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Billy T James

Comedian, Actor [Tainui]

Billy T James ranks as a key figure in the development of Kiwi comedy. Billy honed his talents as a singer and comedian on stages worldwide, then brought them to a local TV audience on throwback show Radio Times. His self-titled comedy show was a major ratings hit. His turn as the Tainuia kid in Came a Hot Friday is still fondly remembered — as is Billy T's infectious chuckle, black singlet and yellow towel.

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The Best of The Billy T James Collection

Television, 1992 (Full Length)

Billy T’s unique brand of humour is captured at its affable, non-PC best in this compilation of skits from his popular 1980s TV shows. There’s Te News (“somebody pinched all the toilet seats out of the Kaikohe Police Station...now the cops got nothing to go on!”) with Billy in iconic black singlet and yellow towel; a bro’s guide to home improvement; skits about first contact, and a take off of Miami Vice. No target is sacred (God, the IRA, the talking Japanese sketch) and there are classic advertising spoofs for Pixie Caramel’s “last requests” and Lands For Bags’ “where’d you get your bag”.

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The Billy T James Collection - Episode Four

Television, 1992 (Full Length Episode)

This posthumous series — produced by Ginette McDonald — collects segments from Billy T’s long running skit based comedy series. Some of his most cherished creations are here: the giggling Te News newsreader, Cuzzy in his black shorts, and the chief bemused by Captain Cook. Support comes from a seasoned cast including Peter Rowley, David Telford and Roy Billing (with cameos from Bob Jones and Barry Crump). Some of these skits are essentially elaborate setups for one line jokes but Billy T’s infectious warmth and good humour inevitably carry the day.

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The Billy T James Show (Sitcom) - Excerpts

Television, 1990 (Full Length Episode)

In these excerpts from his last TV series — a family based sitcom — Billy T has to deal with his radical older daughter who wants to get a moko, a teenage boy trying to smuggle beer into his younger daughter’s birthday party, a defamation writ, and another tribe becoming his landlord. There are varying degrees of help from his wife (Ilona Rodgers), his aggressively dim Australian brother-in-law (Mark Hadlow) and his daughter’s painfully politically correct pakeha boyfriend (Mark Wright), as well as cameos from Temuera Morrison, Martin Henderson and Blair Strang.

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Collection

The Billy T James Collection

Curated by NZ On Screen team

Billy Taitoko James is a Kiwi entertainment legend. His iconic ‘bro’ giggle was infectious and his gags universally beloved. This collection celebrates his screen legacy, life and inimitable brand of comedy: from the skits (Te News, Turangi Vice), to the show-stealing cameos (The Tainuia Kid), and the stories behind the yellow towel and black singlet.

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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.

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Series

The Billy T James Collection

Television, 1992

This posthumous series — produced by Ginette McDonald — collects segments from Billy T’s long running skit based comedy series. Some of his most cherished creations are here: the Te News presenter, Cuzzy in his black shorts, and the chief bemused by Captain Cook. Support comes from a seasoned cast including Peter Rowley, David Telford and Roy Billing (with cameos from Bob Jones and Barry Crump). Some of these skits are essentially elaborate setups for one line jokes but Billy T’s infectious warmth and 'bro' giggle inevitably carry the day.

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Series

The Billy T James Show (Sitcom)

Television, 1990

By 1990, Billy T James, NZ’s most loved comedian, was recovering from a heart transplant - and trying his hand as a sitcom actor. His career was based on one liners and stand-up gags - but this Billy T James Show was a series of 26 half hour family based comedies with a clear debt to The Cosby Show. Billy was cast as a radio DJ with an Australian wife (Ilona Rodgers) and two daughters - but the trademark giggle was absent, the humour was gentler and the series never captured the public imagination. It was to be his last TV series — Billy T James died in 1991.

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My Old Man's an All Black - performed by Howard Morrison & Billy T James

Television, 1990 (Excerpts)

'My Old Man’s an All Black' was a big hit for the Howard Morrison Quartet in 1960. The song subverted 'My Old Man's a Dustman' to mock an apartheid South African decree banning Māori players from the touring All Blacks. In this 1990 performance, Morrison and Billy T James (months after heart surgery) update the song’s lyrics for a more recent controversy: the dropping of popular All Black captain Wayne 'Buck' Shelford. Howard ribs rugby’s supposed amateurism, and Billy T explains why Buck isn’t packing down in the scrum. The final haka includes an unexpected guest...

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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.