Royal Easter Show

While this enormous variety of work gave us a very good living and allowed regular holidays to see Helen’s family back in Australia, the key contract after the Colgate Palmolive Radio Shows had run their course was the Easter Show in Auckland.  Over 42 years it was a focal point every twelve months, and especially over the last ten years when I was locked in as Entertainment Manager.  Attendances today can’t compare with the 60s or 70s because there was so little competition then. 

Over 17 Show days we could draw 275,000 to 290,000 and not be open on Good Friday or some Sundays. Bloody amazing and talk about crammed for space. I might be in the broadcast booth high up in the Grandstand doing a commentary and have 10 minutes to get to the other end of the grounds for a Quiz or Game Show in the Theatre.  There were swarms of people everywhere both in the Pavilions (old cattle yards) and out in the open and you virtually burrowed through the bodies to keep up with your timetable.  By the end of the day we were all totally buggered and would crash in some convenient corner sharing cool drinks and warm reminiscences of another cracking day.

Outstanding acts over the years included Johnnie Ray, a big cry baby at heart, Eddie Calvert the Golden trumpeter, Johnnie Tillotsen, Sir Howard Morrison, Billie T. James, Lou and Simon along with dozens more.  There were all kinds of aerial acts from the USA and Europe and one amazing novelty in Henry La Mothe who at 70 years of age dived from a 30 ft platform into 16 inches of water.  The Fijian Fire-walkers from Beqa were a riot as was the French trapeze artist who performed beneath a helicopter. She offered to work topless but we said that might distract the pilot.

We’ve seen pig-racing, camel-racing, tug-a-wars, motor-cycle madmen of all kinds, elephants kick-starting a motor-mower, the human cannon-ball, rodeo, show-jumping, marching bands, boomerang throwers (due to make a comeback!) doggie shows, Colgate School relays, pole-sitters, tractor races, sheep-dog trials. I’ve been out in the middle of the Arena milking off to jam-packed crowds roaring their heads off and it’s a beautiful feeling.  The pay-off in personal satisfaction when a new act has met audience approval is a unique thing you’d love to experience time and time again. The biggest laugh of all came with Ridgway’s Circus when the elephant was into its climax act of the day.  First one attendant lay on the ground and the elephant calmly stepped over him - then two attendants lay down and the elephant stepped over them both - then three men lay side by side and to give it even greater suspense the handler had the elephant pause as he crossed over the bodies - make a movement backwards and then go forward to complete its circuit. On the mike I stressed  this part in hushed tones by saying “this is the dangerous part and anything can go wrong“ Sure enough the elephant does the wavering movement and then dumps what looked like a two-day load on the three poor guys - smart blue uniforms and all.  I’ve never heard a crowd laugh as loud and for so long as that day under the big Top. A shit of a time for the three young fellas.

Miss New Zealand contests were a very big part of the Easter Show in the earlier days. They were meticulously organised by the famous Joe Brown from Dunedin and always drew capacity crowds. I had the pleasure of handling MC duties many times and your whole target was to have the girls relax.  If they said they were a part-time model you’d ask “which part? ’’  After interviewing up to twelve girls twice a day for almost two weeks I could see a clear difference in their demeanour by the end of the Show.  The experience had only done them good and would enhance their career chances later.  I never thought of it as a cattle parade at any time.  And I’d have been more than happy to go on the NZ wide tour with them when the Easter Show concluded. Have to admit that my wife wouldn’t have let me go even if Joe Brown had asked me. Besides, people like Howard Morrison landed that plum job being such a drawcard in his own right.

While the Easter Show signifies fun from every angle - there were a few occasions when the delight was tempered with real sadness.  Crunchy the Clown (a lovable character in costume or out) heard the devastating news on the opening day of the 1980 Show that his daughter Maree had died in Melbourne. Peter and his wife Pat Newberry were distraught for she was young, not long married and had worked with Peter in the act over many years.  We told Crunchy immediately that the Easter Show would relieve him of any commitment to us for the entire season and pay him his full fee.  But he refused that option and only missed ONE scheduled appearance - and that was on the day of the funeral. From then on close friends went back-stage continuously to console him and tears flowed freely. But when the time came for another stage appearance in the packed Logan Campbell Theatre, Crunchy would pull himself together somehow and go through his demanding routine without a hitch. That was a display of heroics I’ll recall forever.

