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The Life and Times of a Brown Paper Bag by Kevin Milne

Vanity is not a character defect that longtime consumer advocate and Fair Go presenter Kevin Milne could be accused of possessing. The title of his memoir, an engaging and entertaining jaunt through his broadcasting career, is inspired by a quote from a Listener review: “In an age of glossy packaging, Kevin Milne is a brown paper bag.”

This is no false modesty on the part of Milne, who has suffered enough slings and arrows in 40 years in television to have long since abandoned concern for critical opinion; as he notes, with the hint of a sigh, when TVNZ CEO Rick Ellis was asked how long he thought Fair Go would continue, the reply was, “As long as it rates.”

There might be a conspicuous lack of sentimentality from the top brass, but Milne’s affection for the show, and pride in what it has achieved during his 25 years as a reporter, is palpable. Chapters with stand-out stories of crooks being nailed and good folk getting their just deserts make for reading alternately mouth-dropping and heart-warming.

Though he registers his gratitude – and surprise – at the results of a poll that put him second on a list of most-trusted New Zealanders, Milne doesn’t assume that the goodwill he has amassed from a quarter-century of appearing in living rooms as a consumer crusader means that anyone wants to know what he has for breakfast.

Thus, the book is heavily weighted towards the professional, with only a few of the 26 chapters touching on the personal – his early life and education, his meeting and courtship of Linda, the Briton who would become his wife, and his family life with three sons and a daughter.

It is, however, the personal that is most engaging, reminding the reader that for all his renown and celebrity friends, Kevin Milne is just a good egg, with virtues and flaws common to many New Zealanders. The flaws, in his case, are a dicky heart (watching the news of Bill Clinton’s heart bypass in 2004 prompted Milne to see his doctor, precipitating the diagnosis of an aortic valve problem) and a pituitary gland tumour for which he underwent brain surgery in 2009.

That made for a good story. Upon receiving the Best Presenter prize at the 2009 Qantas Awards, a category in which he had twice been a losing finalist, Milne took the stage and said of his fellow finalists, sports presenter Andrew Saville and then-Breakfast host Paul Henry: “Sav will be taking this like a man. Paul will be muttering to the person next to him, ‘This is the first time a tumour has ever won a Qantas Award.’”

It is not all light-hearted. Milne movingly describes the effect of the sudden death of his much-admired older brother at the age of 23, and reflects with evident sorrow on the premature deaths of several of his friends in the media world.

But through it all, he maintains a genuine wonder at his own good fortune and the company he has found himself in: describing a dinner with Richard Long and Judy Bailey, he says sitting across the table from them was like watching the 6pm news in 3D, and his rather graphic account of a later incident at Long’s home conveys, again, that lack of vanity. On the page as on-screen, Kevin Milne knows how to spin a yarn.

Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz

Reviewer: Stephanie Jones