Nose for news, heart for community

Part of the furniture: Scene chief news hound Philip 'Scoop' Chandler, who'll turn 60 on Tuesday

For 34 years Philip ‘Scoop’ Chandler’s name has been synonymous with Mountain Scene. On the cusp of turning 60, Tracey Roxburgh thought she’d turn the tables and find out a bit more about the man behind the byline.

Philip ‘Scoop’ Chandler reckons cricket and Coronation Street landed him a job as a cub reporter at Mountain Scene in 1985.

But it’s the Queenstown community that’s kept him here.

Born in Christchurch, Scoop, who’ll turn 60 this coming Tuesday, showed prowess as a musician early on, skills he undoubtedly inherited from his late parents, Oliver and Mavis.

A talented pianist and violinist, he was a member of the Christ’s College orchestra and joined the civic choir with his dad after high school.

He was also fiercely competitive when it came to his schooling, topping history, English, French, German and divinity, similar to religious studies.

“In history I was quite competitive with a judge’s son, so he and I were rivals, but I did want to win, to be fair.”

At Canterbury University he studied American Studies and politics – in his third year of the latter he handed in a 50-page, handwritten paper on proportional representation comparing Scandinavia to New Zealand.

“I would just dive into this stuff because I wanted to.

“Ridiculously, looking back now, I could hit the university library about 8 or 9 in the morning and still be there at 10 o’clock at night when it closed, so I was a bit of a swot, which doesn’t really sort of tune in with what I think I am.

“They were quite different days, really, because I wasn’t sort of the party animal, I was far more … restrained.

“Perhaps I came out, so to speak, in Queenstown.”

In 1981, without career aspirations, he travelled around NZ covering the general election, and when Mavis spotted the Scene ad in The Press, Scoop thought he’d give it a nudge.

“I thought my only skills were that I could write an essay so, therefore, I could sort of write something, and I kind of backed myself as having the personality to talk to people … so I felt that was marrying those two things to get into journalism.”

He remembers being interviewed by the late Frank Marvin – the only sport he could follow was cricket, which happened to be Scoop’s “major sport”.

“And, I remember telling him I thought Coronation Street was like a comedy.

“I always feel that might have got me the job.

“I didn’t even have a licence, let alone a car, for the first two or three years, so it took me a few months to realise that there were two ways to Arrowtown.”

He took to the job like a duck to water and it wasn’t long before he could be spotted sprinting from a pub, after deadline, to the office to relay a yarn he’d just overheard, hoping a telegram could be sent in time to get it in the paper.

The paper’s pages used to be driven south during the week to be typeset and printed and one day, when deadline had been pushed, he was spotted sprinting from the office, above Henry’s, to the bus, at Steamer Wharf.

Morrie Garvie and David ‘Mase’ Mason – thinking he was running to get a story – yelled ‘Go Scoop’. It stuck.

Over the years, he’s become the backbone of Scene; completed about 10 half marathons “in the modern era”, his fastest time 2 hours 15 minutes; bungy jumped (“unfortunately it was the Nevis … I was shitting myself”); travelled extensively; played his fair share of tennis; and propped up the local hospitality industry. He’s also managed to write hard-hitting stories, without damaging too many relationships along the way.

Community journalism isn’t always the easiest gig, he says, referring to his “12 o’clock Cathedral Square theory”.

“If you live in Christchurch, or a big city, at 12 o’clock in Cathedral Square each day you won’t recognise anyone.

“In Queenstown, you write a story, and think ‘oh, God, I’ve been really savage on this person, you’re going to see them the next day’.

“I still think with stories, we can do a good, punchy yarn, as long as we’re being fair at the same time.

“I think that’s quite important, in a small community, especially.”

He never imagined he’d leave Christchurch and jokes the only reason he hasn’t left Queenstown is because “I can’t be bothered packing twice”.

“I think I would have enjoyed myself anywhere, but Queenstown’s been a bit of a bonus. It’s an amazing community, really.

“People here almost invariably have come from somewhere else – they’ve already shown some get up and go, haven’t they, by getting up and going here?

“So, they’re interesting people and that kind of makes the town.”

And, despite being five years off retirement age, the man with the elephantine-like memory, whose face has become synonymous with Scene and Queenstown, who’s also accidentally become one of the resort’s historians, says he has no intention of putting his pen down.

“The only retirement I’ve ever done is when I retire to Brazz.

“I think you want to keep your mind going and it’s like [harbourmaster] Marty Black said, ‘the day I get up and I can’t do something’.

“You don’t want to be holding people back.”