At a personal level I had to endure something akin to Crunchy when my sister Shirley died in her sleep over in Sydney aged 56.  This was on the second day of the 1983 Show and of course there was no way I could just up anchor and head away for her funeral there. All I could do was arrange a memorial service for her in Christchurch about a month later. This was the type of gathering Shirley would have loved with the right kind of music, a perfect venue and most importantly all the people present who knew her well.  But that Easter Show was probably the least memorable. God Bless you Shirl.

When I signed on with NAC (now Air New Zealand) to present a series of shows for them in Wanganui, Palmerston Nth and Christchurch in 1978 I spent a lot of time in advance preparing questions for the tour.  Because the prize at each venue offered a flight for two to Fiji plus 5 night’s accommodation and some prize money I tried to accent Fiji itself and also the airline carrier’s offering.  The qualifying technique used to sort out winners was what I called the “Triple Switch.” 

Up to a 100 people gathered on stage where they’d choose from three optional answers to a question by standing in a specific zone.  Those who opted for the correct lane stayed on stage, those in the two wrong lanes are eliminated.  One of the key questions was “What is the time difference between Fiji and New Zealand.  1) Fiji is one hour ahead 2) The same as NZ 3) Fiji is one hour behind.  There were no problems in Wanganui, Palmerston Nth and Lower Hutt.  Winners were found and the travel prizes awarded.  But by the time I got to Christchurch to work on a Monday night in February at the Regent Theatre, daylight saving concluded, clocks went back one hour so the answer I had to the question was now different. Fiji time was now “the same” not one hour behind as was the case just a few days before.

As it turned out, of the 100 odd contestants on stage, the group who gave a wrong answer were retained. The rest banished. So we carried on the elimination till one winner was found and they were awarded the prize, which you couldn’t take off them because of my mistake. The ones most aggrieved were the ones who’d opted for the correct answer but were dispatched off stage.  Remarkably not one of the NAC staff who were swarming about the place, both in the audience and backstage picked up the error, nor one of the contestants on stage. It would have only taken one person to call out loudly and say “what about Daylight Saving? ’’ and I’d have directed  the whole lot back together and started all over again. (I always carried ample spares).   It wasn’t till the theatre was about deserted and we were heading for an after match supper at the Clarendon Hotel around the corner that I was told of the cock-up. Crazy!  

The upshot was NAC placed a large notice in the Press two days later, inviting all those people who had been eliminated in error on the Regent Theatre stage to make contact with their Christchurch office and they would organise a flight for them to Dunedin one week later when we’d play off for another Flight for Two to Fiji.  Guess that was simple enough and duly about 18 contestants found themselves together in the NAC Office in the heart of Dunedin. After four rounds of questions requiring written answers, the totals were checked and one person finished ahead by one solitary point.  And that included an answer naming the Hay-McKenzie as the longest river in Canada which I accepted as correct.  One other person who was one point behind the winner claimed I shouldn’t have accepted that answer as it contained two options.   As the judge of the contest I said if it could be shown that the Hay River did in fact feed into the McKenzie that answer would be acceptable. Feverishly we hunted down an atlas in the Office and found that I was correct. So the super play-off was almost another schmozzle and my pleasant liaison with NAC came to a grinding halt.  At least they didn’t charge me for the flight to Dunedin!

One dream ending to a give-away occasion happened at a Woolworths Supermarket opening at Andersons Bay Dunedin.  I had a roving commission up and down the aisles and could pick winners for a variety of prizes; some supplied by Woolies others from my stable of sponsors.  I suddenly espied this old tramp of a character, sporting a great pack on his back, and about a year’s growth of beard sprouting from a ruddy smiling face.  I had an instant target. Sounding my mini-hooter, I announced the area he was standing in as the Lucky Spot zone and due for a jackpot pay-out.  The crowd gathered around as I piled prizes in his direction -   Colgate Toothpaste, Palmolive Soap, chocolates, cigarettes, canned fruit, biscuits, bacon, sausages, the more I pushed into his pack and into his pockets the broader his smile became. And slowly, tears started to trickle down his cheeks.  As he trudged away totally laden with goodies (even a Gillette razor) all the sales ladies who’d gathered around were bawling their eyes out too.   I rate that my most pleasurable moment over a lifetime in this give-away game.  I’d seen contestants win houses, holidays, cars and every kind of household appliance - but never seen anyone look as elated as the man we labeled the Back-Packer Champion of NZ.

