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He cemented a golden legacy

Len Bergman served in Masterton for just six years but made a huge impact on the town. MARK PACEY of the Wairarapa Archive pays tribute to 1960s Public Relations Officer.

Starting his working life as a signwriter, Len Bergman enlisted with the New Zealand Army Service Corps when WWII began. Towards the end of the war, he was assigned to the New Zealand Club in Venice to organise troop entertainment, which included him managing 78 top-ranking Italian artists.

After the war, his involvement in entertainment events was largely limited to serving as drum major in the Papatoetoe brass band. Until 1952, that is, when he found his true calling and became the Auckland Public Relations Officer, a position that saw him organising every major parade in the city, along with the Auckland Carnival, and the official opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Ten years later, Bergman took the opportunity to move to Masterton to take up the role of the town’s new public relations officer. Upon arriving, he brought his signwriting skills to bear on his office, giving it new signage and a bright green coat of paint. He then set about discussing ways to promote the town with local groups and council – in one meeting alone, he met with 70 people representing 40 organisations to hear their suggestions.

An early innovation under Bergman’s watch was the establishment of a Baby-Sitters Agency, which provided parents wanting a child-free night out with an appropriate babysitter for the evening. In the same vein, he was also instrumental in setting up a children’s creche, where parents could drop off their kids during the day if they wanted to get out shopping or attend to other duties – and which benefited from his signwriting experience, with Bergman working at nights and on weekends in order cover the walls with depictions of Jack and the Beanstalk, the Three Bears, and a rather jolly-looking tiger.

Bergman was also ambitious in his organisation of events, billing his first crack at the established industry fair in 1962 as “the biggest and best yet in Wairarapa”. This proved to be more than just hype, with half the population of Masterton estimated to have attended.

The following year Bergman took on an even greater challenge – staging the Golden Games in Masterton, with 40 sporting events over 10 days in October 1963, featuring many of the greatest athletes from New Zealand and the world. Not only did Bergman and his team pull off the feat of attracting and hosting the creme de la creme of contemporary sporting greats of the time, they even found time to organise such side events as ballroom dancing, tug-of-war, and ‘living chess’ as well.

After that success, Bergman’s attention switched back to the industry fair, now intended to take place in alternate years to the Golden Games. Considered another feather in Bergman’s cap, the 1964 fair was held in the War Memorial Stadium to ensure the event wasn’t hampered by inclement weather.

The sequel to Masterton’s biggest sporting event, the Golden Games, was held in 1965 but – despite meticulous planning and every effort being made to bring in all kinds of out-of-town and out-of-country athletes – the event failed to excite the same level of interest as the first edition, and the lack of attendees meant there were no further iterations of what Bergman had intended would be one of the country’s greatest ongoing sporting events.

Despite this disappointing setback, Bergman continued to work hard on other facets of his public relations role. Too hard, it transpired – he suffered a heart attack in 1966. After a lengthy stay in the hospital, during which he was told he “must never again work at the pace he used to” – and received 140 get-well cards – he returned to work, although with diminished capacity: “It’s good to be back,” he noted, “but I’m afraid organisations in the area will have to accept the fact that I cannot attend as many functions as before.”

The next year, Bergman decided it was time to move on and accepted a job as public relations officer in Taupo, which he saw as having huge potential to bring in tourism. At the end of September 1967, he was farewelled by Masterton, where he was acknowledged for having grown the industry fairs, as well as putting the town on the world map with his ambitious Golden Games – to this day, one of the greatest events ever staged in the area.

In November 1975, Bergman died at the age of just 57 after suffering another heart attack. While he spent just six years in Masterton, he accomplished more in raising the town’s profile in that time than others have managed in a lifetime, while the Golden Games cemented his legacy in the sporting world.


  1. A blast from my past. I worked with Len Bergman at the Public Relations Office for almost three years from November 1964 until he left in September 1967. I kept in touch with him and received a handmade Christmas card every year with original verses he composed of what he had been up to during the year.

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