Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
31 December 2014
In conservative New Zealand of the 1950s the media was vastly different to what it was these days. For a start there was no television at all in New Zealand, radio was careful and conformist (being totally Government owned), the newspapers rarely gave by-lines to writers. It goes without saying that unacceptable or bad language across any of the radio communications industry was totally unheard of. But one afternoon on National Radio an All Black grabbed the microphone and let rip with what was then a total shocker!
Let us not ever say that bad language did not exist in everyday usage back in radio's early years. It did. For instance, men returning home from the rigors of their World War II experiences spoke in very 'sharp' terms about what had happened to them whilst in battle. But there are very few recordings of swearing that ever appeared during the 1950s on radio in New Zealand. It just wasn’t done.
There was one very famous instance though. And, perhaps surprisingly, given the conservative age of the time, when a dreaded word was dropped the whole country rocked with laughter. Hearing the same word today would hardly raise an eyebrow. And the ‘dreaded B-word’ of 1956 is much milder than many that are heard today. Nonetheless it was outrageous in its own way.
The occasion concerned the end of New Zealand’s most dramatic rugby test series to that point. The Springboks of South Africa, under captain Basie Viviers and Manager/coach Danie Craven had just completed the fourth test of a three month 23 match New Zealand tour.
To say the tests were epic contests is an understatement. Even today men of a certain age in New Zealand hark back to their vivid memories of those games with a sharpness of recall that is amazing. In the country still there must be thousands of scrapbooks lying in lofts and studies, kept by young kids at the time and never wanted to be thrown out.
The fourth test was a true pinnacle of the robust action of the weeks before. New Zealand had won the first and third tests, South Africa had won the second. All of the games had been close. So all of New Zealand tuned in to hear Winston McCarthy’s famous radio commentary on fourth test day, with the nation hoping, and probably praying, for a New Zealand win. Then and only then could the All Blacks say for the first time ‘we have won a test series over South Africa.’
Such an accomplishment had never been done before.
The test at Eden Park unfolded and the country hung on McCarthy’s every word, assisted in the broadcast box by the local Auckland commentator Colin Snedden. Slowly but surely the minutes ticked by and New Zealand’s team, captained by Bob Duff, edged out to an 11-5 lead. This was sufficient for the nation to think ‘they have to score twice to get the lead’ as a converted try was worth only five points in those days.
At one point the action became so fierce and Tiny White the New Zealand lock forward was kicked on the ground two policemen came down to the touchline and stood close by in case they might be needed to separate the players from breaking into outright affray.
Soon though, the whistle went for fulltime and the game had gone New Zealand’s way by that six point margin of 11-5. Could it be said that the result of the game and the tests series win over our fiercest rivals was a glorious day for New Zealand nationhood?
Maybe it was as rugby was definitely ‘King’ in those days.
People flooded onto the fields of Eden from all quarters and they rushed to a centre spot on the halfway line and looked up into the grandstand. There was no trophy to present but it had become traditional for each ground to farewell the South African team.
This writer can clearly recall from home listening on the radio as the crowd started chanting for the New Zealand players to come forward and take a cheer. There were two particular heroes – Don Clarke, the young Waikato fullback who was known far and wide as ‘The Boot’ – and a shy, fisherman from one of the farthest north places you can get to in New Zealand – Awanui, just by the famous 90 Mile stretch of beach. During the game Jones had brushed aside Springboks after chasing a bouncing ball and had scored a miracle try; Clarke had kicked the rest of New Zealand’s points, with a conversion and two penalty goals.
The chants continued after short speeches by New Zealand rugby officials and Danie Craven had made his famous, and very generous remark ‘New Zealand, it’s all yours.’ To which the crowd gave another almighty roar of approval.
Then Peter Jones was pushed forward to the microphone and the crowd suddenly hushed quiet to hear what he had to say. With Colin Snedden adjusting the microphone Jones leaned forward to speak. With sweat on his brow (or were they tears?) he said ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope I never have to play another game like that in my life, I’m absolutely buggered!’
