Death of a unique sports broadcaster
Peter Sellers died last Friday, aged 94. No, not the English actor – he died in 1980. I’m mean Peter Sellers, the sports broadcaster who worked for Radio New Zealand from 1952 till 1986.
Though he had been retired 30 years, Peter maintained strong friendships with journalists who knew him or worked with him during his career. Bill Francis,
Tony Johnson, Keith Quinn, John McBeth and I would visit him whenever we were in Dunedin, where he moved in 1958.
By the end, we felt like we were his family.
I saw him the week before he died. He was frail and a bit lonely, but his prodigious memory was intact.
I challenged him to name Don Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles. He peeled off the 16 names without a hitch. What about the All Blacks who won the fourth test against the Springboks in 1956? Again, no problem.
Perhaps Peter wouldn’t have fitted in so well in today’s sports broadcasting scene. Then again some former great All Blacks would not be at home in today’s professional environment, either.
Peter, with his flat gravelly voice, was no commentator. But he researched meticulously, was great at one-on-one interviews and always had an eye for the history of sport.
His sports pieces often played during Sports Roundup during summer, and were always popular. He also hosted Sportsview, a television programme that ran for a decade into the mid-1970s and drew a large audience.
Peter interviewed an amazing cast of sports stars. One of his first, in 1952, was on the Flying Boat at Evans Bay, when he chatted to Yvette Williams before she left for the Helsinki Olympics, where she won the long jump gold medal.
He interviewed Mark Spitz, Jesse Owens, Roger Bannister, Danie Craven and many others. His favourite was his interview with Don Bradman in 1971. He idolised Bradman and corresponded often with him.
In fact, Peter wrote to many stars he interviewed and, in the pre-email days, maintained contact with them for years. He did the same with musicians and actors, including the other Peter Sellers. He was always a devoted follower of Hollywood and Big Band music.
Sports talk He interviewed Mark Spitz, Jesse Owens, Roger Bannister, Danie Craven and many others.
In 1992, I helped him compile A Sporting Life, a book that included 50 of his favourite interviews. He was funny recalling his interviews.
‘‘Peter Snell, 24 minutes, he was great. Coney, 11 minutes under the grandstand, he was interesting. Whineray, 28 minutes, he was marvellous. Jesse Owens, 16 minutes 36 seconds.’’
He was born in Lyall Bay (‘‘so were Lofty Blomfield and Bob Scott, you know’’) and as a youngster spent much time at the Kilbirnie speedway, the Basin Reserve, Athletic Park and the Town Hall.
Wellington remained part of him. He always asked how Wellington club rugby was going. He wore a Rongotai College badge every day.
He was a funny mixture. A former airline steward who was afraid of flying. He never married, never learned to drive.
Yet he was most convivial and loved nothing more than to have a beer after work with some mates, or with the latest sports team in town.
The number of people who would recall his work is dwindling. But that shouldn’t stop us recognising one of New Zealand’s sports broadcasting pioneers.
The inimitable Peter Sellers, as drawn by caricaturist Murray Webb.