Obituary: Sir Terence Power (T.P.) McLean

By Arnold Pickmere

By ARNOLD PICKMERE

Sir Terence Power (T.P.) McLean 1913 - 2004, sports journalist

When T.P., or Terry, McLean was knighted in 1996 it was, the citation said, for services to sporting journalism. McLean suspected he was the first to be honoured as a sportswriter.

Sir Neville Cardus, for example, wrote on music as well as cricket. Other rugby men had been knighted but none solely for sports journalism.

McLean died aged 90.

Regarded as one of the country's most prolific and influential sporting journalists, McLean was hailed by many in his later years for his writings on rugby. That was hardly surprising for a man who covered more than 100 All Black tests and wrote 29 books on the sport.

But he was an extremely well-rounded sports reporter who covered everything from boxing to One Ton Cup yachting, swimming to polo and golf to bowls.

So varied was his workload that when Brian Humberstone, a Herald sports editor and colleague of McLean for more than 40 years, asked for his supreme sporting moments on his so-called "retirement" in 1983, McLean picked a rugby tackle and a swimming victory.

Lock Peter Whiting made a magnificent tackle on Springbok Boland Coetzee as he headed for a try in the second test at Blomfontein in 1976, McLean recalled.

"Really Whiting had no business to be where he was, but this superb effort meant the saving of the game for the All Blacks."

But that was not his favourite moment. Best of all was Jaynie Parkhouse's 800m freestyle victory at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch. McLean never forgot the smile on the face of a charming young woman after her "hometown" win over hot favourite Jenny Turrall.

McLean's work in newspapers was something of a family calling. His father was a typesetter and his elder brother was a journalist whom Terry remembered as a great influence in his career.

McLean's first job - on the original Auckland Sun which closed after losing a circulation battle with the Auckland Star - came when he was 16, and led to a job as a reporter on the Taranaki Daily News.

"I did everything - shipping, swimming, court reporting, rugby." And sometimes he worked 80 or 90 hours a week, all for the princely sum of two pounds, seven shillings and sixpence ($4.75).

In World War II, McLean served in the Middle East and Italy. He joined the 22nd Infantry Battalion in Italy as a private after resigning a commission in New Zealand so he could get overseas.

As a second lieutenant, McLean saw New Zealand soldiers marching into battle in one of the grimmest passages of the war in Italy.

"The battle they were going into was not pleasant. They knew it too. They knew many of them would not come back.

"But they just kept marching. Since then I have always placed a sense of duty very highly."

McLean's efforts with a newsletter for the troops in Italy attracted the attention of Captain Ron Horton, a member of the family with more than a century of association with the Herald.

That led him to winning the job of sports editor on the Herald in 1946.

He held the position for 16 years, then became the paper's special sports writer.

McLean's journalistic colleagues noted various qualities in his sportswriting, especially the way he transformed the style by introducing comment into what had previously been prosaic straight reporting.

While other journalists told readers simply what happened, McLean added another dimension, discovering what made heroes such as All Black fullback Don Clarke or runner Peter Snell tick, what they felt.

"More and more over the years I became attracted to the human quality of sport," he told another former Herald colleague, Paul Lewis, in 1987.

"I consider that the man who has to hole a putt of 18 inches to win a golf tournament goes through a mental strain quite inconceivable to many of us.

"Sport is played in the mind. It is a study of the human under stress."

Terry McLean was capable of acid criticism, which did not always win him friends. Even 16 years ago he bemoaned the fact that rugby had slipped from being the national game to a national game.

"And I think it has come about at least partly because of incompetent administration and excessive secrecy of the part of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union," he said.

Occasionally, spectators who had trouble relating McLean's account of a rugby game with their own view of it at the ground would write letters of remonstration to the editor of the Herald.

In the context of the times that was virtually inevitable. For much of their careers sportswriters of the likes of McLean, Dick Brittenden and Alex Veysey got just one look at a try or an incident. So did the spectators - and the referee. No electronic second-guessing in those days.

McLean told Lewis he had three levels of criticism with rugby writing.

Club rugby was for the players. With provincial rugby, you could have a bit of a bite if you thought someone was making a mess of it.

"But with international rugby, well, it's all in. There are 15 players representing their country and the public are entitled to expect they will do their best and not commit blunders.

"There are no excuses in top sport," said McLean. "If you miss that putt or that kick, or drop that pass, well, that's your fault, buster."

And when something seemed to be amiss with the rugby national side T. P. McLean said so. Watching and analysing hundreds of games seemed to give him a facility for recognising when things were starting to go wrong.

Hence McLean made himself unpopular by writing about what he thought were sterile tactics used by the 1960 All Blacks in South Africa (they lost the test series). One of the team would never speak to T. P. again.

And in the 1972 tour of Britain, France and North America, which included the incident in which forward Keith Murdoch was sent home, All Black "mafia" stories and five losses, produced McLean criticisms which did not go down well with that team.

McLean's prose could flow from his typewriter in a torrent. The first sentences in a story could reach as many as 95 words - more than three times the desirable length - before McLean's fingers found the fullpoint key. Sometimes the purpose of his prose became obscure.

O. S. Hintz, the Herald editor in 1964, was moved to complain to the sports editor that: "Our major sports reporting, particularly of cricket and rugby, has degenerated into a mass of verbosity and obscurity".

"It was necessary some years ago to lift our sports writing out of the sumphole of jargon, but now we turn it into a fountain of extravagant word spinning.

"Staff writers are so busy striving after purple passages (purple largely in their own estimation alone) that they are confusing the reader, where they are not positively antagonising him."

McLean was by his own account "a sharp, inquiring, nosy person". He had a habit of finding out things others did not.

And he had a passion for his work, writing for various publications, including the Herald, long after he "retired" from the paper.

Of the modern game he said in 2002 that the present lineout law and scrum law had damaged the game.

And he said the stretched season was too demanding because it went on for so much of the year.

He was echoing a remark he made in 1987, when he said he did not think it was possible to keep on producing top-quality performances for eight or nine months of the year.

Perhaps nobody listened. But McLean never stopped offering his informed observations. Even after a gap in his offerings to the Herald, in 2002 another contribution arrived for Tim Murphy, the ninth Herald editor with whom he had dealings. The old McLean tenacity remained. A note on the top read pungently: "This is NOT a letter to the editor."

He was last in contact with the Herald on Wednesday night, calling the editor to offer a first look at a manuscript of a book (not his own) that he had in his possession.

It is months from being published, but he was keen for the paper to have the story, first.

Terry McLean was predeceased by his wife Carol. The couple married in 1940 and had four children.

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