When Rhys Jones was 18 his father gave him a choice: either a stint in the army, or jumping on a boat to New Zealand to try his luck. Jones chose New Zealand, and arrived in Auckland in 1957. He moved to Christchurch soon after, and the rest of his family followed him out a year later.
Jones was born in London to a Welsh father and English mother. His father was an army engineer who transferred his engineering skills into a teaching position. Rhys spent time in Northern Ireland as a child, before the family moved back to London. Post WWll London was bleak: rationing had only just finished, and many were looking overseas for better opportunities.
Jones failed to avoid army training in his new home. After his compulsory stint, he signed up for a teaching degree in Auckland, then decided to specialise in speech therapy (which meant further studies at Canterbury and Otago universities). Next thing he was running a speech therapy clinic in Northcote, Auckland, touring schools and checking children for potential speech difficulties.
The longtime theatre fan got into acting in Auckland and Christchurch. "In those days there was no real path to working in the arts in New Zealand, so amateur dramatic societies were really important. My dream was to work with Ngaio Marsh in Christchurch, but when I was active in Canterbury she had moved on".
In the mid 1960s New Zealand television was still in its infancy. Local TV drama was rare; production teams often turned to local theatres for presenting talent. Jones was around at the right time. In 1967 he was one of 170 actors to win a place on a series of workshops, where NZ Broadcasting Corporation staff taught actors about the new medium. Five teleplays resulted: Jones acted in Slipknot, a murder mystery by Ngaio Marsh. The same year he got snapped up for The We Three Show, a panel style quiz show aimed squarely at a ‘new’ demographic — teenagers. Jones joined fellow presenters Val Lamond and Simon Bates.
But the big gig was the popular Town and Around, reporting news stories from across the Auckland region. Three of Jones' stories are in this end of year special (the first starts one minute in). Jones remembers the quality of those he worked with: people like host Keith Bracey, Barbara Magner and Tom Finlayson. At one point he was paired with the "very eccentric" Barry Crump, who had joined the team to add some comedy.
In 1970 Auckland got a new regional news show, This Day. Jones joined fellow reporters Craig Little, Ian Watkin, Karen Jackman and John Bowler. He was also doing interviews for On Camera and arts show Review. The shows gave him the chance to talk with many visiting celebrities, including Phyllis Diller and Elton John. Interviewing Duke Ellington for the second time, Ellington began by asking him "are you still here?"
Soon after Jones returned to the United Kingdom, to fufil his ambition of working for the BBC. He began at HTV in Wales. After two years reporting for BBC show Wales Today, he moved to London to become a roving reporter for John Craven’s Newsround, a popular BBC show aimed at teens. News-wise Jones had timed his return well: the United Kingdom was experiencing huge political and social upheavals. In 1973 he returned to Wales, reporting on the first of two British General Elections. Jones was on the move, reporting extensively from Northern Ireland where sectarian violence was rampant, to Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish invasion.
Meanwhile big changes were afoot in Kiwi television. Colour had finally arrived, plus a second channel. Producer Bruce Crossan rang Jones, offering a "good deal" to return. But after arriving, Kevan Moore, TV-2's Head of Light Entertainment, offered Jones the presenting role on talent show Opportunity Knocks. "I said 'I’ve come back from reporting conflicts in Northern Ireland and Cyprus and you want me for a variety show?'"
Jones enjoyed his time on Opportunity Knocks, even though it presented a career detour. The show was such a hit it became fodder for Derek Payne’s pioneering 1976 comedy show Something to Look Forward to. In the second sketch, Jones drives around Auckland while members of the public fire jokes and songs his way. Kevan Moore was not amused. "He accused me of being ‘disloyal’ to the channel, which was silly. The public got the gag. I knew Derek and David McPhail, and found them clever and witty."
In 1979 Jones headed to Australia and became senior journalist and presenter for nightly current affairs show Nationwide. Jones worked extensively as a freelance writer and director, including his award-winning 1985 documentary Diamantina, about a historic freak flood in Lake Eyre.
By 1990 work had dried up. An offer came from Kiwi Keith Hawke to present and help produce Asian Business Report in Singapore. "It was the first independently produced news and current affairs show to be aired by Singapore government channel SBS. We collected stories from across Asia, from Japan to Indonesia."
Jones spent another five years in Singapore, producing content for corporate clients like Singapore Airlines. On the side, he did cricket commentating for the Asian arm of cable channel ESPN. Jones recalls legendary Australian commentator Richie Benaud’s surprise at the huge TV audiences across the Indian subcontinent.
After nine years in Singapore, Jones returned to New Zealand in 1998 to become the founding editor of Motorcycle Trader and News. His love affair with motorcycles had begun at the Ulster Grand Prix as a child. Random House asked him to write a book on the subject and in 2002 Taking to the Road, his history of motorcycling in New Zealand, was published. He followed it with On Track – A History of Motor Racing at Pukekohe (2008) and Legends on 2 Wheels (2009).
Jones went on to edit Megaphone — the magazine of the NZ Classic Motorcycle Racing Register — and write regular columns for Kiwi Rider magazine.
Profile written by Gabe McDonnell; published on 20 August 2020
'Rhys Jones', LinkedIn website. Accessed 20 August 2020
Robert Boyd-Bell, New Zealand Television - The First 25 Years (Auckland: Reed Methuen Publishers, 1985
Barry Shaw, 'Big Cast in TV Thriller' - The Auckland Star, 1967 (unknown month)
Unknown writer, 'Slipknot' - New Zealand TV Weekly, 11 September 1967