Brian Edwards Media

I Indulge in a Bit of Amateur Psychobabble about Paul Henry

Herald on Sunday

Many years ago Ian Fraser and I had a conversation about the qualities needed to be a successful television interviewer. Of course you needed to be reasonably intelligent, reasonably well informed, reasonably articulate, have a reasonably pleasant voice, be reasonably OK to look at and an extremely good listener.

And then Ian added one further talent: ‘To succeed on television you have  to be able to act yourself.’

The concept is also relevant to people being interviewed on television and we sometimes pass on Ian’s theory to our clients. The problem is partly that the nerves which affect most people, including the professionals, when appearing on television before an unseen audience of possibly hundreds of thousands of people, can strip you of many of the qualities you normally have in everyday life – confidence, fluency, animation, the ability to think on your feet, express yourself clearly, even, in extremis, to express yourself at all.

The successful television performer recognises this problem and makes a conscious and concentrated effort to restore those everyday qualities. To achieve this, he  becomes an observer of the ‘actor’ playing himself, simultaneously monitoring and fine-tuning his performance on a second by second basis. There is an almost schizophrenic quality to the host/interviewer’s job in which one person – the actor – is totally engaged with his guest or audience while the other is ‘reading’ the guest’s response, thinking about the direction of the next question, calculating how much time he has left, preparing to  introduce the next item and a host of other details that are essential to a successful performance.

So I agree with Ian that, in order to succeed on television, you have to be able to ‘act yourself’, that every appearance is ‘a performance’.  ‘Being’, as distinct from ‘acting’ oneself on television, is extremely difficult.   

As these thought were rumbling around in my brain, it occurred to me that the Paul Henry we see on Breakfast might be someone who is actually just ‘being’ himself on television and that an indicator of this is  the apparent absence of any self-monitoring or self-censoring process. What comes out of  Paul’s mouth is Paul unmediated, unplugged, uncensored, the real McCoy.

One the more elegant psychological paradigms I’ve come across  is Transactional Analysis in which what goes on in our minds is seen as a series of interactions and often of struggles between the ‘Child’ in us who likes to play and can be well-behaved or naughty, the ‘Adult’, who is the voice of reason, and the ‘Parent’ who can be nurturing or highly critical.   

It seems to me that when he is on Breakfast, Paul is almost exclusively, if you’ll forgive the jargon, ‘in his Child’. The programme is a playground for him and he is having an absolutely wonderful time. The main thing is to have fun and sometimes you can have the most fun by being naughty, perhaps by saying things your ‘Parent’ wouldn’t approve of. But hey, it’s your playground and your sandpit and you can do just about anything you like.

Have a look at this episode in which Paul makes fun of the name of  Delhi’s Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit:

What strikes me about this clip it that the fun Paul has in saying ‘Dick-Shit’ over and over again is infantile in the most literal and non-judgmental meaning of the term. He finds it funny in exactly the same way that a small child might find it funny to keep repeating a ‘naughty’ word like ‘poos’ or ‘wees’ or ‘bum’.  And he’s completely lost control of himself, ‘wetting himself laughing’, as my mother would have said.

From an ‘Adult’ point of view this is not reasonable behaviour for the presenter of an early morning programme on state television. It is highly offensive and insulting to a very senior politician from another country. Newsreader Peter Williams, adopting the ‘Parent’ role, speaks quite sternly to naughty Paul, but to no effect. The Child is on the rampage.

A quite different Paul appears when he is standing in for Mark Sainsbury on Close Up. There the Adult and the Parent seem to be running the show. Paul is rational, sometimes warm and supportive, sometimes hypercritical.

The difference may be explained by the much larger audience for the 7 o’clock show and by the fact that this isn’t Paul’s personal playground. It’s harder to be naughty here – too many people watching, most them not the same kids who like to play with you in the morning.

If there’s a thesis in all this amateur psychobabble, it is that the Paul we see on Breakfast is actually the real Paul, expressing his real personality and real views,  not someone putting on an act or performance for the sake of ratings or to attract attention.

