Paul Holmes – a legend in his lifetime

Rod Vaughan recalls a "brittle, egotistical but never boring" broadcaster. UPDATED with audio: Rod Vaughan talks about his time working alongside Sir Paul.

(This tribute was written as Sir Paul received his knighthood. Scroll down for audio update - Editor)

By the time I joined the Holmes Show in 1990 it had been running for a year and created enough waves to sink the Titanic.

The celebrated walkout from the very first programme of America's Cup supremo Dennis Conner set the pattern for what was to come and it ushered in a radically new and exciting era in television current affairs.

To old hands like myself, Holmes himself was a strange beast, the like of which we had never encountered before, and there weren't enough words to describe him.

Quirky, cantankerous, idiosyncratic, self-opinionated, smart, kind, volatile, unpredictable, charming, funny, intense, brittle, egotistical, sensitive and sometimes manic.

But never boring.

ABOVE: Rod Vaughan talks about his time working alongside Sir Paul (from 9 min 52 sec).

His personal meltdowns in those early days were a sight to behold and held us spellbound as he ranted and raved about perceived problems with the programme.

It was high drama and we grew to love those occasions when he would spiral out of control and launch a torrent of invective at anyone who dared cross his path.

Personally, I had never encountered such public displays of anger in my life before and I wondered what possessed him to behave in such an obnoxious way.

But I soon came to the conclusion that he was a driven man, determined to put his mark on television in the same way that he'd done on radio and to hell with anyone who tried to stop him.

In that he succeeded spectacularly, perhaps exceeding his own expectations, and the Holmes Show went on to become an extraordinarily successful daily current affairs programme.

And for one very memorable year I was part of the reporting team.

Pushing the boundaries was the name of the game and I found myself in unchartered waters, the constraints of public service television subsumed by the race for ratings.

It was heady stuff and I relished the challenges and pressures of working in such a competitive environment.

I grew to respect and, yes, even admire Holmes himself.

By any standards his workload was phenomenal; his day began around 6am on Newstalk ZB and finished at 7.30pm on TV One.

Sometimes he would disappear for a nap in the middle of the day but more often than not he would be out and about filming a story before presenting the show in the evening.

Punishing schedule

It was a punishing schedule that he maintained for most of the 16 years that the programme lasted and there is no doubt in my mind that it would have killed a lesser man.

Of course, he was well rewarded for his efforts, his income at TVNZ peaking at around $700,000 a year, probably twice as much as top television presenters are paid in this country today.

By accident or design he was at the forefront of the star culture that emerged at the state broadcaster where presenters received obscene salary packages and were treated like show ponies.

Regrettably, it developed into a class system which saw presenters flying business class or better while their producers and camera crews were sent to the back of the aircraft.

It aroused resentment and, of course, envy, but given his talent and his work ethic I don't think any of us begrudged Holmes getting a bit of pampering.

He was also intensely loyal and generous to those around him.

The staff Christmas parties which he hosted at his house were lavish occasions where vast quantities of the finest French champagne were consumed, along with the most delectable items of haute cuisine that money could buy.

Typically, the festivities would degenerate into drunken revelry and I well remember one such time when a number of senior news executives and various glitterati ended up in his swimming pool very much worse for the wear.

Like him or loath him, and some did, there's no doubt in my mind that Holmes was the pre-eminent broadcaster of his generation as was Brian Edwards before him.

They were two hugely talented individuals with sharp, inquiring minds who made the rest of us sit up and think about what was happening in the world around us, challenging our preconceptions and confronting our prejudices.

Yes, they could be highly opinionated and yes we knew what their political stripes were, Holmes in the blue corner, Edwards in the red, but we accepted that because at heart they were two decent individuals who cared deeply about their country and its people.

For me, the Holmes show was a great time to be working in television; we played hard, we worked hard and we broke new ground in the way we tackled stories.

The show was the first on New Zealand television to fully embrace campaigning journalism, something that until then had largely been the preserve of newspapers and magazines.

It was a policy that proved extremely popular as the programme relentlessly pursued individuals or organisations which had something to hide.

That mantle has since been taken up very successfully by Campbell Live which doggedly pursues rogues, cheats and scoundrels.

However, given that television news and current affairs is now firmly under the control of sales and marketing, it is unlikely that this genre will survive much longer.

Television New Zealand, to its eternal shame, has all but killed it off and TV3 may well decide to go down a similar track in the future.

So there is much to thank the Holmes show for.

Arise Sir Paul, you have done us proud.

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