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George Bernard Shaw in New Zealand

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

I was reading a beautifully written wee book recently, published in 1944, “Here’s to Life: The Impressions, Confessions and Garnered Thoughts of a Free-Minded Showman,” by Henry Hayward. Hayward was the leader of the musical troupe, The Brescians. The Brescians were in high demand in Britain for many years before deeming to head south around 1906 as Hayward’s sister Rose had moved to New Zealand with her husband. As a violinist, Leila Waddell (who would later join the OTO and the AA) was invited to join the group and it met with enormous success throughout the country and in Australia touring with T.J. West’s pictures – these were documentary-style photographs projected onto a wall and running in quick succession. This rudimentary, yet enormously popular form of entertainment, would quickly meld into the first speaking movie tolling the death of Vaudeville entertainment internationally and virtually overnight. A visionary entrepreneur, Hayward was quick to embrace this rapidly changing form of entertainment and he made a lot of money forming movie theatres around the country. As such, his is a well-known name in the   annals of cinematography in this country. In any case, as a prominent Englishman, one way or another Hayward knew many successful world travellers that made their way to the antipodes; not least of these was the British Nobel Prize-winning playwright and music critic, George Bernard Shaw, with whom Hayward was very impressed, as follows: GBS visited New Zealand a decade ago, but I could not persuade him to publicly lecture. He said: “I never lecture for money; I depend entirely on my literature for my income.” GBS talked over the radio and aroused interest by advocating free milk for our school children. He said: “You have free roads and free libraries – why not give your children free milk?!” At the time it was deemed a wild Socialistic suggestion, but strangely, following his advice, we now give our school children not only free milk but free apples as well. What a timely snippet at this time when the country has returned to provision of breakfasts in schools, though unlikely sharing the same socialistic thrust. Shaw was, reportedly, the first major celebrity to visit New Zealand and crowds flocked to his every public appearance. He toured the country for a month, and people fair “swooned in his presence.” Famously, when a Kiwi reporter asked Shaw his impression of the country, he replied: “Altogether too many sheep!” Hayward, Henry J. (1944). Here’s to Life: The Impressions, Confessions and Garnered Thoughts of a Free-Minded Showman. Auckland. Oswald-Sely (New Zealand) Ltd 

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