Howard Morrison – How Great Thou Art
5 weeks at number one. Entry 20 Dec, 1981 (at #1)
Until then, the kids only knew me from the Bic ads…. But now I became a pop star hero in their eyes because of having an RTR hit – and it was a hymn!
Howard: The Life and Times of Sir Howard Morrison, John Costello
I only knew Howard from the Bic ads (Bic Click, Bic Flick, and Bic Shick… the Bic things in life cost so little). In fact that’s all I knew about Howard. He was an old Maori guy who did Bic ads. Here he is getting ready to promote Bic razors (a Bic Shic is in his hand).
In 1982 the biro pen had a strange magical allure for me because you weren’t allowed to write with them at school. In Intermediate you were only allowed to use cartridge pens. Or, in my case, cheap cartridge pens that blobbed and split and leaked everywhere. I flunked handwriting class with Mr. K. He looked at my spidery scrawl with open derision as if joining your sodding s’s to your sodding o’s was important. Well who had the last laugh I wonder? Me, a recorded rock and rap star living in Haiti, or you? A retired teacher.
I guess if I had met Howard in 1982 I would have said something nice about his song because I was nine and quite polite, but honestly it was one of those embarrassing things that sometimes get to number one for a whole lot of reasons other than their intrinsic awesomeness.
The clip below is taken from Maori TV’s coverage of Howard Morrison’s funeral. It is a moving tribute. Maori TV really is the best public service broadcaster in New Zealand hands down.
Howard’s reinvigoration of himself as an entertainer happened at the Royal Variety Show in the St James’ Theatre held in Auckland during the Queen’s visit to New Zealand in 1981. The director of the show was Tom Parkinson who asked Howard to appear in a comedy skit with Billy T. James.
I was highly indignant. How dare you demean my standing by implying that I am just a prop for a comedy skit? Do you realise that I was awarded the Order of the British Empire? Don’t you think I might want some say as to what I do in front of Her Majesty and Prince Philip? I was really on my high horse!
Tom, being the nice person that he is, said, “Okay, okay! What do you want to do?”
“I want to do a hymn. Specifically How Great Thou Art.”
There was silence from Tom on the phone.
Performing How Great Thou Art to the Queen does seem a bit of a suck up, but it doesn’t come across like that in the actual performance. Actually it reminds me of a cabaret act I did in the Dominican Republic once, I’ve Got a Lovely Pair of Coconuts.
Howard’s performance is hard to resist in a tribute video, but I remember it being fairly easy to resist at the time. I can sort of see why it was number one even though it lacks all the charisma of Howard’s early days.
Top Three Style Tips
You can rock a white jacket in the right circumstances
If you can bust out Te Reo to the Queen, you can bust it out to anyone
You can get away with anything at anytime (even hymns with a spoken Maori section wearing a lounge suit in front of the the Queen) if you fully, sincerely and humbly commit to it and own it.