The words echoed around the ground to a massive shout of astonishment which within seconds changed to unforgettable delight. The noise was so calamitous that young Don Clarke's simple ‘thank you’ could hardly be heard.
The laughing and cheering for Peter Jones’ remark went on and on. To be fair what his words said also summed up what the relieved nation believed as well. With the test series having been clinched 3-1 indeed the whole country was ‘vastly relieved’ except Jonesy said it better.
However behind Newspaper’s editors desks and at broadcasting headquarters there was not such total approval. The late, great rugby writer Sir Terry McLean told me his New Zealand Herald decided not to publish at all the ‘offending’ remark by Jones. And the Saturday night edition of Auckland’s The 8 O’Clockonly ran reference to the story by describing the offending word as ‘b--------‘. And at the radio studio Headquarters of the New Zealand Broadcasting Service the phones ran hot as the bosses called in to say the remark by Jones must not be played again on the radio.
The sentence was deemed too distasteful for the audience’s ears. The tape was not replayed until Peter Sellers, the sports radio historian from Dunedin (who is still alive aged 93 as 2015 arrives), sought and was given approval for the remark to be played in a summary of Radio New Zealand Sports highlights nearly 30 years later!
But let's go back to the time. In 1956 you shouldn’t really have said that word in polite company. But it was so outrageously correct and at the time it perfectly summed up the nation’s mood. The All Blacks had won their tests against their grimmest rivals and 'we', players and listeners alike, were exhausted by the build-up of the whole three months.
It is true to say the country was ‘absolutely buggered!’ and we had Peter Jones to thank for saying it for us.
[If you click on 'Favourite Photos' on the front page of this webstie you will see an attached newspaper clipping from The 8 O'Clock's edition in Auckland from the night after the game in September 1956. The picture was autographed (complete with the famous B-word) by Peter Jones himself many years later. The original signature was done in blue ball-point pen and has only been corrected for reprinting here. This writer believes the original is priceless in rugby terms!]
Arguably he was the slowest back on the field but nothing could stop the flying Mortlock; his try that greatly assisted the Aussies in their 22-10 sensational dispatch of the All Blacks.
Rosslyn Park and England
4 internationals for England 1936
One of rugby history’s most colourful characters, Prince Alexander Obolensky was the son of Prince Alexis of Russia. The young prince was born in Leningrad in 1916 but was taken to England the following year, presumably to avoid the Russian revolution.
He was educated at Trent College and Brasenose College, Oxford. ‘Obo’, as he was known, was an elegant and speedy wing and his rugby prowess was quickly recognised. Late in 1935 he played for Oxford in the annual Universities match, the first of three appearances in that famous game.
As a 19-year-old, early in 1936, he played for England against New Zealand at Twickenham. England caused an upset by thrashing the All Blacks by 13–0. Obolensky scored two tries, one of which has become a classic. His diagonal run through the New Zealand defence, as he scored for the second time, can still be admired on newsreel film footage and on YouTube. That game thereafter became known by rugby writers as ‘Obolensky’s match’.
After he left Oxford University his form fluctuated and fell away. He won only four caps, all in the 1935–36 season, but his memory is ensured both because of his colourful family background and his extraordinary, if briefly flowering, rugby talent.
A world record in first-class rugby is still entered in some books under Obolensky’s name. ‘Obo’ toured South America with a 'Rugby Football Union' team in 1936 (presumably an English selection), and in a game against Brazil he crossed for 17 tries, still a record for one game, though perhaps the first-class quality of the local XV might be called into question.
When World War II broke out, Obolensky joined the Royal Air Force. He died when the Hawker Hurricane he was piloting crashed on landing in East Anglia. He was the first of 111 rugby internationals from all countries to lose their lives in the conflict.
What caused confusion for the TV reporters when the All Blacks 1987 Rugby World Cup team was announced on live TV in Whangarei, New Zealand?