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!]
The wettest day ever saw NZ beat Scotland 24-0 at the Eden Park pool! Deep puddles everywhere. The ABs swam better than their opponents!
The game of Rugby Union has always been a possible game for everyman (or increasingly these days for every woman) who chooses it as their recreation or profession. But the game has also attracted famous people from other walks of life to enjoy rugby’s excitement and action;
[With thanks to Wes Clark’s Internet site, here is a selection from his list of “Famous Players”; with keithquinnrugby.com's additions]
Prince William and Prince Harry; The two played while at Eton, William, rising to the 3rd XV at the famous school.
Prince Edward; played second XV of Jesus College, Cambridge.
Peter Phillips; the son of Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, he is the grandson to Queen Elizabeth II. He was an open side flanker on the Scottish Schools team that toured South Africa in 1996. Captained Exeter University to win British University Sports association 2nd XV title.
George W. Bush; US President. Played rugby while at Yale University. Played in the team which famously beat Harvard University in 1968.
Bill Clinton; The USA President; was a second row forward for Oxford University, rising to be in the University’s second XV.
Yoshio Mori; former Japanese Prime Minister, who was a rugby player all his life. He played Golden Oldies rugby well into his 60s. He also revealed he toured to New Zealand with a supporters tour to watch Tri Nations rugby.
George Brown; British Prime Minister 2007-2010. When playing for the Kirkaldy first XV as a 15 year old he suffered a detached retina which led to the permanent loss on the sight in one eye.
Jacques Chirac; The cformer President of France. He played for the Youth team of the Brive Club and later at University.
Winston Churchill; It is known he ‘hated’ playing rugby at Sandhurst Military College.
Idi Amin; dictator of Uganda 1971-79. He was good enough to make the East Africa XV in Nairobi. Played mostly as a lock forward. He was reserve in the East Africa XV v the 1955 British Isles touring team on its way home from South Africa.
Roh Tae Woo; former President of South Korea was an enthusiastic club player.
Donal Spring; Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland. Seven caps for Ireland as a lock forward 1978-81.
Keith Holyoake; former New Zealand Prime Minister who played first class rugby. A hooker for five seasons of first-class rugby for the Golden Bay- Motueka Rugby Union (1925-29).
Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevera; Marxist guerilla legend in Cuba. Played rugby in his teenage days in Argentina. When he lived in Cordoba his club was Estudiantest. He was so enamored with the game he, and his friends, launched a magazine called ‘Tackle’.
From the film world
Richard Harris; Played in Ireland in two Munster School's trials and represented Munster Under-20s. He loved the game so much he claimed he would give away all of the honours and accolades he won as an actor to have worn the Irish jersey just once. In keeping with his wishes he was buried in his Munster Junior playing jersey.
Richard Burton; Played representative rugby as a youth in Wales; playing at school, University and in the RAF as a flanker. Once on stage doing Shakespeare in a Saturday afternoon matinee, and hoping to learn of the score of a Welsh international match being played at the same time, he demanded of an actor who arrived on stage ‘what news does't thou bring me, good news I hope.’ The other actor apparently mouthed a reply which contained, in a Shakespearean manner, whether Wales had won or lost.
Gerard Depardieu; played a rugby coach in the film “Le Placard” and is a part owner of a Division 1 rugby club in France.
Russell Crowe; New Zealand-born actor who lost one of his front teeth when he was playing rugby as a boy.
Charlie Chaplin; played rugby while at school in England
Hugh Jackman; When attending school in Sydney at Knox Grammar School he was a regular rugby player.
Javier Bardem: He was outstanding rugby prospect in his teenage years in Madrid, Spain. He made the Spanish international teams at Under-16 and under-18 levels as a flanker or prop forward.
Jacques Rogge; President of the International Olympic Committee. A Belgian international player. He sometimes down-played his playing ability, once saying 'if you stay by your telephone long enough it will eventually rinmg and you will be invited to play for Belgium!'
Owen Hart; The famous WWF wrestler who fell to his death in Kansas City in 1999. He played rugby for Western Canada High School, and he met his wife at a rugby match.
Matthew Pinsett; multi-Olympic rowing gold medallist. He was a regular lock for a number of seasons at the English club, Henley. And also at Eton.
Meat Loaf; the singer apparently played rugby at college in the Northwest of USA.
P.G.Wodehouse; Quoted as ‘one of the leading lights of rugby at Dulwich College, London, around the turn of the century. The school still has copies of some of the match reports he used to write for the school.’
James Joyce; played at Belvedere in Dublin.
Sir Edmund Hillary; the New Zealand mountaineer who conquered Mt Everest in 1953. He played rugby at Auckland Grammar School in the 1930s.
Bolger, Jim. The former New Zealand Prime Minister was a senior club prop forward in the King Country rugby union.
Tony O’Reilly; Irish businessman who was once called by some as one of the world’s richest men. He was an outstanding player who played for the British and Irish Lions and for Ireland. In total he played 29 internationals for Ireland and ten tests for the British Isles (in 1955-59)
Warren Zevon; rock singer of ‘Werewolves of London’ fame. Enjoyed rugby so much he acknowledged the Atlanta Renegades club on the liner notes for one of his albums.
David Tua; fought Lennox Lewis for the World Heavyweight boxing title. Tua once played wing three-quarter at school and in club play in Auckland, New Zealand.
Eric Liddell. A Scottish rugby international and Olympic track gold medallist. His life was depicted in the famous film ‘Chariots of Fire.’
Tony Abbott. The Australia Prime Minister was a First Grade player for Sydney University.
.....[This list is by no means full. Please send additions or alterations to firstname.lastname@example.org ]
Which Irish rugby player of modern vintage has the nickname of '36?'