TP : The Life and Times of Sir Terry McLean by Paul Lewis with Jock McLean, HarperCollinsPublishers, RRP $42, ISBN 9781869508630, Available now.
One of the major New Zealand biographical publications of 2010, TP is a detailed narrative of the life of the top sports journalist New Zealand has produced – Sir Terry McLean. It’s a real 20th century New Zealand life story too, complete with hard times, hard work, hard drinking (by others however, as the book makes clear), hard rugby, and the desire to be a little further up in the world than one really was.
Most people will only know the story of McLean as a journalist, so there’s lots of great additional material in TP - as well as the lesser known side of journalism (such as writing under assumed names) there’s personal stories of love and marriage (and affairs, including the revelation that he possibly had an affair with South African politician Helen Suzman), politics, as well as a lot of study of New Zealand rugby. Reading between the lines, there’s insight into why and how this sport has become so entwined with so many sections of NZ society, culture and politics.
The detail is what makes the book. It’s not all fawning and hagiographic either – there is honest assessment of the flaws of McLean as a man – often incapable of showing emotion, downright terrifying to new and younger colleagues, and with a desire to “keep up” with the rich and powerful – as well as the gifts that made him such a great journalist.
One distraction however is some seriously florid language.
Armed with a fearsome-looking wool hook, the future ‘doyen’ of New Zealand sporting journalists plunged the hook into countless bales of wool and moved them from point A to point B.
Only later would he plunge a textual hook into the thick of many issues and the people caught up in them.
I don’t think laughing out loud was the response Lewis was going for with that.
This is a book that will satisfy most New Zealand readers and it definitely provides a enjoyable read. I have to confess that I did wish at times for a less straightforward “biographical” approach to the writing and more of a “journalistic” approach (ah, the irony) – I often felt as a reader I was just on the edge of seriously interesting connections that could be made between the life of one man and the life of our country.
As a biography, however, TP succeeds in being engaging and enlightening.