Sir Roger Hall CNZM QSO is one of Aotearoa’s most prolific and successful playwrights. He has written for the stage, alongside scriptwriting for film and television. He brings a comedic edge to his writing – well known for their political and social purpose, and underlying pathos. His plays have toured widely and have been performed at international venues. Sir Roger has been honoured with numerous awards and titles for his contribution to performing arts, including a New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal, a Scroll of Honour from the Variety Artists Club of New Zealand, and the 2015 Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement.
Born in Essex, Sir Roger graduated from the University College School, Hampstead (1952–55), before following his father into insurance. His longing desire to write and to act was kindled by his father’s talent as an impersonator, frequent family visits to the theatre, especially revues, and by his love of post-war British radio comedies such as ‘ITMA’ (see Ted Kavanagh) and ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’. But the opportunity to do both came only after Sir Roger moved to New Zealand in 1958.
He appeared in amateur productions while working (still in insurance) in Wellington in the late 1950s. After a brief return visit to England (via Australia and India) in 1960–62, Sir Roger attended Wellington Teachers’ College and then Victoria University, where he completed a BA. At the same time he participated as an actor and script-writer in various revues, both on campus and downtown.
He began teaching, at Berhampore School, Wellington, in 1966, and the short stories and plays he wrote for use in the classroom were the beginnings of a prolific output of children’s writing which has continued ever since, most of it published either in the School Journal or by educational specialists Shortland Publications.
Resigning from teaching to become a freelance writer in 1970, he achieved some stage successes as well as television credits in both New Zealand and Australia. He continued his writing for children and for television, including the ‘Spotlight’ and ‘Buck House’ series (both 1974). By 1975 he had produced sufficient work to qualify for an Arts Council travel grant, which took him to England and America.
In 1977 Sir Roger moved to Dunedin as Burns Fellow (1977–78), then stayed on as a half-time teaching fellow in the university’s English department. He relinquished this position in 1994, publishing his tribute to the university (Otago, the University, with photographs by Bill Nichol, 1994), and moving to Auckland early in 1995.
Also in 1977 came Middle Age Spread, his best-known play, thanks to the film version and a successful West End production. Sir Roger has enjoyed continued success, receiving various awards for his contributions to theatre and television. He has also served on many arts boards and organisations including the Literary Fund Advisory Committee, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Fortune Theatre Board, Frank Sargeson Trust, Janet Frame Eden Street Trust, and the Arts Foundation of New Zealand.
Sir Roger enjoyed continued success as a playwright, winning the 1979 Comedy of the Year, Society of West End Theatres (London), for Middle Age Spread. He was also selected for the 1982 Fulbright Travel Fellowship to the United States.
Sir Roger was also awarded the 1987 Turnovsky Prize for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts and was honoured as Companion of the Queen’s Service Order (QSO) for Community Service in 1987. Sir Roger was awarded a New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal.
In 1997 Sir Roger Hall received the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship.
Later in his career, Sir Roger took on the role of scriptwriter for the popular television series, Spin Doctors - a topical, fast turnaround political satire for which he was awarded 2003 Best Script for Comedy at the AFTA NZ Television Awards, now part of the Rialto Channel New Zealand Film Awards The series ran 2001-2003.
Sir Roger was awarded a 2002 Toastmaster International Communicator and Leadership Award and in 2003 was honoured as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for his services as a playwright. He was a Visiting Fulbright Professor at Georgetown University, Washington, DC in 2003.
In 2011, Sir Roger was awarded two Lifetime Achievement Awards – one at the Hackmann Awards, Auckland, and another at the Dunedin Theatre Awards. In 2014 Sir Roger was presented a Scroll of Honour from the Variety Artists Club of New Zealand for a lifetime of excellence in the performing arts.
Sir Roger Hall’s, ‘The Theatre Writer’s Guide’ was revised and re-published by Playmarket in 2016 as Best Playwriting Book Ever. Sir Roger received a 2015 Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement.
In 2016, forty years on from the production of Glide Time, Sir Roger wrote Last Legs. Set in an upmarket retirement home, well-to-do seniors in Sir Roger play indulge in greed, jealousy, love and lust; alongside gossip, backstabbing and scandal. It played to packed houses and, following Glide Time, had to have a return season.