Iain Macdonald - Journalist, critic. Died aged 75.

Kenneth Iain Cameron Macdonald, who wrote for the Herald for nearly three decades - including in his retirement - reached Auckland in 1968, just about the time the curtain was rising on the newborn professional Mercury Theatre.

Macdonald covered news and for many more years wrote features for the Herald displaying both acumen and a flair for language.


But a particular niche was the dozen years he wrote critiques of Mercury productions, almost exhausting, he said later, his store of adjectives - both rhapsodic and denigratory.

In truth, Macdonald had great respect for the late Tony Richardson, the theatre's first director, and the way Mercury played as big a part in educating Aucklanders about live theatre as it did in entertaining them.

The true function of theatre, he noted on Mercury's fifth birthday, was to "expose things as they really are, not as they are made to appear through our ignorance, prejudice or lack of perception".

Macdonald also had contact as a reviewer with such controversial stage productions as the "tribal love-rock" musical Hair, which opened amid controversy at His Majesty's Theatre in Auckland on February 28, 1972. The audience included a morals campaigner, a policeman sent along to try to decide whether it should be prosecuted for indecency - and the Herald's Macdonald.

He described the show in print as "simply terrific ... a joyous, irresistible experience to all but those with insoluble personal problems" - and was called as a defence witness when the show's producers were prosecuted on a charge of presenting an indecent show in a place to which the public were permitted to have access. The result was an acquittal.

It was natural that almost 20 years later he should review Hair again when it opened for a season at the St James.

"Golly, grandpa, were there nudey-rudey stage shows in your day too? Yes, indeed, my child," Macdonald began.

"Way back in 1972 an imported show called Hair hit Auckland with a considerable social, cultural and litigious wallop. Some of our more sensitive citizens feared it was the end of civilisation as they knew and loved it.


"Firstly there was a deluge of four letter words. Then came a scene of massed full-frontal nudity. This lasted only 30 seconds but some people swore it was more like 30 minutes ... "

Macdonald, a man whose moods could hover anywhere between delighted humour and depression, had various facets to his character, perhaps none stronger than his pride in his Scottish ancestry. This was of such intensity that few people realised that he was actually born in New Zealand, in Dunedin, of a seafaring family and raised in England.

He joined the British Army late in World War II as a 17-year-old who lied about his age, eventually becoming a junior officer in in the 13th/18th Hussars (Queen Mary's Own). His main army experience was in Palestine from 1945-48, leading up to the creation of the state of Israel.

After that, early aspects of his long journalistic career included work in Fleet Street and on television in Scotland. He had his own show called Scotland for Me in the early to mid-1960s.

In 1966, with his wife, Kathleen, a photographer whom he married in 1959, he migrated to New Zealand and two years work with the Otago Daily Times. His arrival at the Herald in 1968 was marked in the most dramatic fashion.

Leaving his wife and children to follow by air, he drove his car loaded with particular family valuables up from Dunedin and boarded the interisland ferry Wahine to cross Cook Strait. That voyage the ship ran into a huge storm, hit Barrett Reef outside Wellington Harbour and was wrecked, with the loss of 51 lives, inside the harbour.

Macdonald's fortunate escape from this tragedy saw his first service to the Herald with a harrowing account of his survival in the terrible conditions.

It was then revealed that in the boot of his car, in the sunken hold of the wrecked ship, was a Highland broadsword, with a Toledo blade and damascened basket hilt. It had been wielded by an ancestor at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 where its young owner was killed. After that it was hidden beneath the flagstones of a Highland kitchen for 60 years during the Act of Proscription which forbade the Scottish clans to carry arms.

The very thought of its new location caused Iain "hell with my Celtic melancholy". Between the sinking in April 1968 and the next November the Herald ran six stories about its loss and eventual recovery from the wreck. By that time, no one on the paper's staff had any doubts about the depth of his Scottish links.

And the sword was there at his funeral this week, placed on the coffin lid, lone piper playing outside the chapel.

Iain Macdonald is survived by his wife and children, Finlay and Sarah, and five grandchildren. Finlay is editor of the New Zealand Listener.