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.
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.
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.
This seven-part documentary series chronicled the history of modern Māori music, from the turn of the century and Rotorua tourist concert parties, through to the showband era (Howard Morrison Quartet, Māori Volcanics, Māori Hi-Five) and reggae and hip hop. The programme ranged from ‘Ten Guitars’ to Tui Teka, from Guide Rangi doing poi to The Patea Māori Club, from opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa to Upper Hutt Posse, Ardijah, Herbs and Moana and the Moa Hunters. The acclaimed 1990 series was directed by Tainui Stephens (My Party Song, The New Zealand Wars).
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.
Prince Tui Teka was born in Ruatahuna in 1937. He joined a circus in the early 1950s and moved to Australia. A multi-instrumentalist with a big personality and an infectious sense of humour, he established himself as a cabaret musician with The Maori Troubadours and then The Maori Volcanics. A solo career followed in the early 70s. He moved back to Tokomaru Bay in 1981 and co-wrote his greatest hit ‘E Ipo’ with Ngoi (‘Poi E’) Pewhairangi when he was courting her niece (and his future wife) Missy. It was NZ’s first te reo chart topper. He died in 1985.
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.
Larger than life and the ultimate showband performer, Prince Tui Teka's resume included years on the international circuit with the Maori Troubadours and the Maori Volcanics. A successful solo career and love songs like ‘E Ipo’, alongside roles in films like Savage Islands and Came a Hot Friday have ensured his name is listed in New Zealand entertainment history.
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.