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.

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