John Shrapnell was a descendant of British Lieutenant General Henry Shrapnel, inventor of the shrapnel shell. Apart from a spell in the Royal Air Force, the later Shrapnell's career was been in television. His career as a journalist, reporter, director, editor, producer and actor spanned nearly half a century.
When television began in New Zealand in the early 1960s, Shrapnell worked as one of two editors of the NZ Broadcasting Service's main news bulletin, which was initially titled the NZBS Newsreel. The editor's job was to drive each day to the airport and collect boxes of film sent from overseas, select and edit the best material for a local audience, write a script, and add music and a voice-over. "Some days there would be a wealth of material — enough to make several news programmes, but other days it would be slim pickings and occasionally there'd be no shipment at all," Shrapnell said.
Shrapnell's work broadened into producing other programmes such as 1964's The Veteran Statesman, a tribute to Sir Winston Churchill.
During a two year sabbatical in the United Kingdom, Shrapnell worked as a presenter on London Line for the British Government's Central Office of Information. He was also a reporter on BBC's Today, and spent a year as a duty editor at international news agency Visnews (later to become part of Reuters Television).
On his return to the NZ Broadcasting Corporation, Shrapnell began reporting and directing for the Wellington version of popular nightly magazine show Town and Around. It was there he earned the nickname in the press as Mr Relaxation. Some writers attributed this to "his intelligent, insistent questions put with polite charm". Shrapnell did stories on everything from bagpipe makers to druids.
As well as covering local events, he was the sole TV reporter sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for New Zealand's case against French nuclear testing. Later he covered Prime Minister Norman Kirk's tour of Asia, which ended with both of them in a Darwin hospital with the same illness.
With the splitting of NZBC into two channels, Shrapnell was assigned to Television One, where he rapidly became one of the channel's senior reporters. He also directed and produced numerous documentaries for the series Sunday's World. He concentrated in the performing arts field, including producing reports on Limbs and Impulse Dance Theatre.
Covering state visits was one of his specialties: beginning with American President Lyndon Johnson and the Shah of Iran, through to successive royal visits by the Queen and her family. His experience was such that he would later be appointed as coordinator of broadcast coverage for royal visits.
A move into the training field made Shrapnell responsible for training television news reporters and presenters. He watched, mainly with pride, as some of those he trained appeared on screens, both in New Zealand and overseas.
Shrapnell was often confused with his relative, late British actor John Shrapnel. When the two met in London, English Shrapnel said he was jealous that Kiwi Shrapnell had met and talked with the Queen. The Kiwi Shrapnell replied that he was jealous London Shrapnel had acted with Julia Roberts (in Notting Hill).
Shrapnell has spent many years giving back to his community. He was a member of Wellington's Wadestown Resident's Association for over 30 years, a founding trustee of Wellington City MenzShed (helping older isolated men), and a trustee of the Otari-Wilton's Bush Trust. As he told The Dominion Post in 2012: "I'm one of those people who see something wrong and think it could be fixed, something that would remain a problem for your neighbours and the children who come after you. Someone has to fix it. It's part of my nature. It gets me into trouble sometimes."
John Shrapnell died in Wellington on 2 September 2020. He was 85.
Profile written by Ian Pryor; updated on 4 September 2020
'John Shrapnell', LinkedIn website. Accessed 4 September 2020
Unknown writer, 'Wadestown Residents Association born from dog smells' (Interview) - The Dominion Post, 22 January 2012
Unknown writer, 'John Gordon Shrapnell Death Notice' - The Dominion Post, 3 September 2020