T. P. McLean
Since the 1930s there have been many fine New Zealand sports reporters and writers. One name stands out. Terence Power ('T. P.') McLean was knighted for his services to sports journalism in 1996 – the only New Zealand sports writer thus honoured. McLean also received the International Rugby Board (IRB) Chairman's Award in 2001. Prizes at the annual New Zealand Sports Journalists Association awards dinners are called 'TP's in his memory.
Never stopped chasing
T. P. McLean always said that a journalist had to be curious, accurate and ‘have a good pair of legs … Get out and chase stories. Don’t sit around waiting for them to come to you.’1 Only days before his death in 2004, aged 90, he submitted a piece to the New Zealand Herald. It was rejected, but he was still trying to 'get the story.'
McLean was prolific in his written outpourings for over 70 years. He wrote 21 books on sports, mostly rugby, and contributed hugely on all sports at one time or another. He filed millions of elegant and discerning words for the New Zealand Herald. Another important writer who worked with McLean at the Herald was the cricket correspondent Don Cameron.
Dick Brittenden and Alex Veysey
Along with McLean, two other sports reporters of the post-war decades constituted a famous troika. In Wellington Alex Veysey ranged between rugby and cricket and penned the most popular New Zealand sports book up to that time, a biography of Colin Meads. In Christchurch the pre-eminent writer was Dick Brittenden, who modelled his style on the great English cricket writer Neville Cardus. Don Cameron noted that both men wrote with humour and wit, but ‘there were echoes of Beethoven when Brittenden was in his best form … [Veysey] spread a mood of blues or jazz among his words.’2 Brittenden was part of a fine team at the Press which also included John Brooks, Ray Cairns, Kevin Tutty, John Coffey, Kevin McMenamin, Bob Scumacher and Tim Dunbar.
Kevin Tutty began his sports-writing career in Ashburton in 1968. He would write up games furiously, then rush five blocks down to the railway station by 6 p.m. to put the stories on the Invercargill to Christchurch train. The night messenger at the Press would have to go to the station to pick them up.
Like many newspaper reporters, these writers often turned their newspaper accounts of tours into books. From 1949, when Graham Beamish wrote a book on the All Black tour of South Africa, every long tour in the major sports was retold in book form, until such tours ceased in the 1990s.
Sports reporters also established specialised publications. Brian O’Brien edited the monthly Sports Digest for 30 years from 1949; Bob Howitt served for over 20 years as editor of Rugby News and the New Zealand Rugby Annual.
Others were highly versatile – such as Wallie Ingram who wrote about sports for many magazines and also broadcast on radio station 2ZB, or more recent writers like Richard Becht, who moved between radio and television and writing sports books. Phil Gifford provided both acute sports commentary and humour as ‘Loosehead Len’. The rise of the internet opened opportunities for writers like Marc Hinton, Duncan Johnstone, Richard Boock and Trevor McKewen to move between newspapers and online sites.
Sport encourages parochial sentiments and local pride. Many writers based themselves at one city and newspaper and reported for hometown fans. They included Brent Edwards in Otago, Gary Frew in Northland, Grant Harding in Hawke’s Bay, Peter Lampp in Manawatū, Larry Saunders in Canterbury and Jim Valli in Southland.
Sports coverage in New Zealand has tended to be a man’s pursuit, but several women writers have achieved in the field. They include Dot Simons, the pioneer woman sports writer who described women’s cricket, hockey and golf for the Auckland Star; Suzanne McFadden, a fine reporter of yachting and netball; and Margot Butcher, a cricket writer and the first woman to win the Sports Journalist of the Year award.
Others have written extensively about sport from a historical or statistical perspective. They include:
- Arthur Swan, the first noted rugby historian, who, with A. H. Carman, produced the annual rugby almanacks in the 1940s and 1950s
- Clive Akers and Geoff Miller, who produced the almanacks more recently
- Rod Chester, who, with Neville McMillan and latterly the wide-ranging sports writer Ron Palenski, prepared both an encyclopedia of rugby and a biographical listing of All Blacks, Men in black
- Peter Heidenstrom, who was the country’s greatest historian and statistician of athletics
- Don Neely, the foremost cricket historian
- Norma Williams, swimming historian
- Bernie Wood, who, with John Coffey, has documented rugby league.