Unofficial barber to the 1978 Grand Slam All Blacks
entertainer, traveller, barber b May 16, 1949 d March 21, 2021
During their historic Grand Slam tour, the All Blacks ran on to the field, their hair freshly trimmed. It was 1978 and it was the first time New Zealand would beat every nation – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – on a tour of the northern hemisphere.
Among the tourists were Manawatu¯ players such as Mark Donaldson, Gary Knight and John Loveday. It was the height of the province’s power, and the Manawatu¯ connection on the Grand Slam tour extended beyond the playing fields. Watching from the stands was a rugbymad Palmerston North barber following the team around while on his OE.
John Graham started cutting the hair of the Manawatu¯ players in team hotels, and then their team-mates, becoming the All Blacks’ unofficial barber.
His work was even noticed by rugby commentator Keith Quinn. As one game was beamed to New Zealand TV screens in the middle of the night, Quinn said as the All Blacks ran out: ‘‘They even got their local barber from Palmerston North to give them a haircut.’’
‘‘Half the team had John Graham hair cuts. They were pretty short,’’ says John’s brother, Bruce.
That 1978 trip came near the beginning of about 20 years overseas for John, who worked as a popular Contiki tour guide and stopover host in Europe, his entertaining manner playing a big part in the travel company’s success in growing its young adult market.
He moved into the world of cruise ships, doing 65 cruises hosting the entertainment and then becoming part of it, as he honed his stand-up comedy.
When he returned to New Zealand, he mixed work as a barber with fronting functions, comedy competitions and radio rugby commentary.
He hosted events such as the Central Districts Field Days, race days at the Manawatu¯ Racing Club, industry days and the reopening of Palmerston North’s expanded Plaza shopping centre. His favourite was his dozen years as master of ceremonies at the Bluff Oyster Festival.
Bruce says rugby was John’s first love – hewas buried, at his request, in an All Blacks jersey. He was an age-grade rep, but too small to go far in the game. Later, he played bowls with some success, including being part of a pairs win over internationals Rowan Brassey and Gary Lawson in Wellington.
John left school aged 15 and, before a stint working at the Longburn freezing works, helping him save to go overseas, he took a 41⁄ year apprentice ship with Palmerston North barber Ron Paddy.
When discussing his more than 50 years cutting hair in 2016, he said he was the last barber in Palmerston North to be trained that way. ‘‘Now you have to go to a hairdressing college to become qualified.’’
The apprenticeship came about because Paddy knew John’s dad Alec, a mainstay of the Manawatu¯ music scene. The work included welcoming a customer, who would sit and wait on a bench for their turn, watching Paddy at work, brushing a client down and taking payment. Short back and sides were the norm. John’s wage was £10 aweek.
‘‘It was nine months before I did my first full haircut. I learned not to leave lines or do bowl cuts.’’
When overseas, John kept cutting hair and, on his return to Palmerston North in the 1990s, he set up in Terrace End, where he had a full appointment book of wellentertained clients.
Even after he fell ill with cancer, he was still cutting hair from his home. Throughout his sickness, hewould tell people he was injured and not available for All Black selection that week.
John Alexander Graham was born in Palmerston North to the late Marie and Alec, who turns 100 in July. He was one of three brothers.
John didn’t marry, but had a wide group of friends around the world, 250 of whom came to his 50th birthday celebrations, a three-day party. More turned up for the 60th celebrations, which included a re-enactment of the underarm bowling incident with Brian Mckechnie, whom John knew from his rugby days.
His funeral was held at Palmerston North’s Central Baptist Church in late March in front of hundreds of mourners, with hundreds more watching the livestream. Bruce says John was notoriously late to everything but, in typical humour, promised he would arrive early for his funeral service, which he had planned.
Bruce tells one last story that sums his brother up nicely. Early one morning John was dropping off a friend on the Capital Connection train in Palmerston North, bound for Wellington. As John jumped briefly aboard to help with the bags, last-minute as usual, the train pulled out and John was trapped, still in his pyjamas.
He got off at the first stop in Shannon – or rather jumped off because he wasn’t on a carriage aligning with the platform – and talked a couple into giving him a ride to Massey University, where Bruce picked him up.
He was then dropped back at the railway station an hour after he left. ‘‘His door was open and the car was still running.’’ –