Editorial: Holmes was charming, challenging, entertaining

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This editorial was published on December 19, 2008. Sir Paul later told the Herald he was moved by what was written.

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And now for Today in History ... It was on this day in 2008 that the renowned broadcaster Paul Holmes signed off from 21 years at the summit of New Zealand radio. The cheeky, dark-haired Holmes was so good, for so long, that at his NewstalkZB leaving function they retired the Number1 microphone and presented it to him for life ...

In years to come, the 6.18am slot on the ZB breakfast show will need to add one more footnote to history for this day, December 19. The Paul Holmes Breakfast will be no more but its place in the life of the city and country deserves to be saluted. Much has been said this week, by Holmes as much as by his guests, listeners and colleagues, about the thrilling disasters and triumphs of a broadcasting era. Of the warts-and-all character who woke up, charmed, offended, entertained and challenged the population for a generation.

We will miss him here at the "Royal New Zealand Herald" as he insisted on calling us, his way of pricking a pomposity he imagines inhabits these pages. For as much as he declaims those who are critics rather than doers he was an omniscient and exacting critic of this paper's morning offering. He wasn't always right, but he was always Paul Holmes. And he was a central part of the news cycle, his interviews with newsmakers taking stories further and changing events, even as the breakfast show beamed live from the Sky Tower.

Holmes' advantage, though, was not so much his news sense, which could be very good, as his sensibility, defined by the Concise Oxford as the ability to appreciate and respond to complex emotional and aesthetic influences. In short, most of the time he got it. He felt it. And he communicated it, whatever the "it" was that happened to be on society's mind at that time. That ability to relate across generations and cultures propelled him to the position of honour in broadcasting that he celebrates this morning.

He was, of course, highly imperfect. But the traps of ego and power and the occasional bruisings and brutalisings delivered by that tongue do not need repeating today. The very celebrity he achieved and the public, personal trauma he endured seemed to make him acutely conscious of the travails of others, sometimes to the detriment of accountability.

The departure of someone of the longevity and talent of Holmes will leave a hole in the public life of Auckland and the country because he has contributed much to our experience of it. The Monday morning interviews with the Prime Minister of the day were essential listening, far more revealing than equivalents elsewhere. His lead item from 7.15 more often than not demanded attention, and could be heard conveniently after the leading news across on his bete noire, Morning Report on National Radio. He knew the newsmakers and therefore let his listeners in on their world; his personal tribute to Rob Guest when the singer died suddenly this year was moving and insightful.

While the Paul Holmes Breakfast ends today in fitting celebrity at a smart restaurant overlooking the harbour, the voice is not entirely silenced. Holmes will pop up for little daily sermons next year and has the languid Saturday morning slot to keep in touch with his people. Right now it seems that may not be enough for Holmes or the public. But the shock of the radio alarm sounding to the new, sharper tone of Mike Hosking and the banter from the car radios on the motorway seeming somehow less convivial, will ease with familiarity.

Holmes spent the first months of his era as a waking, walking disaster zone. Yet he found his audience, embraced them and now leaves them wanting more. Not bad for a visitor from Hawkes Bay.

- NZ Herald

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