Maud Basham, better known as ‘Aunt Daisy’ was a radio broadcaster and personality who broadcast for 27 years (1936-1963) every weekday morning to New Zealanders.
She greeted listeners with her boisterous catch call: ‘Good morning, everybody’, then regaled listeners with recipes (mostly supplied by her followers), home hints and sponsors' products. In addition to her role as a pioneer female celebrity broadcaster, Aunt Daisy was also New Zealand’s first celebrity foodie.
She became famous and loved: before sailing to the United States on a goodwill trip in 1938 trip, she had a farewell in Wellington’s Town Hall which overflowed with fans, and the train stations en route to Auckland’s port were crowded by well-wishers singing her programme’s theme song ‘Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do’.
Daisy was born in London in 1879. Her widowed mother emigrated to New Zealand in 1891, settling in Taranaki where Daisy later became a pupil-teacher with a keen interest in acting, singing and debating. She married civil engineer Frederick Basham and the couple moved to Wellington in 1922.
She started her radio career singing for an experimental radio station and began broadcasting seriously in 1928 when, in the lead up to the Great Depression, her husband was put on half-pay.
Building a following
She became known as ‘Aunt Daisy’ when she presented her first children’s programme. She went on to work for a number of radio stations before joining 1ZB (Newstalk ZB’s ancestor) in 1933 to present a 30 minute programme for women. She built up a huge following, limited only by the restricted transmission range of the station.
State-owed IZB in Wellington was the first radio station to take advantage when the1936 Broadcasting Act 1936 introduced commercial radio (although 1ZB was still state-operated) and Aunt Daisy officially began promoting products. As the ZB network expanded throughout New Zealand, she became a national celebrity.
An expert talker
Aunt Daisy would talk; read an uplifting ‘thought for the day’; share recipes, home hints, advice – and chat about products she’d agreed to promote. Aunt Daisy was an famously fast talker, managing between 175 and 202 words per minute (wpm); all clearly articulated and precisely spoken. By comparison, the usual conversational speed is 120-150 wpm; radio hosts usually manage 150-160wpm.
Products she promoted were often sold out within hours; her listeners trusted her implicitly because they knew she would only advertise products she had tried herself.
World famous in New Zealand
She went on a world tour in 1938 and paid wartime and post-war goodwill visits to the United States where her irrepressible manner and unquenchable optimism 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. Her influence was enormous. 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 at age 84.
New Zealand’s first foodie
Her first cookbook was published in 1934; it was the first of ten. The Aunt Daisy Cookbook has remained print since it first published in 1968, and it’s been reprinted 21 times. It was a heritage collection of her recipes, compiled by her daughter, the late Barbara Basham. All proceeds go to a charitable trust that funds medical research in New Zealand.
The cookbooks provide a fascinating insight into how much our world has changed. There are ingredients such as beef dripping, lard, and suet which are rarely used today and they include suggestions such as substituting crayfish for meat, making ‘Faggot Loaves’ from liver and bacon; ‘Sea Pie’ from beef; and the ‘Good Pastry for Housewives’.
Its baking section has stood the test of time, however, with Kiwi classics such as ‘Brandy Snaps’, ‘Anzac Biscuits’, and ‘Bumble Bees’ although it would be a brave person who served ‘Māori Kisses (Eggless)’ these days.
Having been admonished as a child for talking too much, Aunt Daisy built what some might have considered an unfortunate characteristic into a professional, enduring and lucrative career – one that has known no equal in New Zealand.