Author(s): Matt Elliott
Billy T James was a larger-than-life comedian who gave us some of our best belly laughs. An accomplished singer and musician, he created enduring characters, poking the borax at the oh-so-delicate state of race relations in New Zealand in a way that stood him head and shoulders above other performers of his era. Like John Clarke's Fred Dagg, Billy T's characters were Kiwi through and through and we loved him for it. When he died in his early forties, of complications following a heart transplant, the nation was shocked - first by his premature death, and then by one of the first highly publicised interracial body-snatching incidents. His Pakeha wife and his iwi disagreed over funeral arrangements, ending in the taking by force of his body from their home in Auckland to a marae in Ngaruawahia. The sight of iwi and family battling in the media and reports of his body being transported in a van made sickening headlines. His widow, Lynn Matthews, and a number of Billy's closest friends who have kept their silence until now, have cooperated with author Matt Elliott to tell the story of the man behind the cheeky grin and the infectious laugh. What emerges is the shy, self-doubting man the public never saw, and the death threats and exploitation of his generous nature that placed intolerable strain on the man who only ever wanted to make us laugh. The result is perceptive, funny and endearing - just like the man himself.
Billy T is the second book by Matt Elliott for HarperCollins, both of which reflect his love of Kiwi comedy. A stand-up comedy veteran, he has worked in radio, television and film. He lives in Auckland.