Goodbye Timothy John Bickerstaff

Tim Bickerstaff

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Radio broadcaster and health products marketer Tim Bickerstaff was that unusual character – a macho man who didn’t mind taking the risk of other’s ridicule.

You couldn’t say he had a small ego, but even he wouldn’t have thought that his passing would be the “Most Read” item on the NZ Herald’s webpage – partly because this man who was almost a recluse in his private life was found dead by trick-or-treat kids on Halloween.

Famously dyslexic – he never could spell – he was also a brilliant marketer who could work out profit margins in seconds and recall sports statistics without a blink. In his later life that willingness to break convention included talking about men’s sex lives and erectile dysfunction.

When he began raising the topic on radio with his brutal sense of humour 13 years ago, it was still a “cringe” topic. Men didn’t talk about it for fear of being “unmanly”, and women didn’t talk about it because they didn’t want their men to feel they’d had their balls cut off.

Short-Lived Career as a Viagra Importer

Tim didn’t care. Before Viagra was a legal prescription product in New Zealand he was buying it off the web and on-selling it to his car dealer and horse trainer friends – being Tim at a good profit margin of course.

In the process he got practised at talking to his mates about whether they still “got it up”  or not – and so when Viagra was legally introduced he dropped the small scale importing and looked around for alternatives.

And that was how Herbal Ignite, the men’s health product which Tim marketed with success for the next decade got launched – and talk about it he did until his death in October 2009. By then the company had developed a life of its own and was well established to continue strong growth without its feisty founder at the helm.

Outrage Provoked Slashed Tyres

That ability to crack convention could be seen again and again in Tim Bickerstaff’s life. At a time when political correctness hadn’t yet been invented, Tim provoked enough outrage to get his tyres slashed by irate listeners.

Over 40 years in radio Tim was New Zealand’s answer to Derryn Hinch or US “shock jock” Howard Stern.  He was the “King of Contra” – the first to foster the negotiating skill whereby radio men sell “time” on air for products, and then sell those products on their own account.

He foresaw an era of professional sport in the 1980s and was involved in backing the controversial Cavaliers Rugby tour to South Africa.

King of ‘Contra’

He famously had a company called Artnoc – Contra spelt backwards – and for most of his career he was never paid a salary by the station, he simply developed his own list of advertisers and sold their product on “time” – a certain number of minutes an hour – the station gave him in lieu of salary.

Effectively it meant the radio host was competing with the station’s own sales staff, and no one did it better than Timothy John Bickerstaff.

TVs, Refrigerators, microwaves, or Souvenir editions of All Black or All White books – Tim could sell them all, while at the same time drawing listeners with his controversial commentaries on sport.

He had a prodigious memory for sports statistics, boxing in particular, and loved nothing better than staging sports quizzes on air.  But with TJB you could never be quite sure whether the show was for real or rigged.

Love Him or Hate Him

He loved a poster one he’d seen of a small boy with his fore finger in the air in a defiant “up you too” gesture, and there was always something of the delinquent in his anti-authoritarian salvos which fired up radio listeners.

At one time he deliberately taunted traffic officers on air about the speed limit on a stretch of highway which he traversed on his way home at night – and found himself regularly copping tickets on said stretch. It’s no wonder that in the 70s and 80s he managed to make his “love him or hate him” show compulsive listening.

Death On Air

When interviewing high profile real estate auctioneer Dick Gladding ‘live’ on air in 1989 Tim asked Gladding if his agency used “ring-ins” to boost the bidding. Gladding replied “Tim, I feel sick”. To which Tim replied “I thought you would say that”.

There was a long silent pause and Tim looked at Gladding. He had suffered a heart attack and was dead in the studio chair. (This was believed to be the first time in the history of world radio that this had ever happened).

