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History Man: Michael King

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History Man: Michael King is a journey through the life and work of one of New Zealands most popular historians, Michael King.

Writer/producer Colin Hogg says, I approached him about  doing a documentary earlier this year and he was very keen. He said to me, Im curious about my curiosity, which I always quite liked.

Sadly, only a matter of weeks later and before work on the documentary could even begin, King and his wife, Maria Jungowska, were both killed in a road crash. King had only just survived a throat cancer that had threatened to take his life. The country was shocked by his death.

Colin Hogg continued to make the documentary, interviewing friends, colleagues and critics about Kings remarkable life. Michael and I had talked about what we would do and it was going to be based around going to certain places and talking to certain people we sort of made lists of what to do.

Tragically, he was killed two weeks later, before wed shot anything. But I tried to stay very true to the original plan. We basically went to the places that he wanted to go to, like the Chatham Islands, to follow the Moriori story and talked to a lot of the people who he suggested we talked to, says Hogg.

Over more than three decades, Michael King became one of our most beloved writers. His insatiable curiosity gave New Zealand an extraordinary run of books about us and our past. His latest work, The Penguin History of New Zealand, is a publishing sensation, knocking the usual book-chart-topping sports biographies and cookery volumes flying with its runaway popularity, which has seen its sales recently top the 100,000 mark.

After studying history at university in the 1960s, King joined the Waikato Times as a reporter and was assigned to cover Maori issues. Despite his white skin and outsider status, King quickly immersed himself in Maori life, history and protocol and when he turned to writing books, Maori topics dominated. And when, a few years later, he turned to Maori biography as he did with Te Puea and Whina, his definitive studies of the two great women leaders he found himself wearing the unexpected mantle of popular author.

Without King, average Kiwis would have known little of the lives and achievements of these legendary women. And without King too, wed be poorer in our knowledge of Frank Sargeson, Janet Frame and the Moriori, who were all subjects of popular books by King.

Even being Pakeha became a topic for study when King responding to criticism about being a white man telling Maori stories pulled away from championing Maori figures and culture to put his own ethnicity in focus with the book Being Pakeha.