Ian Cross is a novelist, journalist and has contributed significantly to New Zealand letters. His first novel, The God Boy, was released in 1957 to critical acclaim. Cross has worked as a successful broadcaster on radio and television, as well as an editor and reporter. His contribution to New Zealand literature extends to his work on various boards, his critical commentaries and his various roles within the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation. In 1988, he published The Unlikely Bureaucrat, a work of non-fiction memoir.
FROM THE OXFORD COMPANION TO NEW ZEALAND LITERATURE
Cross, Ian (1925– ), is known as author of The God Boy and other novels and as a distinguished journalist, editor and executive manager. Born in Masterton, educated at Wanganui Tech., he became a reporter, first with the Dominion 1943–47 and returning as its chief reporter 1951–56. He was awarded an associate fellowship in journalism at Harvard University 1954–55. An avid reader, in his spare time he was writing fiction, winning the Atlantic Monthly Short Story Prize in 1956. His first novel, The God Boy (1957), incorporated such strengths of good reportage as immediacy, detailed observation and the sense of an authentic personal voice, as well as skilled pacing and shaping of the narrative. Its success led Cross’s career in a more literary direction for a while, and he was the first holder of the Burns Fellowship at Otago University in 1959. Two further novels followed, The Backward Sex in 1959 and After Anzac Day in 1961. Neither achieved the narratorial subtlety or tragic impact of The God Boy, though After Anzac Day sustains its position as a significant rendering of the 1951 Waterfront Crisis. It was described as ‘important in that it attempts to bring a historical dimension into the New Zealand novel’ and as ‘assured, efficient and beautifully shaped’, by Thomas Crawford in Landfall 61 (1962).
With a family of four, Cross returned to more remunerative employment as public relations manager of Feltex, 1961–72, a time when he was also a successful radio and television broadcaster, especially as media analyst in ‘Column Comment’ 1964–72. In 1973 he was unexpectedly appointed successor to M.H. Holcroft as editor of the NZ Listener, then a central position of influence and policy-shaping in the nation’s cultural and intellectual life. He fulfilled its diverse demands well, fostering such new talents as Tom Scott and cartoonist Burton Silver, just as he had earlier recognised and supported Barry Crump. He was promoted to chairman of the then New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation in 1977, a position he held through various changes, including the exploding influence of television, until retiring as chief executive in 1986. He promptly wrote his vigorous and sometimes provocative memoir of these years of control over the electronic media, The Unlikely Bureaucrat (1988). This provides an important commentary on the Muldoon years and on such issues as media censorship and the 1981 Springbok tour. He also returned to an on-camera critic’s role with ‘Fourth Estate’ in 1988.
His career in fiction restarted with The Family Man (1993), a retrospect on New Zealand, especially Wellington, from the 1960s to 1990s, through a point of view whose limitations, as in The God Boy, produce intensity and pathos. The old vigour in narrative and clarity in description make this a better novel than its rather cool reception might suggest.
Cross also put his managerial skills and liberal judgment to the service of literature in various voluntary positions, including the presidency of PEN 1968–72, and membership of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council 1967–72, the Indecent Publications Tribunal 1964–67 and the board of Downstage Theatre 1984–87. His many public commentaries on New Zealand life, literature and media have been distinguished by integrity, liberal values and a well-informed authority, whether on camera in ‘Column Comment’ or ‘Compass’, in his Listener editorials, or in statements such as his opening address at the Victoria University Seminar on the New Zealand Short Story in 1978. While this authoritativeness is no doubt enhanced by his imposing physique and great height, it is also complemented by a continuing journalist’s gift for the telling summative phrase.
The absence of further fiction as powerful as The God Boy is an indication not so much of loss of literary will as of the pressures in such a small society for a man of Cross’s managerial abilities to give his energies to public life, supporting rather than producing creative work. Cross’s literary consolation must be that his period in control of the Listener, when it was the one truly popular outlet for fiction, poetry and good feature prose, was one when New Zealand writing in all those genres was vibrantly developing self-confidence; just as his time as media overlord is now looked back to with nostalgia as the last flowering of quality state-sponsored radio and television in the era before their final capitulation to commercialism. An interview with Cross is in Neville Glasgow, Directions (1995). RR
MEDIA LINKS AND CLIPS
- Ian Cross on the New Zealand Literature File site
Updated January 2017.