In the 90s he wrote a successful sports book with a team of journalists Heroes and Villains recalling some of the scandals of sport – as a tabloid man at heart there was nothing Tim liked better that a good scandal…

Poking Finger At Authority

Bickerstaff has gone and in our PC era there is no one nearly as funny or entertaining to follow him on air.  The spirit Tim embodied is found today more with Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson that Radio Live’s Michael Laws. It’s the spirit of the rebel male poking a finger at authority. He’s naughty but never loses his sense of humour.

His legacy will live on, because Happy Families, the company he founded, succeeds him in good heart and Herbal Ignite has a strong future, but if you’ve got a favourite Bickerstaff story from the past we’d love to hear it.

Is there a place for that unrepentant male in today’s media?  Has all this talking about “getting it up” just made males into “menopausal” men? Tell us your favourite Bickerstaff story, celebrate an era, add to the tributes below as we celebrate a hell raiser who was at heart a very private man.

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“Vale Tim – Rascal, Raconteur, and Colleague in radio

You got me into more trouble with my spouse than everyone else in my life put together! And we loved every minute of it.

Sincere condolences to Sue, Brenda and Scott whom we knew as neighbours and friends at Farm Cove – and Jenny, who we didn’t.

John and Jacqui Scull,
( Radio i, Radio Hauraki, Radio NZ & Radio Pacific )
Gold Coast
QUEENSLAND”

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Very sad to hear the news about Tim and our thoughts are with you right now.

My memories of Tim are all good and our work on Heroes & Villains was one of the most enjoyable episodes of my career – a laugh a minute.
I noticed today that the Most Popular story on the Herald website was the story about Tim’s death – I’m sure I heard a Bickerstaff chortle from above, relishing the fact he could still top the ratings!
Best wishes
Josh & Wendy
Josh Easby
Hurricane Press Ltd
New Zealand
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So sorry to hear about Tim, but what a way to go – my caring thoughts are with you.

Warm wishes

BOB KERRIDGE, MNZM., KStJ., JP., FNZIM., BAppAnTech.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Auckland Inc.

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I would like to express my sincere condolences to you all in the loss of Tim – he was of my era and I well remember his Radio I days.  Certainly a man with huge strength of character and his very own feisty opinions.  But a truly memorable and professional broadcaster – and a man of his times.  Please express my sorrow in his loss to his family.

Warm regards
Ruth Sullivan

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I am of similar vintage to Tim.I never met him but his radio show in the seventies & eighties with Geoff Sinclair was compulsive listening.There has never been one to equal it since.It was one fantastic ride to be on & I am glad I got to experience two great talents & personalities.Radio is not the same now,but I still have the fantastic memories of those nightly programs when you rushed home from work to switch on to Radio Pacific at 5pm, a nightly ritual Monday to Friday.Irrepressible,sure,but you never wanted to miss one show,sheer entertainment everyone of them

Thanks Tim,you are unforgettable,in the best way.

Bruce.

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My condolences on the passing of Tim, and hope you are going well
yourself through this time.

I quite liked Tim and had just recently been thinking about taking a
drive over to Whitianga to drop in and say hi. He was a great
character and I’m glad to have gotten to know him and yourself.

Best wishes with all, and my thoughts are with you.

Best regards,
Tom Brown

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Please accept our condolences on the passing of Tim.
We are very sorry but we can’t attend Tim’s service in Manukau on the seventh.
Let us know if there is anything we can help you with in Whitianga.

Hope to meet you soon,

Kindest regards,

Hans and Annemarie Apers
Whitianga

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It was with considerable sadness that I saw Mondays paper which talked of Tims passing . I talked to him within the last little while and he seemed fineI feel that a part of my life has also passed….I knew Tim for almost 30 years and had a lot of enjoyable,funny and irreverent times with him…not so much since he made his home in Whitianga but we talked often

He truly was a larger than life character and one of New Zealand’s great broadcasters…his legacy in the world of radio will endure.