Of the constituent parts of the human personality, the Child in us is by far the most honest. Sometimes that honesty is attractive and amusing, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes Paul is a real funny kid, sometimes he’s a little horror. He’s had a real telling off this week, been sent to the naughty step and lost his pocket money for two weeks. When he’s allowed back in the playground, it will be interesting to see whether the Child or the Adult is running the show. No fun without one, no restraint without the other. Tricky, eh?


  1. Well said Brian. Makes a lot of sense. Yes it will be interesting to see what happens on his return to BF (If he returns!)

    He said himself he will miss Pippa very much when she leaves to have her baby, perhaps he doesn’t really want the job any more, with her going at the end of the year?

    I do find him entertaining, though this time he probably went to far.

  2. If Paul keeps on behaving like the naughty child, perhaps his parents will send him to boarding school in England. That should knock him into shape and hopefully teach him some manners so he can return and mix with the grownups.

  3. ‘I do find him entertaining, though this time he probably went to far.’

    I think he many times went too far, and I feel angry that his managers let him get so abusive and vulgar, apparanetly in our collective name. Yet a security guard was summarily dismissed in 2007 for suggesting to Christine Rankin that she had been wrong (on air) to tar all Maori parents with the same brush as four abusive ones.His reasonable comments were defined by Ellis as ‘abusive’.
    This is all Alice in Wonderland stuff.

  4. In my understanding of TA, Paul Henry’s a bigoted jerk maybe because ridiculing others worked for him when he was a kid living in a deprived area with very little parental attention. It’s part of his life script. On Breakfast, he’s given the freedom and encouragement to follow it, because it fits with the company script to increase ratings.

    Ben Gracewood, who showed integrity by resigning his job with Breakfast in protest at Henry’s latest racist comments, made this observation:

    “For the record: I think Paul is an intelligent guy who does an incredibly difficult job making up crap to say for 2.5 hours every morning, with producers talking in his ear. This makes his comments even more abhorrent in my mind: I believe it’s premeditated.”

    If Henry was different on Close Up, a different producer could be the reason.

    So, perhaps another factor could be added: “To succeed on television you have to have a good producer.”

    I hope we can soon say: “To succeed on New Zealand television you cannot be a bigot”.

  5. Henry had clearly laid a trap for Key. No presenter of Henry’s ability and experience goes into interviews “winging it”.

    It was premeditated and calculated.

    The “non apology” came across as the same. Conditional remorse.

    The TVNZ initial response insulted every New Zealander.

    If Henry is a real New Zealander then I am seriously considering seeking alternative citizenship. Australia, South Africa, India, Samoa, look appealing.

    Henry has ashamed me for being a New Zealander.
    TVNZ has ashamed me for being a New Zealander.

    • Henry had clearly laid a trap for Key. No presenter of Henry’s ability and experience goes into interviews “winging it”.

      Not so, I’m afraid. On a daily show like this, ‘winging it’ will be pretty common.

  6. Certainly a different take, Brian!

    To pick up your Close-Up/Breakfast contrast, this is one of the problems TVNZ has had for years, and doesn’t seem able (willing) to address. For example, one minor fallout from Henry’s suspension is that he won’t now be doing “This is Your Life” (replaced by Paul Holmes, another multiple hat-wearer).

    Now, the defenders of Paul Henry (Breakfast Child) often say “If you don’t like him, don’t watch.” But he is not just the morning ‘shock jock’, he is also expected to be the avuncular guy who pays tribute to a celebrity, with a family reunion and all the rest of the features of “This is Your Life”. And if for some inexplicable reason I was ever on that show, I’d want to chuck the Life book back in his face!

    Similarly, Mike Hosking is asked to be a probing interviewer (Close-Up) and a friendly game show host (Millionaire), Paul Holmes does anything and everything, and so on. The network faces are jacks-of-all-formats. It just doesn’t work.

    If you’re watching American television, you don’t expect Dan Rather to host Wheel of Fortune. It’s the same at the BBC, ABC, everywhere really. Political interviewers do in-depth interviews. Chat show hosts do light chat shows. Offensive comedians do late night comedy routines. Except in New Zealand.

    Paul Henry could have been a smart, effective, serious interviewer. He has shown this potential in the past. But he was asked (told? wanted?) to do something else. And he’s wasted his talent. He’s forever tainted now.

