Our People: Cartoonist Peter Bromhead

By Jill Nicholas

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Peter Bromhead. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER
Peter Bromhead. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER

Scratching the surface of the multi-award winning caricaturist accomplished at lampooning his own life and times

"I have to tell you" is a phrase much favoured by Peter Bromhead, his conversation's peppered with it.

It goes with the territory of this man of many parts with a heck of a lot to tell; sifting through his depository of words we bow to his expert advice and learn to love our delete key - there's so much to say, restricted space to shoehorn it into.

For his definitive life story refer to Scratching A Living, his recently-released autobiography.

To claim he's best known as this country's leading satirical cartoonist is window dressing for this hugely talented, immensely likeable character.

Toss in corporate designer, purveyor of Scandinavian-inspired furniture, artist, writer, columnist, one-time Auckland Art Gallery curator, the thrice-married bloke who may carry the country's 'oldest new dad' tag and the multi-faceted Bromhead starts to crystallise.

His youngest son turned 5 last week, Bromhead's 83, you do the conception maths. His boy's birthday peels the scab from a recently-inflicted wound. Scratching was still warm off the press when his third wife, about whom he'd lovingly written, dumped him.

Gallingly, she did so publicly and the day after Mother's Day.

It sparked Scratching's sequel. "I'm calling it Fifty Shades of Custard, its predecessor's turned out to be a lot of fiction."

Bromhead's accomplished at lampooning himself, he's the archetypical comic whose life's counterbalanced by a payload of pathos.

As `old hacks' (his collective noun for the pair of us) we yarn about the demise of newspapers as we knew them.

"Newspapers have morphed into different territory, slavishly following mobile phones, Facebook, Instagram, there's no depth left in them," he mourns.

The cartoon king's convinced these too are on the skids, deader than the Dodo.

There are 11 Qantas media awards saluting Bromhead's caricaturing skills, 11 redundancies to match. The timing of the last came wrapped in irony.

"I was on my way to Wellington to receive the print media award recognising my outstanding services to the industry when I got this text from the Sunday Star Times saying my services were terminated. It was such bad timing on their part, I was able to tell the Fairfax directors [SST owners] up there on stage how I'd just received their redundancy."

Until recently he was a Business Herald columnist. "450 words of humour every week, the paper's most popular column, editors changed, I was redundant again."

He's been this newspaper's guest cartoonist and draws weekly for The New Zealand Herald and Herald on Sunday,

Anticipating cartoons' demise Bromhead's revived his earlier venture into animation.

"I did them for Vodafone, Campbell Live, but was a decade ahead of my time."

They appeared under the penname Doodlebug. As a child in wartime Britain doodlebugs and related artillery fascinated him, he was caught with a German incendiary bomb hidden under his bed.

"It was like the giant dildo, my mother called the army, they weren't impressed."

His affection for his mother's zilch. She threw him from a double decker bus when he was 2.

All that's a long way from how Bromhead fits into Rotorua's Our People niche but he's very much one of us. A lot of his work's come from his studio at the Lake Okareka home he's owned 35 years.

"When I was looking for a holiday place I was more attracted to the lakes than the sea, don't ask me why, it's a psychological thing. I've always spent a lot of time here, when my second marriage ended we had this, a Waikato lifestyle block, a place at Pauanui, I lost the others, kept Okareka.

"With another break up I'm back, you could call it my divorce bunker. I guess owning it makes me a fully-fledged Rotorua-ite."

Would it be wrong to call him a man of property? "I've been quite wealthy, gone from zero, to wealth, back to zero. I've had Mercs, Jags, now a Skoda, an old Mitsubishi truck are my vehicles of choice."

His wealth-base came from Bromhead Design, a multi-million dollar enterprise at its zenith; its recent liquidation came close to the demise of his marriage.

"May wasn't a good month."

Another Rotorua link comes via Waiariki Institute of Technology (WIT).

Saluting his industrial design skills (he honed the craft in England and Scandinavia) he was invited to become designer-in-residence.

"The then CEO wanted the whole design criteria invigorated, I got together with some wealthy people, they put up $3 million to build a new design school in Taupo, I had Stanford [US University] on board but the next CEO didn't have a clue, wanted to incorporate hairdressing."

The project fizzled but by then Bromhead had been accorded a WIT honorary degree in industrial design. Thereby hangs another tale.

"The day before the [installation] ceremony they said they didn't have the correct gown, would I wait until the next graduation? I was happy about that, I was using the title but wanted proof I was entitled to, getting no response from the new CEO, my solicitor wrote, then I thought `bugger it, if it takes a lawyer's letter I won't bother'."

Both hemispheres have honoured him. He's a member of the New Zealand's Order of Merit for services to cartooning; Denmark's presented him with a Prince Hendrikse Medal for industrial design.

It's three lesser accolades that genuinely impress him, one followed a colonoscopy declaring his bowels "well prepared".

A second certificate came a couple of weeks ago, confirming he's a `fit and proper' person to have access to his young sons.

"I was sent on this parenting course, good Lord, I've been a parent since the 1950s. Those two certificates and a neck tag from a recent literary event declaring me a writer are on my studio wall, the medals are in a drawer somewhere."

Bromhead, four score years and three, surely not? "I don't feel it, that's the problem."

PETER BROMHEAD ONZM
Born: Portsmouth, UK, 1933.
Education: Locally, Naval College.
Family: Four sons, three daughters. "There're 54 years between my oldest and youngest."
Interests: Writing, writing, writing, drawing, painting (has won Benson & Hedges art award and is represented in major galleries), cooking, tennis "a hernia wrote off my playing days."
On cartooning: "It's like taking your brain on an exercycle."
On Rotorua: "Living here's economical, a meat pie's $5, in Auckland $7-$8, I owe my 83 years to a steady diet of pies, chips and bad food."
Personal philosophy: "It's very important to be well mannered."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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