Two looks at life of our favourite comic Billy T

By Frances Morton

Actor Tainui Tukiwaho is to play much-loved Kiwi comedian Billy T James in an upcoming biopic. Photo / Supplied
Actor Tainui Tukiwaho is to play much-loved Kiwi comedian Billy T James in an upcoming biopic. Photo / Supplied

Two decades after his death, Billy T James has two new productions on the go.

The loveable rogue with a cheeky giggle and trademark yellow towel is the subject of a biopic and documentary, both in production.

His co-star, Peter Rowley, said it had taken Kiwis 20 years to realise the comedian was irreplaceable and the renewed interest in his story was like James reaching out from beyond the grave.

"He's going to put his arms around the country and make us feel fantastic about being Kiwis."

But not everyone is happy. A friend of his widow, Lynn Matthews, said she had not given her consent to either production.

Tim Moon of Pagan Records, who Matthews appointed to manage intellectual property rights of the comic's work, said she felt people who knew her husband in life felt entitled to rip him off in death.

Filming starts next week on Billy , a biopic to be screened on TVOne.

It stars Tainui Tukiwaho in the title role. The relatively unknown Auckland-based actor's credits include Supercity and Shortland Street.

Morgana O'Reilly plays Matthews and Rowley is played by Kelson Henderson.

The production has a budget of $2.46 million.

Meanwhile, a documentary about James is due for a cinema release on August 18. Billy T James: A Kiwi Joker is directed by Ian Mune, who directed James in Came A Hot Friday, and co-written by Mune and Phil Gifford.

Rowley said James' appeal lay in his ability to capture the hearts of the country. "After the 1981 Springbok debacle, when the country was divided, he put his arm around New Zealand as a multicultural society and said, 'We're all together so let's have a laugh at ourselves'."

- Herald on Sunday

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