Auckland writer COLIN HOGG reminisces about quizmaster Selwyn Toogood, the big man with a personality that was larger than life.

An extraordinary noise was coming out of the radio yesterday. It was the sound of an audience laughing its head off, and it suddenly seemed like we don't hear much of that sort of thing any more.

The sound of the audience bursting its sides, in Hokitika or somewhere, came from the 1950s and the bloke making them laugh was the great quizmaster Selwyn Toogood, who died on Tuesday, aged 84, making him the late great quizmaster.

The ancient slice of It's in the Bag made it on to the National Radio news yesterday, along with the announcement of his death.


People don't laugh like that any more, least of all over a woman who's just discovered she's turned down 50 quid for one of Selwyn's old socks.

The legend of Selwyn Toogood loomed large from a time when we liked our legends big and real. He was the king of broadcasting, the Paul Holmes of the '50s and '60s and even on into the '70s, though in Toogood's day you didn't get rich being that sort of king.

Anyway, he was always a king with a common touch, no big house in the country, no flash cars and no major indulgences beyond regular flutters on the gee-gees and a big bar of chocolate a day (until he found he had diabetes).

As Barry Crump did in writing and Ed Hillary did at climbing things and crossing icy wastes, Toogood loomed across broadcasting with an almost inappropriately large charisma. Though it was always the charisma of a man getting the job done.

He always called it "just another gig," but there was certainly something about Selwyn.

And when we finally got to see him on TV in the '70s on the radio-with-pictures version of the hugely successful It's In the Bag, there was certainly enough of Selwyn to fill out the giant personality he had already thrown at us out of the wireless speakers.

Down in Southland, I grew up hearing him on the radio - winding up people all over the country with his lure of the money or the bag. He would even come down our way every now and then, bringing his show to the glittering lights of Invercargill.

Once, I heard, Selwyn and his Bag show flew over stormy Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island to take entertainment - and the chance to win some very exciting whiteware - to our southernmost outpost.


Selwyn sat up the front with the pilot, who was flying a seaplane from Invercargill airport to a watery landing in the island's Halfmoon Bay.

Unfortunately, Selwyn so overcame the flyer with his huge personality and presence that the poor devil forgot to retract the wheels for landing and flipped the plane.

Well, that was the story in Southland, anyway, and doubtless every part of the country had a Selwyn Toogood story, because he took his show on the road.

He went into the sticks and the smaller burgs, where he had them bursting their sides and shrieking as he teased contestants between a big wad of paper money and a mysterious bag that might contain anything from a chest freezer to one of the genial host's aforementioned old socks.

Toogood worked for the National Film Unit and did all sorts of shows on radio, including The Quiz Kids and even the cutting-edge (for the '50s) Lever Hit Parade.

But his big hits, the ones that resound down the years, were It's in the Bag and - from '71 to '83 - the remarkable Beauty and the Beast.

The Bag got the boot from radio in the mid-60s after Toogood's audiences were devoured by the new beast on the block, television, and he had to push for years before it was transformed into TV.

Beauty and the Beast was Selwyn in his safari-suit years, sitting down with a panel of women with personalities almost as big as his.

Shona MacFarlane, Cath Tizard, Catherine Saunders and Jean McLean were regulars on the panel that pitched Selwyn, in slightly chauvinist mode, against the wise women as they answered letters from vexed viewers. "He was a very clever broadcaster," said Saunders yesterday, "animated, provocative and absolutely on top of everything."

Once on the show, Tizard and McLean clashed furiously over the issue of adoption - the former anti and the latter pro. It was a big barney and Toogood let it go on and then caught it, just before it careened off the road. "His timing was incredible," Saunders recalls. "He could take a show out, right down to the second. He'd be winding it up and we wouldn't even realise."

Once, years later, Saunders took Toogood into a recording studio where three hours had been booked for him to do 12 radio ads for butter. "He had them done and we were out of there and having gin and tonics in 20 minutes," she says.

Toogood bowed out when he felt it was time to go and the Bag fell into lesser hands. The last time I saw Selwyn he was on a TV ad standing in a chest freezer to demonstrate just how big it was.

He probably made more out of some of those ads than he did out of being a radio and TV star. When it came to the business side of life, he was a bit of an innocent and was usually grossly underpaid. He was never knighted, either, though he should have been. But then, he was already a king.