‘MrShowBusiness’madelifelong friends of stars
From icecream seller in a suburban cinema to leading impresario and friend of international stars, Trevor King lived and breathed the entertainment industry. The many children he introduced to singing, dancing and film called him Uncle. A string of performers who toured New Zealand called him Mr Show Business.
Aged and ailing, his death on February 22 came as no surprise, even if it was hastened by stress from the earthquake that day.
King, who was 87, endeared himself to all as a caring and trusty man. He told great stories from a deep fund of reminiscences.
His musical tastes ranged from rock to opera. Friends and clients included household names: the Beatles, Cliff Richard, Kiri Te Kanawa, Yehudi Menuhin. He told of Louis Armstrong writing him a letter of introduction to Muhammad Ali, which got him past the bodyguards at a Los Angeles gym for a long chat with the boxing great.
He told how partying after a concert in Invercargill left international clarinet player Acker Bilk unable to be woken next morning. King packed Bilk’s bags and consigned them to the airport. He then roused Bilk and started dressing him, only to find his trousers had gone in the bags. King sprinted to a menswear store, bought the first pair on the rack and raced to the hotel. Soon after, Bilk sheepishly boarded his plane, in trousers several sizes too big.
Christchurch was always home to King. One of six children, he attended Sydenham Primary School and Christchurch Technical College. He began a 60-year career in entertainment, selling sweets and icecreams at the St James (later Odeon) cinema on Tuam St. He saved his meagre earnings and bought a second-hand Harley-Davidson motorbike.
Hooked on the glamour of the movie world, 1940s-style, he progressed from general hand to theatre manager at 18. In the next 20 years, he managed 12 Christchurch theatres, at a time when each employed about 30 people. He was manager of the Avon, on Worcester St, for 19 years, until it closed.
While running cinemas, King established the Chums Club, showing movies to children on Saturday mornings, presenting guest performers and running competitions and talent quests. He jointly set up the Teenage Club at Sydenham’s Railway Hall in the 1950s. This brought him into close association with the leading lights in Christchurch’s rock’n’roll scene, such as Ray Columbus and Max Merritt. He became manager and promoter for some, including Merritt and his band, the Meteors. Branching out, he undertook promotion and management of other acts. While working with the Vienna Boys’ Choir, in Christchurch, he fell in love with the travelling nurse. He journeyed to Vienna to be with her and they came close to marriage. However, King balked at a permanent move to Europe. He never married.
His success in promotion and management led to his being chosen by entertainment giant Kerridge Odeon as tour manager for visiting performers. He did the job for 20 years.
Foreign and local stars were familiar with managers more concerned with ‘‘bums on seats’’ than the welfare of clients. King was different and they developed huge respect for him. Australian entrepreneur Roy Watterson, who began a working association with King on the recommendation of Irish tenor Patrick O’Hagan, praised the interest King took in performers and his untiring helpfulness to them.
English tenor John Boulter, of television’s Black and White Minstrels fame, said he and King became firm friends after their Christchurch show.
King counted such lasting friendships with the stars as his greatest reward. He papered his home with signed photographs of them. His success boosted demand for his services and he became a show business entrepreneur on his own account. Into the 1990s he was still touring such large groups as Welsh male voice choirs and the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs show. He said the dwarfs were hard cases. He once called the police to arrest one who stole a car, drove to the airport and sought to leave.
Christchurch actor David McPhail described King as ‘‘a friend to many of the great names’’. ‘‘Trevor lightened the Square. He made it a place where Hollywood hit High St,’’ McPhail said.
Niece Gail Collier has ‘‘wonderful memories’’ of her uncle. He was ‘‘always surrounded by family’’. He travelled often and returned with gifts for all. ‘‘He spoiled us nieces and nephews.’’
Among accolades were a lifetime achievement award from the New Zealand Entertainers and Operators Association and a Queen’s Service Medal.