to strength from there. After featuring on After School alongside presenters Richard Evans and Annie Roach, Thingee later teamed up with new presenter Jason Gunn in 1988 — forming what would become one of Aotearoa's most beloved comedy duos on children’s television.
"There was the puppet, but really there was Alan," Gunn told Radio New Zealand in 2020. "Alan was Thingee with all of his humour and his beautiful big heart. Everything that was Thingee was really Alan. He was the creator of Thingee in every way he could be."
Solidifying their partnership, Henderson (as Thingee) joined Gunn as his sidekick on Jase TV in 1992, The Son of the Gunn Show from 1992 to 1995, and even starred in direct-to-video special Jason and Thingee’s Big Adventure in 1995. The hour-long extravaganza took the form of a buddy road movie, intercut with 'Best of' moments from The Son of the Gunn Show. The logistical challenges of filming Jason and Thingee in the same vehicle are still remembered by director Nigel Carpenter, as he told The Spinoff in 2018. "You have to remember that Alan Henderson had his hand up Thingee’s bum. We shot in many confined spaces, so they [Jason and Alan] became very closely connected both physically and mentally."
As The Son of the Gunn Show drew to an end, Thingee co-hosted kids programme Chatterbox with Piripi Moore and old friend Annie Roach. In 1996 he joined What Now, before returning to his home planet during a 1997 episode of the show. It marked Thingee’s retirement from television, although he occasionally returned to Earth for guest appearances on What Now, and other shows like 7 Days and Wheel of Fortune. Throughout his time moonlighting as Thingee, and after Thingee’s retirement, Henderson continued to work as a camera operator, mostly for children's productions, current affairs shows and sporting events.
In the 1990s Henderson began widening his scope into directing, adding another role to his eclectic CV. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, he used his experience behind the camera (and behind a puppet) to direct for such children’s television programmes as What Now, its spin-off show WNTV and kids cooking competition Activate. He also directed for reality TV contests including 100 Hours and Captive. Directing and camera-operating for magazine show Good Morning in Wellington was also a significant moment for Henderson — not least because it is where he met his wife Tracy.
It was a busy time in Henderson’s career, as he juggled camera operating with directing and the occasional guest appearance as Thingee. He settled into a more permanent position in 2014, as a producer/director at Sky Sports in Auckland. Henderson had gained experience in sports broadcasting shooting such events as netball world championships and international cricket tournaments; in his new role he played a major part in bringing large scale sports events to Kiwi screens.
He remained at Sky Sports until his passing at age 57, after a battle with cancer. Sky Sports announced Henderson’s death on 15 February 2020 via their Facebook page, writing; “today we lost the heartbeat of our sport department. A person we all loved for his positive outlook on life, infectious laugh and big smile."
There was an outpouring of love for Henderson after the announcement — including from Jason Gunn, who said that "he enabled me to be at my best, and so many others to be at their best".
Profile published on 30 March 2022
Sarah Bradley, 'Man behind Thingee puppet, Alan Henderson, remembered for 'infectious sense of humour' - 1 News website. Loaded 16 February 2020. Accessed 30 March 2022
Dan Lake, 'Alan Henderson, man behind the iconic TV character Thingee has died' - Newshub website. Loaded 15 March 2020. Accessed 30 March 2022
Baz Macdonald, 'Jason and Thingee's big Adventure: A big ol' Retrospective' - The Spinoff website. Loaded 15 March 2018. Accessed 30 March 2022
Ian Pryor, 'Thingee' NZ On Screen website. Loaded 22 April 2010. Accessed 30 March 2022
('Alan Henderson' (Obituary) - The Dominion Post, 17 February 2020
Unknown writer, 'Man behind 'Thingee' puppet dies' - Radio New Zealand website. Loaded 15 February 2020. Accessed 30 March 2022
'Alan Henderson' LinkedIn website. Accessed 30 March 2022
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision catalogue. Accessed 30 March 2022