Inevitably with the passing of someone who has been a part of one’s life for over fifty years childhood memories are resurrected which for me incur a sense of longing for those days of long ago.
On Tuesday 11 March I attended the funeral at St Andrew’s First Presbyterian Church in Symonds St of a very old friend. His name was Les Andrews QSM and he was aged 96. Who was Les Andrews, you might ask? Well, if you were living in Auckland during the 60’s through to the 90’s you couldn’t help but recognise the name. Les was one of New Zealand’s oldest entertainers - an entertainer extraordinaire – the actor and singer from Timaru to the Palladium, a man of incredible talent. During his long life he did it all - firstly with the famous Kiwi Concert Party during the war, then afterwards graduating from the Royal College of Music in London. As a principal soloist he performed all around Britain as well as broadcasting with the BBC, a quizmaster and interviewer, comedian, pioneer of the early days in television (in both Britain and New Zealand), entrepreneur, and tireless worker for charity. He was an extremely gifted man and over his long and varied life (over sixty years as a performer) gave pleasure to millions.
He battled long and hard to save Auckland’s beautiful old Customhouse which earned him the Queens Service Medal and who could forget Les singing “Click Goes The Toll Gate, click, click, click…” when the Auckland Harbour Bridge was opened – a record which would go on to sell thousands of copies.
When I was thirteen I moved to Glendowie with my family and one morning while waiting for the bus to take me to my new school in the city I met Jenny Andrews who was going to the same school. We immediately hit it off and later I met her talented musical family – her mother Marie Campbell, contralto and music teacher, her two brothers, David and Robert who played the flute and the clarinet, and Jenny herself, a gifted soprano.
There followed many years of fun and laughter throughout our teenage years – so many memories - going backstage to watch Les performing, the TV studios in Shortland Street when, in the sixth form, we tried out for one of Les’s quiz shows (it never got to first base!), Jenny and I singing songs from The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady to Les’s praise, Christmas holidays in Gisborne where I would meet many performing artistes, Les giving me away when I got married, and later after Jenny’s mother died and he married Sonia King attending their many variety concerts in Auckland’s Town Hall and Aotea Centre. Les and Sonia brought the house down with The White Cliffs of Dover at one of my book launches. One final memory of Les and Sonia at my house-warming in Takapuna and the two of them sliding out the door at on a sea of wine! How they made it home in one piece is one of life’s great mysteries.
As Jenny said in her eulogy: “Well Dad, this is your final show. The venue is sorted, the tickets sold, the programmes printed, the seats are full.” And what a show it was - a great and talented cast of many from all walks of life, tributes pouring in for a remarkable man who had led a rich and rewarding life. And the music, a beautiful and fitting reminder of a man who had an ability to enchant with his singing.
It was a send-off to remember.