Regettably I am away from Auckland this Saturday and so cannot attend the funeral…but I will be thinking of him as I have done a lot over the last few days

He was too young to go but he lived a fuller more exciting life than most and I’m sure Tim himself would acknowledge that

All my love and best wishes
Jerry Hirst
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Laura Hay (Derek Lowe’s former PA) is in London, as I am.  As two former Radio Pacific employees we worked with Tim Bickerstaff and we want to pass on our sincere condolences to you and his family.
Tim was THE original contra king – before Murray Deaker thought of it!  In fact, Murray may have copied Tim in these endeavours.
We were always intimidated by Tim’s presence, his manner, his manna, his directness. We would shake in our shoes if he pointed his finger at either one of us and want a discussion!  But, when we got to know him, we got to understand he was a pussy cat with a teddy bear covering.  And he could be very funny indeed.  He was his own man, certainly, and for that we always admired him.
A literally large part of Radio Pacific has now gone.  Sports broadcasting was tame when Tim arrived at Pacific and not the same when he left.  He has left that important legacy among many others.  He made his mark and how wonderful that mark was.
Our thoughts are with you and the wider Bickerstaff family and friends.
All our love,
Sandy Myhre

 

Laura Hay
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Our thoughts and prayers are with you all at this very sad time with the loss of your special friend. Regards Carrick and the Thompson family.
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To Jenny Wheeler, the Bickerstaff family and Tim’s colleagues,
Kindest regards and respects to you at this time. It was one of my career highlights to spend time and interview Tim a decade ago (for Brass magazine) – that’s where I’ve pulled quotes from.
Like many Aucklanders young and old, Tim switched us on to sports news entertainment, and his work lives on.
Apologies for not being able to be at the celebration tomorrow, as I’ll be on-air with my own radio show.

 

Phil J Taylor

 

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4 comments

  • My thoughts are with you at this time, and although we have never met, I did enjoy my chats with Tim on phone in recent years re our family history. I have many happy memories of Tim and his family during our growing years and he certainly lived life to the fullest, and will be sadly missed for his sense of humour alone!!!!!!!!!
    Kind regards, Lynn Cupitt,
    Townsville

  • Claire Monteith

    Tim’s Poem:
    The wine glass is empty, as the bar tender shouts:
    ‘Last call for drinks, before I throw you all out’

    The cab drivers waiting, to give you a ride.
    He’s taking you home, to it’s safety inside.

    A spare seat is waiting, at Heaven’s dining table.
    ‘Take your seat Timmy, and tell us a Fable!’

    You’ll make the angels laugh, and see the grin on God’s dial.
    With you at their table, they can’t help but smile!

    Your glass will never be empty, and hang-overs don’t exist.
    Have fun and drink up, ’cause you’ll never get p*ssed!

    You tried to disguise yourself as the big grizzly bear, but to me you were a big soft teddy with a heart of gold! Your house was always our ‘escape’ from life, and I will miss those weekend visits drinking wine and talking food!

    Safe trip Timmy, only you could have had the last laugh on Halloween of all days!
    All our love to Jenny and Tim’s friends and family
    xxxx Claire & Kevin Monteith

  • Margaret Burke

    Hi TJB or should I say Timothy John Criminal, make sure you have a drink or 20 with Parkie up stairs and don’t try and con God because he knows everything you have done, well he is supposed to be always nosing around. Thanks for the thousands of laughs we had over the years and the thousands of drinks we also had. Love you like a boil on my neck Margaret Burke

  • Tom Brown

    Farwell Tim & good luck in your new appointment!

    We had some good years doing Ignite together, and we had some great discussions about people and world matters in the midst of it. I always appreciated your sharp attitude and awareness… and your wine cellar 🙂

    You moved on when you got a better deal, but I can’t complain as that was how I got the gig in the first place. Biz is biz and you were sharp and calculating. My respect for your formidable marketing capabilities stands. I regret never having a chance to catch up again.

    A great character moves on, and it was an honour to know and work with Tim.

    All my best to Jenny & all Tim’s friends and extended family.
    Tom

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