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Judy Bailey began as a fresh-faced young reporter and went on to earn the title "Mother of the Nation" in a career spanning more than 30 years.

Bailey joined the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation in 1971 as a news and current affairs reporter. Nine years later she joined John Hawkesby as co-presenter of regional news bulletin Top Half.

The successful pairing - one TV critic raved about their ability to brighten up the dullest news programme with banter - was to be recycled more than a decade later.

Bailey was promoted to the coveted 6pm news bulletin in 1987, in a major reshuffle that saw off veteran anchors Philip Sherry and Tom Bradley.

She was initially paired with Neil Billington, but it was not long before Richard Long came on the scene in 1988.

A TVNZ biography would have you believe the pair lived happily behind the big newsreaders' desk before Bailey went solo in 2004.

It fails to mention the fleeting reunion with Hawkesby in 1999. TVNZ lured him from TV3 with a $700,000 salary, and Long was left out in the cold.

The public raged at his dumping and ratings slumped. Within six weeks Long was back at Bailey's side but a subsequent court action by Hawkesby cost TVNZ more than $5 million in compensation.

Not a hint of scandal has touched Bailey, who has graced the covers of women's magazines for her charity work rather than stories about near-death experiences, children's milestones and relationships.

However, a trawl through her news files shows she did once slip up and describe Drew Barrymore as a "Tinseltown Tart" rather than the intended "Tinseltown Starlet".

Controversy came late in Bailey's career, when revelations of celebrity pay packets five years ago prompted her to publicly defend her salary.

She called the figures - then said to be $560,000 a year - a gross exaggeration.

But she has said little about her $800,000 one-year contract which sparked a public outcry and Government demands for TVNZ to rein in her pay. Bailey was facing a $200,000-plus pay cut next year.