Tauranga Xmas Carnival

This was the engagement that hooked me back into the lovely Kiwi way of life after seven years in Australia for Xmas/New Year of 1960/61. Over nine seasons there lots of sunshine, lots of swimming and a load of laughs.


The Denture Diva  

An enthusiastic singer who threw everything she had into her song in a Talent Quest, so much so her teeth were jettisoned two metres into the air and then onto the concrete floor.  I didn’t know whether to pick them up for her or kick them into the audience. But she was so flustered and embarrassed she retrieved them herself and raced off stage.  I caught up with her at the end of the Show and slung her several tubes of Colgate Toothpaste and a scrubbing brush I found in the venue bathroom.

The Strait-Jacket Gag

Maurice McKinley one of my great friends from secondary school days and from our time in Melbourne was staying with us for the holiday season and I persuaded him to play the role of a visiting Frenchman who would attempt to break the world-record-time escaping from a Police strait-jacket. I introduced him on stage early in the programme, as Pierre from Paris, trussed him up tightly in the jacket and said “you’re trying to beat the world record of 62 seconds to get that jacket off, start now”.  I called the seconds as they ticked by and when  62 seconds  passed and he’d made no headway I thanked him profusely, asked  the audience to give him a hand for trying and said “good luck tomorrow night in Napier.’’ He was then escorted from the stage still wriggling and writhing.  The gag then was to have him appear on one side of the stage after every item, still struggling to get out of the jacket. Finally when the show was over and people vacated the venue, Pierre appeared in the carpark still trying to escape the bloody jacket.   The crowd loved it all but Maurice my mate was totally stifled in the outfit and being a hot night he was soaked to the skin in sweat.  I can still recall having to pour drinks in his mouth at half-time. His arms obviously weren’t of any use to him at that point. Thank God he didn’t want a pee.

Another strait-jacket act but this one was for real. Alan Hood from the UK was an escapologist who worked from the actual body of the Theatre with all the activity linked to an overhead beam. The strait-jacket was put on and secured tightly by an assistant as I covered the intro and general commentary. Once in place he was lifted from the ground via a pulley arrangement and a stretch of the holding rope just above his head was set alight.  The urgent thing then was to get out of the jacket before the rope burnt through or he’d go crashing to the floor.   There was a flurry of movement for well over two minutes and all of a sudden his hair-piece was flicked from his head and floated in slow hovercraft style to the ground. He was only a few seconds behind it as he discarded the jacket and slid speedily down his adjacent life-line.  I was able to say on mike “Great work Alan, that really is a hair-raising act you’ve got there’’. He came up to me looking a mite embarrassed and said to the audience, “I mightn’t have much hair but I make a lot of money.’’

Rotorua Christmas Carnival

After 9 years of revelry at the Tauranga Christmas Carnival 1960/62-69/70 there was apainless transition to Rotorua, same time of year but a vastly different scenario. Our new timetable saw us working the Lakeside Soundshell in the central city at daytime instead of night. It also included visits to motor camps which had a special character of their own. My first year saw close liaison with PRO Ernie Leonard who was full of ideas and enthusiasm. Then arrived the ebullient John Minty, an ex-Napier radio man who with his wife Joan served the City brilliantly for years. Working with John and musical director Trevor Maxwell was blissful and very successful for our sponsors Foodstuffs. We ran talent quests of great quality - being Howard Morrison territory what else would you expect? The local radio station supported & gave us constant coverage over all Sound shell activities with live links daily and of course the Rotorua ‘Daily Post’ supplied visual impact with regular coverage. Their editor Ian Thompson (who married to the gorgeous Marie) was an ex-mate of mine from Christchurch where we'd played tennis, rugby and indoor basketball together and enjoyed all the peripheral pleasures that go with them. Both our kids & the Thompson kids helped sell raffle tickets at the Soundshell each day and the two families mingled as one over a golden stretch of 16 years. There was golf at Whaka and Springfield, squash at Brownlees courts (where I'd even had a hit with the up-and-coming champion Bruce Brownlee) and social tennis at Graeme Dennett's lovely show place. Town Clerk, Harry Childs and Councillor Brian Munro regularly offered warm hospitalities at their homes. Two outstanding publicans were Dicky Dorset at The Palace and Bob Henderson at the Grand with both of those venues echoing the holiday mood of the season to perfection. The Lobbs of ‘Polynesian Pool’ fame offered rousing company as well. Sounds like one big happy holiday? It certainly was.

