Weekend Rewind - NZ's Greatest Political Characters

By Nicky Harrop

Love him or hate him, it would be hard to argue that American presidential candidate Donald Trump isn’t a memorable personality. Another week of Trump headline domination inspires NZ On Screen’s Nicky Harrop to look back at some of the big characters of New Zealand politics.
Richard 'King Dick' Seddon was renowned for his populist style and unyielding opinions.
Richard 'King Dick' Seddon was renowned for his populist style and unyielding opinions.

While New Zealand's political history has perhaps not yet thrown up a figure quite as 'larger than life' as Donald Trump, we've certainly had our fair share of characters. The following selection spans over a hundred years of both national and local politics.

Richard 'King Dick' Seddon was renowned for his populist style and unyielding opinions. This 1973 drama Richard John Seddon - Premier follows the events leading to his premiership in 1893, until his death in 1906, painting a colourful portrait of our longest-serving Prime Minister to date. Eagle-eyed viewers may spot a cameo appearance from broadcaster and media commentator Brian Edwards, playing an opposition MP.

Watch Richard John Seddon - Premier here:

Richard John Seddon - Premier

More than 40 years on from his swearing in as Prime Minister, many still consider Rob Muldoon our most notorious politician. He was the source of a few of our more memorable political moments on television, one of them in June 1984, when he made the fateful decision to call a snap election for the following month. Some claimed he was drunk at the time of the announcement, but whatever his motivation, it was a move that cost him dearly, ending his reign with a heavy defeat to the David Lange-led Labour Party.

See Muldoon's infamous announcement of the 1984 snap election here:

Eyewitness News - Snap Election Setup

While it may have been brief, few could deny that businessman Bob Jones' foray into politics was colourful. This Lookout special follows him on the 1984 campaign trail, talking up his newly-formed New Zealand Party and espousing free-market liberalisation. The party was short-lived, but ultimately successful in its goal of denying National a third term by splitting the vote. One imagines, however, that the use of the Rocky theme in his campaign may have caused Jones a moment of regret the following year, when he famously punched TVNZ reporter Rob Vaughan.

Eyewitness News - Bob Jones punches reporter Rod Vaughan

Watch the Bob Jones Lookout special here:

Bob Jones

You know that - rightly or wrongly - you're grabbing people's attention, when you get your own puppet effigy (just ask Mike Hosking.) This 1988 episode of Public Eye, inspired by UK series Spitting Image, features a latex-faced Winston Peters getting knocked out in a boxing ring. Meanwhile in real life he is one of our longest-serving politicians and certainly one of the more colourful characters of NZ politics.

See Winston Peters on Public Eye here:



Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt has a catalogue of colourful moments that could possibly fill more pages than the phone-book of his city. From 33 arrests during political protests, to losing the mayoral chains and standing as a candidate for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, Shadbolt has certainly never been one to toe the company line (preferring instead to tow his concrete mixer behind the mayoral Daimler). In this 2009 documentary he discusses his counter-culture past, celebrating "being part of a catalyst for change" in Dirty Bloody Hippies.

Watch Dirty Bloody Hippies here:



And it's not only the men who have shown a bit of humour and colour in political life. No-one could accuse New Zealand's first female Governor-General of being a shrinking violet. Catherine Tizard's rise from city councillor to mayor and beyond, was characterised by a sharp mind and, on occasion, an even sharper tongue, often coupled with lightning quick wit. In this 1990 documentary, Dame Cath takes reporter Marcia Russell through her life, from a Waikato town through to marrying her university lecturer; leading Auckland; and her Governor-General role.

Watch Dame Cath Moves Up - A Personal Portrait here:



- NZ Herald

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