Roger Hall
Knight Companion of the NZ Order of Merit

When Sir Roger Hall was asked how he felt about turning 80, the playwright declared he wouldn't want to change a thing about his life.

"I've been very lucky and it still seems incredible to me now that this is what I do for a living. I sometimes have dreams where I still haven't made up my mind what to do and in my dreams, I am not a playwright …"

Now, though, Hall becomes the country's most honoured playwright and, he believes, the first of our playwrights to be made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

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In a career spanning 50 years, he's written around 46 plays and pantomimes and played a key role in the development of New Zealand theatre. Speaking from Japan, where he is on holiday, Hall says he's delighted partly because it provides much-needed recognition of the arts.

"Sport gets a lot of honours but more people are involved in arts than sport," he says. "Maybe one day TV and radio will have arts reporters in the same way they have sports reporters ... I am delighted by this; for me, of course, but also for theatre and the arts."

He continues to write plays and, last year, spearheaded the first New Zealand Theatre Month. He's most recently spoken out about Auckland appointing its own "arts ambassador".

"I think Auckland is an amazing art city but you wouldn't know it from the way Auckland Council thinks … If you look at what's on as a body of art – all art – it's astonishing; there is a huge range of all sorts of genres made by all sorts of different people.

"We had friends from Washington DC visit and Washington DC is not short of sculpture but they went 'wow' when we took them to the Connells Bay Sculpture Park. Yet I don't think many people outside of Auckland – and a huge number in Auckland – have any idea of what's on their doorstep.

"Then take our dance and theatre groups … We need an Auckland Arts ambassador to promote it; it should be a fulltime job for someone who is passionate about it all."

Born in 1939, Hall moved to New Zealand when he was 19 and sold insurance before becoming a teacher and starting to write plays and short stories for his pupils. By 1970, he was writing for television and quit to pursue it full-time.

"I really fell into it all by stealth; I never imagined I would become a playwright and it took a long time to do."

But two years spent as a freelance writer convinced him the profession wasn't lucrative enough to support a young family, so he returned to the education sector as an editor of Education in School Publications while continuing to write and work with community theatre groups.

That all changed in 1975 when Hall, having built up a body of work, received an Arts Council grant and travelled to England and the United States. Returning a year later, he penned Glide Time – a satire packed with pathos and characters middle New Zealand not only recognised but claimed they knew.

After its first performances at Wellington's Circa Theatre in 1977, Sir Roger's next play, Middle Age Spread, went to London where it won Hall Britain's highest theatrical honour, an Olivier award for comedy of the year.