    I have no sympathy for him, but he’s not the main culprit. The real blame lies with the TVNZ chiefs who think the only difference between Walter Cronkite and Donald Duck was a change of costume.

    Paul Henry is their creation, and their failure.

  7. I must admit Brian, upon reading your first few lines above, I couldn’t help but raise my eyebrows a fraction in a presumptuous display of cynicism at what was likely to follow in the form of your ‘psycho-babble’… how wrong I was.

    This was actually a surprisingly insightful observation (and superbly delivered/argued too may I add Sir. Kudos).

    I can’t help but wonder if you’ve in fact hit upon something here. It’s certainly an intriguing rationale that would go along way to attempting to explain (not ‘justify’ it has to be noted) the pattern of behaviour that’s clearly been developing recently on the part of PH… recidivist behaviour from a supposedly intelligent, informed and experienced broadcaster, whose years in the hot-seat would, without question or doubt, dictate that he knew damn well what he was doing/saying was at the very least inappropriate, inflamatory and completely unprofessional.

    Does anyone else get the feeling there’s almost a ‘destructive’ aura permeating in amongst all this too.

    As I said… ‘intriguing’ to observe in a morbid fascinating kind of way.

    • Does anyone else get the feeling there’s almost a ‘destructive’ aura permeating in amongst all this too.

      Good question. Should that perhaps be ‘self-destructive’?

  8. If that is the real Paul, I’ll pass ,thanks.I wouldn’t allow it from a 10 yr old, let alone an adult on national TV.

  9. So, it’s all a matter of the real Paul Henry and Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.

    Ma’s out, Pa’s out-let’s talk rude:
    Pee – Po – Belly – Bum – Drawers!
    Dance in the garden in the nude:
    Pee – Po – Belly – Bum – Drawers!
    Let’s write rude words all down our street,
    Stick out our tongues at the people we meet,
    Let’s have an intellectual treat:
    Pee – Po – Belly – Bum – Drawers!

    What kind of talk is the Dons’ delight?
    Pee – Po – Belly – Bum – Drawers.
    What’s on every newstand in sight?
    Playboy – Belly – Bum – Drawers.
    What TV comedy’s loved the best?
    What did Illingworth say at the Final Test?
    What is Prince Philip’s favourite jest?
    Pee – Po – Belly – Bum – Drawers.

    Danny La Rue’s in a double bill:
    Pee – Po – Belly – Bum – Drawers.
    Christopher Robin meets Fanny Hill:
    Pooh Bear – Belly – Bum – Drawers!
    Kenneth Tynan has given his all
    And in Oh Calcutta they have a ball …
    ‘Cause the higher the brow the harder they fall:
    Pee – Po – Belly – Bum – Drawers.

    Ken Russell’s filming in Regent’s Park
    Pee – Po – Belly – Bum – Drawers,
    Full Frontal Composers, Bach to Bach
    Pee – Po – Belly – Bum – Drawers,
    From the folk-song scene to the world of Pop
    They get their words from the Porno Shop-
    Things seem to start where they used to stop
    With Pee – Po – Belly – Bum – Drawers!

    • So, it’s all a matter of the real Paul Henry and Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.

      Flanders and Swann, I gather. Thanks for introducing me to that, Edward.

  10. The TA approach makes sense though I wonder why you don’t examine what the Boardcaster’s responsibilities are?

    Henry’s been encouraged by the timidity and/or indulgece of his seniors. He might be capable of different modes of operation, but they clearly want him in his infantile form on Breakfast. To my mind then, they’re offering tacit support (at least) for his homophobia and racism. As a parent, I’d work with my child to stay within acceptable limits. This latest punishment, and the delay in enacting it, suggests to me they still don’t see the significant of his transgressions.

    Also, how on earth did Key not immediately tell Henry is comment was wrong?

    I’ve incredibly low expectations of most media personalities, their motivation is column inches and media buys; but the PM and TVNZ’s senior executives have public responsibilities they’ve clearly failed.

  11. The laughter of Paul Henry in the video supplied sounds more like the cackle of someone with psychiatric difficulties (perhaps mania).

