The Secret Life of John Rowles

Television, 2008 (Full Length)

The meteoric career of one of NZ’s greatest entertainers is examined in this documentary. John Rowles went from a Kawerau childhood to stardom in London at 21; but, after headlining in Hawaii and Las Vegas, he saw it all slip away. Those roofing ads and near bankruptcy followed, but Rowles has retained his self belief and that voice. A stellar cast of interviewees analyse his strengths and weaknesses, including Sir Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Neil Finn and late promoter Phil Warren. Amongst the star cameos, John’s sister Cheryl Moana explains the downside of his best-known local hit.

When the Haka Became Boogie - The Showbands (Episode Two)

Television, 1990 (Full Length Episode)

Directed by Tainui Stephens, this 1990 TVNZ series surveyed Māori contemporary music. This second episode looks at the showband era (1950s - 70s), when musicians mixed genres (electric guitar, rock’n’roll) with Māori culture, to make a unique contribution to Kiwi show business. Acts like The Howard Morrison Quartet, The Māori Volcanics, The Quin Tikis and The Māori Hi-Fives took songs from marae to international cabarets. Music historian Chris Bourke praised the series for marking the role of showbands in the whakapapa of entertainers from Billy T James to Rim D Paul.

The Last Laugh

Television, 2002 (Full Length)

This Wayne Leonard documentary from 2002 goes on a journey to explore what defines Māori humour. The tu meke tiki tour travels from marae kitchens to TV screens, from original trickster Maui to cheeky kids, from the classic entertainers (including Prince Tui Teka tipping off an elephant) through to Billy T James, arguably the king of Māori comedy. Archive footage is complemented by interviews with well-known and everyday Kiwis, and contemporary comedians (Mike King, Pio Terei). Winston Peters and Tame Iti discuss humour as a political tool. 

Koha - Billy T James

Television, 1983

TVNZ’s Māori programme Koha talks to Billy T James in this studio interview. At 34, he is already one of NZ’s most prominent performers after a breakthrough role in Radio Times, two years of his own TV show and winning Entertainer of the Year. Topics include the unwitting role his teachers played in his mimicry, his brief career in commercial art, touring with the Maori Volcanics and whether his characters unfairly stereotype Māori. He also discusses why his humour doesn’t work with overseas audiences and recounts meeting a rather confused American.

Billy T James - A Daughter's Story

Television, 1997 (Excerpts)

In this documentary Cherie James pays tribute to New Zealand’s best-loved entertainer, telling Billy T James story from a daughter’s perspective. Performers who worked with Billy in his showband The Maori Volcanics also share their memories, as do family members who reminisce about Billy's early life growing up in the Waikato. Cherie provides her perspective on the well-publicised arguments that occurred after his death and why it was so important for Billy to be buried beside his mother on the sacred Taupiri mountain overlooking Huntly.