Barry Soper is Newstalk ZB's Political Editor

Barry Soper: Ray Columbus a heart-stopping assignment for this young reporter

It was the television programme we all watched before heading off to the St Mary's hall in Gore to get us in the mood. We'd line up on either side of the hall, plucking up courage to cross the floor and ask a girl "for the pleasure of this dance."

Given the tractor steps that followed, there usually wasn't a lot of pleasure in it for her, but there was Peter Sinclair's C'mon high energy television show still ringing in our ears. The accordions, drums and piano on stage didn't really cut it but the television extravaganza remained firmly embedded in the mind.

It was the mid to late 60s and when the band dared to try, fairly unsuccessfully, the Australasian hit of the time, C'mon regular Ray Columbus and the Invaders' She's a Mod, the head would start twitching from side to side, the arms would flail around and you were lost in the memory.

The abiding memory of our top music icon in those days, compared to what we see these days, is how well groomed Columbus was, not unlike The Beatles. Neat, dark business suits with black ties and white shirts, but with hair that was considered in those days as radically long, whereas by today's standards it was a short back and sides with a mop up top.

As a cub reporter in my late teens working on the Mataura Ensign, later to become the Gore Ensign, I was given a heart-stopping assignment, to interview Ray Columbus who wasn't just a household name, he was an idol for most Kiwis of my generation.

In my late teens and bursting with nervous energy I drove off to meet him. Ray turned out to be just a regular guy, not in the slightest pretentious, immediately putting me at ease, telling me the story of life on the road.

Several years later, having graduated to the Waikato Times, another heart-stopping assignment came across my desk, an interview with the then-tyrannical Prime Minister Rob Muldoon. Dry-mouthed, the laboured, rehearsed questions came out like gravel from a crusher.

Muldoon scowled, refusing to answer most of them, telling me I could do better than that. Deflated, I returned to the office with a less than satisfactory result and a story hardly worth running.

Given those two experiences, it's a little difficult to fathom why politics rather than pop became my professional preference!

- Newstalk ZB

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Barry Soper is Newstalk ZB's Political Editor

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