On stage there was music, raffles & quizzes along with many great stunts! One in particular saw Minty and Maybury competing with the fearless Fred Ladd in a powered- scooter race on the Lake. Nearing the finish line there was a typical Freddie flourish as he dived from his craft to scoop a win. In so doing he broke his collarbone on the lake bed but bravely kept it too himself till after the prize presentation (on radio) and snuck off to the hospital for treatment. 

Happy Housie was the participating game that hooked the locals in for major prizes and stacks of grocery goodies. Our guest acts included Eddie Lowe, Lou and Simon, Chick Littlewood, Don Linden, Tem Morrison and Jon Zealando. 

Waikato Winter Show - Hamilton

An extra special show for me over 12 years or more as it meant I could get to see the Auckland/Waikato rugby match at Queens Birthday weekend. Well the second half at least.  A great friend in Hamilton was John McCullough, the Watties Manager for Waikato.  He was on the Referees Assn and would get me an invite into the Referees Rooms in that famous corner of Rugby Park. He had a lovely wife Nelle and a cracker of a son called Cam.  My main job at the show involved a sponsorship with Foodstuffs and what we called ‘Four Square Open Housie’. A number of quiz sessions every day and lots of people competing.

There’d always be a nucleus of locals who’d come every day so I’d have to keep changing the novelty questions. It got to be an interesting challenge and kept me on my toes. One stalwart won the major prize two years in a row in a game of total chance so his chances had to be severely shortened the next year.  Shame oh shame, he made the finals but didn’t win.  On the social side the Marist Rugby and Squash Club tournament offered very good squash and chances to share time with some cracker blokes like the Fabling boys; Peter, John and George and Ron Burgess who’d wowed them in Christchurch with his rugby for Marist a few years before.  His daughter baby-sat for us in our motel whenever Helen could come down for the finals night. The CT Club was another rendezvous where laughs were shared with Frank O’Neill, brother of my old Wellington mate Kevin (plus anybody within a mile radius - Frank had a very loud laugh). One other delightful diversion came via the Officers Club with Winter Show manager Maurie West and his twin brother Phil.  Liar, dice and snooker, two fine hobbies to counter the stress of show work! 

Too Much Exposure

Watching a musical act on the main stage I saw this band which boasted a good lead guitarist and two buxom girls who threw themselves heartily into the dancing action. One of them so violent her low slung gown slipped from the shoulder to release one bosom, just free ‘n easy as nature intended. The male at the mike, quick as a flash, said “Hey you see one you’ve seem ‘em both.’’

Fact or Fancy

In the mid 80’s Phil Warren booked me into his Ace of Clubs to warm up the crowd before a comedy play called Hikurangi.  I should have used a blowtorch.  A review in Thursday magazine referred to my involvement with the words “funny man John Maybury tried to amuse the audience with his style of comedy which included giveaways’ from toothpaste to vaginal deodorant.”   Now that’s just not true folks. Why the hell would I do anything that ridiculous?  What would my dear old Aunty Maud in Ashburton think of a compere who’d descend to that level?  Anybody who’d watched me work in a thousand other situations would say Maybury doesn’t work like that.  I might ask “what do you measure on the Beaufort Scale?  Then when someone answers “wind” you’d throw in a prize of Baked Beans.  Juvenile humour if you like but it’s not offensive.

In actual fact the item given away was standard underarm deodorant, but as it was handed over to a winner I’d say “you’ll love it madam, it’s very big down under” (gesticulating under my armpit.)  No suggestion of any other direction.  The reporter who wrote the article was obviously out of view, heard the line alright but got it all wrong.  A protest to the editor, Marcia Russell rated a small apology in print but the damage was well done by then.  Had it been in America and the best lawyer pleaded my case a tidy retirement fund may have accrued.  A Herald reporter, Kirsten Warner resurrected the slander a year or two later but varied the script saying “John Maybury at the Ace of Clubs told vaginal jokes.” Check your facts next time lady.