Goodbye Timothy John Bickerstaff
Pay tribute to Tim or share your recollections of him by clicking “Reply” or filling in the text box above.
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.
“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 )
Very sad to hear the news about Tim and our thoughts are with you right now.
So sorry to hear about Tim, but what a way to go – my caring thoughts are with you.
BOB KERRIDGE, MNZM., KStJ., JP., FNZIM., BAppAnTech.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Auckland Inc.
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.
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.
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.
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,
Hans and Annemarie Apers
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