TV pioneer an unflappable star

By Steve Deane

Les Andrews was one of the first presenters on New Zealand television and was also a prolific concert performer. Photo / Peter Meecham
Les Andrews was one of the first presenters on New Zealand television and was also a prolific concert performer. Photo / Peter Meecham

One of the more memorable moments in Les Andrews' broadcasting career was almost his last.

During a live Anzac Day broadcast from the Auckland Museum, he decided he needed a better view. The only suitable spot was on the roof. So he climbed up, crossed a balcony, slipped and came within a whisker of falling through a glass facade and on to the marble floor 24m below. He continued the broadcast with a St John Ambulance lady "picking glass out of his bum", recalls broadcasting contemporary Merv Smith.

"That's so typically Les. I used to call him Leisurely Andrews. Nothing ever fazed him. He just strolled on."

Andrews spent much of his World War II service in the Libyan desert and Italy building railway lines and bridges, cleaning out ablution blocks, collecting food rations and performing guard duty, but his true talents were unearthed thanks to a chance encounter in a wartime basement music room.

Legend has it Andrews was providing the vocals for a piano-playing tank driver when Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg came in. General Freyberg asked Les why he wasn't in the Kiwi Concert Party, to which he replied: "I'm buggered if I know".

Days later, Andrews was transferred, launching a career that would see him become one of Auckland's most enduring entertainers as well as a pioneering television broadcaster and patron of the arts.

One of the first presenters on New Zealand TV in shows such as Tinker Tailor and Personality Squares, he was also a prolific concert performer. Click Go the Toll Gates, a song about the Auckland Harbour Bridge, is one of his best-known recordings.

Alongside second wife Sonia, Andrews was the driving force behind the 1972 campaign to save the central-city Customhouse building. In 1974, he won a Benny Award and in 1991, he received a Queen's Service Medal for services to entertainment.

The last-surviving member of the 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade British Bridge Layer Tanks Division, Andrews was 96 when he died on February 28. He will be farewelled at St Andrew's First Presbyterian Church in Symonds St, Auckland, tomorrow at noon.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 20 Sep 2014 08:42:16 Processing Time: 997ms