Billy T. James
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Billy T. James (b. William James Taitoko, 1948;
7, 1991) was
a well known and much-loved entertainer and comedian from New
Zealand. He was famous for his black singlet, yellow towel around the neck
and a characteristic chuckle that he claimed was inspired by Maori children.
Billy T. James - Te News 7
Never a man to take himself seriously, he once said: 'I'm half-Maori and
one half of me wants to get pissed [drunk] and the other half doesn't want
to pay for it.' When some militant Maori started chanting, 'Kill a white be
a hero!' he retorted, 'What about a half-caste like me? What do I do, stab
myself?' According to his daughter Lyn, on one occasion when someone arrived
at his farm with a loaded shotgun, he treated it as if it were a game.
In the 1970s, James joined the musical showband, the Maori Volcanics, and toured internationally. While in Australia, he began his solo career and later returned to his native New Zealand. He changed his name due to pronunciation difficulties he apparently confronted in Australia: "... something the Aussies could pronounce."
In the 1980s, James became a household name through variety show Radio Times and his self-titled The Billy T. James Show in 1984. His film career blossomed around this time, too, with a notable role in Ian Mune's Came a Hot Friday (The Tainuia Kid - a Maori who believes he is a Mexican bandito). In 1985, New Zealanders named him 'Entertainer of the Decade'.
On Television New Zealand, he lampooned the US show Entertainment This Week as 'Entertainment That's Weak'. His other spoofs that are well known amongst New Zealanders of his generation included Turangi Vice(where the Vice Squad cracked down on illegal trout fishing), Chocky IV (an eating competition held in a boxing ring) and a memorable version of American cop show CHiPs. In all these, he appeared with his collaborator Peter Rowley. Tony Holden directed the most memorable episodes in 1984.
As an all-round entertainer, James was a talented singer and had a knack for drawing, which both emerged in his shows. His show was not renewed on TVNZ after the 1985 C6 season, which appeared more expensive with location filming, and abandoned his cabaret-style segments.
He dubbed voices in the feature cartoon Footrot Flats: the Dog's Tale, in 1987. Two books of comic strips that he wrote, Billy T. James' Real Hard-Case Book (volumes 1 and 2), appeared in the late 1980s.
He wrote and starred in a short-lived sitcom (created with studio exec Tom Parkinson of Isambard Productions), also called The Billy T. James Show, on then-fledgling New Zealand network TV3 in 1989 C90. He starred opposite Ilona Rodgers and Mark Hadlow.
His poor health saw him go in for major heart surgery, after which he returned in a TV special, Billy T. James: Alive and Gigging, with special guest Sir Howard Morrison, to whom he was related.
James sadly died of a heart attack in 1991, with some controversy over where he was to be buried. His legacy lives on in events such as the Billy T. Awards where aspiring comedians compete to win the yellow towel.
Maori Television revived some of his work in its first few weeks in 2004.
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