  12. Well, I don’t know about you lot but I’m heading off to sleep. It’s way past my bedtime. First a quick bath, comb my hair, brush my teeth, then into my jim-jams and rush upstairs to bed.

    Shame on you all for keeping me up to this late hour with your boisterous commentary, your ideological posturing and your fancy postmodernist discourse !

  13. A very perceptive insight Brian. Thank you. And thanks to simon too for highlighting our media’s propensity for creating boring jack-of-all-trades “slebs”.

    Along with 99% of the hoi poloi I have better things to do in the mornings and to watch breakfast TV, so I hadn’t seen that incredible clip.

    That embarrassing performance is far more disturbing than Mr Henry’s perplexing and ill-informed comments about the Gov-Gen.

    It’s sad that a man with all the skills required to be the best TV journalist in the country is a dyed-in-the-wool middle-aged pre-adolescent.

    He needs a job change.

  14. If PH ever wanted to replace Sainsbury how now does he ‘do’ gravitas? How does he portray solemnity with a guest of Indian descent, or of any ethnicity not presumably Anglo? Oh yes, of course… TVNZ will arrange for him to practise in a forthcoming interview with our GG (he who is obviously not his GG). Hey, lookee world, PH is interviewing the GG. How can there be any offense taken? Silly you.

  15. Just wondering.

    Mr Henry has brought down much approbium upon New Zealand and New Zealanders. Have a look at the comments from the great unwashed on Youtube for a taste of it.

    Is he a New Zealander?

  16. To answer my own question.

    Sadly, he is.


  17. You have got to wonder at the sloppy editorial process inside TVNZ News and Current Affairs that let Henry’s appalling ‘apology’ go to air. Surely a producer would have read that and okayed it before the show? But to be fair to them perhaps Henry ad-libbed the ‘gypo’ comments.

    Winning the best presenter award has obviously made Henry a legend in his own lunchtime and he thinks he can say whatever he likes on Breakfast. I pity his co-hosts who are frequently put in a very uncomfortable position by his juvenile behaviour, and their sensible responses are often what saves TVNZ from further trouble. Certainly the co-hosts’ attempts to defuse embarrassing situations caused by Henry will be taken into account by the BSA in their rulings on complaints.

    Where to from here for Breakfast? Along with Good Morning and Country Calendar it is one of the few local programmes that earns its keep for TVNZ, and there are reports of nervous sponsors. I suspect that it will be pressure from Breakfast’s sponsors, not viewers or politicians, that TVNZ is most likely to take notice of. Let’s hope the threat of lost sponsorship income will finally force Henry to pull his head in. It’s long overdue.

  18. If we did not have a state supported TV Paul Henry could see how well he could do in a private TV channel, the real world, and we, the taxpayers would not have the mortification of this oaf being paid as a public servant.

  19. The PH matter has brought home to me the quantity, tity, tity, tity tity,tity HA Ha Ha…. Sorry, just had a PH moment, of the level of support for a gibbering buffoon behaving badly. I can remember when my son went through the terrible twos… Interesting analysis, and I enjoy your blog. Thank goodness for an island of sanity in an ocean of media drivel.

  20. That puts the issue in a new light for me, but I still reckon, as I’ve said elsewhere, that one of the characteristics of adulthood is this thing called ‘tact’. All of us will have noticed the spelling of the name (I’d seen it before, though I didn’t laugh, not even the first time); I dare say quite a few of us, upon seeing our new Governor-General for the first time, would have been reminded just how diverse culturally New Zealand has the potential to be.

    None of which stopped Paul Henry mouthing off like a kid – and not a very nice kid at that. Even the baddest behaved kid knows when to suck his scone in or bad things are liable to be visited upon his corpus delicti. The response of hier up the hierarchy of TVNZ seemed to indicate, however, that there were a number of people in those giddy hiets that could as well have been shown the door (or the window, if defenestration takes your fancy). The ‘parents’ were no better than the ‘child’, as it transpired.

    You know: I miss the Brian Edwards/Ian Fraser days. Good heavens, I even liked Bill Ralston, and Mike Campbell is always engaging. Who needs tactless or witless boors?


  21. By the way –
    is it me, or does Paul Henry in that lead picture look as though he’s about to drop a biggy? Just thought I’d ask…