* Jim Henderson, MBE. Author, broadcaster, historian. Died aged 86.

For 14 years from 1961 to 1974, Jim Henderson originated, edited and presented a widely popular radio programme called Open Country.

Broadcast around Sunday lunchtime on National Radio, the short programme mirrored its originator's own love of rural life.

It began with the sound of a shepherd whistling his dogs, followed by Henderson's measured rural-sounding announcement "Open Country ... people and places ... out of town."

Henderson gathered scripts from people all over the country. He reckoned a good half of the contributors had never written before but wanted to record truly worthwhile moments in their lives. Experiences in forests, on raw remote farms, in the hills or by a country stream. Some devotees of the programme described it as "an invaluable bridge between town and country".

Henderson put a selection from 14 years of broadcasts into books. When the programme stopped in 1974, listeners' protests were directed as high as the Prime Minister.

But the reasons given, including diminishing contributions and a certain sameness creeping in, seemed sound enough at the time. And by then a time-proven radio programme was facing irresistible competition from television's Country Calendar (now in its 38th year) and its ability to show as well as tell.

Jim Henderson, a prolific broadcaster and documentary maker, also wrote roughly a score of books on a wide selection of New Zealand history and rural subjects, including two war histories.

He was born in 1918 and grew up on a log and stump-covered sheep farm on Takaka Hill near Motueka in Nelson. After Nelson College, he worked as a reporter on the Nelson Evening Mail (1936) and then the the NZ Free Lance before World War II intervened.

Serving as a gunner in the Middle East with the 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force, he was left for dead in the desert after a German attack killed his gun crew mates at Sidi Rezegh in 1941.

"Two years to the very minute in the Army and before breakfast too," he remembered wryly.

With a shattered left leg and a chest wound, he lay in the desert for about three days before German help arrived.

In his famous book Gunner Inglorious, written to expunge some of the worst memories of his wartime experiences, he recalled his lengthy ambulance ride to a German treatment station, his only companion an unknown man, just a bulge in the stretcher above.

Odd drops of blood fell down near his feet, but they ceased.

"Looking up, I saw the bulge in the stretcher suddenly twist. I heard a choking strangled groan. Then silence."

When the ambulance stopped again, the driver and his assistant buried the man in the desert in the dark night and drove on, stopping occasionally to feel Henderson's pulse and offer him coffee.

He was an amputee prisoner of war in Italy for 19 months.

Gunner Inglorious has sold at least 100,000 copies through over a dozen reprints and also become a popular stage show.

Jim Henderson had one distinct regret in life. In 1986 while screwing on his 13th artificial leg he observed: "Never to run across or down a hill again, following a sheep track, or to run along the beach with your kids - that is the hardest of all."

James Herbert Henderson's wife, Jill, died earlier. He is survived by his companion and soul mate, Peggy, and children and family. His funeral has been held in Auckland. He will be buried at Motueka.