Story: Basham, Maud Ruby

Page 1 - Biography

Basham, Maud Ruby

1879–1963

Singer, radio broadcaster and personality, writer

This biography was written by Peter Downes and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

Maud Ruby Taylor was born in London, England, on 30 August 1879. Known as Daisy from soon after her christening, she was the daughter of Eliza Taylor and her husband, Robert Taylor, a carpenter, who died when she was about three. Daisy was educated at an academy for young ladies in London. After the family emigrated to New Plymouth, New Zealand, in 1891, she attended the Central School and New Plymouth High School. She was given singing lessons and sang as a contralto in St Mary's Anglican Church choir, as well as taking part in local concerts, play performances and debating contests. In 1897 she was accepted as a pupil-teacher at the Central School. She stayed for two years, then spent a year at Waitara School. On completing her training she was given charge of a country primary school at Warea, near Opunake.

On 4 June 1904, in Hawera, Daisy married Frederick Basham, an English-born civil engineer. There were three children of the marriage. Frederick's work as a council engineer took the family from Hawera to Eltham about 1907, to Waipukurau in 1918 and to Ngatea in 1924. Throughout this period, Daisy taught music, conducted choirs, organised popular entertainment groups and continued with singing engagements. She was especially acclaimed for her appearances as contralto soloist in Handel's Messiah.

During a visit to Wellington around 1922, Daisy had accepted an invitation to sing for an experimental radio station, but it was not until 1928 that she began broadcasting seriously. In the years leading up to the depression her husband had been placed on half salary, and with his full support she applied for singing engagements at the Auckland station 1YA. There she wrote and sang in an intermittent series of programmes on the lives of great composers. In 1930, however, when the presenter of the children's session went on holiday, Daisy was asked to take her place for two weeks. It was then that she became known as 'Aunt Daisy'. At the end of the year she was appointed to the full-time staff of 2YA in Wellington as an organiser of classical music and children's programmes.

In May 1932 she was made redundant, a casualty of the depression. By this time Fred Basham was also without work and Daisy had become the family breadwinner. She moved immediately to the private radio station 2ZW, which was being operated in Wellington by the music company Hamilton Nimmo and Sons. When her month's contract expired, she returned to Auckland to join 1ZR, owned by Lewis Eady Limited. Known as the 'Friendly Road', it was an interdenominational radio church with a lively and informal format led by Colin Scrimgeour and Tom Garland. Daisy, being an early riser, had the responsibility of opening each day's transmission. With a hearty 'Good morning everybody', her listeners were left in no doubt that it was, indeed, a very good morning. For the rest of her life she would use this ebullient manner of greeting to introduce her broadcasts. The cheerful tone of her programme was later reinforced by the signature tune 'Daisy, Daisy'.

At the end of 1933 the Friendly Road transferred to the then privately owned 1ZB and Aunt Daisy was given a half-hour programme for women at 9 o'clock each weekday morning. She built up an enormous following of listeners, her fame limited only by the restricted transmission range of the station. She retained her 9 a.m. broadcasts when 1ZB became the first outlet for the state-operated commercial radio service provided for under the Broadcasting Act 1936. From the time the station opened under its new ownership on 30 October 1936, Aunt Daisy was officially permitted to mention the names of the products she was recommending.

In 1937 she moved to Wellington, the headquarters of the newly established organisation. As the ZB network expanded and her programme was heard throughout the country, she attracted an even larger audience and rapidly achieved nationwide celebrity. For half an hour she would simply talk, cheerfully reading a spirit-raising thought for the day, followed by recipes, handy hints, homespun advice, comments on a concert or play she had seen or on a sermon she had heard; all skilfully interwoven with persuasively enthusiastic chat about the products she had agreed to promote – and which indirectly paid her salary. The words tumbled out at the incredible speed of between 175 and 202 per minute, clearly articulated and precisely spoken. Her manner was irresistible and it was not unknown for a new product she had mentioned in the morning to be sold out the same afternoon. Yet she would not advertise anything that she had not tried herself or had specially tested. As a result, her listeners trusted her implicitly.

Closely related to her broadcasts were the numerous books she published over the years. The first of at least 10 Aunt Daisy cookery books appeared in 1934, and there were several books of handy hints and 'scrapbooks' of her favourite thoughts for the day. She embarked on a world tour in 1938, and in 1944 and 1946 she undertook wartime and post-war goodwill visits to the United States, where her irrepressible manner earned her the label of 'The Dynamo from Down Under'. In New Zealand she was regarded as 'the first lady of radio' and was recognised in the broadcasting industry as one of the country's most potent advertising forces. She was made an MBE in 1956 and continued broadcasting her daily programme with rarely a break until a few days before her death in Wellington on 14 July 1963. She was survived by two children. Fred Basham had died in 1950.

At 4 feet 11½ inches tall, Daisy Basham was a diminutive figure, but unseen behind the microphone she was as tall or as short as her faithful listeners pictured her. Always unwilling to divulge her age, she was also as old or as young as people imagined, and it came as a shock to most to discover that she was nearly 84 when she died. Her vitality, charisma, strength and resilience had made her appear totally ageless. She was also completely natural, exactly the same in person as on the radio. Her influence was enormous. Eternally optimistic, she steadfastly refused to believe ill of anybody; as a devout Anglican, she was dedicated and firm in her Christian faith, and her passion for life was unbounded. Frequently admonished as a child for talking too much, she had taken what some might have considered an unfortunate characteristic and from it created a professional, endearing and lucrative career – one that has known no equal in New Zealand.