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Jim Mora


When Jim Mora left Otago Boys High School to attend the University of Otago, he foresaw an academic career, most likely as an English professor. But instead university provided his first taste of journalism, as editor of student paper Critic. At the same time he dabbled in student radio and from there, by his own admission, he more or less fell into radio. In the early 1970s he was taken on by private station Radio Otago as a junior journalist.

After rising to programme director Mora shifted his focus to television and joined TVNZ's Dunedin newsroom, becoming the host of regional programme The South Tonight in 1981. The programme's format allowed him free reign to develop his comic and people skills, and he proved a popular frontman in the lower South Island, remaining in the role until 1986.

But the days of regional news were numbered and a change in direction saw him join nightly network current affairs show Holmes as a reporter from 1989 to 1991, followed by a second stint from 1993 to 1997, focusing mainly on human interest stories. Mora estimates that he filed 70 to 80 stories a year for Holmes, and argues that the show "performed a valuable public service". In 1995 he won a Qantas Media Award for his stories on the Cave Creek tragedy.

Further avenues for his talents emerged. From 1993 to 2000 and again in 2005, Mora wrote and voiced the commentary for two seasons of popular dog obedience show Tux Wonder Dogs. "It just seemed that if you treated it whimsically, it might work", says Mora of his writing approach. He is gratified to know that "a lot of New Zealand watched it, and liked it". Producer and host Mark Leishman says it was almost as if Mora could get inside the dog's heads, really "making" the show because it appealed to both children and adults for different reasons. The two also worked on ballroom dancing contest Battle of the Ballroom

From the late 90s Mora narrated a string of documentaries, some of which also benefitted from his writing skills. They included series such as Kids Hospital, which won the 2003 Qantas Media Award for best information programme, and fellow hospital show Middlemore

Beginning in 2000 he became most widely identified with Mucking In, a long-running show that TV reviewer Trevor Agnew referred to as "the caring face of reality TV". Local community heroes would be nominated and, on a pretext, sent away for a weekend while Mora and his team moved in and, with the help of local volunteers and businesses, revamped their gardens. The format proved popular and the show lasted several years, growing in ambition as it went. Mora feels privileged to have been involved. "You met the best people in New Zealand and all their nice mates. It was probably the nicest thing that anyone in television would ever have the chance to do."

New Zild provided another hit in 2005. Fronted and co-written by Mora, the programme used droll humour to chart the evolution of New Zealand English from its earliest colonial incarnation to the unique accent we hear today. 

That year he also began hosting Afternoons with Jim Mora on Radio New Zealand National, a role he continues in today.

Perhaps echoing that earlier desire for a career in academia, in 2006 he won the celebrity version of The Great New Zealand Spelling Bee. Typically though, he says that doesn't mean he's the best speller in New Zealand, instead he's the luckiest speller. His total of $60,000 prize money was donated to an African project through Child Care.

Away from the camera and microphone, Mora has been no less busy. He's been a columnist for Metro and the Sunday Star-Times and published a number of children's books. With animator Brent Chambers, he created kids cartoon series The Adventures of Massey Ferguson. He also narrated each episode over two seasons. Mora and Chambers followed it with Staines Down Drains. The New Zealand/Australia co-production screened down under in 2006 and 2007, and sold to several countries including the US, Australia, Germany and France. 


Sources include
Jim Mora
'Jim Mora: Wonder Dogs, Rolling Rs, Mucking In, and more...' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 12 July 2012. Accessed 19 May 2015  
Elspeth McLean, 'Man of media reminisces' (Interview) - Otago Daily Times, 3 January 2010
Denis Welch, 'Jim Mora' (Interview) - The Listener, 20 August 2005 (Issue 3406) (broken link)
'Jim Mora - No mucking around with Mora' (Interview) - The Press, 2 June 2008
'Jim Mora' Radio New Zealand website. Accessed 16 July 2012