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Regrets? He’s had a few

Alison Quigan and Mark Hadlow in Roger Hall’s latest play, Auckland Theatre Company’s 'Winding Up'.
Sir Roger Hall is arguably New Zealand’s most successful playwright, yet there are still things he’d like to have done differently. Here, he shares the things he wish someone had told him at 22.


When I was 22, I was in London coming to the end of the best part of five wasted years since leaving school (four O Levels, zero A Levels, zero ambition). Sure I had left home, spent two years in New Zealand and a year in Australia working in factories and bars, and travelled overland back to the UK to see my parents. But by then, I had received the best piece of advice I’d ever had in my life. It had been given to me when I was 21, by the mother of a New Zealand girlfriend who sensed I still hadn’t found an aim in life. “Go to Teachers College,” she said. I knew instantly that’s what I would do, and at 23 started at that home of ruthless liberals: Wellington Teachers College.

From that moment I worked like hell, and eventually got a Teachers’ Certificate and a Masters in English. At last, I had security and a sure career ahead of me! Of course, once I was married and had a baby, I threw that training away so I could go full-time writing.

In a way, I had the big things sorted. It was lots of other stuff that would have been handy to have been told and heeded.

At 22, someone should have told me:

Keep a diary

This is the biggie. Oh, how I wish I’d kept one. I did for some years during a year writing for TV in London and it is astonishing to read them and realise how much you’ve forgotten. But usually after a day’s writing, there is little energy or the will to do so. Most New Zealand politicians are equally weak-willed. Don’t they realise, as May West once said, “Keep a diary, and one day it will keep you”? UK politicians know this very well, as did Michael Palin and Alan Bennett. Their diaries are hugely entertaining and informative best-sellers. For personal memories, a diary beats a photo album.

Learn the ukulele

At Teachers College, we were taught the recorder and I was more than competent. I played it in class to Standard Two. Their mass shrill notes curdled the milk if the sun hadn’t already done so.

I know it’s possible to get great sounds out of a recorder, but do you hear people in the pub gathering together to play them? No, you don’t. Because you can’t play it and sing at the same time. I should have learned the ukulele at 22. It’s not as if I haven’t tried in recent years, but I’m damned if I can get my ancient fingers to go in the right places. But those who can play and sing along are having a great time. Much more than I am.

Join a choir

Related to above. I love to sing but now I can’t. I envy friends of both sexes who belong to one; they have a rich pastime.

Alison Quigan and Mark Hadlow in Roger Hall’s latest play, Auckland Theatre Company’s Winding Up 

Learn to type well

Back then, every form of writing (essays, letters home, short stories, early scripts) were laboriously written by hand, and then re-written to get a fair copy. When submitting stories, articles and scripts, I had to pay people to get fair copies typed. Eventually I went to typing classes, full of serious young women who saw typing as their career. Many men of my generation were put off the computer because they were never familiar with the keyboard.

Tell your cricket team you’re an opening batsman

Then you’ll always get an innings, instead of desperately hoping your good mate gets out very soon so you get your turn to bat (who am I kidding - I was frightened of fast bowling).

 Sir Roger Hall is the writer of Auckland Theatre Company’s season of Winding Up, which premieres at Auckland’s ASB Waterfront Theatre 11 Feb-8 March 2020, followed by a North Island Tour. For more info visit

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

15 Jan 2020

The Big Idea Editor