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Peter Williams: A tribute to Phillip Leishman

opinion Peter Williams

By Peter Williams ONE News Presenter

Published: 1:37PM Tuesday February 26, 2013

Phillip Leishman gave me the biggest break of my life.

He went on his OE to Britain and Europe in the middle of 1979 leaving a vacancy in the TV ONE Sports department.

I applied and got the job and when he returned a few months later to rejoin the company we became colleagues and firm friends. But, you'd have to say, rivals too for the big presenting jobs.

For most of the time he was content with his racing, while I looked after our Saturday sports show and cricket coverage.

But when it came to the big events like Olympic and Commonwealth Games or the Rugby World Cup there was always a bit of wrangling with producers and other department bosses about who'd get the high profile primetime roles.

I guess over the years we finished up splitting the big jobs about 50/50 but we often combined for the really big shows.

There's a few clippings lying around in a dusty box at my house which refer to us as "tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee" or "the Bobbsey twins" after big TV events like the 1987 Rugby World Cup final or, later that year, the first Halberg Awards which we co-hosted.

Soon after that Phillip left us in sports for the bright lights of Wheel of Fortune. It was a time in television in this country where, if you could land the right gig, you would make a fortune.

For five years Phillip revelled in the daily exposure of a glitzy game show, although the reality of recording 15 shows over three days once every three weeks meant it was a serious grind for which you deserved every cent of the huge salary.

His time in sports during the 1990s was rather sporadic until the game show was cancelled, but then he came back to his roots, and his mates, in time for the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

For various reasons - poor support systems and having to work in a dual hosting role - it probably wasn't his finest hour.

Maybe that was a catalyst for TVNZ to let him go when he still had much to offer the company.

Fun time

But as one door closed another opened, and with Phil Smith the genesis of a production company and sports show was the start of the final stage of his career.

It was a fun time for him, and a rewarding one too. He travelled the world and saw the world's greatest golf events, along the way scoring interviews with the best players.

Phillip loved mixing with the stars in any endeavour, and the golfing environment was one he just thrived in.

As a golf fan, I was an avid viewer and loved being able to take part in the programme occasionally.

From a practical point of view he was always most gracious too, making material from various events available to ONE News when we hadn't managed the resources to get there ourselves.

Our greatest experience together in this period was at the Masters in Augusta in 2007.

On the day after the tournament, around 800 accredited media go into a lottery to claim one of the 36 spaces available for the annual media day, where you actually get to play the hallowed golf course.

It was Phillip's birthday, and by sheer coincidence - well, maybe with a little help from the very friendly head of the media committee - we both scored a game at Augusta National.

No man could have wished for a better birthday present. I just thought it was Christmas.

Positive

Phillip's office was close to my house in Ponsonby. I would run into him in the street every now and then, and even late last year when I last saw him, he was feeling very positive about the future.

He'd had the operation, his chemo had gone well, and he was optimistic about the years ahead. To see him hosting his golf shows during the latter months of last year, you wouldn't have known he'd had major neuro-surgery only a few months prior.

But a long and happy old age, watching his children grow into mature adults, wasn't to be.

The cancer came back, aggressively, around Christmas time and now he completes a quite shocking month where three of the country's broadcasting greats have all left us for the big studio in the sky.

Holmes, of course, will want the big camera 1 close-up, Blackie will make do with a microphone and a rock'n roll record, but Phillip's genial, loveable persona will ensure everybody will love the show.

Because that was Phillip Leishman. His epitaph should read: "The viewers all loved him".

A TV star couldn't ask for anymore.

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