Billy T: Te Movie
Billy T: Te Movie celebrates the life of the legendary Billy T James, New Zealand’s best-loved entertainer. The film explores Billy’s extraordinary talent as musician, singer, comedian, actor, writer and artist...it even attempts to uncover the source of his trademark giggle. With humour and love, the film tells of Billy’s meteoric rise to national fame and his tragic downfall into ill-health and financial collapse. Featuring digitally re-mastered footage of Billy’s performances and never-seen-before archival images, Billy T’s story is set alongside interviews with his family, friends and colleagues. Audiences will have with laughter in their hearts and tears in their eyes.
Billy T: Te Movie explores Billy T James’ origins as a performer from the time he moved from rural Cambridge to 1960s Auckland on a Māori apprenticeship scheme and joined his first band, through to his high-rating TV series and award-winning acting in Came a Hot Friday.
Billy was talented and successful as a musician, singer, comedian and actor, as well as an accomplished artist and cartoonist. He played guitar and sang in bands in Auckland before touring internationally as a member of the highly successful Māori Volcanics showband in the 1970s. He became New Zealand’s biggest television star through the variety series Radio Times, which he hosted as the music hall-styled character Dexter Fitzgibbons, followed by several sketch comedy and sitcom series titled The Billy T James Show in which he starred and co-wrote between 1981 and 1990. At the height of his popularity, his show was watched by 1.3 million people - over half the country’s population at the time. He won the Feltex Best Entertainment Award in 1984, and the Entertainer of the Decade Award in 1985. In 1986 he was awarded an MBE for services to entertainment and the NZ Film and Television Awards best supporting actor for Came A Hot Friday, plus best comedy performance and best entertainment programme for his TV series. In 1990 he received the Variety Club Golden Microphone (aka “Benny”) Award for outstanding contribution to entertainment. He was a phenomenon throughout the 1980s and his death at the age of 42 was mourned by the nation. He still has a very special place in the hearts of New Zealanders. The New Zealand Comedy Festival Trust has continued to pay tribute to Billy T James’ legacy to the comedy industry, making an annual award to up-and-coming comedians.
Billy T: Te Movie features excerpts from 1980s television interviews with Billy himself, giving his own insights into his work, providing links and background to some of the most popular clips and showing his more serious, quiet side. The film gives an opportunity to go back and get close to Billy, and to look at the extraordinary gifts that made his audience love him so much.
Throughout the film, heartfelt interviews with friends, family and colleagues shine fresh light on his life and work from many points of view. The film reveals his humble origins, charts his career with its rise-and-fall finances, examines his battle with ill-health, and airs the controversy that surrounded his burial.
The film also places Billy T and his humour into context, looking at aspects of New Zealand society and culture which shaped his life and experiences. Using archival footage, newsreels and drama sequences, the film paints a picture of the 1950s, 60s and 70s that many in the audience will remember with nostalgia and others will find a fascinating slice of our history.